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June 2012

Rail News: Labor

Union Pacific and the Durrant family legacy


When the golden spike was driven into place May 9, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah, commemorating the completion of the transcontinental railroad connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, as many as five Durrant family members were in attendance. All of them were UP workers and some worked on the historical project.

Six generations later, Durrants still are among the Class I's ranks and still are performing trackwork. And through the 143 years since the spike-driving, more than three dozen family members — some with last names such as Coffey, Dearden and Miser — have served the railroad.

Durrant family members collectively have more than 800 years of service, says Ricky Durrant, UP's general director of positive train control, who's served the Class I since 1971.

The other Durrants remaining at UP are Ricky's brother Kevin, a system tie gang foreman who joined the Class I in 1977, and their cousin Dennis, a locomotive engineer based in Cheyenne, Wyo., who became a UPer in 1971.

As near as Ricky Durrant can figure it, Durrants have served UP since 1864, he says.

"The railroad has been good to our families. It got us through the Depression," says Ricky Durrant. "Most of our family came over with the Mormons, and they mostly had the choice of being railroaders or farmers. We all have a sense of pride [about railroading]."

Laborers and Engineers

One source of that pride: Family members have been involved in the daily maintenance of the railroad in some way for 100 years, says Kevin Durrant. In addition, many Durrants have been locomotive engineers, including Robert Durrant, an engineer in Ogden, Utah, who "got all the premium trains," which were considered the "‘D' Express," says Dennis Durrant.

Among the many family members, two held high-ranking positions: the late Herald, who retired as chief engineer-system in 1985, and the late Owen, who also retired in 1985 as general manager of the eastern district. The longest-tenured Durrant? Donald, a former conductor in Ogden, who served for 51 years.

Being a Durrant meant there was a certain amount of pressure to be perceived as a hard worker because "everyone knew who you were," says Ricky Durrant.

"We were held to a higher standard. Our family was built around a strong work ethic," he says. "We got kicked in the boot if we didn't work hard."

But alas, the long line of hardworking Durrants may be nearing an end. After Kevin Durrant, who's 53, retires in a decade or so, no more family members will be employed at UP. Ricky and Dennis expect to retire long before then, and no other Durrants have joined the Class I within the recent past.

Jeff Stagl


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