As a railroad man, on the job nearly 60 years, Tiger has proven he has nerves of steel and a will of iron.
The railroad is in his DNA.
How hard it must be then to walk away from a job that is a way of life.
Tonight will be Tiger’s final ride on a Union Pacific freight train as it thunders along the tracks from Colton to Orange County and beyond.
Tiger Lyons is retiring.
I couldn’t wait to talk with this man who has started his night shift like clockwork at the Colton railroad yard for nearly six decades.
Tiger is a quiet man, soft-spoken and kind.
He told me he wanted to keep his retirement “low profile.”
And it will be — but a few more people will know of a job well done by this man who has dedicated his life to the railroad.
The railroads put this country together, he’ll tell you. He’s glad to be part of the railroad experience.
Kenny Naucler, Tiger’s supervisor, has known him 35 years.
“All his years of service just show his work ethic,” Kenny said. “It would be amazing in any industry to have this length of service. He’s a genuine nice guy, one-of-a-kind.”
Tiger does his job right and helps new hires learn the job right, Kenny added.
Now 77, this father of three sons doesn’t mind the nightly drive from his Victorville home to the huge Union Pacific rail yard in Colton, where he works all night.
Over the years he has seen the transition from steam to diesel, the crackdown on safety rules and regulations, and more efficiency in communications.
“In 1955, there weren’t as many safety rules — it was different — you just did what they told you to do,” Tiger said.
He remembers when it was common practice to walk over the tops of cars while the train was moving — like a movie stuntman.
“It only sounds amazing if you’re not familiar with it. We don’t do it anymore,” he said, downplaying the danger.
In 1955, as a teenager living in Glendale, Tiger started working for the railroad as a brakeman out of the Los Angeles yard. Soon, he tested for the conductor position, a job he has enjoyed ever since.
And no, a conductor does not walk up and down the aisle on a freight train collecting tickets.
Conductors are like managers, deciding where to put the cars — where to put the lumber car, the hazardous materials car.
On a recent route from Colton through Anaheim, La Mirada and Santa Fe Springs, the train was one mile long and included 86 cars for a total of 10,000 tons snaking along the tracks.
He considers a 30-car train short and says, “When we get one of those, we can run like a rabbit.”
From his original base in Los Angeles and then Colton, Tiger’s routes have taken him to Yuma, Ariz., and Bakersfield, Santa Barbara and El Centro.
About his 20 years of runs between Colton and Yuma, Tiger says, “The same lizard has been sitting on the same rock every time we go to Yuma.”
Tiger also noted that after 20 years, he has never seen a flying saucer out there in the desert where there are so many sightings.
In the old days, crews were composed of a conductor, an engineer, a fireman and three brakemen.
Nowadays, thanks to technology, engineer-and-conductor two-man crews handle the workload.
A workload Tiger can still handle.
I could work another year or two,” he says, “but I thought I’d just step aside.”
What’s next for this rugged railroad man?
Surprisingly, he likes the idea of travel and is thinking about taking a train (Amtrak) up to see his brother in Eugene, Ore., and maybe do some sightseeing in Canada as well.
He’ll be able to spend more time with his three sons — Bill Jr., who drives a cement mixer; Richard, a San Bernardino County firefighter/engineer; and James, a fireman/paramedic for the Apple Valley Fire Protection District.
“I love them all, and they’re all handy up here in the High Desert,” the senior Lyons said.
And how much will he miss the steel rails and thunder along the tracks?
“You can’t do this all your life and not miss it,” he said simply.
And here’s a thought for the day: Take my advice, I’m not using it.