Jean Hatley is blazing down the track as the Museum of Transportation's only female conductor and engineer. As she completes her third year driving the C.P. Huntington, we asked the Fenton resident what it's like to pull cars full of kids along the museum's tracks.
Q. What training did you need to drive the train? A. We had somebody that would take us around and show us how to operate it. It's a little more complicated than it looks. You need to know when to slow down when you're going around curves. You don't just hop on. You are never too old to learn new things. I have learned so much about trains from my fellow engineers. The kindness and patience they have shown me has made it a joy to work at the Museum of Transportation. What's your favorite part about your job? The children! I tell ya, I just get the biggest kick out of them! They just get so excited. I've had children run up to me and hug me and say thank you so much! We have adult children, too! This was the story that made me almost cry. There was a young man; it was about a month ago. He was severely handicapped. He couldn't speak well, but his mother could understand him. He could hardly walk. He was so brave. He would not allow us to put him on the handicap seat. He parked his wheelchair and walked. He loved trains. He rode behind me on the first trip. I asked him if he enjoyed the ride. He looked at me and nodded. He rode a second time, and this time, when he got off the train, he got off and I walked with him to the exit gate. And I said to him, "Did you enjoy your train ride?" He looked at me and grinned and shook his head. Then he took his hand and put it to his mouth and blew me a kiss. Wayne [a fellow conductor] and I couldn't talk for a bit. We got all choked up. He was a brave man ... he wasn't going to let anyone help him anymore than he needed. My reward is in giggles and hugs. Did I luck out, or did I not luck out? I did. Have you always loved trains? This story goes back, way back. When we were small, my brother had a train set, and every Christmas we would put the train set up ... We would have a country village and a farm area. We would set it up, and run the train. It was really cool. When I was 5 or 6, we would visit my Aunt Bernice in Peoria, Ill. We would take the traction train, and I thought that was the coolest thing. I remember looking out the window and thinking maybe sometime I will travel and visit all these places. Ironically, in the big shed in the museum, we have some of those old Illinois trains. Sometimes I walk by and put my hand on the train and think about it. When I grew up, I grew up near a train on The Hill. That train would go by and lull me to sleep at night. I never thought I would ever be driving a miniature train. I am thrilled that I am. I love my job.
Tell me about the train. How fast does it go? The engine is the C.P. Huntington. Most of the time we're driving the CP Huntington 340. It's called the Barrett's Express. We have to keep it under 8 mph because we don't have many straight areas. What did you do before you drove trains? I was an office services specialist at the Justice Center in Clayton. I retired April 1, 2010. I was worried about how I'd handle being retired. After the first year, I said to my husband, Stan [who works at the Museum of Transportation], what in the world am I going to do now? He said, "Why don't you come out and drive the train?" I said, "Oh my goodness ... you've got all men!" I didn't sleep the night before. I was wondering how am I going to drive that big ol' tram? Turns out, I liked driving the tram a lot. The men could not have been nicer. They are a nice group of people. Every last one of them is really good with the public and children. Are passengers surprised to see a woman drive the train? As a matter of fact, just the other day, I had a comment: "Oh my goodness, we have a lady that's going to drive the train!" A little girl the other day, she was so surprised to see a lady! She liked trains so much, and I guess it gave her a glimpse into the future that maybe she could do this someday. We joke that I broke the glass ceiling! Maybe I broke the "brass ceiling." I say that because we have so much metal on the train.
Tell me about the interesting people who have ridden the miniature train. We've had people from all over the world come and ride the train. We've had a wedding party on the train. Last year, I picked up Santa on the train and brought him back to the museum.
You often work with your husband. When he's the conductor and you're the engineer, is he a back-seat driver? No. No. I am though! I was really shy my first year, but now the men say, when Jean's on, she's the boss every day!