The most important computer job at the Soo Line Railroad

I think everybody who worked at the Soo Line in the early 1980s would agree that running the railroad was an important task for the million dollar IBM 370/158 mainframe computer. Well, most of time ūüėČ

Turns out that during the summer, on Thursday mornings, the primary role for the computer, and most important task of the programming department was the preparation of the golf league statistics. Wednesday evenings employees would do their rounds of golf while documenting their swings at each hole.

Thursday morning they would give this to the programmer assigned the task of entering them into punched cards and running the programs to prepare the eagerly awaited statistics that included standings, best and worst at each hole, and so on. Woe unto the indiscreet person who would attempt¬†interrupt the¬† golf programmer’s work¬†before the statistics were done–as I did on one occasion.

The golf league was well represented in the computer room, so someone would be watching the printer, and begin preparing to burst and distribute the reports the minute they were done printing. And then, of course, the flurry of activity as the statistics inspired much raucous discussion, bragging and excuses.

One one occasion I was invited to sub for a league member who couldn’t make it. Walking down the fairway ¬†after teeing off on the first hole, we moved out of sight of the clubhouse. My manager waved me over to his golf bag. I went over and asked¬†what he wanted. He reached into his bag and handed me a beer. Those were simpler, freer times.

My golf score that day was so bad that I received a high handicap, and one of the other golfers begged me to play on their team the next week. He believed that my score had nowhere to go but up, and that my handicap would propel me into a very low score. I declined, and to this day I mildly regret not joining them for one more round.

Some 27 years have passed, and my work at the Soo Line, from 1979 to 1982, still stands as one of my most enjoyable jobs with some of my favorite co-workers. It was the first job where I really excelled, where I felt I had a place. I was too young to know how good I had it, and one day in the autumn of 1982 I exchanged this somewhat idylic world for the somewhat grim and darwinian one of law school.

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