Over two years now since my first ride and I've just recently learned the convenience of my city's bus system. After asking for rides, inconveniencing people, and hiking miles across town I come to the realization of getting a bus schedule and walking down to a bus stop and waiting. Quite a revelation huh?
On the way down to the bus station I stop in to get a sandwich at Subway. The napkins in the bag will later turn out to be exceedingly worth the price of the meal.
Once at the station my bus comes in about 45 minutes later. In between then I pass the time finishing half my sandwich and listening to John Prine on my headphones. One dollar and 30 minutes later I'm let off within 30 feet of the number one main. Two cheers for public transit.
A quick stop in the liquor store for a 6-pack and bottle of wine and a quick chat with the clerk I'm stocked up for the trip. I used to live a couple blocks from the same liquor store and spoke with the lady behind the counter on a fairly regular basis. Now she only sees me when I'm toting my pack and I'm usually met with a sort of disapproving shake of the head and a smile. She always inquires to where I'm going, wishes me luck and tells me to be careful. It's a sort of pre-catching out tradition.
I post up outside an abandoned bar across from the yard office at the north end of the yard to scan incoming trains for rides. After watching a couple crews come on duty and some switching a southbound pulls in. About mid train I spot a nice open box. The train pulls in on the main and I start off towards my ride. Once there I scan the street for the all clear, throw my bag in and swing myself up and in and start my wait.
Less than 20 minutes later I'm pulling out of the yard and am on my way south. I notice that I left my note of train schedules at home. I had planned to stay on during the crew change in Nashville and continue on to Birmingham or Chattanooga but now figured I would detrain in Nashville, head to the library to acquire schedules and head back out after that.
About 30 minutes after pulling out we passed through the next town and started to get up to speed. This box car turned out to be one of the most uncomfortable rides I've ever been on. It was shaking so bad it felt like my stomach would rip loose from sloshing about so much inside of me and sleeping was almost out of the question. I killed a couple beers which didn't help the stomach situation but aided somewhat with sleep. More than once I questioned why I do this for "fun".
I woke up sided outside of Nashville around 4 a.m. and rolled my sleeping bag up and had a morning beer while waiting to see whether or not we would pull into Radnor of Kayne Ave. yards. It didn't really matter since I planned to scope out Radnor regardless this time around. We started rolling and it was soon obvious we were on our way to Radnor. I hopped off on the fly soon after passing the yard limit and made my way to a McDonalds for a little breakfast and an unplanned chat with an insane toothless addict about hitchhiking and her love of "bithcuts and gravy". After finishing up and giving her all the change in my pocket for more "bithcuts" I headed back to Radnor to catch a little sleep until the sun came up and scope out the yard.
I did just that and came out with a pretty good handle on the north side of the yard. I headed for the bus stop to catch a bus downtown to the library for the schedules. Once downtown I stopped in a store for a little block of cheese and a couple snacks. With schedules printed I headed towards Kayne Yard with a short stop by a convenience to store for a couple beers because my road supply was dwindling, I wanted beer for the wait and I figured I probably won't be able to easily restock for the ride back if I ended up (figuring I likely would anyhow) in Birmingham.
Outside the convenience store two guys came up asking if I would buy cigarettes for them because they didn't have ID. Now in Nashville if you don't have state issued ID, especially if you look like the homeless or traveling type and even if you are obviously over the legal age you cannot buy cigarettes or alcohol. It may be like that in other places but it is without a doubt a tactic to come down on the homeless population. I tell them sure and I go in and get myself my beer. Two different types because I like to switch it up a little and because they carried Yuengling lager that I had never tried and heard so much about. I now see why it's hyped up, the perfect mix of price and quality. If any Yuengling reps are reading this I would be more than happy to be the national spokesperson if the position is open for taste tester, quality assurance etc. The lady rings up the beer, I ask for a pack of cigs and she then proceeds to pull the beer behind the counter and tell me "uh uh, yous buying all these beers and cigarettes for the guys outside". Although she is right, my protests that I smoke Newports (no thanks), even if I am those are grown men out there, etc. etc. fall on deaf ears. I go out empty handed give the guys back there money and tell them the news to which one responds by screaming and kicking a news paper stand outside the door and I respond to by walking the opposite direction. A police encounter was not on my list of activities for the day, week, or year. I make it to another store blocks away and get asked to buy something again outside this store. I say yes because come on, I have no problem contributing to the Church of Malt Liquor, and these guys are obviously getting desperate down here. I succeed in mine and "Brother Brother Guy's" procurement of brew this time around. "Brother Brother Guy" because almost every sentence uttered out of his mouth is preceded by "brother brother".
Alright, I'm happy Brother Brother is happy and I'm back at the yard waiting on a train. I kick back, enjoy my beers that I have earned by this point, and kick the scanner on. After about an hour an intermodal rolls in and I pack up and walk it for rides with no luck. A junk train from Memphis rolls on in but doesn't stop and didn't really afford any rides anyway. A little later another junk train from Memphis hauling battered auto racks in the middle comes through. The auto racks had gouges in the top, doors ripped completely off or huge holes ripped in them which would have afforded decent rides and my first time riding in an auto rack but this train too continued on most likely to Radnor.
Right after dark another junk train rolls in and stops for a crew change putting a gondola hauling steel rolls directly in front of me. This ride will suit me just fine. I climb up over the lip and in the process I later found out lost my wool blanket. I settle in and we pull out a few minutes later. We continue south out of Nashville blowing past a few sided trains. A sight I like to see. We pass gigantic houses south of Nashville that don't seem familiar from my trip to Chattanooga so I figure we must be headed to Birmingham.
