In Seattle, in the shadow of what is now Starbucks world headquarters, used to sit the Milwaukee Road’s Stacy Street Yard, where in October of 1975 we find Engineer Rick Canady hanging his head out in the cold drizzling mist watching for hand signs from Switchmen Ron Cushway and Bobbilee Walston. You’ll notice that Rick has a pleasant smile on his face and that is no accident. Rick loved everything about being an engineer, having originally hired out for the Spokane Portland & Seattle in Portland in 1968 after serving as a Marine machine gunner in Vietnam, a fact that he wore proudly the rest of his life. His nickname was “The Commander” because he was still on patrol through the jungle the rest of his life. True, Commander is not technically correct for the Marines, but “Corporal” was busting him a couple grades and because Rick’s booming, commanding voice was anything but non-commissioned.
Every story Rick told started out the same way: “Well, back in 1968 the trainmaster said to me, ‘Kid, get yourself down to the SP&S offices down on Hoyt Street, Portland, and tell em I sent you—they’ll put you right to work!” Then it was best to put aside what you were doing for a while and pay attention because you weren’t going anywhere until he was finished recollecting about the good old days. But he was a natural storyteller and it was a joy to listen.
Rick moved over to the Milwaukee, and then to the Burlington Northern in 1980 when the Milwaukee yanked the rug out, finishing his career on the Burlington Northern and BNSF, cracking the whip on the Sounder commuter trains until retiring two years ago, not really wanting to, but his health wouldn’t let him continue.
Rick passed away this weekend, taking his stories and commanding voice with him, but those of us that knew him will continue to tell Rick Canady stories and immortalize him in our small way. He was one of the many colorful people that made railroading truly great. There are many like him, but there was—and only ever will be—one Rick Canady.
This picture is by John Crosby, who has a great website of his Milwaukee Road experiences at mrcd.org