Few walks are as tiring and depressing as the one from the west end of the Antelope receiving yard to the east end of the departure yard in Roseville. I had left the cool, fog-bound Oakland Desert Yard on a piggyback headed to Denver, and now we were slowing to enter the aforementioned far west end of the yard complex in Roseville. Summer in the Bay Area can actually seem cool at times, but now that I was officially in the Central Valley, 100 miles inland, it was over 90 degrees by noon, and I hoped that I could stay on the piggyback and ride it all the way through the yard, but such was not the case.
Looking forward around the side of the trailer wheels I saw that there was a cop car and the railroad Bull parked next to the tracks at the road crossing, which meant I went into emergency mode and bailed off on the opposite side. Thinking myself lucky not to have rode right into what seemed like a trap, I waited until my train passed by and crouched in the weeds, trying to figure out just what the cops were up to. To my great disappointment, they were taking what appeared to be a drunk motorist into custody — his car had veered off the pavement and collided with one of the crossing arms that lower when a train is passing. I could have probably stayed on the train and ridden right by them without being seen but it was too late now.
I was pretty much stuck hiding where I was, because walking by the cops into the yard with a backpack would surely not end well for me, so I hunkered down in the hot sun waiting for them to finish their business and leave. Shortly a maintenance truck drove up and a guy got out to survey the damage. Soon afterward a tow truck joined the party as I continued to roast in the weeds. Just when I thought my situation was hopeless I saw the headlight of an approaching train coming into the yard and I was thrilled to see that it had lots of boxcars open on my side. I let the engines pass my position where they brought the train to a stop just before the road crossing. Seizing my chance now that I was hidden from the cops, I got up and ran back to the first open boxcar and climbed in.
Before I could even stand up the train lurched forward and we slowly entered the receiving yard, but unfortunately we turned off the main into some yard tracks and made our way over to the far south side of the yard, where after what seemed like eternity we stopped and dropped the air. I would have to continue on foot but at least I was about a mile closer to the departure yard and in a reasonably cool boxcar. I immediately shed some clothes and pondered my next move. I could start walking, but at some point I would have to detour around the tower and office buildings that were situated between me and the departure yard, which meant even more of a walk in the nasty heat.
Since I was just beginning my train trip, I had a full compliment of food and drink, which translated to three bottles of White Port, a block of cheddar cheese, and a loaf of French bread. I also had plenty of water and little anxiety to keep to my original plan of riding to Denver and back. I could just stay where I was, and judging from the cars on the train, it was probably going north, which had to be cooler than where I was now. A few sips of wine convinced me that a change of destination was in order, and I settled back to bask in the joy of not having to walk any more in the hot sun that day.
I was in a reasonably new metal-floored boxcar with both doors open on either side. There was a little trash here and there, but only one instance of graffiti — apparently someone named Alvin either was part of the loading or unloading in Salem, Oregon on July 10, 1995. He proudly wrote "Alvin and crew" in remarkably legible block letters — a breath of fresh air compared to the almost impossible-to-read scribblings spray painted on the outside of the car.
I get up to pee and decide to take stock of whatever detritus has been left in the car from previous riders. I'm looking at a small box that used to contain a plastic syringe used to squirt water into one's ear in order to loosen whatever crud is holed up in there. On the side is a picture of the syringe, and text noting the features that it has. At the bottom is a disclaimer that says "photo is not actual size". Why isn't the photo "actual size" I wondered? To begin with, if you think about it, the photo is actual size, it's the "syringe" that isn't. And why not? If the syringe itself can fit inside the box, then there is certainly enough room to include a full-size picture of it on one side, n'est-ce pas?
This reminds me of boxes of cereal where a picture of a spoonful of the product is shown "enlarged to show detail". How much "detail" do you need to see on a raisin? In a similar vein, what about those bags of chips or whatever that have the disclaimer about the bag not seeming to be full because of "settling". You're holding a bag the size of a basketball but when you open it there's only a handful or two of the product inside. Why can't they shake the bag during the manufacturing process to simulate the "settling" that occurs during shipment?
I get a chuckle out of the amount of interest just one empty cardboard box can provide during a lengthy hiatus waiting for a train. A thought came to mind — you're watching a movie on TV. The scene is somewhere in New York City at night, and the streets are wet, presumably from a recent rain, reflecting all of the lights from cars and signs in a dreamy sort of way. I've seen this on millions of movies, but what I've never seen are streets that are wet in the daytime. Does it only rain at night in the movies?
