“They make a good living here. I am proud of them. I don’t let them know it often because I don’t want it going to their heads, but I am really proud of them.”
The Saunders are no strangers to the rail industry! With a combined 76 years of service, Mike Saunders and sons, Peter and Mike Jr., consider it the family business. From Saint John, Mike joined the Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway in 1979, and transitioned to NB Southern Railway upon its formation in 1995.
After years working on the rail gangs, today Mike is a Signal Maintainer based in Saint John. His eldest son Peter joined him at the railway nearly 20 years ago, and now works as an Operations Planning Supervisor; his younger son, Mike Jr., joined them a few years later and is now a West Side Track Foreman with NB Southern.
We recently spoke with Mike, Pete and Mike Jr. at the railway's West Saint John Shop and can’t wait for you to hear their story!
Interviewer: Mike, how did you come to be in the rail industry?
Mike: Well, in ’79 I applied for a job with CP. At the time they were hiring rail gangs, and you worked anywhere between Ottawa and Saint John, and over in Nova Scotia too.
Interviewer: Were you the first person to go into the rail industry in your family? If yes, why?
Mike: Yes. I needed a job, so I applied. And they paid good so I took it.
Interviewer: Pete and Mike Jr., what led to you being interested in the railway?
Pete: I was a university student and I needed a summer job, so I actually applied with Sunbury Transport, to work in the lumber yard [adjacent to NB Southern’s West Side Shop]. It was just a temporary job I was applying for and when I came to the interview and the HR people at the time asked me if I had any trouble finding the building.
I said no, that I’d come there hundreds of times and that my Dad had worked at NB Southern forever. And two weeks later, they called me and said they had a job with NB Southern that was more permanent if I was interested in that. I said sure, and I just never left.
Lots of opportunities came after that (Conductor, Yard Planner, Rail Traffic Coordinator, Management). Today, I’m a supervisor. And it’s not just good money, it’s the environment and the people. And it was always cool going to Dad’s work as a kid and seeing it; going on the locomotives for rides. Just being around the trains.
Mike Jr.: I got out of high school and was working at a gas station. I figured that wasn’t the place to be, so I came to NB Southern. I worked my way up over the years, from the gangs up to a yard foreman.
Interviewer: You mentioned spending time on trains growing up. Do you have any key memories that stand out?
Mike.: I have one. He [Mike Jr.] was pretty young when he told one of the foremen to ‘Get off my Daddy’s train!’ He must have been about four or five. Back many, many moons ago!
Interviewer: What do you like best about the industry?
Pete: The flexibility. You can work outside or inside even in the same role, depending on which department you’re working with. It’s never the same. Each day is different. I like the flexibility and all the things that can happen in the run of a day. All the challenges.
Mike: I enjoy my job. Being called out [at all hours] to keep everything running. I can moan and complain sometimes, but I really do enjoy what I do.
Mike Jr.: It’s the atmosphere, I’d say. Being able to work inside and outside. And being able to advance with the company, the opportunity here.
Can you describe what it’s like to work with family?
Mike Sr.: Really, we don’t work together that often [being in different departments] … I will call them to find out what’s going on in the evenings sometimes.
Pete: Our departments all intersect… If I hear something about one of their departments, sometimes I’m a bit keener to listen. Sometimes I hear about challenges coming their way, or about some good news that might not have trickled down… that I can share with them. I can tell them Ian [the railway’s General Manager] was thrilled about this action, or things like that. I have the ability to give them information from the supervisor side, and they can share information and stories with me that might not make it up to the morning leadership meetings.
Mike: It makes a difference. That helps.
Pete: It’s good too because we talk work at home, and we can all understand what we’re talking about. Because a lot of people don’t really understand what the railway is or what it does. We don’t need to sit down and explain the little details to each other.
Mike: And most people do get interested when we start talking about it.
Mike Jr.: The public is really interested in what’s going on. They’ll see the machinery go by, or different trains go by, and want to know what they are.
Interviewer: Do you all spend time together outside of work?
Mike Jr.: We do spend time together. We get together for family dinners and barbecues.
Interviewer: Is there potential for us to see a third generation of Saunders at NB Southern?
Mike: His [Mike Jr.’s] son has it all planned out. He’s going to work for the railroad.
Mike Jr.: He’s six years old and he wants to come here. He has a ball coming here [for employee family train rides and visits] and hanging out.
Mike: For me, it was always like take Your Kid to Work Day, but my two never left!
Interviewer: Mike, can you tell us how it feels to have two sons follow in your footsteps, working at the railway?
Mike: I think it’s great that they could get into it. That they could stay here [in Saint John] and work at home rather than going out West or travelling. And they make a good living here. I am proud of them. I don’t let them know it often because I don’t want it going to their heads, but I am really proud of them and it’s been really good.
Pete: I remember being really young and dropping Dad off at the Via station and he’d be away working for weeks at a time. So, as a kid, that’s hard. And, as an adult, not having to do that and travel for weeks at a time, it’s awesome. To go home, and be able to sleep in your own bed at night. You do get to travel once in a while, but it’s not months or weeks at a time.
Mike Jr.: Same. I’m happy I get to stay home, and I get to see my son grow up.