Joe and I met up in Santa Cruz in late November. The plan was to set out to Arkansas via the Overland and see Joe's newly acquired 40 acre property. We started by recruiting an old time rail surfing buddy of mine who just bought a Chevy Blazer. As usual, it didn't take any coercion to get Millz involved.
The plan was to hit the Oakland docks by late afternoon after gathering an extension of supplies for the week long journey ahead. We arrived in Emeryville and stopped under the 580 overpass to scope the train scene and watch Millz tear up the new skate park adjacent to the tracks. We saw nothing ready to leave NW bound so we jumped back into the Blazer to get a vantage of the Adeline street overpass. Not a whole lot was happening in that area either so we decided to stock up on the choicest of beverages, exalt our friend with his convenient transport and begin our hobo wait in the notorious Desert yard.
We saw the nightly at its usual time and were preparing to launch ourselves onboard when the faintest hum of the FRED could be heard. The train was only 15 cars long and all of them ARMN fridges, which are rides but not when you watch the rear end pulling further away. So it was the first time out of a dozen that the Local didn't stop, but that's just how it often seems to go. We cursed the loss and moved on to plan B; a nice smoke and wine drinking lullaby in the grass and under the stars.
The first rays of light from the new day rested upon a crawling stack train that wasn't slowing down. We gathered up quick and prepared for the first hop of the trip. This was to be Joe's initiation into the hobo tradition and in consideration of this the 10 mph roller was looking a bit intimidating. We agreed that it was going a little fast but also that we did not want to see it roll on without us. After a couple of failed attempts at mini-wells we finally grabbed one just before slowing to a stop with the units at the Emeryville signals. A brief brake inspection had us on our way and smiling as urban scenery sailed by in an ocean of bitter winter wind.
The trip to Roseville along the old California Pacific line was fast and we arrived in the Davis yard by early afternoon. After a brief crew change we hit Colfax at a slow uphill pace and kept at it for the next three hours until our downward descent into the basin. The snowy cold of the mountains was exhilarating from the proximity of our exposed ribbed 53 footer.
When we came to a halt in Reno I suggested that the rear unit might be a good solution to the inevitable misery that is the cold winter night on a fast stack through the Nevada Great Basin. Joe and I waited until the locos started to pull, and in our case push, before hopping on. In no time we were set in at notch 8 and attacking the peace and quiet of the still desert air.
Elko is a place of fantasy and wonder. In times past, be it any of the four seasons, Elko and its call to greatness, the Red Lion casino, has provided many weary travelers with the largest chicken fried steak $7 can buy. Though I woke from my dreams of The Colonel's tasty Kentucky fried being served to the sounds of winning slot machines, it was not to be on this Basin tour.
We crept into the fueling station at 3 in the morning and decided a brief interlude in the cozy bathroom stall would suppress our anxieties and concerns for the "what ifs" that lay unanswered until the train would move once more. Our late night gas station attendant did enjoy the luxuries of the rear engine but without a try on the bathroom door. He may have not known we were there but then again our obvious boot prints in the fresh snow immediately outside the front hatch could have been a clue for a more diligent inspector.
I remember nothing of the sleep through the salt flats until I awoke to see Joe enjoying the conductor's seat and the seemingly endless expanse of what would be an entirely defeating landscape to ever find one's self alone in. We pulled into the east end of Ogden in order to begin what lasted to be 2 hours of work. Joe and I sat in our same Arkansas bound DPU as the entire length of the remaining train was tied down so that 80+ cars could be taken off and left in the yard. When two hours elapsed we were on our way toward Wyoming and significantly closer to the front of the train.
When we stopped in Green River it was night time and I had to control the itch to see if the local rod and tackle shop in the quiet downtown held any stock of their usual cheap 30 packs of Big Shitty Ice. On the path I have traversed across this country and within each Tall Canistan that purchases had been made, never have I found a 30 pack for less than G River's $7.99. Without the fabled cans of cold Ice beer we continued onward in our engine/caboose.
Once outside of Rawlins we toyed with the chance that our bird could once again stop for fuel. As we listened in on the conversing between our crew and the Rawlins fuel station it was declared that we where to bypass the depot and make our way to the Laramie Sub-division and over the famed steep grade and triple track of Sherman Hill.
We were prepared to ride through Cheyenne until a passing Westbound suggested that our train be stopped and inspected for a large fuel leak on the rear unit. I thought the smell of diesel seemed a great much more pungent than usual and then realized that the drops on the windows that looked like rain was in fact a diesel fuel shower. Joe and I gathered our things and decided to jump off and wait for the UP 7006 that we saw back in Green River.
