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Coast to Coast - part 6

Pueblo to Salt Lake City

 

PREVIOUS STORY:
Rode from Neff Yard in Kansas City to Pueblo, Colorado on a Missouri Pacific freight train. The first half of the trip was on an empty auto rack; the remainder was on a flatcar carrying three farm tractors. The ride across Kansas was hot and boring. Lightning in the sky entertained me as I approached Pueblo. In the MP yard in Pueblo I had encountered a friendly bull and found out from switchmen where to go to get food in the middle of the night. Time of arrival in Pueblo: 0300 on Wednesday, June 23.

Informed about where to re-supply myself with food, I left the yard. I detected a faint light in the eastern sky: dawn was approaching. The thought of lugging all my gear with me to the store was positively repulsive, but what to do about it? Where could I stash my pack at this hour? The freight yard was not an acceptable place and the train station was closed for the night. As I walked past a small tree near the station I had a brainstorm: put the pack in the tree. I did exactly that, securing it in the branches with a nylon cord. It was hidden perfectly - who would think of looking in a tree for something?

I walked past the station and up the bridge that spanned the yard. In a few minutes I reached the 7-11. There I bought Fig Newtons, apples, oranges, and chocolate milk. Also filled my water bag. My face was filthy but I didn't care. [When I passed thr/ugh Pueblo in 2002, the building was boarded up, giving no indication that it had ever been a 7-11 store.]

Then I hurried down the hill, over the bridge, down the street past the station, retrieved my pack from the tree, packed the food away, and walked into the yard. It was light out by then. Switchmen were building a Salt Lake City train - just what the doctor ordered. I found an empty auto rack and put my gear on it. Then I inspected the rest of the train for a better car, but found nothing. However, I was surprised to find a boxcar whose door was slightly open. Inside were empty Olympia beer cans that were being shipped to Washington (my destination). This serendipity amused me.

Back at the auto rack I decided to put my chalk to good use: I went wild with graffiti on the lowest level. But suddenly I got tired of it. When I thought of the graffiti of Herby, the Phantom, the Rambler from Houston, Texas, and Bozo Texino, my effort seemed phony.

Eventually the train pulled out of the yard and gained speed quickly. The beautiful western scenery in the bright morning light lifted my spirits. I felt rejuvenated and yelled out to the world, "The West is the best!" Soon I was traveling up Royal Gorge. The silver bridge loomed way above me. To my left was the rushing river; to my right, the canyon wall. An old dilapidated water flume followed the left bank for a while.

Eventually the gorge became a valley that became more attractive as the elevation increased. It got surprisingly cold and I saw a dusting of fresh snow atop the mountain ridges. This blew my mind - it was June! At the summit of the line, just below Tenessee Pass, it snowed a bit - far out. Later I moved to a boxcar that had only one open door. The cold wind on the auto rack bothered me. But missing 50% of the scenery outweighed the discomfort of the constant wind, so I vowed to returned to the auto rack at the first opportunity.

It was sunny and warm when the train pulled into the yard at Grand Junction, Colorado. During the stop here I left the "view-challenged" boxcar and got back on the empty auto rack I had forsaken in the interest of warmth. In this balmy weather of Grand Junction it seemed surrealistic that earlier in the morning I had been snowed on. A unit coal train came over the bridge on the left and crawled into the yard.

Beyond Grand Junction, the canyon of the Colorado River provided visual interest. The canyon yielded to plateau country and I was transported below Book Cliffs, a long escarpment on my right. This scenery was mind-blowing. The interstate highway was visible in the distance.

As the sun slowly went down, the train kept going up, gaining altitude on its way to Soldier Summit. The cliffs on the right followed me for a long time. There was a brief stop - probably in Price or Helper - then the climb intensified. Over the summit and down the other side. I kept looking for the horseshoe curve that I remembered from my 1970 trip. In the dark it was hard to recognize the place. But when the units emerged from the hill cut with lights blasting, I knew where I was and relished it. What a sight! [This horseshoe curve is at Gilully, Utah, about ten miles west of Soldier Summit. It is not visible from the highway.] A bright light in the valley below told me a train was coming upgrade. Sure enough, a short while later the train passed me. The long descent in the river valley passed slowly.

There was a brief stop in Provo and I was on my way again. Got into Salt Lake City at 2300 or so. From my trip of six years earlier (to get drafted) I recognized the freeway off to the right and the fields between it and the yard. Air brake sounds told me that the train terminated. I got off and began my search for a Western Pacific train that would take me to California.

Part 7