ROD BAKER was honored Friday, May 19 as the 41st Durand Railroad Person of the Year during a special ceremony at Durand Union Station. Baker was joined by his family and railroading buddies for the special day, and the celebration stretched into Saturday as well, with Baker being celebrated as a part of the Railroad Days Parade. Baker is a graduate of Durand High School and was a conductor and brakeman for Grand Trunk Western for 42 years, working out of Durand until 1987.
John Walworth, the 1993 Railroad Person of the Year, opened the ceremony before handing the microphone over to 2016 Railroad Person of the Year Neil Randall for the introduction of this year’s recipient. In a break from recent tradition, Baker actually prepared his acceptance speech, speaking at length about his railroading memories.
“When I was little, people would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up,” Baker said in opening. “I told them that I wanted to ride the rails or run away and join the circus. Thanks to Grand Trunk I got to do both.”
Baker joined the railroad as a brakeman after his first year of college, and the money was so good he decided to stay with the railroad instead of returning to college. After the Durand yard closed in 1987, Baker went on to work out of Port Huron, Lansing, Pontiac, Battle Creek, and Flint. Baker appreciates the many relationships he formed during his time with the railroad, and he really enjoyed the changing environment that came along with riding the rails.
“Every day could be a new adventure. Working at other terminals was an opportunity to meet and work with other people and make new friends. To me, the charm of the railroad was the locals. The Greenville, Jackson, and Cass City subs were some of my favorites, but the Grand Rapids sub was my personal favorite. It ran from Durand through Grand Rapids to Grand Haven and Muskegon, and it followed the Grand River for a stretch. During the fall when the leaves changed, it was just like taking a color tour. In the winter, the snow was so deep that when we got to Muskegon, we would have to go out the back door and shovel snow to get the front door open,” Baker recalled during his speech.
Baker was joined on his special night by his wife, Lori; grandsons AJ, Ryan, and Cole; sons Ken and Rod, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who flew back from Germany to be present for the ceremony; and Ken’s wife, Betsy.
(Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)