After a 2 week jaunt across Canada from Montreal to British Columbia, I decided to ride back over the Rockies to Cranbrook. Spent the day exploring the bushes along the tracks, and making a little bridge over a ditch into the yard. Checked out the town, and the CP Rail Museum. Acquired supplies, and hunkered down in the jungle to wait on a southbound to the border. I stayed up as late as I could, but eventually succumbed to my drooping eyelids. My "subsleep train radar" pulled me from a not so restfull respite, as the familiar sounds of train movement rang out. I had previously seen the DPU's on those "Canpotex" unit grain trains stopping in this area. Sure enough there they were, and the train was airing up, and me in my jammies, all rolled out! I leaped out of my bag and began the manic, anxiety filled process that only other tramps know of in this situation. Can a human being REALLY pack a backpack THAT fast??
The Train Gods were smiling on me that day. I managed to get my gear packed, and board the dupes just as they pulled. What a victory it was! It had been a damn cold night I didn't really have adequate gear for. I did some shivering in those pre-dawn hours. Now THIS was pure luxury! On with the heater! On with the hot water on the hot plate for oatmeal! Oh yes, life was rapidly improving as my toes slowly regained sensitivity, other than frozen numb. After we cleared yard limits I decided to get even more comfy. Got my maps out to figure out a few of my next moves. Got my book out for a nice morning read over a hot breakfast. Took off my boots, and put my feet up on the conductors desk. Ahhh... the hot water's almost done now... BBBRRRIIINGGGBBBRRIINNGGG... I just about jumped out of my skin as the alarm began to ring non-stop! Holy crap!! I didn't do it. I swear I didn't touch anything!
Away with the books! Off with the water! On with the boots! C'mon Moss I know you can pack a backpack pretty damn fast! Dammit all. This really put a damper on my "celebration of comfort" to say the least!
The crew was on the horn talking to the UP Mechanical Dept. There was talk of a circuit breaker for the air intake being shut off to solve the problem. "Get back there when ya can and flip the breaker". Just like the cat, whose over abundance of curiosity usually gets her killed, so it is with me. Just can't keep my nose out of it! I open the main panel and examine the breakers. Yup, there's the one they're talking about right there. Hell, I could flip it myself, save them a walk back here! That seems like a bad idea, I close the panel. The ever present wailing of the alarm is really beginning to push me over the edge. I go back to the other unit (this was a pair of mid-train dupes) and the alarm in there is going off as well. After an expedient application of crew pack napkins, and duct tape the noise is tolerable. After over an hour of watching the breathtaking view of this part of the world roll by, I decide the crew has put a pretty low priority on coming back here. Heres where curiosity begins killing the cat...
When I opened the panel previously I noticed a standard electrical plug inside. I open the box, the plug is DC, I hesitate for a second, thinking "this may fry your phone". Caring more about satisfying my curiosity than frying cell phones, I plug in my phone. Oh yeah! The luxury train rolls again baby! Fire up that hotwater while we're at it, chargin' cell phones up in here! I perch my phone precariously on top of the breaker for the "auxillary generator". As I try to close the door of the panel, the action of this starts to trip the breaker. WOAH! Don't want to shut that off, whatever it is. It seemed like the breaker switch for this "auxillary generator" moved really easy. The feline curiosity rears it's head. Wonder HOW easy that switch moves? I barely touch the switch and, BOOM! This all happens in a split second...
Theres a tremendous jolt as the entire locomotive "lurches", a bright flash emanates from the panel, and I flip the switch back on. Holy crap! My heart is rumbling in my chest, my knees turn to rubber, and I can't help the urge to urinate. The words "Don't Touch The Sticks" repeat over and over again in my head. What have I done? Through the shock of the situation I hear the conductor, already back on the horn with Mechanical. "Really having trouble with the Dupes today boy! One just went offline all together!" Lovely.
Im pouring sweat all the sudden. Just as I turn on the AC (which used to work!), I hear them talking about the fuel pump being off on this particular locomotive. I open the panel to see what's going on with the damn AC, and low and behold seven breakers are off in total... including the fuel pump! I flip them all back on, hoping this will fix whatever I've done, and they won't come back to my unit.
Sitting in the bathroom of the Unit, pouring sweat like Niagara Falls, thinking of how bad jail food sucks. The Conductor is at the controls talking to Mechanical. "Yeah it's the damndest thing. The one Dupe had seven breakers tripped off, and the other ones where all on!!?" Good Lord. The same breakers went off in the other Unit because they are linked by computer! How long's it gonna take this guy to realize "someone" turned the breakers back on in this Unit??
The Conductor leaves, and soon were on the way again! My Unit "offline", alarms ablazin! As we approach the border, my anxiety increases tenfold, having never crossed here before. Also the present circumstance is adding to the stress level. I bail at the border, and have a surprisingly easy time walking across. Questions about hitchhiking, questions about a previous pot charge almost seven years ago, the usual. Despite the previous drug related offense, they barely searched my pack. Weird, they weren't living up the Draconian fascism I usually associate with the government of my country!
I walk into Idaho, and the first person I meet is a flagman for the highway dept. I bum a smoke off him and he tells me about his hitchhiking days in the seventies. He's pretty stoked that I'm riding freight trains. He tells me "walk about a quarter mile to the bridge yonder, they go slow comin' into the U.S. there". "Right on brother! Don't work to hard!" A glutton for punishment, and maybe not quite "all there" mentally, I board the same DPU. Alarms still wailing...
I was able to bail out on a siding on the outskirts of Spokane. I guess this hasn't been the typical "travel narrative". I wanted to share this story with other folks, just in case they have the "cats curiosity" like me. Charge your phone at the Public Library folks, and "don't touch the sticks" applies to the inside of electrical panels too!