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BNSF names new track for railroad family

By , Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
Published:
3 Photos
A BNSF train passes the Melonas siding west of Stevenson in the Columbia River Gorge. The stretch of track was named in December for a family with three generations of railroad workers.
A BNSF train passes the Melonas siding west of Stevenson in the Columbia River Gorge. The stretch of track was named in December for a family with three generations of railroad workers. Leah Smith Photo Gallery

They’ve been working on the railroad, all the live-long century.

That’s why BNSF Railway just named a new section of track in the Columbia River Gorge after the Melonas family. Three generations of the family have worked for the railroad continuously for 110 years.

They include patriarch Gust Melonas; his sons Sam and John Melonas; and current BNSF employees Gus and Louis Melonas, the sons of Sam Melonas.

The Melonas siding is west of Stevenson, about six miles from the family cemetery plot where Gust and his two sons are buried along state Highway 14.

The section of track, almost two miles long, is part of the company’s multi-year capital improvement project in Washington.

“A siding is like an additional lane on a highway, where trains can meet and pass one another — allowing a more fluid flow of traffic and minimizing congestion,” said Gus Melonas, BNSF spokesman and third-generation employee.

As far as naming the siding in honor of his family, “The are numerous current BNSF employees deserving of this, as well as retirees,” said Melonas, a 1977 graduate of Columbia River High School. “It could be named after any of the them.”

The family’s railroad resume goes back to when the track linking the east and west ends of the gorge was still a work in progress.

And Kostandinos “Gust” Melonas was doing the work. The family patriarch left Greece in 1906; a year later, the 19-year-old was working on a construction gang building the SP&S Railway in southern Washington.

Later, as a construction foreman, Gust Melonas was involved in building the rail yard at Wishram, about 100 miles east of Vancouver, and the Oregon Trunk route along the Deschutes River.

The second generation went to work in 1937 when Sam Melonas was 16. He eventually was appointed assistant superintendent of roadway and maintenance for the Burlington Northern Railway’s Pacific Northwest Division.

John Melonas, his brother, became Burlington Northern’s vice president in charge of safety.

And now Louis Melonas is welding foreman of the Portland-Vancouver terminal in Vancouver, joining his twin brother, Gus Melonas.

Add up how long the five men have worked for the railroad, under several corporate identities, and it comes to more than 210 collective years, the BNSF spokesman said.

Their own labor isn’t all they brought to the job, according to a tribute. Their contributions include “the family’s hiring of hundreds of railroad employees,” according to a plaque at the Oregon Rail Heritage Foundation.

Railroading has been more than a job for members of the Melonas family. Over the years, it’s been a factor in where they lived, and even who one of them married.

“I was born in Wishram,” Gus Melonas said. “My earliest childhood memories are going with my brother to hobo camps. The hobos would give us Twinkies.”

There is another element to the twins’ railroading roots. Their parents met at a train station.

When Rita Laird stepped off the train in Stevenson during a snowstorm, Sam Melonas helped the passenger with her baggage. They were married for 50 years.

Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter
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