After a quick snack at the Kum&Go in Cheyenne's old town we made our way towards the mission and the eastbound catch out directly behind. Within 10 minutes our luck would grant us a deep 48 well with plenty of room for a 2 piece hobo bucket. We spread out our pads and bags on the foot of snow and swiftly exited the Equality (formerly the Cowboy) State in exchange for the land of corn husks and the Bailey yard which claims its right as the most active and fantastic place to watch trains in North America.
Joe and I swung ourselves overboard upon reaching the western yard throat and began our slow and steady walk to the town of North Platte. It was early morning and we decided that it would be best to infiltrate the east bound departure yard at night so the long delay ahead was met with some cold beers, chewing tobacco and a scrumdidilyumptious lunch. I found out later that while Joe was watching our stuff a man came out of a store to let us know that "our kind where not... ", to which Joe questioningly interrupted, daring the man to finish the sentence. The embarrassed man attempted to justify his opinion with a polite and cordial Joe only to leave wondering if maybe not all travelers were a bad lot.
In the late afternoon we gathered our goods and considered our strategy. A grouping of trees in a vacant field near the eastbound departure yard provided the best possibility of cover. Without hesitation we hoofed it towards the jungle and were pleasantly surprised to find a four foot deep and gradual hole in the central area of the cover. Darkness was a few hours away and once it settled we would call my automated friend to find out which birds were flying south at the junction to the east.
After a few attempts at some rides we finally found one actually going to Arkansas. It was an empty gondola that provided plenty of security from brakemen but not a lot from the trains passing on the near tracks, nor did it shelter us from the savage winds and blistering two A.M. cold. What it lacked in comfort it made up for in finally screaming along the creosote trail at a speed competitive with the hottest of "hotshot" trains.
The night was one of those that you beg to be over. A whirlwind of fine soot and grit peppered every available space in the gondola while the 50 mph winds threatened to cast us over the walls of our ride and into the treacherous darkness like two sailing mummies without a rudder. We awoke as though we never slept and jumped around the forty foot steel bed trying to get some circulation back. A passing conductor spotted my morning gallivanting and surprised me to the tune of a piercing horn blow as we raced past.
We had no previous plans to enjoy Marysville's fine array of downtown trinket shops, hair salons and diners but the last few hours left Joe and I dreaming of hot coffee, eggs, potatoes and various breakfast meats. As the steed pulled to a stop we dismounted grinning at our state of ravished despair and sauntered towards the promised land ahead.
The rest in Marysville did wonders for our spirits. Soon we were back at the Blue River's edge throwing rocks through the ice while contemplating the living and dead over a pint of Evan Williams and a pouch of Levi Garrett. As much as I will rant about the proposed evils of our technologically advancing society I must give credit where it is due in getting us the right Displaced Power Unit towards a southern direction after Kansas City. Without knowing which unit to ride we would have needed to go it the old fashioned way and either ride through KC with blind faith or infiltrate the yard and chat with an employ. The OPLX coal train that finally arrived got us the luxuries we desired and Joe's 3G coverage got us the Oklahoma Power and Light train's rear unit.
The Armourdale yard on the west side of the Missouri River was a quick morning stop though we did need to hide out in the WC as the DPU checkerman made his rounds. After the gentleman signed off the locomotive check sheet we were kicking back as the new crew navigated through a maze of tracks and trains abounding the industrial world of the Kansas City yards. Within twenty minutes we made it out of the complications of congestion and into the violent speed that provides the peace of mind for worn travelers.
Parsons was a brief stop in the early hours of night. We traded our luxury edition Cadillac loco for the fresh Southern air that was guaranteed from our perch atop spent rail ties in a deep hopper. Joe set up the camp stove and we cooked up a tasty warm canned chili meal to go along with a cup of hot tea. Within a few brief moments we were outbound and rocking our way to the Ozarks.
Sleeping well into the morning and being happy to do so I would have missed the best scenery of the trip if it was not for Joe. He awoke me from slumber to a clear and sunny December day on a single track surrounded by beauty along the Arkansas River in the Ozarks. The river was clear and wide with an arrangement of silly birds flapping and paddling in the tranquility of the natural world. The deep green hills indicated a dense growth of flora and the nuclear power plant in the distance bellowing steam columns a half mile in diameter added to the fantastic feeling of the planescape. I can only thank Joe for waking me at that moment.