Honorary Railroad Engineer


Eight-year-old Jonathan Dockins had a wish to ride over Donner Pass on Amtrak’s California Zephyr in the cab of a locomotive. With the coordination of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Amtrak, Union Pacific and Division 144 of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen (BLET), his wish was fulfilled.

Jon-Jon, as he prefers to be called, was born with a congenital heart defect called double outlet right ventricle (DORV) with pulmonary valve stenosis and he has had 10 heart surgeries and will continue to need more as his body and heart continue to grow.

In March, Ken Marty of BLET Division 144 in Oakland, Calif., was contacted by the Make-A-Wish chapter out of Sacramento. They asked Marty for the union’s help in making Jon-Jon’s wish come true. Two hours after sending an email to the CEO of Amtrak, Marty had a response from him: “We will get this done.”

Rail Trip Takes Shape

With Amtrak signing off on the ride, Marty and Jason Loger, Local Chairman of Division 144, began working with Make-A-Wish and Amtrak on the planning stages of Jon-Jon’s trip, which would include riding Amtrak #6 over Donner Pass.

The trip began on June 20 in Sacramento, where Marty and Loger met Jon-Jon, his father Jamey and mother Dee Dee. A rousing sendoff was held in Sacramento with many well wishers and supporters in attendance for Division 144’s Honorary Engineer. Jon-Jon was presented with many gifts, including a locomotive engineer’s certificate from Amtrak. Another big hit with Jonathan was a custom-engraved reverser, which Marty had made for him.

The reverser was used to operate Amtrak #6 from Sacramento to Reno. Division 144 presented Jon-Jon with a BLET hat and jacket, as well as a Lionel train set. The model train was Jon-Jon’s No. 2 wish, after riding in the locomotive cab.

Upon arriving at Reno, Jonathan and his family got a limo ride to Virginia City, Nev. Marty and Loger drove to Reno to help host the Dockins family throughout the remainder of the weekend.

Jon-Jon then spent the time riding the steam trains and vintage track cars providing fire patrol over the railroad.

Sunday night Jon-Jon and his parents were treated to a dinner party at the Nugget Casino in Reno.

On June 23, Matt Parker, Chairman of the BLET’s Nevada State Legislative Board, presented Jon-Jon with a proclamation signed by the governor of Nevada, proclaiming June 20, 2014, as “Jonathan Dockins Day.” Parker also took Jon-Jon and his parents to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola, Calif. The Dockins family then flew home that night.