Juanita Villegas Bernal Profile Photo
1926 Juanita 2022

Juanita Villegas Bernal

February 26, 1926 — September 4, 2022

Juanita V. Bernal 96 years old, born February 26, 1926, passed away on September 4, 2022 in her home surrounded by her family. She leaves behind her children Monica Bainum (Lee), Raymond Bernal Jr. (Cherie), Ricardo Bernal, Irma Bernal (David), as well as many grandchildren, great and great-great grandchildren.

Mother was an extremely strong woman, years ahead of her time and had a very good and long career with Southern Pacific Railroad. Her career began at the early age of 17 when she passed the Telegrapher Operator exam. She retired at 60 years old.

On July 18, 1943 mother took the NO. 5 passenger train out of El Paso, TX and was off to Bosque, AZ for her first day as a telegrapher operator.

She bounced around for two years until 1945 when she landed her first job in Sentinel, AZ. Many telegraph operators would quit due to not being able to adjust to all the moving around that required constant packing and unpacking of belongings. She was alone, it was just her and the 3 x 5 metal chest the railroad had given her when she hired on. So she would pack and unpack to go and be where they needed her to be.

It was there in Sentinel, AZ that she would meet the Romero family and eventually our father Raymond V. Bernal. They were to be married in July of 1945. At the time he was a foreman for the railroad and they provided them and outfit car. It consisted of one bedroom, a small kitchen with a wood stove for cooking and heating. They would live in the cars from 1945 to 1952. In 1952 they moved to Hyder, AZ for a new job father received along with their first company housing. They lived there until 1957, when they moved to Tucson, AZ, built their first home and raised their family.

Visitation will be September 19, 2022 at MARTINEZ FUNERAL CHAPELS (2580 S. 6th Ave Tucson, AZ) from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m., followed by a Rosary and Mass at Holy Family Church at 11:00 a.m. Interment will be at Holy Hope Cemetery.

Celebration of Life to follow all services.

A Life Story of Juanita V. Bernal

A personal story of mine about life on the railroad and how I had met Raymond V. Bernal. I was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico in 1926. My mother was from Chihuahua, Mexico and father from Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had one brother and four sisters.

I had attended Holy Cross Catholic School in Las Cruces, NM. No one in her family had ever worked for the railroad, and I had wanted to become a mortician until I heard the railroad was hiring woman. My sister Fita was living in El Paso, Texas when she read in the El Paso Times the railroad hiring announcement. It said they were hiring woman to train to be railroad telegraphers. I moved to El Paso, TX to live with my sister Fita. I went to the job site where there were 15 other girls there also wanting to get hired on with the railroad. Of the sixteen of us there, four were selected to be trained to become railroad telegraphers, and I was one of the four chosen.

The training was to last six months and after three months I felt ready to take the exam for a telegrapher. J.A. Gallin was the Chief Dispatcher, and he gave me the test. I passed the test and qualified passing the 35 wpm exam. I was 17 years old at the time I pass telegrapher exam.

El Paso was in the Rio Grande Railroad Division and that is where I thought I would go to work for the railroad. Unfortunately, all the jobs that came open we’re in the Tucson Division. I was under age, so to be able to go work for them I would need to get a minors work release. My mother said that she would not sign for me to go to work out of the state of New Mexico. My sisters helped me to undermine my mother.  They helped me get her sign a paper that she thought was giving me permission to buy a railroad watch. When she signed the paper, I had my work release signed and was ready to work for the railroad.

I did finally tell my mother that I was going to work for the railroad and the Tucson division. I thought she was going to beat me as she was very strict mother. After my sisters and I spoke with her, she finally realized that it was the only job being offered at the time was the Tucson division. My mother needed my financial support as there were two younger children living with her at the time. So I now have permission to go to Arizona and begin to work for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

About the same time in 1943 the Navy had approached the telegraph for graduates and offered us a telegraphic commission in the Navy as a wave. I really thought that the Navy was offering a better job but knew my mother would not agree to me in listing in the Navy. I had tricked her once I was not about to do the same as second time I’ve been raised very strictly and was very concerned about what my mother thought of me and my way life.

On July 18, 1943 I took the NO.5  passenger train out of El Paso and was off to Bosque, Arizona for my first telegrapher railroad work. I arrived in Bosque at 11 PM and I was to report at midnight to work at the railroad depot. I had never been to Arizona and Bosque was such a desolate place, but I did report for work at 12 PM on the 19th of  July. Doing my three months of training I was being paid $36 for a 15 days. I was working at the El Minuto Café from 6 AM until 2 PM and then I will walk to the Southern Pacific building and attend the telegrapher class from 2 PM until 10 PM.

