In October, Local 933’s Jorge Moralez had a hand in two “rebirths” — one public and one personal.
First is that of a Missouri Pacific caboose that had been out of service for decades. Sitting neglected in the middle of the town of Pleasant Hill, Missouri, its destiny seemed to be a slow, gradual rot as oxidation and moisture both took their toll following years of neglect.
Yet Moralez, a Union Pacific conductor who formerly served as a trustee at Local 1409 in Kansas City, found himself at his new local in Jefferson City, Missouri, saw potential there and acted to do something about it.
“It sat there for 20 years,” said Moralez, who’s been a railroader for 16 years. “People didn’t want to see it fade away – we had the community and the support.”
So while still working as a conductor, Moralez spent his own time coordinating dozens of volunteers, getting supplies, spreading the word to a national audience, getting the project rolling and maintaining the momentum so that, in time, the caboose would be fixed.
At times it seemed like a difficult thing to accomplish, but the restoration attracted a level of support that surprised even Moralez. At the beginning of October, a planned flurry of activity involving former and current railroaders, members of the community, including Cub and Boy Scouts, and even top union officers, turned back time and preserved a piece of the town’s and rail history.
“At the end of the day, I was just looking for support,” he said. “We had an amazing turnout. Twelve volunteers a day – the city came out in force. The union came out, and so did Union Pacific. Nothing says community more than the fact that UP, SMART-TD and the city of Pleasant Hill could pull together to accomplish this. Everything got done in six days.”
While balancing the amount of food needed to keep volunteers happy was admittedly a challenge on a daily basis during the work session, Moralez said the resulting job well done and a collective experience shared by many people who might never have been united in such a common purpose was a special thing.
“Everything worked out perfectly,” he said.
A particular highlight was the engagement of the scouts, ranging from 10 to 12 years old, who peppered the railroaders, both active and retired, with questions about the industry in an impromptu Q&A while chowing down on pizza on a Saturday afternoon.
One particularly memorable moment came when a scout expressed his disappointment that the caboose wasn’t going to make a triumphant return to active service, Moralez recalled with a laugh.
And while the bright red caboose will not be returning to the rails, Moralez himself has experienced a rebirth of sorts himself.
After going through a very difficult period in his life where he struggled with addiction, he had been dismissed from his job. However, the union, in particular General Chairperson Terry Dixon, who retired early this year, had Brother Moralez’s back.
“It’s come full circle – I was not always the best member,” Moralez said. “I went through a dark time – the union didn’t give up on me.”
Moralez was reinstated to service thanks in part to GC Dixon and the union’s intervention and has now been clean for five years.
And the efforts by his union family got Moralez back on track as a freight conductor, it also put him on a path where he felt empowered enough to lead and take responsibility for a Herculean task such as the caboose restoration.
“I wanted to show other members the ownership. That caboose is on our territory, and I wanted to make sure everyone knew that,” Moralez said. “I wanted to make sure that Local 933 is the frontrunner.”
Surrounding locals and even national officers including SMART-TD President Jeremy Ferguson and Vice President Brent Leonard recognized the energy and drive he was putting in the project, so they headed to Pleasant Hill to assist.
“I did want all of SMART-TD involved,” Moralez said.
Moralez’s own personal circle came around on Oct. 4 — seven years after he had last been an officer, he once again stepped up to lead. At a Local 933 meeting held at the caboose, he was nominated and then elected by acclamation to serve as his local’s vice president.
“All the stars aligned,” he said. “Everything just fell into place.”
Moralez says that he’ll continue to mobilize and motivate members and the public alike in his new position, but first, there’s a touch of unfinished business with the caboose.
While the final emblems placed on the caboose’s exterior were done Oct. 23, there are a couple of areas of the interior that need wrapped up — namely painting, getting the chairs reupholstered, and running electricity to it.
To pitch in, contact Moralez directly at email@example.com or follow the QR code in the flyer below to donate to the cause.
“It does take some effort,” Moralez said. “We are not done. It’s just the beginning – there’s other things we fight for,” Moralez said. “I want it to be better for all of us – but I can’t do it all by myself.”