Schools out and I decide that a few days on the rails would be a good way to unwind from dealing with students, grades, and administrators. Besides, in early summer the bugs aren't so bad and the temperatures usually don't bake your hide. The night before decompression my wife turned on the news to hear that a couple of people got bumped off down in northern Illinois and the nut case was allegedly riding the rails and headed toward Wisconsin. They went on to say that the FBI, CIA, KGB, and anybody else that had an interest was hot on his trail. The local news claimed that the FBI had agents riding the rails to see if they could bag him. After a little consideration I thought it best to hold off and wait till things settled down a bit. Not that I was worried about running into Mr. Resendez-Ramirez, but the chances were pretty good I couldn't get on or off a train without being spotted by a welcoming committee. So I packed up the family and we headed out to the state of Washington for a month. While poking around in the North Cascades National Park we stopped in Newhalem and the paper on the counter in the general store claimed that Resendez-Ramirez had turned himself in down in Texas. Well this was good news, the rails should be back to normal and I won't have to worry about such heavy surveillance.
On Monday morning August 9, Lynette has graciously consented to drop me off at the Butler yard on the north side of Milwaukee. There is a nice do-it-yourself car wash that abuts up to the main line and has a fair amount of brush for good concealment. This prevents the train watchers from getting overly excited. On my arrival, there was an empty unit coal train on the near track and plenty of activity in the yard. It appeared that they were putting together a west bound and were fairly well along on their project. After about 30 minutes of hunkering down in the brush I got antsy, so I hiked on down the string of coal cars trying to peek between cars for a good ride. Near the end of the train were a number of CN hoppers that had fairly clean porches and were headed in the right direction. Setting down my pack on the embankment I reached into it for a pair of gloves and pulled them out. In addition to pulling out gloves, my earplugs come rolling out and down a groundhog hole. The plugs were in a round container so they had no trouble getting away from me. I really needed them as my ears are pretty sensitive and I have a hard enough time hearing the way it is. So I got down on my belly and reached down that hole as far as I could. Not a chance, so some groundhog has got himself two pairs of brand spanking new earplugs. I guess he could make good use of them considering his close proximity to the yard. Oh well, toilet paper will have to do.
I hopped over the string of coal cars and staked claim to one of the CN hoppers. Not quite sure when we would roll I thought it would be prudent to lay low so I tucked myself away in the cubbyhole. After awhile the air went up and we started to roll. The train went about a 100 yards stopped, backed up and broke the air. Being a little concerned that this train was not what it appeared to be, I jumped off and hoofed it down to the end to see if FRED was still there. He was, which answered some questions, so I decided to go hunt up my car again. I guess it was one of those things that only make sense to the crew putting the train together. In about 45 minutes the air came up again and we started to roll.
The UP has jointed rail on this section of line so I swayed back and forth to the rhythmic clatter of wheels going over rail joints. Toilet paper earplugs were not cutting it. The hopper I picked must have been an empty because it was awful loud. The scenery was good and the sun was still out so I was able to view the country side. One hay field must have had 50 to 60 Sandhill Cranes poking around in it. I didn't ever recall seeing that many cranes grouped up in the summer. The ride was a fairly jerky affair with many fluctuations in speed. Apparently this was on account of having to maintain train spacing. This created a lot of slack action which forced me to brace myself so as not to get tossed around as much. West of South Beaver Dam the rain came down in sheets. The cubbyhole stayed dry so it wasn't such a bad deal. The rest of the ride to Adams was uneventful. About a mile out from the yard the train stopped so I jumped off, stashed my pack in the woods, and walked into town. I needed to find a pair of real earplugs. It was about 7 o'clock in the evening and things were relatively quiet. I walked up town to the grocery store to hunt up some plugs. Nothing doing, the best I could do was a bag of cotton balls. I guess I'd give them a try. I bought a can of soda on the way out and headed back to grab my pack and find a place to jungle out. Its always interesting walking around small towns looking kind of grubby and seeing the reactions from the townies. Some steer clear of you and others say hey and keep going.
The Adams yard is right next to a good strip of woods that makes for a dandy place to jungle out in. There is enough concealment so there is not too much to worry about concerning prying eyes. I found a couple of oaks that were spaced just right to string up a hammock. Since it was raining on and off I tossed a rain fly over the mosquito netting and settled in. For some reason I couldn't keep the mosquitoes out and they had a field day. After a while I feel asleep and they got a free meal without having to worry about getting squashed.
At o'dark-thirty an eastbound rolled in and set the brakes. I packed up my gear and made a reconnaissance run to see what it had to offer. The darkness made it much easier to check the situation out without having to worry quite as much about who was on patrol. I walked the front two thirds of the train twice and was not able to find a suitable ride. However, I didn't walk to the complete end. The end 15 cars were box cars filled with chips. The doors were open and the steam was just pouring out on account of the cool night air. I couldn't find any way to climb in them as there was sheeting covering the open door most of the way up. Because of the darkness and all the steam I didn't notice a car at the end of the train. As I walked closer I could see it was a caboose in transit. This is the hot ticket. I can ride back to Milwaukee in comfort. I opened the back door went in and set up shop. The table, desk, chairs and the rest of the stuff where all there but a bit beat up. One side had the window boarded up and the other it was plum missing. Not a problem. I noticed that the National Association of Rail Riders had used the car previous to my occupancy and left their tag behind. I was just getting comfortable when I heard some clunking on the back end of the car. I took a quick peak and saw a railroader removing FRED. Not good. He dumped it in his truck and started up to the head end bleeding the air as he went. I was a little disappointed. I figured this was my big chance to ride a caboose and go home in style.
After the rail left I exited the caboose and went back into the woods to sit tight and view the yard. An hour later another east bound came in. It was going awfully fast and for a while I figured it was going to blow right through. It came to a screeching halt with a number of grainers right in front of me. I left my pack in the woods and headed over to scope out a ride. Usually trains sit for a while and wanting to make sure it hadn't reached the end of the line I keep an eye on it from the woods. Eventually the brakes started to clunk and groan and I grabbed my pack and jumped on just as it started to roll.