I finished my first day of work in Bosque and had decided that I was going to take the NO.6 train back to El Paso and forget this job in Bosque. At about 7 AM that day the railroad workers started coming in for their train lineups and that is when I met Mr. Rupert Ruiz, the section foreman Bosque. We began talking and I told him I had told Miss Bremmer that I was going back to El Paso. Mr. Ruiz asked me why, and I told him I had looked out and did not see any houses in sight, where was I going to live? I was mainly concerned about a little dancing recreation, as I really liked to dance, remember I’m 17 years old.

Mr. Ruiz said he was going to take me to meet his wife Pauline and she will give me breakfast and put me up in their home. I went to their home and met his wife and she was very nice. She had six children at home. That afternoon we all went to HeLa Bannack bought some needed items and some groceries. The Ruiz family had taken me in and I stayed with them the entire time I worked in Bosque. We had hit it off very well, they were a very nice family.

The Southern Pacific did provide a box car for you to live in but it was a two room shanty with a small kitchen and a wood stove to cook on and heat up your box car. You either burned wood in your stove or the southern Pacific would furnish coal to burn in the wood stove. We would go to Gila Bend Saturday nights and attend the dance there. It was a small town, but it seemed that everyone would attend the dance. So I was a little happy as I was earning pretty good income and I got to go and dance a little bit. At first there were a lot of boys and men at the dances, but soon after most of those boys and men join the Armed Forces. So it turned into girlfriend time and we just had fun with the girls.

I have never taken Spanish in high school so I was not very good at writing to my mother in Spanish. I would write my letters in English and my sisters would then translate the letters to my mother. Finally I self-taught myself Spanish so I could get by and write my mother letters in broken Spanish.

At least we were communicating by letter to each other, my mother and I. My mother did come out and visit me one time and Sentinel where I had my own little place and she found it pretty hard to understand that I was living by myself with no auto or transportation out in the desert. We did have daily passenger train transportation and that is how I left town and got back-and-forth.

I was a relief operator, and as I had no railroad seniority to hold a steady job. So I would bounce around to give relief vacations or where there was a temporary telegrapher job open. The next place I went was to Blaisdale and there I lived with Slim and Lucelle Hadaway. Lucelle was an excellent cook so I began to learn how to cook Anglo dishes, like a turkey. I had learned how to cook tamales from Berlin Ruiz. I had never cooked much at home, my mother had done most of the cooking in our home growing up.

 

I lived with the Hideaway is for about 30 days and my job is there was over with. I can remember once in Blaisdale we had a derailment.  There were a lot of men they’re in our little office. I could not hear very well with all the talking and the noise in the office so I told all the men to get out of my office. Well later that day Slim Hadaway, the Forman,  and asked me if I knew who I had tossed out of the depot. I said no but I didn’t, but it had gotten quite enough for me after all the men had left. It turned out one of the men I had asked to leave was Mr. GA Boys, the Southern Pacific Superintendent. Three days later Mr. Boys came by on a freight train and tossed me a handwritten note with a 50 cent piece inside. The letter told me I had done a good job during the derailment. My reputation was starting to get around as telegrapher. I was not afraid to do my job, or say what I had to say to all the railroad men.

 

I guess all the little towns were all about the same, but I liked Estrella the best because there was another girl working there name Neva Green and we would ride the helpers in to Estrella.

Helpers are engines that are used to help push the trains up the hills. The engineers were always glad to have our company and we would go to Gila Bank and buy groceries and ride the helper engines into Australia and get off with our groceries.

 

One of the most difficult tasks was it seemed that at every train depot I was sent to they would be filthy the man we’re not too good at keeping the depot is clean. So I would have to scrub floors and walls so that the Depot would look and smell clean. The southern pacific was very good about giving you pain to you even though bright yellow or orange but it least it looked better when finished. I bounced around for about two years until 1945, when I finally landed a job for a while and Sentinel from 12 PM to 8 AM. Also I am now earning about $102 every 15 days and it was pretty good money for 1945. We were all working seven days a week at that time. I can remember going to Tucson for groceries whenever I worked in Rillito, Cortero, or Picacho.

 

Many telegraph operators would quit as they were not be able to adjust to the moving around and packing up all the time, especially if they had children to go to school. I was all alone with my 3 x 5 metal chest the railroad had given me when I was hired on, so I travel light. You knew you were going to be moving so you never bought any furniture or any large objects just groceries.

