I hung out in Winnipeg for almost 2 weeks with my friends Danielle, Carrie, Sherri, Jodi, and my relatives; watching the snow melt, playing street hockey, walking around in a t-shirt, playing wallball, riding bikes, transplanting celery, drinking slurpees and eating pizzas... great times. Duncan invited me to play my first curling match, and Danielle introduced me to a friend of hers named Grayden, who's ridden a bunch of trains and showed me the places to catch out in Winnipeg. (Grayden also hooked me up with a Canadian Rail Atlas, which was great, but made me worry too much I think... more on this later.) The month was about halfway finished and my friends in Ontario would be expecting me soon. At this point I hadn't yet ridden an intermodal car so I was hoping to this time... in hindsight I shoulda just hopped what came to me and not have been so picky...
At about 9:30pm on April 13th I found myself packed up and walking to catch a train at Beech Junction on the east side of Winnipeg. Just as I showed up a train was pulling out from the yard and heading east, but there was red and blue flashing lights south down under the Dugald Rd bridge and I was a little apprehensive of hopping the first train I saw - plus it wasn't an intermodal like I wanted to ride. Mistake #1.
Beech Junction (CN) is just east of Lagimodiere Blvd. and north of Dugald Rd on the east side of Winnipeg. The huge CN Symington yard is south of Dugald Rd and all trains heading east or west on the Canadian mainline come north out of the yard to Beech, so it's here that you can size up a train and tell where it's heading. Of interest is also the track running NE at Beech which heads up toward northern Manitoba. Several old MBR beaters came by and up this track.
I walked a little further and sat down in the dead yellow grass beside the tracks and tried to get some cover, which was pretty much impossible - I'm sure almost every crew on that curve saw me hiding there beside the swamp. Mistake #2. I soon realized that all the intermodal trains I saw just blasted by on the mainline and didn't originate in the yard. Grayden had said that intermodal thru-trains probably did their crew change in the CN Transcona yard farther east, which I concluded to be true. Most of the trains that came out of the yard that night were heading west or NE, and left me wishing I had just grabbed that first train. I dozed in the ditch until morning, freezing my ass off, not pulling out my sleeping bag just in case a good train came by, geese honking in my ears, trying to hide from the train lights... not fun. Seems like everything was heading into the yard and never coming out...
The next morning brought more of the same. Up until now I had been used to catching a train in a couple hours, so I guess it was just time to learn that lesson of train-riding patience. Some of the intermodals that went by on the mainline were going slow enough to jump I thought, so I figured I would walk east down the mainline to the Transcona yard and if anything slow came by I would try to catch it. Mistake #3. Walking along the tracks is met two guys welding behind a building:
"Where you headed?"
"Well, you're going the right way..."
This particular day was a hot one in Winnipeg, especially when walking with a huge pack on your back, and I got tired fast. I was also pretty sleep-deprived, and wasn't quite thinking straight... I tried to hop a train on the walk to the Transcona yard but it was too fast... I tried to throw my pack on but it just got thrown from the train and flew into the ditch which was full of water. Presto: wet pack. I was lucky that it didn't come back and hit me and knock me under the train or something.
I arrived in Transcona at about 2pm, ate some food and drank some water; my thoughts turned desperate... Do I hitchhike or (aackk!) buy a bus ticket??? After looking around at the Transcona yard decided I was better off at Beech Junction again - I think the lack of sleep had something to do with that decision... So back I went. At about 3pm I was at the junction again and decided to try a different strategy. The Dugald Rd bridge has little nooks underneath the deck on the north side which with their height allow you to look out over the junction and be a little more hidden than the in dead grass. The only problem is that there is a bunch of bull roads there by the bridge, where they can just pull up and park and roll the train for riders or stop would-be hoppers. I didn't care anymore though, I was dead tired and just wanted to ride a train outta there and try to catch an intermodal at the next crew change. In a fit of stupidity at 5pm a grainer & gondola train pulled out going east and I ran from my hiding spot in plain view of all on the bridge, down the hill, along the train and hopped on a beautiful Canadian grainer. I must have had a horseshoe up my ass cause no one seemed to notice me, and everything was suddenly alright. We passed through the Transcona yard without stopping (I was worried 'cause Transcona has a huge grain elevator), and headed off into the rolling prairies! It was 20 hours of waiting and freezing and fucking around that I coulda done with out... Lesson learned, though... Don't be too picky with your train!
At 7pm we started going at a fair clip once away from all the settlements, and I knocked the grainer with a rock and found it to be full, so maybe it wasn't such a bad ride after all! The first half of the train was empty gondolas, though, so I still didn't know for sure. It was the Canadian Sheild from here on, in contrast to the CP route which is prairies for most of Thunder Bay-Winnipeg. I was in the middle of nowhere and the sky was beautiful... 7:15pm and we're in Ontario. At 7:45pm we passed a town and a neat bridge over a river, followed by two short tunnels and at 8pm we rolled through Reditt, ice on the lakes and the sun going down; beautiful but cold...
I checked my newfound train atlas and started worrying about if this train was headed all the way to Toronto or whether it was going to head SW at the Longlac Junction down to Thunder Bay or south to Sault Saint Marie. If I didn't have that atlas I wouldn't even have known about these routes... (my road atlas is great in that it shows the rails but only the CP and CN mainlines). All the worrying (and again tiredness) got the best of me and in yet another fit of stupidity decided to get off at 3am in Sioux Lookout in the freezing cold and sleep in a front-end loader bucket. Mistake #4. I half-slept through the night, saw a VIA train do a crew change and a couple WBD intermodals... at 8:45am the first EBD came my way, even junkier looking than the train I just got off, all mixed up, grainers, gons, boxcars, really old looking. Again, I just needed to get out of there, so when the train stopped, did the crew change and started rolling again, I ran out in full view of a worker, waved to him and jumped on a grainer. The train stopped again quickly - did that worker call the bull? I jumped from my grainer and ran up the train further and jumped in a gon with a scattering of scrap wood and metal... after a while we started rolling again, so either he didn't call me in or they didn't find me in the grainer and gave up. The day was sunny and beautiful, which is the kind of weather to ride in a gondola because it could of easily turned into a bathtub in the rain. I soaked up the welcome warm rays and shook off the cold of the snow-bucket slumber... I think I was technically insane for a day there...
At 1:30pm we hit the Longlac Jct and stayed on the mainline, yippee! Toronto here I come! My worrying was put to rest. I wanted to transfer back to my original grainer but all the WBDs went into the hole for us, some old junk train... maybe this section of CN track operates on time-of-day rules? At 4:30pm we arrived in Hornepayne, a major fueling stop on CN line, and wait for an hour or so - it's pretty open and the office is really close so I didn't risk transferring cars here. A couple workers walk right by my car, but they can't see a thing! Good old gondolas... I saw I bunch of grainers on a siding, abandoned... Is this the train I jumped off at 3am? Maybe things are looking up for me... Two more crew changes and I'm in Capreol, where I wanna get off and hitchhike to the Manitoulin Island Ferry.
We hit Folyet at 10pm for the crew change and Capreol at 2am. Somewhere in between I transfer back to the grainer to get some sleep and be a little more sheltered. The bull shines his truck lights on the train outside the yard at Capreol and then drives down the service road right beside the tracks. I jump off the other side and head into the bush to get some well-deserved real sleep, amongst the snow and dead leaves. I slept well and got up in the morning, walked into Capreol proper and got some greasy train-hopper breakfast at the local diner... everyone staring - "who's this dirt bag?" The many CN employees know what's up though and give me knowing looks. I wash up in the bathroom and change my clothes and feel a lot better.