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Nothing sounds sweeter to Shane Flick than the shrill whistle that signals the arrival of a train.
His father worked for Norfolk Southern, introducing Shane to life on the railroad at an early age. The two hoboed together from time to time, hopping aboard an empty train car bound for a city they wanted to explore. As an adult, Shane drove a truck for a number of years, then got his chance to work on the railroad, serving as a conductor for a Norfolk Southern train that delivered cargo. And even now, when he’s not working his regular full-time job as a Bristol Tennessee Transit Bus driver, much of his time is spent watching trains – the real ones that travel through Bristol on a daily basis and the model trains that fill a massive building adjacent to his home.
So it was only natural that his heart fluttered just a bit when he was reintroduced to Angie – a childhood friend and fellow bus driver – who casually mentioned how much she loves the sound of a lonely train whistle. It was a match made in heaven that was made official at the Bristol Train Station, where the two were married last December.
Angie, too, developed a love for trains at an early age when her uncle, a Big Stone Gap coal miner, took her along one day. They hitched a ride to the mine on a train and, once inside, traveled below the surface on mine cars. As she grew older, she dreamed of escaping the monotony of her teenage years by hopping aboard a train.
“NS trains have a big black horse on them,” she said, referring to the iconic Norfolk Southern logo. “I always wanted to ride out of town on one of those horses.”
Angie worked as a computer programmer for a time, but quit when her youngest son was born. She really didn’t enjoy the work that much, she said, and decided to try something new. Her good friend Connie was driving a school bus for Holston Bus Company and convinced Angie to submit an application. After driving school buses together for several years, Angie went to work for Johnson City Transit and Connie began driving a Bristol Tennessee Transit Bus.
Just over three years ago, Angie became disenchanted with her job in Johnson City and – upon the encouragement of Connie – called Public Services Director Wes Ritchie and completed an application for the City of Bristol. She started a few weeks later, initially driving the large buses that make their rounds along fixed routes throughout the city. She is now assigned to Job Access, a van that transports passengers to and from work each day.
Once on the job, she and Shane realized they already knew each other. They grew up in nearby neighborhoods, attended church together as children, and had many mutual friends. As time went by, they rekindled their friendship, then fell in love.
They both work in the same City department, but work different schedules and drive different buses. Therefore, they don’t see each other at work very often – except on special occasions. Like last December, when they rushed through their wedding vows so they had time to decorate their buses for the Bristol Christmas Parade or when Shane’s bus is full and Angie offers space in her van to transport someone with a disability. They both agreed the people they meet along the route and those they work with, a friendly group that has become their second family, is the best thing about their jobs.
When the work day is done, they spend many evenings in the 30-by-52-foot room that houses their massive model train collection. Shane’s late father started the project and, despite the fact that he lost an arm while working for Norfolk Southern, was a master at building a realistic village. Shane has added numerous trains and reconfigured the setup over the years and now Angie is involved, bringing her own ideas to the project. Shane likes the engines and freight cars, while Angie enjoys collecting passenger trains. They travel to hobby stores and train shows, buying, selling, and trading to make their village uniquely their own. Shane estimates they have about 500 engines, but wouldn’t even venture a guess at their total collection.
“We had a lady from the insurance company who tried to count them, but she gave up after two days,” Angie said. “There are just too many of them.”
Pictures of trains decorate their home and their little dogs have been given names – Diesel, Boxcar, and Caboose – that are reminders of the family’s passion for all things railroad related. Angie also has a collection of china once used on passenger trains and has learned to differentiate between common pieces and those that are truly valuable. Vacations have taken the couple to such places as Galesburg, IL, for Railroad Days, or Bryson City, NC, to ride the Polar Express. Wherever they go, they make time to sit beside the tracks and watch a train or two go by, a phenomenon known as “rail fanning.”