by Graham Sturgeon, co-editor
RAILROAD PERSON OF THE YEAR Rod Baker can be seen posing on the back deck of the Grand Trunk Western caboose in front of Durand Union Station. As a conductor for more than 40 years, the 2017 winner of the prestigious award spent many years riding the rails from his vantage point at the rear of the train. Until they were phased out in the mid-1990s, the caboose afforded conductors the space to conduct their primary duties of filling out paperwork and observing the train. (Independent Photo/Graham Sturgeon)
Longtime Durand resident and Durand High School (DHS) graduate Rod Baker was recently announced as the 2017 Railroad Person of the Year. The contest is sponsored by Durand Union Station, Inc., in conjunction with the Durand Railroad Days festival, to be held May 18 through 21. The honoring ceremony
will be on Friday, May 19 at Durand Union Station. Baker will then ride in the Railroad Days parade on Saturday afternoon before attending a family/railroad alumni gathering at the Depot later in the afternoon.
While Baker’s railroading bloodlines do not run very deep – he is the only member of his family to have worked on the railroad – the 42-year Grand Trunk/Canadian National veteran certainly became part of the mid-Michigan railroading family. Baker hired on with Grand Trunk in 1968, working as a brakeman and baggageman before being promoted to conductor after two years.
He began his career in Durand, working 16 hour days alongside many of his friends and DHS classmates. Though he acknowledges that railroading “is a lifestyle that’s not for everyone,” he cherishes the years he spent building relationships with his “family” of co-workers in Durand.
“I really enjoyed my time with the railroad,” Baker says. “I enjoyed what I was doing, the people I worked with, being outside, and traveling. It was almost like a fall color tour everyday. I always looked forward to traveling along the Grand River to Grand Rapids, and there was nothing like busting through the giant snow drifts in the winter. The hours were long, but the job came with great perks.”
Following the closure of the Durand operation in 1987, Baker spent time working out of the Port Huron, Lansing, Pontiac, Detroit, Battle Creek, and Flint offices.
Rod and his wife of 43 years, Lori, who also graduated from DHS, built their family in Durand, having two sons, Ken and Rod. After graduating from DHS, Ken moved to Coopersville, while Rod Jr. joined the U.S. Army and is currently stationed in Germany. Additionally, Rod Sr.’s three brothers and one sister all graduated from DHS. Rod Sr. and Lori now live in Argentine Township, located southeast of Durand.