Commentary

BNSF: Hampson Family’s Enduring Mark of Safety, Resilience, Dedication

Written by Eunice Archila, Staff Writer, BNSF
From left to right: Greg Hampson, Ben Hampson and Bill Hampson holding Ben’s son, Thad. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

From left to right: Greg Hampson, Ben Hampson and Bill Hampson holding Ben’s son, Thad. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Ben Hampson’s family connection to the railroad runs deep. On his maternal side, his great-great-grandfather, Joseph Martinz, and great-grandfather Jack Martinz worked for Northern Pacific Railway (NP) in the early 1900s. Meanwhile, the paternal legacy took root in 1942 when Dan Hampson, driven by unfavorable farming circumstances and the inviting promises of railway employment, moved his family from North Dakota to Montana.

Dan Hampson. (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Settling in Livingston, Dan Hampson embarked on a journey as a machinist helper for NP. He enjoyed his work and pulling pranks on his colleagues. His time there left a deep impression on his family.  

Toward the end of his time at NP, Dan even got to work with his son, Bill Hampson, who was considering a bottling apprenticeship with Coca-Cola at the time. However, he decided to take the railway route. Bill Hampson began his career at NP in 1949 as a laborer in a car shop, then worked as a carman for much of his career. He transitioned to a locomotive paint shop for the last few years before he retired in 1983.  

Bill Hampson, left, standing in front of a Northern Pacific Railway locomotive with three colleagues. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Following the family tradition, his son Greg Hampson started to work for NP right before it merged with other lines and formed Burlington Northern (BN). Greg Hampson’s first day on the job coincided with his father’s birthday, May 24, 1970.  

He worked as a section laborer and electrician helper in the roundhouse before he joined the Army on active duty until Jan. 3, 1971. Upon his return Dec. 10, 1973, Greg Hampson began an apprenticeship as a machinist, a role in which he thrived until he retired Oct. 10, 2012.

Greg Hampson standing in front of a BNSF vehicle in 2004. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Back in the day, teenagers would go to work for the railroad after high school. With more than 1,000 employees in Livingston, the railroad was a huge support to the citizens of that small town. 

Despite the good days and booming growth Livingston was experiencing, it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. In 1986, as the local chairman of Livingston Machinist Local 168, Greg Hampson helped a large number of displaced machinists receive compensation and work opportunities in other areas. It was a difficult time that affected many.

Bill and Greg Hampson working together during Greg’s last year of service. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Greg Hampson’s sons—Bill, Ben and Joe Hampson—also pursued careers on the rail. Walking in his father’s footsteps, Bill Hampson is a traveling mechanic who began working for Burlington Northern prior to the merger with Santa Fe. He’s been with BNSF since 1993. The youngest of the Hampson brothers, Joe, was also a traveling mechanic for BNSF for eight years.  

Joe Hampson in front of a BNSF vehicle. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Ben Hampson’s journey on the rails began in 2004 with Montana Rail Link (MRL), where he apprenticed as an electrician. When he first started, around three-fourths of the employees at MRL had worked with his dad.  

“When I walked in for the first time, I knew a lot of faces,” he said. 

Although he was laid off in Livingston in April 2010, he was able to move to the same role in Helena, Mont., from August 2010 to 2012. Eventually he was able to return to the Livingston shop and has been there ever since. MRL has since merged into BNSF and is now BNSF’s MRL Subdivision. 

Ben Hampson, his children and his wife, Brittany. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Safety has been of the highest importance to him. It’s been a family priority that was passed down after Bill Hampson heard about a tragic accident in which a crane operator lost his life.  

“I have been involved with safety in many ways,” Ben Hampson said. “I was on the Livingston area safety committee for five years, where I held the President position for years. I also ran our weekly safety meetings at the shops for those five years and was involved in the Operation Lifesaver program for 15 years.”

Ben Hampson featured as the recipient of a safety award in 2008. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Growing up, the Hampsons had grinders, welders and an array of equipment around the house. Ben’s dad, Greg, instilled the importance of using items the right way, using face shields, and wearing gloves and hearing protection. Greg Hampson shared the knowledge he learned on the railroad and passed it on to his children. 

Admiring his father’s efforts to provide for his family, Ben Hampson saw the benefits working on the railroad provided. 

“It was the best thing I ever did for myself and my family,” he said. “I’ve been married, divorced and remarried. I have kids ranging from 24 years old to 10 years old. I work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., which allows me time with my family. I can coach my kids’ sports teams and be involved in extracurricular activities. I get to be in every part of my kid’s lives. It’s been a great job for me. I remember standing out in the driveway as a kid, waving goodbye to my old man as he drove off in his work truck, but now, I have an appreciation for what he did for our family.” 

The last sunrise on MRL. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

The acquisition of MRL by BNSF felt like coming home for Ben. As the sun sets on MRL and rises on BNSF, Ben Hampson remains steadfast in his conviction, hopeful that future generations of Hampsons will continue to leave a mark on the railroad.

First sunrise after MRL joined BNSF. (Caption and Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

This article first appeared on the Rail Talk section of BNSF’s website.

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