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Ridin' the Poles Outta Gainesville, FL

 

About a month ago I caught out of Gainesville FL, and rode to Baldwin. Gainesville lies at the end of a fifteen mile spur line from Alachua which is on the CSX line to Newberry, and Red Level Junction. The tracks dead end near a place called Koppers, Inc. that manufactures telephone poles. As far as I can tell most of the poles are bound for NY, and CT. Rochester NY even, my Mom lives there! After a month of living in the bushes listening to the sawmill at Koppers day in and day out I was ready for a train ride. Besides,my old pal Hansum Jack, and new friend Lauren where to meet me at the diamond in Baldwin for a little trackside debauchery. CSX runs a turn out of Baldwin to nearby Newberry, FL. After switching in Newberry they run two units, and a couple "empties" down to Gainesville to switch Koppers, and this place across the street. They generally switch here on Tuesday and Thursday nights, arriving between nine and eleven PM. Usually there are two or three bulkhead flatcars full of poles waiting on the spur at Koppers. On the night I was to catchout there was only one car. I stowed my gear on top of the poles where I intended to ride, and retired to the bushes for some banjo pickin'. I know what your thinking... What about the danger of "shifting loads"? Those poles are so heavy that they can't really shift side to side. I guess they would fly forward if there was a major ("road speed") derailment. So it's basically business as usual as far as I'm concerned. If your train derails at speed you're bound to get pretty messed up no matter what you're riding. After a short spell of supplying the FL state birds (mosquitos) with plenty of high quality sustenance, I heard the familiar honking of the Chicken Shit X-press. Nine twenty P.M., right on time. I hightailed it up on top of the poles to play "You Can't See Me" while the rails did their thing. Being the railfan voyeur that many of us turn into after so much time living with trains, I fully enjoyed the elicit thrill of watching them switch cars while I was hidden "safely" on my perch. Eventually I felt the thump as they coupled onto my car, then another crash as they coupled me onto an empty boxcar. This was the train, two units, a lumber car, and an empty box. A tie for the shortest train I ever rode! Reminiscent of my foray on the Santa Cruz Big Trees and Pacific to Felton, CA a few years back. Speaking of Santa Cruz, I thought the UP spur to Davenport was the most screwed up set of tracks in the U.S.A. Not so! Uncle Petes got nothing on this line! About half the ties are broke in half, most tie plates have slipped out from under the rails. If you look down the tracks, the gauge is all wavering and uneven. Kinda scary. Guess that's why they have such a drastic speed restriction on this length of track. I don't think that train went faster than say eight miles per hour the entire fifteen miles to Alachua! This made for a thoroughly enjoyable slow drag, replete with boat on the ocean rocking back and forth effect, all the way up to the mainline! 'Twas a pleasantly warm Florida night for early February. I could see enough to know we were going through mostly a lot of woodsy places and farmland. Yet, it was too dark to really check out the scenery. Anyhow, I believe I inhaled my share of diesel exhaust for the next ten years that night, the only real downer on this ride. We hit the mainline and hauled ass to Baldwin. They conveniently pulled all the way to the north end of the yard, right by the tower. Just as I had hoped for, less of a walk to the nice woods for camping up by the diamond. I bailed, and made my way out of the yard. Woke in the morning to another fine Florida "winter" day. Met up with my people for a day of train stories, cooking nice meals, beer drinkin', etc. The fun ended all to soon as my friends wanted to get to New Orleans in time for "Fat Tuesday". Besides I had a date with the Florida East Coast Railway.