An American family’s story is intertwined with the railroad’s
Like a lot of families, Assistant Superintendent Drew Suddreth’s has deep and long ties to railroading. What makes his story unique is that his great-grandparents raised 15 children in two boxcars pushed side by side near the rail yard.
“My great grandpa, who immigrated from Mexico, was a track foreman for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy (a BNSF predecessor) in Chicago,” Suddreth explained. It was during World War II, and the railroads needed workers to replace those who’d gone off to fight. In that era, the immigrants were offered a job with housing in a boxcar.
Suddreth’s grandmother told him stories of life in the boxcar, which was home for nearly 17 years until the parents bought their first house in the Brookfield, Illinois, suburb in the late 1950s.
“Our family still owns that Brookfield house,” Suddreth said. “I can remember as a kid always being over there and understanding that we were able to have it because the railroad provided for our family. We have had 12 family members work for the railroad, ranging from clerks, to conductors, to engineers, to trainmasters, to assistant vice presidents.”
Most recently, his late cousin Dennis Pederson was a locomotive engineer in Chicago and his cousin Scott Hernandez is assistant vice president for Intermodal Operations.
Giving his family a better life was his great-grandfather Louis Hernandez’s dream when he came to the U.S. He would work for the railroad for another 40-plus years, with three of his sons following in his footsteps. Suddreth remembers conversations about gratitude for the opportunities they had.
“Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren were taught to take pride in their work and to make the right decisions for the right reasons,” he said. “Loyalty and trust were values we were taught and have as a family.”
But Suddreth himself wasn’t sure what he wanted to do career-wise, even after hearing his great uncles’ stories about the railroad. After earning a communications degree in 2013, he started asking those uncles questions.
“We’d had conversations about their jobs, but I didn’t really know a lot about trains. I saw that my uncles had a good quality of life and they encouraged me to apply as a conductor, so I did,” Suddreth remembered. “I was home with my mom, who had cancer, when I got my acceptance letter. It was the same day she learned that she was in remission. I took that as a sign.”
After working as a conductor in Galesburg, Illinois, Suddreth was promoted to locomotive engineer in 2014. “I loved being in the cab of a locomotive, where you get to see some of the most beautiful country and sunsets,” he said. “Something feels so American about the job because you understand you’re a part of something so big.”
In 2018, he made the move into management, then advanced to division trainmaster in 2020. In 2021, he and his family moved to Seattle and next to Spokane, Wash., for his current position. He’d never lived so far from his childhood home or the Midwest. Now he’s learning about a new region and valuing his journey more than ever.“
My family’s history and the field experience have taught me compassion and the importance of sharing what our purpose as a railroad is,” he said. “It provides us goods and jobs, and what we do matters. We’re not just running trains, we’re moving America.”
And that’s a sentiment his great-grandfather would certainly understand and appreciate.