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Last Days on the Tracks

Railroad policemen weather murderers, guns, drugs
by Lee Beach for the Klamath Falls, OR Herald & News, June 1, 2003

 

Though the mournful horn of the engines sounding as they enter the yards may tug at their attention, two Klamath Falls railroad police won't come to the call any more.

After 69 years of combined law enforcement service, Roger Bryant of Union Pacific and Dave Taylor of Burlington Northern Santa Fe hung up their guns last week.

"It's hard to think of all that's happened in 33 years," Taylor said.

There's been a lot.

Because the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe yards are adjacent to each other, Bryant and Taylor often found themselves calling on each other for assistance. If officer one was closer to an incident occurring on the other's property, he would be first on the scene.

Their relationship with other agencies was also supportive, and they cooperated closely with city police, county sheriffs and the Oregon State Police. Their calls came to them through 911 or from train crews alerting them to situations.

Bryant recalls a time in the Klamath yards when an engineer called him and told him he'd seen someone with a rifle and a dog along the tracks. Bryant responded and approached the man. He thought it was someone bird hunting.

"It turned out he was carrying an automatic rifle. Before I could say anything, he raised the gun and said 'You're dead, you SOB,' and fired. The gun jammed. He dropped it and ran. An OSP officer on the scene helped me chase the guy a mile. It turned out he was on PCP."

Policing railroad yards is not to be compared with security jobs at other types of commercial property. Railroad police are federally commissioned officers. They can do anything from issuing speeding tickets to arresting wanted felons.

Their jurisdictions include any states where their respective railroads operate.

That covers a vast Midwestern and Western territory. UP lines run from Chicago to Seattle, St. Louis and New Orleans to Los Angeles and many places in between. BNSF covers from Westwood, Calif., to Madras, Seattle and Portland east to Chicago, and from Montana south to Texas.

Trespassing was the most common call they received.

"Both railroads have a zero tolerance for trespassers," said Bryant.

"It's a safety issue," said Taylor. "If you don't work here, you don't belong here. We don't arrest everybody; we just want to get everybody off the property in a safe place."

Because two officers work in Klamath Falls, the rail yards here are known among transients as "hot yards" - a place to stay away from.

Both have arrested many wanted persons trying to travel through the area via rail.

Bryant once found a 17-year old riding in a gondola with two black dogs, and put him off the property. Shortly after, Bryant was in the Southern Pacific office, and saw the boy's picture on a wanted poster. He and another man had killed a man in Everett, Wash.

"I went back and followed his footprints in the snow and arrested him," Bryant said. "The police from Everett drove all night to pick him up. Funny thing, I recently saw him interviewed on a 60 Minutes program on railroad killers."

Taylor began his law enforcement career with a railroad, but not Bryant.

Bryant started in February 1965 as a reserve officer in Sacramento, then went to Dunsmuir in 1975 and was a deputy constable in the courts and a reserve officer until 1984. He most often worked traffic, domestic disputes, and accidents.

While in Dunsmuir, he had the closest call of his career.

"I was having lunch in a restaurant, and I saw a guy walking down the street."

Something didn't look right to Bryant, so he followed the man and stopped him.

"He pulled out a gun and shot at me. I felt the flakes off the bullet on my body and arm."

Bryant, at 6 foot 1, is so lean the bullet had passed through the front of his shirt and out the back between his body and his arm. He subdued and arrested the man.

In 1984, his father-in-law talked him into applying where he worked, at Southern Pacific, as a railroad police officer. Bryant came to the Klamath yards that year.

Taylor started with BNSF in May 1970. He was working in Seattle, but he and his wife both missed Oregon. So in 1978 they came to Klamath Falls for five years, then went to the Portland-Vancouver area where Taylor worked for 15 years. He returned to the Klamath yards in 1998.

He is especially proud of the 20 years he spent working as a volunteer with the Boy Scouts, mostly as a Cub leader.

Bryant has also been active working with young people. He holds a third-degree black belt, which he has had since 1970. He taught judo and jujitsu at Dunsmuir elementary and high schools, and at the YMCA.

Just two days after retirement, Taylor planned to leave today on a much-anticipated road trip to Yosemite, which he has never visited. He also plans to see more of his three children and three grandchildren. He loves crafting all kinds of items and expects to keep busy.

Now that Bryant is putting away the .38-caliber revolver he's carried since 1965, he's also looking forward to spending more time with family, which includes four children, 11 grandchildren and a great-grandchild, plus his 91-year old father,

He also plans to go deer hunting in the fall, and hopes to get back to teaching judo and jujitsu.

Capt. John Myers, his boss in Portland, had high praise for Bryant's work ethic.

"I've known Roger since 1974. He was my sergeant when I first transferred to Sacramento. He always approached everything head-on, undaunted," Myers said.

Myers went on to say that even when Bryant was taking vacation time, he would still call in a dozen times, and if needed, would report for work.

Capt. Toy Washington, Taylor's superior officer in Seattle, had similar praise for his career.

"Dave is going to take a tremendous amount of experience with him. We will miss him dearly. He was one of the guys you could always count on."