Nathan George loves trains. He says he might even want to drive one when he grows up.
So, when his third-grade class at Lakeside Elementary in Pittsburg, Kansas, was given a social studies assignment to write to people who keep the economy moving in his community, he knew exactly who to contact.
George wrote a letter to a “train driver,” and that letter made it to South Kansas & Oklahoma (SKOL) engineer Mike Yoger. The letter thanked him for taking things where they go and for being a safe driver because if he wasn’t safe “the train cars would fly off the train tracks the train would crash.”
“I was honored to get it,” said Yoger. “Nathan took the time to thank us so I wanted to show our gratitude back.”
Yoger wrote a note back explaining that the SKOL hauls products like grain, sand, rock, and produce, and that there can be more than 100 railcars in a train, making them a mile long. He told George about interchanges with Class I railroads like the Kansas City Southern and BNSF, and most importantly, safety.
“He mentioned being a safe driver in the letter, so I wanted to make sure the students knew about that,” said Yoger. “I told him that they needed to be safe too. That they shouldn’t play around tracks and about the dangers associated with that.”
Yoger signed the letter and asked SKOL trainmaster Dustin Coester and conductor Brady Hutchins to sign it as well. George probably would have been happy enough to receive a letter from three members of a train crew, but Yoger wanted to do more.
He and Hutchins boxed up a pair of safety glasses, a safety vest, gloves, lanterns, and even a locomotive reverser. A reverser is like a big key that controls which way the train is moving. They also sent a box of Watco train whistles for the rest of the class.
“We sent him pretty much everything that we carry with us all the time,” said Hutchins. “The only other thing he’d need is a radio.”
Bridget Walker, George’s teacher, presented him with the package in front of the whole class and read Yoger’s letter to all the students.
“Nathan was truly floored! He was shocked and loved the goodies,” said Walker. “His mom said he would be going through it for days, and knowing him, he will look up each detail about each item.”
Walker passed out the whistles to the rest of the class and they had a whistle blowing party.
“Thank you, thank you for writing back and sharing the sense of community with our children,” said Walker.
Yoger says that sense of community is one of the main reasons why he felt compelled to respond.
“We were able to educate the class about safety around trains, represent Watco in a positive way, and make Nathan’s day,” said Yoger. “One of the reasons I love working here is the relationship we have with the community.”
Three truck drivers at the Pittsburg warehouse also received letters from Xiden Beatty, Aiden Long, and Kaitlyn Leiker, other students in Walker’s class. The letters said the students appreciated what the drivers did and that they liked the big trucks. The students thanked them for making sure they had things like food and toys.
Gerald Kattner, Jake Jones, and John Nepote all wrote letters back to the students thanking them for thinking of truck drivers.