“It's always just been life.”
To understand Scott Kolp’s story, you have to know a bit about his home town of Milwaukee. It’s a city that grew up on heavy industry. Not only the famed brewers (Miller, Pabst, Blatz and Schlitz) that gave name to the local baseball team, but Harley-Davidson, Briggs & Stratton, Allis-Chalmers, Allen Bradley and countless others planted factories and headquarters where the Milwaukee River meets Lake Michigan. Tying these industries to the wider world, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, which branded itself “The Milwaukee Road,” blanketed the city with industry spurs and yards. Milwaukee Road’s routes would later become a key part of CP’s U.S. network.
Kolp’s dad’s family historically worked for a tugboat service that guided freighters into the Port of Milwaukee, also providing trips around Lake Michigan. His dad worked a 47-year career at mining equipment manufacturer Bucyrus-Erie. So in 2002, when Kolp grew disenchanted with his job as a police officer in a Milwaukee suburb, his decision to hire out with CP as a conductor fit perfectly within his family’s historical role with the city’s heavy industries.
“I grew up enjoying trains,” said Kolp. “When my dad would get laid off from Bucyrus-Erie, he worked for another company called Crane Manufacturing. Both companies shipped everything in and out by rail. If I went to pick him up from work, I would get a chance to see the trains moving.”
Now conductor Kolp gets to move trains as part of his daily routine. On the job, Kolp invests time mentoring the junior conductors that frequently show up to assist.
“I tell them: If you have a question on anything I’m doing, make sure you ask me,” he said. “Any time we go to a new location, the first thing is: Have you been here before? Do you know the tracks? So we’ll start with the tracks, start with the basics.” From there, it’s a discussion of a detailed plan for completing the job, and what other trains might be in the area.
Kolp serves on the Milwaukee/Portage (Wis.) Cross-Functional Health and Safety Committee, and he says situational awareness is something he emphasizes for younger employees. “When I have the students, when we have a train coming through and there’s another job working on this end, I like to quiz them: What’s going on on the other end of the yard right now? Or, you get on the main line servicing an industry, and if a signal is clear or showing a stop indication: Why is the signal that color? There’s a reason it’s lit up. Is there a train lined up, or a train coming at you?”
For Kolp, its about ensuring he’s doing what he can to set the next generation up for success. It’s no surprise that outside of work, he spends his time on projects for his kids’ school, including spreading pea gravel on the playground, installing locks on doors and his personal favourite, carpentry projects such as fixing chairs and tables. Carpentry is a skill he learned as a child from an uncle, and since the school has nobody on staff to handle such projects, Kolp volunteers.
“Part of it comes from the satisfaction that I get to see my kids at school. I’ll stop in and say hello while I’m there. Say thanks to the teachers for what they do for me,” said Kolp. His 7-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter are delighted to see their dad volunteering around the school building and have a passion for their dad’s other hobbies as well.
At age three, his son wired up an old model train set and got it running while dad took a nap. Now he saves up his money to buy remote-control cranes and construction equipment, and plays with “Snap Circuits,” kid-friendly electrical circuits complete with resistors.
His daughter is excited over the treasures her father churns up while scuba diving in the local lakes. She is awaiting her opportunity to become certified and join her dad on his diving adventures.
It seems the long-standing relationship between Kolp’s family and Milwaukee’s tradition of heavy industry may have a bright future. Still, Kolp says he’s never given that connection much thought.
“I don’t really look at it in that scheme,” he says. “It’s always just been life.”