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A Summer's Finale

 

Determined to take a last ride to enjoy the rapidly waning days of summer, I e-mailed North Bank Fred about the possibility of getting together to do a ride up the SP into Oregon. He quickly answered in the affirmative (his usual response) and I agreed to contact him the following weekend when I was in close proximity.

Saturday morning came around, and I rolled out of bed at 6:30 a.m. Grabbed my loaded pack (always at the ready with sleeping bag, camera, gloves, earplugs, extra clothes and the like) and headed out the door. I had decided to fly down to Redding from Portland and hook up with Fred in Dunsmuir. As my trusty Horizon Air puddle-jumper was scheduled to leave at 7:30 a.m. for the 1½ hour flight to Redding, I hurriedly did the 10-minute drive over to PDX and parked the car in the "economy" lot.

Hopped on the plane and after an uneventful flight, landed in Redding about 9 a.m. Redding is one of those towns where the airport is about 15 minutes outside of the core downtown area, and of course the bus system doesn't go out to the airport. This left me with one mode of transportation to get into town... a lanky taxi-driver near the terminal door, hungrily eyeing the de-planing passengers for a fare.

He quickly noticed that no one was there to greet me, and walked right up and asked if I needed a lift. "No bus out here?" I asked. "Nope, I'm all you've got," he replied. Only having $30 in my pocket, I meekly asked how much the fare would be. "Probably 'bout $18-20," came the reply. "Guess I gotta do it.." I thought. He dropped me downtown at the Greyhound station, where a northbound bus was to leave in about two hours. I bought a ticket (using up the rest of my money) and struck out for a grocery store to get some refreshment and vittles.

As I walked back from the store, about 3 blocks away at a parallel crossing a train being pulled by Rio Grande units blasted its way past me. My heart began racing... I knew I was in Siskiyou territory when I saw Rio Grande units. They're an exceedingly rare sight up in Portland, where it's UP, faded SP, Cotton Belt and SSW stuff.

Arriving at the Greyhound station, I had about 45 minutes to kill, so I entertained myself at a Galaga machine, playing nearly the entire time on a single quarter! The many quarters spent on Galaga in the days of my youth paid for themselves at that moment, as a small crowd of people gathered around me in amazement, as I passed Level 30, then 40, and then 45.

Finally they called my bus and I was on my way up I-5, Dunsmuir-bound. I sat in the back of the bus next to the toilet (the stench was terrible) and two stoned heavy metal dudes who REEKED of marijuana. About 50 minutes later, the bus pulled off the freeway into "downtown" Dunsmuir and let me off right above the Amtrak depot and yard office. I walked down the embankment toward the tracks, and asked a man and young boy if they could direct me to the Nutglade Station, one of NBF's "four-star recommended" bastions of hospitality. "Just walk 'bout three doors down" came the reply from the obviously puzzled man, who couldn't figure out the backpack I had on.

I trudged into the Nutglade and got a cup of coffee, striking up a conversation with the couple behind the counter. They called what I was doing immediately. I asked them if they knew NBF and the practically gave me a life history of him!! They invited me to stow my bags in the neighboring bar and call Fred, which I promptly did from my cell-phone.

We agreed to meet up in about 45 minutes at the 'Glade, so I sat outside and re-arranged my gear for the upcoming trip. Then I headed up to the store to get a six-pack of my favorite beer, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Soon enough, Fred showed up. He had shaved off his beard (the last time I had seen him was in November 1996, in our joint adventure, "Out the Modoc"), so it took me a moment to recognize him as he walked up. We exchanged greetings and after paying our respects to the kind 'Glade proprietors, headed directly into the Dunsmuir yard.

As we crossed the road into the yard, a train slowly snaked by us. Fred said that they were just switching cars and that it would be a northbound, so we continued walking to look for a suitable boxcar to ride. It didn't take long - we found a car right away and quickly hopped aboard. After a bit of bumping and switching, we started northbound out of the yard, on the five-hour trip to Klamath. It was about 2:30 in the afternoon - bright, sunny daylight and at least 80 degrees out.

I popped the first of my beers and Fred grabbed his bottle of white port, and we made a quick toast to our newest adventure. As we prattled our way up through the Siskiyous, we chatted and reflected on various aspects of Mount Shasta, hopping, scanners, railroad policies, my trip to Tennessee Pass with Too Tall Ken, and other topics.

At several points we sat next to one another in the open boxcar door, Fred shirtless and both of us happily swigging our respective brews. Picture the scene as this: two happy tramps, combining perfect-temperature weather with good scenery, conversation and drink. I'd venture to say that even Adman, if there, would have said that we had achieved "The Drift." In any case, for me, it was a magical point in time that I doesn't often find when tramping the iron road.

As we continued Northward we went through Mt. Shasta City, Black Butte and a few other small towns. In the process, we literally went about 130-140 degrees around the mountain, seeing about 2/3 of the way around it. We snapped lots of photos and enjoyed the view as the sun started its inevitable trek down the western sky.

About an hour out of Klamath Falls, our train stopped on the main at a siding, where a southbound train was parked on the siding track itself. In a split-second decision, Fred decided to hop off our train and board this new one, which would take him home that night yet give him most all of the satisfaction of the trip to Klamath.

