In the late 1970s, Glenn Lewis attained a measure of fame as the booming baritone announcing the arrivals and departures of Conrail trains at the Reading Terminal.
Passengers were impressed by his crisp, staccato announcements of train schedules. A few called local newspaper reporters and laudatory articles about Lewis’ voice started to appear within just months of his taking the job in 1976.
“The Howard Cosell of Reading Terminal,” people called Lewis, according to the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, which praised his “deep, mellifluous” voice. The North City Press wrote that Lewis’ baritone announcements were like “live entertainment” for commuters.
“People admired my calls of trains because they could understand what I said, instead of the garbled messages that all too often came through the loudspeakers from the other train callers,” Lewis explained.
At age 75, Lewis recalls his brief period as a train caller for Conrail like it was yesterday.
In some ways, those few months were the best of his life, he said.
“I loved the passengers,” Lewis said,recalling his years working for Conrail, before it dissolved to have most of his operations replaced by SEPTA. “Every day, somebody came over to shake my hand.”
His favorite nickname was “Has Voice, Will Travel.”
He still has the gift and can do a decent train announcement:
“For those that was not around when this train was being called, that foxy Fox Chase local that leaves out at 6:18 right here on track number seven, we’ve got two minutes remaining. Kindly watch your step, please.”
But as Lewis recalls it, the 15 minutes of fame came with a swift punishment. He claims that weeks after his first article appeared in the newspapers, he was ordered to take a two-week vacation — and came back to find himself demoted to elevator operator.
He claims that during the following years, he was rotated through custodial and cleaning assignments while only picking up a few shifts as train caller, in what he believes was retaliation.
“Why was it, after I got interviewed in the newspaper, they want to take me off and have me mopping floors when they already got extra people?” Lewis asked.
He added that over the years he experienced workplace bullying, mockery from multiple supervisors and even racial slurs.
“The people that bothered me was jealous,” he said.
Lewis’ rise and fall is the subject of his new book, “The Railroad Conspiracy,” which he self-published through Amazon. In it, the North Philly native gives his account of how racial prejudice and union pressure forced him to leaveConrail.
Lewis characterizes his experience as one of racial discrimination, but he acknowledges that some black co-workers picked on him and threatened him as well. He did eventually get a hearing in federal court for his discrimination claims, but they were dismissed after a hearing which Lewis describes as a “kangaroo court.”
Lewis stayed on withConrailuntil 1980, when he found work at the Philadelphia Water Department as a heavy equipment operator. He worked there for 20 years.
Despite having studied broadcasting for two years, his aspirations of finding work where he could use his voice were never realized, he said.
“If I’d stayed announcing the trains a little longer, it probably would have led to other jobs using my voice,” he said. “I miss using my voice.”