 

When I was working at Sentinel I met Adolpho Romero, who was the section forman there. I later would meet his wife, Fita, because she would come down on the weekends to do the Southern Pacific paperwork for her husband Adolpho. After a while I started doing the paperwork for Adolfo daily so he could go home to Eloy on the weekends. I became good friends with the Romero family. Fita and Adolpho invited me to their home and Eli and there and met their children Pauline, Theresa, Robert, Gilbert (BB) and Rosie.

 

After I had met Aldolfo and feed the Romero and all their children, they informed fetus brother Raymond Bernal that there was a young female telegrapher in Sentinel that he should meet. So one day Raymond borrowed his brother-in-law’s car and drove to Sentinel to meet me. Raymond would continue to visit me in Sentinel. He asked me to go to Yuma and see a movie but I felt it was too far to go alone with him. One day I finally agreed to go to Gila Bend and eat with him, and also buy some groceries on the trip. He lived in was only about an hour from Sentinel, so it was not a very long trip to me.

 

Ramen was a boat machine operator at the time I met him, and was earning pretty good money. Raymond was working in Eloy and so I finally started spending time in Eloy visiting his family there. We dated for several months and marriage did come up between Raymond and I. The fact that Raymond worked and lived in Evo I felt that would be a pretty stable life. Little did I know that Raymond would become a Railroad Forman very quickly and now he would be on the road quite a bit as a new relief railroad foreman.

 

Ramen and I were getting along pretty well he did ask me to marry him so I agreed and we got married in July 19 45. First place we live together was in Tucson with his sister feet of America. When Raymond became a railroad form and I went to the lawyer his mother Juanita and shortly after that the Southern Pacific would offer him an outfit car to live in as he was now a foreman.

 

An outfit car was a railroad car on wheels and inside it look like a small single wide trailer. It has a bedroom and a small kitchen with a wood stove for cooking and heating. In the kitchen there were small cabinets put up and below the sink. If we were lucky we would have a faucet in the sink and our water would come from the water tank on top of the outfit car. You always had to go outside to use the portable John as your restroom. We could shower inside the outfit, as there was a small shower inside.

 

Some of the outfit cars would have a small refrigerator but most of the outfit cars would just have an insulated box in the car and he would put ice in them to help keep your food cool. We would have to wash tub to take outside and use for washing and rinsing your clothes using a washboard. You will always have plenty of hot water because Arizona sun would heat the water tank on top of the outfit car. The problem was to have cool water to bathe in. When we started having children I would have to some ice in the bathwater to make the hot water cool enough to be the children. We would live in the outfit cars from 1945 until 1950.

 

On moving day we would just pack our dishes and a railroad locomotive would just come into the railroad siding and hook up to all the outfit cars and move us to the new railroad location where Raymond would have his railroad gang working. Three of our children born during that time and lived an outfit cars with us Yolanda (Monica), Raymond Junior and Ricardo. In 1950 Raymond would bid in a Section Formans job in Montezuma. Now we would have a foreman’s house to live in for two years. Life is getting better as now we will have better living accommodations for our family.

 

Like to say that at times boxcars would get so hot in the summer time that it was unbearable for the children. I would take them outside and under the outfit tomorrow I would place a wet cotton candy sacks hanging down. We were lucky the wind would blow through the wet sacks and take some of the heat away so the children can sleep. The Arizona heat was the worst to deal with and having children and trying to keep them from getting so warm during the day.

My first child Monica, was born in Casa Grande, Raymond Junior was born in the bedrooms in my sister’s home in Tucson because I had refused to go to the hospital. Our third child and Carter was a little at risk as I had slipped and fallen when I was climbing the stairs in the outfit car. The doctor told me that different I had Ricardo at seven months he would probably live but would not live if I carried him for nine months. Well the Lord was on our side as I carried Ricardo until eight months and then he was born and he did just fine.

 

It was pretty lonely living in the outfit cars with children because the Formans were the only men who were furnished an outfit card for their family to live in. I was pretty much alone with three children as there are no other families around. We did not travel much as it was very difficult to travel by train with three small children. When we did have to travel by train with the children the men from the railroad gang, where Raymond was the foreman, would help us with the children. On occasion we would go into Tucson or Phoenix to buy groceries and do our shopping. The railroad was a big family and everyone seemed to help each other when I needed was there. Raymond’s work game was always looking out for me and our children we survived and live safely because we didn’t have all the work game keeping an eye out for the Formans family.