I roll out my bag and climb partially in and sit back and eat a little and drink a couple of beers. I lie down and watch the stars between the clouds and see precisely what I don't want to see, flashes of light illuminating the clouds. I have no rain gear, a cotton and down sleeping bag, no tarp, and I'm riding in a fairly low sided gondola hours from Birmingham. I get up to survey what I can see of the weather conditions and realize I have never been so happy to see a fireworks show. I have no idea what they were celebrating but I'm glad they were.
I fell asleep and woke up a few hours later with pine forest around me. I figured we must have been getting fairly close by this time also due to the fact that the train had not sided once to my knowledge. Then I felt a rumble. Not from the train but from my innards. This was not a good thing because I don't like leaving "presents" for fellow riders, yard workers, or the recipients of these steel rolls and the gondola doesn't really offer any safe way to deposit these "presents" along the ballast. It was then doubly bad when I was unable to find the TP I had brought along. Shit. The initial rumbling stopped but I knew it would be back for round two and with a vengeance.
Within an hour and a stop for a meet with a northbound stack train I saw we were rolling in CSX's Boyles Yard slightly north of Birmingham. I packed up and stayed low as we rolled into the yard. As we were near the south side of the yard the rumble returned and my train luckily came to a stop. I looked around to see if the coast was clear, I tossed my pack, climbed down, retrieved my pack and made a mad dash for the edge of the yard. Making some unwise decisions I crossed the knuckles of two strings of cars by practically bounding over them, I made it through a string of trees, crossed two sets of tracks and made my way towards a patch of trees. On the way down the temperature had risen about 25 or 30 degrees and my clothes consisting of a one piece poly pro union suit, jeans, fleece jacket, flannel shirt, and insulated Carhartt bibs was a bit much. By the time I made it to those trees I was sweating like a mad man. I stripped down to my boxers scrambled for improvised TP (thanks Subway) and well, you know where it goes from there. The subway napkins ended up being slightly insufficient and I then remembered the two stories (If It's Tuesday it Must Be Colorado! and Fall Follies: God speed Mr. Grinch) I had printed out in the library from this site. Sorry Fred and Gerry I really do enjoy your writings but desperate times call for desperate measures.
With that little crisis out of the way I packed up unneeded clothing and headed down the two sets of tracks back toward the north end to find the departure yard. I followed the tracks for about three hundred yards and they then went underneath the yard that was now thirty feet above me up an embankment to my right. I walked through the tunnel and when I came to the other side I found a spigot that I thought may have water. I turned the spigot on and liquid came out but being night I couldn't quite tell if it was clean water or not. I put my fingers in the liquid. Cold... good... intense burning... not so good... hand discoloring... worse... smell of diesel/some kind of fuel... not water. I got out my flashlight and my hand was brown and my finger nails where yellowish and reddish. The burning didn't seem to be stopping but I was at least glad I didn't go straight for the drink. That would have been an eye opening experience. I'm guessing it was diesel.
I made my way up the embankment through some extremely thick foliage that left me panting like a dying dog by the time I got to the top. I see a train moving north so I climb up on a grainer and ask a worker on the other side if it's made up and heading out. It's just heading to the bowl. I cross the yard to the opposite side and find cover between two strings of cars and continue north. I see a worker up ahead and flash my light to get his attention and not scare him by emerging from between two dark strings of cars. I ask him about northbounds and even though he is extremely friendly he tells me he has only been working there a year or two and doesn't really know the numbers or destinations of the trains and just reads the list and builds them. He said the old heads could tell me exactly what train they were building just by the consist. I tell him I'll let him get back to work and verify that up ahead is where the northbounds will be departing and I take off as he wishes me luck.
I walk up ahead behind the yard tower to the north end of the yard. I wait up and listen to the scanner for a little while and know an intermodal will be coming through sometime soon. I hear that they are changing crews back toward the center of the yard but I wait to see how fast they'll be moving by the time they make it here. I wait for nothing because by the time they reached my point they were hauling.
I head a little further into the pine woods, exhausted by this point after a very early morning 3-4 mile hike through the yard and lay down on a bed of pine needles which makes one of the finest beds I've ever laid on. I wake up around 9 or 10 and break out the scanner to see what is up today. After waiting around 2 hours and a couple of beers later I see a train pulling slowly out of the yard with road power with only one guy in the cab. The tower is referring to it by the locomotive number and it's not a yard job for sure. I listen in on the scanner and the tower tells Preacher Tom to take said train to so and so road so the crew can board and once the crew is on then Q688 can wait for clearance. Check the schedule and confirm that Q688 takes me all the way back home and no need to switch trains in Nashville. This works for me.
I nail a backwards facing grainer and not soon after we are pulling out of the yard at a crawl, hit the mainline and start making some speed. I drink celebration beers and settle in for the ride. We make pretty good time all day and only side a few times for short periods. South of Nashville it starts pissing and pouring. I have my pack on the porch but it's wrapped in plastic I found in the cubby and I'm cozy in the cubby hole on my sleeping bag so it's not a problem at all. We stop in Kayne Yard for a crew change that takes all of two minutes and were off again.
Once in Kentucky a cold front hits after the storm and having taken my layers off in Birmingham I'm freezing. The porch is wet and I don't have a pad so I can't roll out and unable to finagle my way into my bag in the cubby I just try to sleep knowing I'll be home soon enough. I fall asleep and next thing I know I wake up on the same number one main I left on a couple days ago. I pack up, find a phone and call my sister (the buses had quit running for the night) and she picks me up. I get home, shower up, drink the wine that had traveled round trip with me, and sleep.