Umpire Finds Railroading Career Is Home Base

Written by BNSF Railway Corporate Communications
Bob Bainter, Manager of Operations and Safety Training, BNSF (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Bob Bainter, Manager of Operations and Safety Training, BNSF (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

Bob Bainter is something of a rules guy. On the job with BNSF, he’s a manager of Operations and Safety Training based out of Cicero, Ill. He’s responsible for ensuring that Transportation employees—train crews, switch crews and others who handle trains and railcars—follow operating procedures for their and their coworkers’ safety.

Before coming to BNSF, Bainter was a minor league baseball umpire for 10 seasons, making sure that play was fair, and players followed the rules. During his umpire career, he advanced as high as AAA and Major League Baseball Spring Training. He umpired six league championship series for a total of 72 games, and in 2004, he umpired the AAA All-Star Game and the MLB Hall of Fame Game in Cooperstown, N.Y.

While his umpiring career broke from family tradition, he eventually decided to return to his roots in 2007, having come from a long line of railroaders stretching all the way back to the 1890s.

Bob Bainter (Photograph Courtesy of BNSF)

“When I decided to trade in my ballcap for a hardhat in 2007, I never imagined railroading would be such a rewarding career,” Bainter said. “I’m in it for the long haul. I enjoy the camaraderie and friendships I’ve made the last 16 years.”

The family ties to railroading are on both sides. Bainter’s maternal great-grandfather, Alfred Betts Sr., worked for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway (ATSF or Santa Fe) as a track maintainer for 46 years before retiring in 1963. For the same four decades, Bainter’s paternal great-grandfather, John W. O’Connell, worked for the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway (CB&Q) at the roundhouse in Galesburg, Ill.

“My family’s railroading roots go back more than a century,” Bainter said. “My relatives have shared many fond memories and funny railroad stories.” 

His paternal great-uncle, David Bainter, passed along his railroading passion and hard work ethic, joining CB&Q in the 1957 as a fireman. Later, he became a locomotive engineer before transitioning to a road foreman of engines out of Alliance, Neb. David worked until 1994 and spent hours sharing railroad stories with his nephew, John Bainter (Bob’s father).

John followed in his uncle’s footsteps and joined Santa Fe in 1964 as a clerk in Galesburg, then conductor and locomotive engineer. John worked for the railroad 46 years, retiring in 2010.

Members of Bob Bainter’s family serving BNSF and our predecessor railroads extend from the 1890s to today. They include (from top-left, clockwise): Alfred Betts Sr., John W. O’Connell, David Bainter, John C. Bainter, Gage Bainter, Cassie Hawkins, Brad Bainter and John M. Bainter. (Photographs Courtesy of BNSF)

“One of the most surreal experiences in my career was the day I was on a train heading out of Galesburg, and my dad was next to me in the locomotive engineer’s seat,” Bob said. “Here’s the guy that I used to watch on trains as a kid, never thinking I’d join the family business. Now I’m working with him.”

Today, two of Bob’s brothers work for BNSF. His oldest, John, is a 33-year railroader who began railroading in Galesburg in the Maintenance of Way department, was also a division engineer and is currently a roadmaster in Galesburg. The other brother, Brad, has been a locomotive engineer for 27 years and is the President of SMART-TD union, Local 445, in Fort Madison, Iowa.

And the story doesn’t stop there. The Bainters’ railroading legacy continues with John’s two children, Bob’s niece, Cassie Hawkins, and nephew, Gage Bainter, both working at BNSF. Cassie is a yardmaster in Galesburg. Gage is a signal maintainer out of St. Joseph, Mo.

Ironically, in his umpiring days, while in the Class AA League, Bob was joined on his crew by a gentleman named Greg Chittenden, from Springfield, Mo. They umpired the AAA-All Star Game together before Bob left to work for the railroad. Fast forward to 2014 when Bob was training a new-hire class. He walked in and—low and behold—Chittenden was attending his class.

Neither of them had any idea the other was going to work for the railroad. “Railroading is a small world,” Bob said.

Bob Bainter (left) and Greg Chittenden (right) served as minor league baseball umpires before joining BNSF. (Photographs Courtesy of BNSF)

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

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