 

And every working that Raymond had, he always had a helper who stayed working on the outfit cars to make sure all alpha cars were kept up and secure. He would make sure we had water and look out for the security of all the outfit cars and the personnel during the day time and night and then would be there for security. The helper would provide wood or coal for heating and cooking in the outfit cars, I seem to always feel safe living in the outfit cars with our children.

 

In 1952 Ramen bid on the Formans job in Haider receive the job and for the very first time we receive a very big house to live in. Our youngest child recorder was five years old at the time. The school teacher in the sentinel was Mary Jane Mills and she and her husband Bob we’re good friends of ours. I had mansion that I would like to go back to work but Ricardo was only five years old. Miss Mills told me that she would let Ricardo start school at five years old and he could go to school along with Monica and Raymond Junior. So with all three children in school now I can go back to work.

 

As far as medical attention we were very lucky all the children had the measles chickenpox and minor colds but none of the children had any serious medical needs. Should a serious injury occur in any railroad employee or family member than Ramen with send them by train or take them on his motor car to the nearest doctor. We were very lucky that we never did have a life-threatening injury to any of our family.

 

We lived in the foreman’s house and hide her from 1952 to 1955 and then I received a permanent job in Sentinel so I rented a Signal Maintainer’s house in Sentinel. Ramen was working in Aztec on a gang at the time so he would come home every night in Sentinel. The children Monica, Raymond Junior and Ricardo but I’ll complete their grammar school in Sentinel, a one room school house. Our daughter Irma was born on December 16, 1957 while we were living in Sentinel 10 years later than the rest of our children, so our family was now complete.

 

An Aztec in where Raymond would have a life-threatening injury at work and almost lose his leg and his life. He had a chip of a railroad cut into his leg and sever his femur artery. Raymond’s friend and heavy machine operator, Frank Caratachea had a pickup truck and he rode in the back of a truck with Raymond to Gila Bend to see a doctor. Frank probably saved Raymond’s life along with the doctor in Gila Bend. Frank kept his hand on the wound to plug the artery all the way to the hospital which was about 80 minutes away. Their doctor Jefferies and his wife plugged the wound and sent Raymond on to Tucson to the Southern Pacific hospital.

 

On that day some of his men came to Sentinel where I was working and told me what happened. I called the doctor and he told me that Raymond was on his way to Tucson but for me not to rush and drive too fast because he did not think Raymond would live to see Tucson as he had lost a lot of blood. I called Raymond’s sister Lenore in Tucson and asked her to be at the hospital and immediately tell the emergency staff to get a vascular surgeon on site. I told her not to let them wait for medical information needed to get him the attention he needed immediately.

 

I loaded up all four of the children and we were off, speeding our way to Tucson, we now had a good automobile. When I arrived in Tucson at the Southern Pacific Hospital, Raymond’s sister, and Fita’s two girls were there at the emergency. Pauline and Theresa took my children and I jumped into the ambulance headed to Tucson Medical Center. It was the only hospital at the time to have artificial arteries.

 

It was at Tucson Medical Center where I met Dr. Jackson. He told me that he would be able to save Raymond’s life, but that his leg was going to have to be cut off. He left me no decision, so I had signed the authorization for the doctor to amputate Raymond’s leg. As it turned out for months we were told that it was still possible for Raymond to lose his leg or at least part of his leg. Finally Dr. Ross Magee came in and spoke to Raymond. We were told they he had just return from East Coast where there was a new synthetic nylon artificial artery that had been development. He would like to operator and put this newly developed artery into his leg. Raymond really didn’t have any choice, as it was either to have surgery or possibly lose his leg. The good Lord was on the side of Raymond and this courageous Dr. Ross McGee who did an excellent job. To this day Raymond has both his legs thanks to the doctors – Jeffries in Gila Bend and Jackson and Ross Magee in Tucson.

 

Raymond’s injury happened in June of 1958 and the children were six months, 10, 11 and 12 years old. I was working in Tucson at the time while Raymond spent months in the hospital.

 

For several years from 1952 until 1955 I worked midnight until 8 AM as this was the way I can go to work and the children could be sleeping. Then I would arrive home just in time to make sure that they were dressed and off to school. I will take care of my house and get some rest before the children would get home from school and Raymond would be home for the night with the children. During the summer the children might go to spend some time with their Tia Lenore or grandmother Juanita in Tucson. They loved spending time with them in Tucson.

