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The Exploding Unit

 

It was late October and Colorado was turning cold and my thoughts were turning toward New Orleans and relative warmth. So myself and Brando, after a few days of procrastination, settled down by the BNSF tracks on 13th St. near UP's locomotive maintenance facility. Usually coal trains southbound for Amarillo stop out there for clearance or orders, usually a few every night. But with Murphy's Law and all, the first three nights we sat there not a one stopped. Plenty of northbounds - in fact more than I had seen before stop there.

Finally, a southbound comes rolling in - a coal train, which is just what we wanted. The plan was to bag the dpu's as they stopped right in front of us, only this train wasn't stopping, so it seemed.

The units rolled past at about six or seven mph and we made a mad dash for the ladders with heavy packs, banjoes, fiddles, and a dog. Of course as soon as we climb aboard the train stops! We get situated and sit for hours. Finally we roll out and go to sleep and the train pulls again, only to stop about twenty miles down. A worker climbs aboard, finds us, and promptly boots us out into the snow with the "what are you doing? get out of here!" I mumble an apology trying to calm him down as we climb down and it seems to work. He asks us where we are going. "Texas", I tell him, and a "uh, do you mind if we ride?" He softens up a little bit and tell us "normally I do but it's snowing so I didn't see anything. Go sit over there 'till I get out" (pointing to a pile of ballast). So over we go and sit in the snow in plain view of a crew van driver and after about 15 minutes they pull away.

We run up and get in only to see an SUV arrive a few minutes later. A large guy in a tie climbs in, looks at us, and promptly says "what are you doing?". Myself and Brando chime in together "going to Texas, if you don't mind, that is". He just sits at the controls pushing buttons, griping about shitty equipment, then walks over to the other unit, sits there, then comes back and tells us the same "don't touch nothing" then leaves. Then the crew van driver comes up, hands us five dollars and some chips, and informs us that "you boys are OK - that's the road foreman of engines - if he don't care ain't nobody gonna care!!".

After another half hour we finally get under way. The trip south was uneventful and we slept most of the night. The next day as we approached Amarillo we slowed down to five mph. We did a slow crawl toward the city - our unit spewing black smoke and shuddering. We both sat in our chairs watching the smoke pour out and listening to the engine shudder when suddenly a very loud explosion happens and a fireball envelopes the long hood, blowing open doors, and the unit shudders and dies to a wail of bells and sirens!

We both got those worried "I didn't touch nothing - did you?" looks, and plugged our ears with our fingers. The train kept up its slow crawl toward the city and we rode for another hour and half with those bells and alarms, taping up the speakers with the first aid kits, toilet paper, and whatever we could find, but to no avail.

As soon as we pulled into the yard we bailed and made a beeline for some cover, expecting workers to show up right away, but no one came. Our train sat there for a while, then pulled. We waited for another coal train and caught out toward Fort Worth.

Walking from the Saginaw yard toward Fort Worth I boarded a northbound empty coal train's dpu's to grab some water. Upon walking in I noticed it was the same unit we rode! Still screaming its alarm, the tape up over the speaker, and my beers I forgot in the fridge!