Watco Mechanic Is Mr. You Name It

July 2022 – His official name is Christopher Hayes, but it seems he could go by Mr. Qualified or Mr. Helpful.

The Ann Arbor Railroad mechanic, based in Toledo, Ohio, has been with the railroad for 18 years and knows all the roles.

“We have such a variety (of jobs),” said Hayes’ supervisor, Chief Mechanical Officer Bryant Boatman. “Transloading, carman, locomotive mechanics, track laborers, conductor, engineers. This one person, he stands out among everybody else, because he’s done almost everything.”

And it’s not just that Hayes has performed so many roles. It’s that he pursues the training that makes him officially certified to perform those roles. “That’s the cool thing,” said Boatman. “He’s not asked. He takes the initiative.”

Hayes started out in 2004 as a member of the prep crew, which prepares autorack railcars for the transportation of automobiles. He then passed the required tests to be a conductor and later became a qualified carman as well as a qualified locomotive mechanic.

As a mechanic on the transload team, he specializes in the maintenance and repair to the eight ramps that lead to the autorack railcars, something Boatman says only Hayes can do. But quite recently, Hayes returned to his roots with the prep crew.

Boatman said Hayes had taken on a new prep crew role, something “that he requested, on top of everything else he is doing on a day-to-day basis.” He’s acting in an unofficial supervisory capacity to mentor the crew, many of whom are new and arrived through a staffing agency. “They didn’t really embody the culture,” said Boatman. “He took the initiative to come out of the locomotive shop to go to that crew to get it back to where it needs to be, making sure everybody’s doing the right thing at all times, safely. They all look up to him, almost like a father figure, honestly.”

Hayes has gone so far as to create a simulated autorack railcar for teaching purposes. “He’s even made mock insides of railcars for the newer team members to learn how to set up the inside of the railcars for the transloading,” said Boatman. “He actually took panels from old railcars that were once on the property and put them together like the inside of a railcar, so they could properly set up according to AAR (American Association of Railroads) standards.”

Boatman said Hayes is big on supporting Watco team members.

“He’ll go wherever he’s needed. He likes being able to help everyone out whenever they need something. He doesn’t ask for a pat on the back; he doesn’t want anything except to be as helpful as possible.”

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