I like trains and railroaders. Laurette Lee was a railroader and was the Amtrak conductor killed when a semi broadsided the westbound California Zephyr east of Reno on June 24, 2011. Though I didn’t know Laurette personally, I rode with her out of Reno eastbound about a year ago. She struck me as very stern and very much in charge. Just do what the lady says and don’t sass I thought to myself! For the past three Thursdays I’ve had the opportunity to visit the Reno station to watch the eastbound Zephyr come through. The excitement of seeing a train has been with me since I was a child and has never left me. Observing the distant bright headlights of a train as it rounds the corner inbound to the station is something I find exhilarating. As I watch the faces of the kids, I see their excitement and anticipation as well. For two Thursdays I watched Laurette board the passengers out of Reno. This is where she and her fellow crewmembers (another conductor and two engineers) started their trip to Winnemucca. In Winnemucca, they got off for a night’s sleep and returned the next day. As always, Laurette briefed her passengers in a no nonsense manner and paced the platform with the determination of a military commander. She coolly tolerated my presence as a dedicated train gazer. Two blasts of the horn, doors closed and the train started to roll. Little did I know that I would watch her leave Reno for the last time on June 23. When I heard that a female conductor had been killed in the crash, my thoughts immediately were with Laurette as she was the only female conductor on that particular segment of the route I was aware of. When her name was released I, sadly, no longer had to wonder. I stopped by the station on June 30 and business was apparently as usual. When I told one of the station guys that I had watched Laurette leave a week ago, he swallowed hard and his eyes welled up and he silently nodded. He expressed what they were all feeling though doing their best to carry on like nothing happened. The show must go on. To me, Laurette was a fixture of the Reno station and this past Thursday sure felt empty without her. As I write this, she is being remembered at the California Railroad Museum in Sacramento which is entirely fitting. I wish I could be there myself. Laurette was an authentic part of the true west and she’ll be missed and remembered.
Here are several good links about her. One includes a video of her during an interview: