Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Keeping it Safe at the Bakersfield Santa Fe

This is a bit unusual, but then again, so am I. A reader recently emailed me the following story and told me I was welcome to publish it on my blog. I’ve never had that happen before, but if any others out there feel like contributing by all means, be my guest.

(Insert visions of dancing tea cups ala Beauty and the Beast.)

Keeping it Safe at the Bakersfield Santa Fe
by Bryce Martin

Safety was a topic touched upon even if only slightly at every daily shift change meeting. At precisely 3 o'clock on the hour each afternoon, all swing shift crew hands gathered in a small room in the roundhouse for the daily briefing from the day's foreman.

At each meeting the same question was asked: "Does anybody have anything to say about safety?"

And each time, the same person said, "Use Trojans."

Sometimes real safety concerns were addressed and dealt with.

There were few reminders posted, stapled, painted, pasted or otherwise displayed regarding safety. One was the safety slogan with the odd looking little man named Axy Dent printed on blue shop wipe rags (some called them "towels").

The crudely rendered little man was rushing forward to, one can guess, keep from getting wiped away.

The 17-inch by 14-inch wipe rag read:

Work Safely
On The Santa Fe

The slogan also appeared in a painted square on the sides and in the middle of Santa Fe cabooses.

Watch Out

A circle was drawn in the square to contain Axy Dent, the fleeing figure.

Axy Dent?

It was not just a bad choice for a name, it was a bad choice for a slogan name in Bakersfield. The city was rich in agriculture and oil produce and products. Oil was big and Occidental Petroleum was a familiar name. Oxy Dent. It should have been Occidental's wipe rag.

To my way of thinking -- and I'm sure I put far more thought into those wipe rags than any of the other rail hands -- just the name "Axy Dent" used as the punchline in a key national safety slogan seemed such a stretch as to undermine the entire concept. Were all the good names taken? On the other hand, the drawn figure was so crude and folksy I was rather taken by its whimsical nature.