At this point I figured that with enough wine and a large supply of trash in the boxcar I could conceivably occupy myself for several days without worrying about catching a train. The unproven theorem that given enough monkeys with typewriters and enough time, they will eventually type the complete works of Shakespeare seemed not so far fetched. If there was ever an event that didn't depend on split-second timing it would have to be hopping trains. They would manifest themselves when the time was right, and not a moment sooner.
Finishing my cataloging of the ephemera littering the floor, it was time to roll out and take a nap, which is what usually follows an afternoon of drinking wine.
With the stress of wondering when (and if) my train would ever leave being a definite non-factor at this point, I could just enjoy my surroundings and while away the time as I felt appropriate. I thought about getting out and walking up and down looking for a better ride, but I just couldn't get enthused about it — I was now completely comfortable to just hang out and let events unfold as they would.
Unfortunately, after an hour or so of hanging out in the boxcar, not a single event "unfolded", and I began to feel as though some slight degree of anxiety on train trips was a necessary evil — if I just wanted to sit around and do absolutely nothing I could have stayed at home. So, in an effort to justify my existence, if nothing else, I rose to my feet and jumped down on the shady side of the boxcar.
This seemed like a good time to add my moniker to the outside of the car as so many had done before me, so I found a blank spot between the ladder rungs and produced another masterpiece in brevity, in letters too small to read at any distance away. A good amount of time was spent reading other entries in this particular boxcar's heritage, with most being recognizable from previous train trips, enforcing my theory that this car was headed north, and not to some little-known branch line in the middle of nowhere.
Walking along on the relatively cool ballast I was pleased to discover that the cars both ahead of and behind mine seemed to be loaded, judging from the compression of their springs, which would help to keep my empty car from bouncing around too much. I remembered one trip in particular that put me on an empty grain train going east from Spokane — when we got up to speed with all of those empty cars on either side of me it was like being in a rodeo for several hours until I bailed off in Whitefish and felt like my entire skeleton had been re-arranged.
Continuing alongside my train I found an empty bulkhead flat on the adjoining track about 5 or 6 cars behind my boxcar, and thought that it would be a nice place to hang out — it was shady on both sides and not too far from my car to run and get on in case my string started to pull. I walked back to my car, climbed in and retrieved a bottle of wine, and noticed that because there was no string of cars on the sunny side to block the heat, it was starting to get pretty warm inside — another reason to walk back and hang out on the bulkhead, but at that position I would have no way of telling if someone climbed into my car from the opposite side and stole my gear. Suddenly my afternoon of doing nothing got complicated, and I reluctantly walked back to my boxcar and rolled up my gear, then set my pack in the open doorway so that I could keep an eye on it from the bulkhead.
Feeling satisfied that I had all bases covered, I leaned back on the sliver-encrusted wooden bulkhead and enjoyed the waning hours of the afternoon drinking wine in the shade. Not long afterward my reverie was shattered by a loud crashing noise as I watched my pack tumble out of the doorway of my boxcar. Suddenly the cars were moving, but I wasn't sure if the string I was sitting on was moving forward or the string next to me was moving backward. I had to look at the ground to confirm that the string that contained "my" boxcar was being shoved backward, and this is what caused my pack to fall out of the doorway.
I jumped down and ran forward to pick up my pack, and as I turned around to race back to my boxcar the string stopped almost as quickly as it started, putting my boxcar immediately adjacent to "my" bulkhead. Drat, if my pack hadn't fallen off I could have just jumped across from bulkhead to boxcar. I listened carefully for the sound of a switch engine pulling away from the head end of my string but didn't hear anything, indicating that the impact was caused by the road power, rather than more cars, being added to the front. This was enforced by the welcome sound of air coming up in the brake lines. People who don't ride trains can't possibly appreciate the joy that a rider experiences by just the slightest sound of hissing after hours of silence.
In a reasonable amount of time we began to inch forward, producing a pleasant breeze that began to cool off the inside as if a giant air conditioner had been turned on. We stopped at the end of the receiving yard, then again at the end of the hump yard, then a long, slow pull along the edge of the departure yard. I kept a watchful eye out for tramps wanting to hop in my car, as there were plenty more empties behind me and I didn't have any interest in accumulating riding partners. Another stop at the end of the departure yard, where I prepared to bail if we continued straight, but eventually we pulled forward and curved left under the Rainbow Bridge, where I had spent plenty of hours waiting for possibly the same train I was riding on now.