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Retirement hasn't derailed him

Jim Bridenstine's job kept him on the right track. But it was more than a way to earn a living - it was a lifestyle.

When Bridenstine, an Osakis resident since 1999, was a little boy, his father was an official on the Milwaukee Railroad.

"That's how I got my start in railroad," he explained of his career as a railroad engineer.

Bridenstine started after high school as a fireman for the railroad and worked his way up to brakeman. After a four-year stint in the Navy and a few years working as an aircraft mechanic and technician, in 1979 the railroad urged him back.

He started again as a brakeman and six months later completed a six-month engineering program - a job he had for 28 years.

Bridenstine explained that as an engineer, he was responsible for all of the operations of the train - running the engines, following signals, knowing the rules, operating the brakes, communicating with dispatchers and knowing the mechanical workings of the train.

"The engineer has to stay at the controls all the time and stop the train if problems show up," he said.

The life of an engineer wasn't always easy. Twelve-hour days and a 90-hour work week were typical.

"It's seven days a week," Bridenstine explained. "It's a lifestyle. If someone asked me what I'm doing the day after tomorrow, I couldn't tell them."

Another stressful aspect of being an engineer was when people would "challenge" the crossings.

"People try to beat the train. People try to commit suicide. People walk on the track. They don't obey the crossarms," he said.

"There's absolutely nothing you can do," he continued, adding that it takes up to one mile to get a train stopped. "A few times I have seen their eyes. You carry that around with you. The biggest fear was seeing a busload of children. To have to live with something like that is pretty hard."

Despite the stress and the intense schedule, being an engineer was always a thrill for Bridenstine.

"It's neat sitting up there watching the countryside go by," he reminisced. "It's a thrill going back and forth, you feel the power. It's a feeling you get operating that kind of horsepower, that kind of machinery."

Now that he's retired, he does miss running the trains and he misses the people he worked with, but he doesn't miss the hectic schedule.

"I can be home at 5, I can go to bed when I want, I can get up when I want," he said. "I like being able to tell people I'm available next week."

He also likes having free time to enjoy several hobbies that keep him just as busy as if he were working. He builds and flies model airplanes; he's a member of the Shriners; he does woodworking and remodeling; goes on motorcycle trips; takes guitar lessons; he has his own ham radio station; and he drives school bus four hours a day.

His biggest project has been restoring and customizing a 1957 Chevrolet Delivery sedan that he started about 10 years ago.

"My wife wants to know when it's going to be done," he said with a laugh. "It will be done when it's done."

"I try a lot of things," he concluded. "I don't want to sit on a couch and wonder where the day went."