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A Close Call

 

It was mid September and my riding season was winding down. It was almost time to go back to work, and I heard that BNSF wrecked a Z train on top of the Cheyenne River Bridge in eastern North Dakota. Not wanting to miss a great opportunity to see the aftermath of this disaster, I decided to grab my stuff and go take a trip to Dilworth, MN and check things out.

As I got near the site of the accident, the track speed limit was posted at 25 mph, so I was able to catch every little detail. It was a helluva wreck. There were a bunch of spine car frames in one pile; wheels, axles and trucks in another pile, and a huge heap of scrap metal, that used to be semi trailers and cargo, in another pile. Since several of the train cars landed in the river, itself, I was certain it became a major environmental concern.

We pushed on into Dilworth, and I was able to catch a westbound the next day.

About 50 miles east of Havre, MT, the stacker I was riding, got sided for a priority, when out of nowhere, another rider walks up to my car, which was only 11 cars from the units, and asked if I had any tobacco fixings, that he and his girlfriend could have in trade for some food. I told him I did not, and we chatted for a few more minutes, until the Z train we were waiting for was in sight.

Since 911, I have made it my personal SOP, (standard operating procedure) to stay out of sight from train crews, rr workers and civilians, and this day was no exception.

A few miles before Havre, I got Old Faithful out (my scanner) to see what was shaking with our train. I listened to a little chitchat, and the next thing I know the Dispatcher is informing the Engineer that the authorities are up ahead at the east end crossing, waiting to intercept "the rider!" At that point, I knew something bad was getting ready to go down - out of all the endless hours I have spent listening to my scanner, this was jargon I have never heard used before. I sincerely doubted that they were making reference to an insurance policy or rental truck.

A few minutes later, I peak out over the side edge, and on the south side of the crossing, there was at least one sheriff, a city police car, a border patrol car, and two railroad vehicles. I thought to myself, "Damn, this other rider was going to get me busted!!"

I already had all my gear gathered up, so I made a command decision, and threw everything over the north side of the train, myself included.

A few seconds later, the train stopped, and the posse converged on the train, singling out what I knew was the car that held the other two riders. They were promptly taken into custody, and I'll be damned if they didn't immediately go up three more cars searching, apparently looking for "the other rider."

After a half-hour cursory search, the train pulled up to where the units could fuel, leaving the back end of the train directly in front of me. Our little posse was still sitting there, creating a nice little dilemma for me - either I could walk a couple miles to the east end of the yard and try to catch another train going West, or wait 18 hours for Amtrak.

All of a sudden, the train aired up and started easing forward. As if on cue, all the police along with their two "prisoners," departed the scene.

So, I figured, "What the hell, they have already searched the train and arrested somebody," and with that, I picked up my stuff and hauled ass for the last car, throwing gear into the well, and making a jump for the ladder. Luckily, the last car was a rideable 48.

We went a whole half a mile and stopped, where naturally, my car was right along side the depot and BNSF office. Instantly, the floor of the car and I became one.

A few minutes later, a carman released the air from the back of the train, and changed batteries on the FRED. About 45 after that, the train aired up, and again we were heading west towards home.

 

FYI: If you are traveling east bound, practically none of the stack trains stop at Minot for crew change anymore. Instead, they go onto Gavin Yard, about 5 miles east of Minot, to service and inspect the train, and change crews. If you are traveling westbound, you can expect a 2-12 hour wait at the same Gavin Yard. They do the same things, service and inspections, crew changes, and a lot of times; they bust the train up and put it back together in a different order.