Trains are life's passion for Railtown engineer

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By GENEVIEVE

BOOKWALTER

Some men spend their lives chasing women, money or power. King of the Road Joe Bispo has spent the past 41 years chasing trains.

From April to October, seven days a week, the 59-year-old locomotive engineer works California's legendary rail system. Monday through Friday.

He's a full-time switchman for the Union Pacific near his Fresno home. On weekends, he sleeps in a caboose and drives steam engines from Jamestown's Railtown 1897 Historic State Park.

Bispo's two sons Thomas, 30, and Michael, 22 have literally followed in his tracks.

The two began training as kids, and now spend weekends running the engines with their father at Railtown. Michael claims to have worked every job in the park, from mowing the lawn on up.

For the Bispo men, steam locomotives are a passion.

"It's something you live and breathe steam and the heat and the smoke and to most people it's a turnoff," Thomas said. "But I say bring it on."

Thomas owns a computer technology company in Fresno, but volunteers in Jamestown at least three weekends a month. Michael works part time at Orchard Supply Hardware in Fresno during the week, and attends Fresno City College.

Joe Bispo's wife, Mary, and daughter, Andrea, 24, are often guests on the train, but "they're not as into it as the boys are," Bispo said.

As they begin their day in the Mother Lode, Michael laces up his boots under a photocopied sign "Give us our daily steam, and deliver us from diesel."

Thomas and Michael out-chatter their father. The two sons talk about steam engines and recall photos of their mother holding a month-old Michael in her arms aboard a train. They describe movie stars they met while working on shoots for "Back to the Future III" or "Little House on the Prairie," and how Thomas sat under a tree and compared fishing notes with actor Christopher Lloyd.

11504783
The Union Democrat
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