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The Long Way Around

 

Only the second warm, cloudless day since who-knows-when was too much of a temptation and mid-afternoon found me at Black Butte, sipping a cold beverage, basking in the sun and watching trains. Soon, by chance, I was joined by Sam Glen, who was driving down from a wedding in Eugene and decided to stop by Black Butte for some relaxation. Since he still had some time off work, we quickly decided to use it for a trip from Dunsmuir to Klamath.

Sam followed me over to my house, where I threw my gear together with dispatch. It felt odd to leave out all of the raingear and related Winter stuff, but it was a beautiful, warm day and we were "only going up to Klamath". I remember thinking that I wouldn't even bring any food, since we would certainly be stopping at Gino's when we got in, but at the last minute something told me to toss in some slices of lunchmeat, which proved to be fortuitous.

We caught up on old times and other train-related themes on the drive to the yard, getting there around 6:00 pm. After walking down to the jungle, we immediately noticed that there weren't any trains in the yard but there were some tramps - Tall Man, Preacher and another guy I didn't know. We exchanged B.S. for awhile before hearing the welcome horn of an approaching northbound. Dispersing toward the train - Sam and I headed to Klamath, Tall Man going to Pasco via Klamath and Preacher and his partner headed for Montana - we found a boxcar that was dirty but had both sides open and piled inside. A northbound pig train and a southbound junker went by before we finally left town at 9:00 pm. We wound our way up the canyon above Dunsmuir sitting in the doorway of the boxcar, drinking wine and watching the sunset, and after flying through Black Butte without stopping it was time to roll out and take a nap, which I did with visions of a great dinner at Gino's and a scalding hot shower at the Maverick Motel dancing in my head. Unfortunately, that was about as close to either of those pleasures as I got...

Having made this trip numerous times I felt rather "programmed" to wake up as the train got close to the yard, but this time, whether because of using brand new foam earplugs, a smooth-riding car, a fast train, fatigue, too much White Port, the Asian stock crisis or maybe even good ol' El-Niño, it "didn't happen". When I did wake up I saw what looked like flooded fields flying by outside the doorway, but they were on the wrong side of the car (maybe I fell asleep in the back of the boxcar instead of the front?) and looked like they'd take years to drain. Dismissing these ominous signs, I woke Sam up and proudly proclaimed "We're coming into Klamath" at the top of my lungs. He sprang to life and as we were rolling up our gear I practically drooled all over my sleeping bag thinking of a nice big dinner, since I didn't have any lunch and only some toast for breakfast. Taking another look out the door cleared up any doubts in my mind as to just where we were - the "flooded fields" I saw were actually Klamath Lake. We had slept right through the crew change and were now, a little after midnight, flying along about 15 or 20 miles north of Klamath on our way to Eugene, 8 hours away.

This sudden turn of events didn't exactly make us jump for joy, but there was nothing we could do (short of bailing off at 50 mph) so we rolled out our gear again and went back to sleep. I brilliantly brought just half a bottle of water (since we were "only going to Klamath") and it required the most miserly use to make it last until Eugene, as I had quite a case of "cotton mouth" for one reason or another. I was having difficulty predicting what time we'd get to Eugene because we stopped in what seemed like every siding to let trains pass (10 southbounds went by in all) but when we were actually moving it was at quite a clip.

Morning found us in the western foothills maybe 20 miles east of Eugene, where we spent almost 2 hours sitting on a siding waiting for a couple of pig trains to go by. I had visions of being pursued by a SWAT team of Eugene police after running amok in the first restaurant I came to, but an easy "de-training" at a road crossing 2 blocks from IHOP perked up my spirits and eliminated a long walk back from the yard. After inhaling their $3.99 "special" I felt I might have half a chance of keeping up with Sam's youthful gait. We caught a city bus out to the yard but felt somewhat less-than-enthusiastic about our chances of any southbounds leaving soon after the fleet that passed us during the night. Armed with more food and a goodly amount of alcohol, we made camp under the bridge and settled in for the "Eugene wait".

Having another person there to talk to made the afternoon pass reasonably quickly, as I had spent innumerable hours in that same spot doing not much more than contemplating my navel. We discussed at great length the literary merits of the tramp scribblings that covered the underside of the bridge, coming to a mutual conclusion that a spell checker would certainly clear up a host of misunderstandings. Another fault in evidence was the lack of consideration for a drawing that was already in place where the current "artist" wanted to add his or her contribution. References to various locations in Mexico abounded, as did accompanying graphics indicating a fondness for marijuana. A few mis-guided political observations provided a good laugh, but soon we had practically memorized everything and switched to guessing how long it would be until they dragged a southbound string up to the departure yard, as the 3 or 4 rows of cars already there were heading north.

Our prayers were answered around 5:00 pm when a yard goat brought up an obvious southbound string that had a boxcar with one door open, albeit only halfway. Shortly afterward the scooter guys put the FRED on and 5 or 10 minutes later the power backed down and hooked up. We made an un-graceful descent of the steep embankment under the bridge and walked over to our car, now in the only string of cars left in the yard. Had we been headed north, I'm sure the traffic pattern would have been reversed. Climbing into the boxcar, which was clean but rather warm after sitting in the hot sun with only a 4 foot door opening, we backed against the far wall to keep hidden and waited to leave. Around 6:00 pm we began the slow journey out of the departure yard to zigzag over to the mainline but stopped for a half hour right across from one of the towers to wait for Amtrak. Unable to stand in the doorway and bathe in a cool breeze for fear of being seen, my dislike for the speed at which railroads "did things" increased dramatically. Eventually we started moving again, only to repeat the whole procedure at the south end of the receiving yard to let a local into the yard. My once-cold Gatorade was now definitely "room temperature" and I was afraid that the delicate "nose" of the White Port was gone forever. Finally we cleared the yard and picked up speed through town, only to stop again at the first siding to let a train pass. When we actually left Eugene proper it was 8:00 pm - 2 hours to go about 4 or 5 miles!

Securing the door with a motley assortment of wedges, we rolled out and went to sleep almost immediately. A smooth, fast ride got us into Klamath a little after 2:00 am, where we did about a 1 minute crew change and got right back up to speed. I slept like a log until we got to Mt. Shasta where, not wanting to repeat history and end up in Roseville, I forced myself to stay awake so we didn't "miss" Dunsmuir. Waking Sam up as we rounded Cantara Loop, we got into Dunsmuir at 5:00 am - 2 hours and 45 minutes on a junker is fast time! The trip ended on a sour note when Sam did a face plant after getting bad slack action just as he was jumping off. To bolster our spirits we had an early breakfast at Cindy's, now open 24 hours, before going our separate ways. We had great weather, an unexpected "detour" and another boxcar on the ride back - not bad at all.