I waved good-bye to Fred as my train pulled out, yelling to get his attention that he had left his gloves behind and tossing them out the door as I began to disappear. Fred waved his thanks.

Soon after that, we pulled into the yard at Klamath Falls for a fresh crew. A decision was at hand for me there: if the train pulled deep into the yard, I would hop off and head over to Gino's Market for some munchies, then try to find a Northbound while avoiding Klamath's newly "über-nasty" SP special officer, Roger. If the train stayed on or near the main, I knew we'd be up for a quick crew change and be on our way.

Turned out we pulled 3 or 4 tracks off the main, but not deep into the yard. I decided to roll out my sleeping bag and wait out the time for the crew change. I didn't think it would take longer than 2-3 hours, which would make it around 8-9 p.m.

I drifted off to sleep in the car, as I watched Roger making his rounds in the white 4WD on the OPPOSITE side of the yard. Around 10 p.m., I awoke when several tramps stuck their heads in my door and said "someone's in there, let's move on down." I grunted and went back to sleep. Finally, I awoke again with a start when my car started moving. I got up lickety-split and looked out the door. We were just beginning to move northbound out of the yard. I was happy about this. My watch said it was 1:00 in the morning.

I re-rolled into my sleeping bag, determined to sleep the entire trip into Eugene, which was about 6-7 hours up the line. Like clockwork, we slowed down and rolled into the outskirts of Eugene about 7:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. As we entered the town the train stopped, and I decided to get off and hike the rest of the way up to the yard, which is at the north end of the city. I wanted to see Eugene, seeing as I hadn't been there since my college days. I got off the train right by the University of Oregon campus, and as I trudged up the road many thoughts of my college days flooded my head, when we used to drive down from my school in Corvallis to visit the "foreign" bars, women and parties to be found in Eugene.

I cut through downtown Eugene, where some workers were preparing the streets for an open-market. Finally, after walking for about 1½ hours, I made it to the yard. At this point, I had at least 2-3 more miles to go, to get up to the departure yard at the northern tip.

Along the way, I began taking photos of some of the graffiti on the cars from some of the more well-known artists, such as Mr. Bass, Bozo Texino, Herby, the Rambler of Beaumont TX, and others. About halfway up to the departure yard I hooked up with two other tramps, who were rather harmless and unfamiliar with Eugene. I offered to lead them up to departure and get them set up with a suitable train to head north to Portland, and they took me up on my offer.

We walked up together and found an empty boxcar suitably positioned under the Belt Line Road bridge, which passes over the departure yard. We stowed our gear in the car, and, spotting the crew shack about 300 yards away, I decided to go over and talk to the UP car-knocker to get some intelligence on what was headed where.

The UP grunt turned out to be quite a nice guy, giving me 4 bottles of UP water and his home-made baloney sandwich. He was up in Eugene on temporary assignment from Roseville (to handle extra traffic being routed through Eugene) and was looking forward to heading back down to California once his stint was done. We struck up a long conversation, and I spent about 45 minutes talking to him about my adventures and tramping tales. He said he often yearned to tramp himself, but never had.

He gave me some intelligence on two northbound strings that were leaving later in the day - at 3:00 p.m. It was about 10 a.m. at that point, so we'd have to wait a while before getting out of the yard.

I headed back to our boxcar, only to find that my two friends had disappeared, leaving their packs next to mine in the car. I figured they had gone to find food, so I waited... and waited... and waited. They never showed up. Finally, it got to be 2:00 and I decided to switch strings to find a car on my string that was departing. I knew it would be leaving at the appointed hour because I saw my friend "airing" the brake system up on yard air near his shack. Finally, 3:00 passed and from my vantage point I still hadn't seen my two fellow tramps, so I gave up on them. And at 3:05 p.m. - HIGHLY unusual for the UP - my northbound train slowly groaned to life.

As we travelled up the Willamette Valley through Albany, Salem and Woodburn I couldn't help but marvel at the serene beauty of western Oregon. I can't ever remember a prettier time of seeing this fertile land. As we neared the Portland metropolitan area, our train suddenly stopped at Oregon City, at the hydroelectric station and miniature falls on the Willamette River there. Seeing as my car had stopped next to a track-side weigh-station and car drop-off point, I ventured outside into the weighman's shack to check it out. Thankfully I found a working drinking fountain inside and greedily slaked my thirst from the fountain.

Retraining and settling down with a magazine, I waited for the train to start and indeed, it soon did. About 20 minutes later we pulled into SE Portland's Brooklyn Yard and I put myself on the alert for Ray Horn, the SP's Special Officer stationed there. As we entered the south end of the yard adjacent to the Eastmoreland Golf Course, I looked out the door of my car and saw the Ringling Bros. Circus train parked on the tracks next to mine. We passed the entire length of the train and I could see the living quarters in each car where the circus performers lived. It was quite interesting because each living area was decorated according to the individual's particular taste, with interesting plants on the windowsills, posters on the walls, and personal items scattered about near the windows. Every few cars I'd see a mess car, where meals would be prepared. All in all, an interesting sight.

We pulled into the yard and I de-trained about 7:30 p.m. With another notch on my mental bedpost for a successful trip, I walked out of the yard toward the nearby bus stop. The trip was a fitting finale to summer.