Iowa woman realizes dream of becoming an engineer


July 31st, 2011 by Ric Hanson

COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa (AP) — Little boys aren’t the only ones who dream of being engineers when they grow up. Eileen Galiher did, too, and became the first female engineer at Union Pacific Railroad’s Council Bluffs yard. “I was the first one in Council Bluffs, but I have no idea how many there were everywhere else,” she said.

In Portsmouth, where she was born, her grandpa was a section foreman for the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad Co., which was known as The Milwaukee Road, and lived in a section foreman’s house by the tracks, she said. She had several uncles – and, later, cousins – who also worked for the Milwaukee. Her family moved to Council Bluffs when she was 8, and her dad worked for Union Pacific as a mechanic. She graduated from Abraham Lincoln High School and did civil service work for seven years before landing a secretarial job at Union Pacific headquarters. She had two sisters who also started out as secretaries for the railroad.

“My dad worked there, too, at the same time,” she said. “I have many relatives that worked for the railroad, so it’s kind of in your blood. None of them were engineers.” After almost 10 years as a secretary, Galiher started training as an engineer in January 1979. “I had always wanted to be an engineer,” she said. “I had inquired about it several years.”

She trained for a year, with UP providing all the training. Then she had to meet quality standards. Galiher’s first work as an engineer was hostling, or moving engines, she said. She started in the Council Bluffs rail yard, then worked in Grand Island and Columbus in Nebraska “until I could hold a job back in Council Bluffs,” she said.

“I was stuck on the switch engine for about 16 months in Council Bluffs; and I had regular hours, but that’s the only thing I had – regular hours,” she said. “Then I got on the Extras Board in Council Bluffs” and worked as an on-call engineer, she said. “I chose to work the Extras Board and the road to make more money.” That meant having an unpredictable schedule, “It’s tough, but it gave me a good retirement,” she said.

Galiher, now of Honey Creek, worked for Union Pacific Railroad for 34 1/2 years, including about 25 years as an engineer, before she retired May 1, 2003. She still has a son-in-law who works for the railroad. Galiher now spends some of her time volunteering at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.

“I have various hobbies,” she said. “My biggest one right now is quilting.” Galiher is also in the Red Hat Society and a card group. She has two daughters – one in Council Bluffs and one in Salt Lake – five grandchildren (including two in Council Bluffs) and one great-grandchild, also in Council Bluffs.