 

Did my children ever go to work with me? All the time especially the boys, I would take one or both of them. My oldest Monica was a good to leave at home, as she was a very mature girl and responsible for her age. She was a big help to Ramen at home. Well the boys would seem to get into trouble by themselves so off they would go with me to work as I knew what they were doing. They would play around in the depot and of course they would go to the store to buy treats, so it was a good trip for them.

 

Vacations were somewhat limited in those days we would either go to Las Cruces to visit my mother Juanita, or to California to visit my sister Lupita and her husband Dan. Tucson we would visit Raymond’s family. We did buy a home in Tucson in 1955 on Valencia Road but we never did live in the home it was a security investment for us and we rented it out. In 1958 we bought land and build a home on 838 W. Whitmore Road next to Raymond’s sister, Lenore, and Pop Joe, her husband. They had a daughter Yolanda and were caring for Sonny, Josie, Larry, and Marty. Our children finally would have children to grow up with and would now be stable all through high school. All the children went to Amphitheater High School and graduated from there except Ricardo. He wanted to go to Gila Bend and would graduate from there.

 

The life and work of a telegrapher was a good one. We were left alone to do our job and get the train orders out for the trains to keep moving. Telegraphy went out in 1953 when CTC (Centralized Traffic Control) came into service. When I retired in 1988, I believe that here were only three telegraphers left working with the Southern Pacific. At the time we had to be able to receive 30 words per minute and send 60 words per minute. I was offered a train dispatcher position by both Chief Dispatchers John Breen and Albert Butler. I was very good at my job as a telegraph operator and I was pretty set in my ways. I was not ready to change and get more involved in the politics of the railroad industry. So I chose to stay as a telegrapher until my retirement.

 

When the Southern Pacific had telegraphers there were ten train depts and ten jobs giving train orders to the trains. In 1952 the Southern Pacific went to only two depots in Welton and Gila giving train orders from Tucson to Yuma. I did get to work for Ralph O. Coltrin Senior and he was very good Tucson Division Superintendent. When Mr. C.R. Smith was in charge of the  operators, he had several women operators and made it known that he did not want any more woman hired as operators. At one point, Smith went on vacation and Mr. Larry Penell needed operators and called me and me to return to work. I asked him about Mr. Smith not wanting any more woman operators. Mr. Penell told me that he would deal with that issue when Mr. Smith returned from vacation. So I returned to work with the Southern Pacific.

 

One time I was working with a male train dispatcher that did not like woman operators.  It was his shift and the CTC went out because of the heavy rain storm. He called me and I came to work because I knew topography was able to move the trains for eight hours using telegraph keys between Tucson and Yuma. He seemed to be a little nicer after that encounter. In Bosque there was a woman that did not like Mexicans and she would come to work and insult me. Finally I set her up and we got into a verbal altercation. She was calling me everything in the book and I was doing the same to get her goat. The only difference was I would open her conversation to all on line in Southern Pacific Communications with a foot penal I controlled. When I would converse to I kept my foot off the pedal so everyone was only hearing her side of the conversation. The Chief Dispatcher was hearing it all. This lady was called into the Tucson office and given thirty demerits for her action.

 

At one point we were short on operators and Mr. Coltrin gave my boss John Mayo permission to hire another operator. They had hired three before but the personnel ere unable to qualify ofr the job because they didn't pass the testing period. I asked Mr. John Mayo to hire my daughter Irma. And after she passes the her book rules (Southern Pacific) test, to give her to me for three weeks to train her or I would beat her. Irma qualified and did my vacation shortly after that. Irma is still working for the railroad today and has reached the top of her class as a train dispatcher.

 

So in all the railroad was a good life for our family. It provided an above average life style and we worked with very good people. These people were truly dedicated to their jobs and their communities. Today I do not believe that I would be happy working for the railroad because it has changed so much. The “family aspect” is gone and will forever stay gone. It is the sign of new times.

 

Thank you,

 

Juanita V. Bernal.

 

 

 


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Service Schedule

Past Services

Visitation

Monday, September 19, 2022

8:00 - 10:00 am (Pacific time)

Martinez Funeral Chapels-Tucson

2580 S 6th Ave, Tucson, AZ 85713

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Rosary

Monday, September 19, 2022

Starts at 11:00 am (Pacific time)

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Mass Celebration

Monday, September 19, 2022

11:30am - 12:30 pm (Pacific time)

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Burial

Monday, September 19, 2022

Starts at 1:00 pm (Pacific time)

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