Keeping cool with Aretha Ward

One of the benefits of riding a modern train is that you have heat when it is cold out, and air conditioning when it is warm out. But what happens to a train with a broken air conditioning unit? Amtrak has several maintenance facilities across the country that can fix such problems – one of which is in Beech Grove, Indiana. Many leaking, malfunctioning, or in need of updating units come here...

Keeping cool with Aretha Ward

One of the benefits of riding a modern train is that you have heat when it is cold out, and air conditioning when it is warm out. But what happens to a train with a broken air conditioning unit? Amtrak has several maintenance facilities across the country that can fix such problems – one of which is in Beech Grove, Indiana. Many leaking, malfunctioning, or in need of updating units come here...

Aretha Ward, the “A/C Queen,” is one of our #TeamAmtrak employees that you will find solving the problem. Ward is a 20 year employee of Amtrak, spending her first twelve and a half years in Beech Grove’s Shop #2 doing pipe fitting and other related tasks. After training and becoming certified to repair A/C units, she has been performing that task for the past five years.

At Amtrak’s maintenance facility in Beech Grove you’ll find 30 female employees on staff, out of a total of 533 employees. While fixing AC units can be a very physical job, Aretha says the female employees at Beech Grove are always up for the challenge. Ward’s philosophy is to do your job well, work hard, and to have a “tough skin”. Over the years she has earned the respect and admiration of her coworkers, and although she says she’s treated as “one of the guys” on the floor, she also describes herself as the “Mother of the Railroad.” That self-designated title comes from the fact that she frequently takes up collections for holiday toy drives, and for coworkers whose loved ones have passed. All of that stresses another key point in her philosophy – teamwork and communication. There are several instances where her coworkers have worked hard trying to find the flaw in a non-working A/C unit, to no avail. After consulting with her, she’s been able to find the issue and fix it. But likewise, she’s had problems before and has found herself consulting with her coworkers to get everything in working order.

"As long as everybody works together you have a better work environment. In our shop we all get along fine, we communicate. If I have a problem, I can go to one of them and say “well this unit here, it’s really getting on my nerves,” and we can sit down and discuss it. Or if they have a problem they’ll come, and we’ll sit down and we’ll see what it’s doing. And we’ll all solve the problem and get it finished."

For Aretha Ward, her career at Amtrak has been full of learning opportunities. Any time a class has been offered for different skills – from A/C certification, to even heavy crane operator – she’s jumped at the chance to learn. Ward considers the completion of these varied classes her most proud accomplishment at Amtrak. When she isn’t out learning new skills on the job, Ward can also be found teaching others through Beech Grove’s mentoring program. She warns new hires that the “railroad world” isn’t quite the same as the “outside world” – technology on trains can be different from what people may be familiar with on the outside, such as the vacuum powered plumbing systems on train cars.

"It is a different world working on the equipment here, but it’s fun if you like doing it. I enjoy doing it. Give me the problem and we’re going to solve it."

When not at work, Ward enjoys riding and working on motorcycles and spending time with family and friends. She has eight grandchildren, many of whom have fallen in love with trains after visiting an open house of Beech Grove to see what their grandmother does all day. She hopes to take them all on a train trip soon – perhaps to Disney World.

Beech Grove is Amtrak’s primary maintenance facility, where everything from painting, to overhaul, and even complete car rebuilds are performed. The historic campus was originally built in 1904 by the Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago & St. Louis (Big Four) Railway, which was later acquired by the New York Central Railroad. In 1968 the shops became part of the Penn Central system, formed with the merger of the New York Central and the Pennsylvania railroads. Amtrak purchased Beech Grove from the bankrupt Penn Central in 1975.

 

 

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