So it's November of 2007 and I'm working for a home improvement company as a door to door droid setting up in-home appointments with homeowners interested in new windows and siding. I get their name and arrange a time, and the salesperson goes to the residence to sell them on the benefits of getting over their heads in debt to keep the thermostat 5 degrees lower in the winter. Lots of rejection and tough customers, but the job has it's perks - namely, that being paid solely on commission, I can work whenever and wherever within our operating area I please. The company, which long ago went defunct, would travel anywhere in the state for a good lead - so naturally from the start I began looking into the amount of suckers in each adjacent crew change town to Denver.
Bond, CO has like 40 total people in it, is way in the mountains, and has a median income of like, 500 dollars a month. It would be scenic, but probably not fruitful. Kremmling, the crew change for BNSF on the Moffat line, might be decent, actually. It's pretty small but I doubt the other window companies ever went up there. But it also only had one train a day, and was chilly this time of year. So that was out. Pueblo and Colorado Springs were possibilities, but a downright boring ride even though there were plenty of DPUs going each way. LaJunta was too far and only southbounds go through anyway. Sharon Springs, KS on the UP was an unknown, and sounded sketchy. Cheyenne was a thought but at this point, I had already spent so many countless hours under the overpass at the BNSF yard there I just didn't want to endure another 1 train a day nightmare. So when I heard the sales folk at my work mention that Sterling was a good place for leads, I knew this would work out just great. Sterling is a plains town 120 miles NE of Denver, halfway to North Platte on I-76. 20 or so coal loads and empties pass through a day, both with DPUs, and it's a fast trip too, so the trip could be reasonably planned out and might even go according to schedule. It's easy to catch coal empties right in DT Denver and this time of year its nice to ride in comfort, as a fact, in each direction.
My friend Spike, who has accompanied me here and there on a few short trips, was also interested in going, so we scheduled the trip around his days off from work. The plan was to leave after dark Sunday night, arrive late and camp out, work the whole next day, and catch the next train after sunset back.
We got to the catch spot, which is right downtown between Coors Field and the Platte River, at 5:30 or so, right as darkness commenced over Denver. Some discarded couches were dirty but comfy as we waited. No more than an hour after we got there, a coal empty sure enough showed up. We got in position as the 105 car train of brand shiny new NRG aluminum coal hoppers slowly snaked through the tall condo buildings erected in recent years. Twin mammoth SD70 MAC orange locos approached finally, and we prepared to board. Spike got a running start and had no trouble boarding with his pack on, and I followed suit. We stayed on the deck inside as the engines proceeded through the BN 31st street yard. I peeked out a few times to see BN bullmobiles parked out front of the yard office on the opposite side of the yard where they always were.
After clearing the yard limits the powerful traction motors roared to life and we sped up quickly on the way out of Denver. The train cruised right through the Commerce City refinery area, and bright flames from one of those grand old chimneys illuminated the interior of the cab. Then the train gunned it all the way to 60 mph and raged through the remaining crossings in the very crappy new tract home suburbs of Adams County.
Finally the train was out of civilization, and besides paralleling I-76 at times, was now very far from the congested city dreck which I had begrudgingly accepted living in at the time. Spike and I cracked frosty beers and enjoyed the 4 hour high speed trip in comfort.
The towns of Keenesburg, Wiggins and Fort Morgan were quick blips of light in the early autumn evening. At Brush Junction, the train made the usual split off north towards Sterling, and then sat a lengthy wait for a southbound at the New Hillrose siding. This siding is 40 miles from Sterling and is the last siding in use on the way there, so it is almost always a long wait here. Spike and I were dozing off now as several coal loads passed in the darkness. After a good 90 minutes we finally pulled out for the home stretch to Sterling. From previous experience I knew it to be a quick stop there, and so we could not chance falling asleep one bit - Guernsey WY, 220 miles northwest, was the next stop. But nonetheless I woke up lying on the floor at some later point as our train was pulling to a stop in Sterling - thank god for being a light sleeper in a clutch situation. I roused Spike - he would have slept 'til Guernsey without my help - and we packed our stuff up and quickly were outside the cab, walking towards the city center on the adjacent road. At 10:45, the main thoroughfare was entirely deserted.
As in most small hick towns, nothing of any use was still open, and we were pretty tired. It was time to turn in as soon as we could find a suitable camp spot, which didn't look like a difficult thing to find around here. Less than 5 minutes after pulling to a stop, our train aired out and peaced out to go load up another load of BTUs for the profligate power needs of the American sheeple.
On the east side of the mainlines and off the property a bit were some Big Ol' white grain silos - we walked past these into an unused field and set up camp, which consisted of some sleeping bags and packs next to a bush. I can't recall for sure but we probably had some beers in the packs and downed 'em before retiring. It was a nice crisp temperature out on the plains, and to be very cliché and like everyone else these days, I must divulge that stars were way more visible out there than in the decadent center of light pollution I usually live in (Denver). I looked to the stars with poignancy, and asked to them why any place with actual quality of life such as this is always inhabited entirely by rural hick types, with no "culture" to speak of, and why those places with actual decent ethnic food and intellect types are always loud cacophonous cityscapes. There was no answer.
So anyway, this trip was all about making some fat cash, and fast. First thing in the morning we rose, and I prepared to sweep thru this plains town like the icy north wind that hopefully came thru here a couple days previous, infiltrating the homes and prompting the suckers inside to consider new windows. My elegant outfit of khaki trousers and a red golf shirt emerged clean from the grocery sack with which they had been stored in my grubby ol' red pack, and then unfurled into a positively, unwrinkled door to door salesman outfit. With my black binder full of brochures and dumb-ass sales pitch ideas from the company, I daintily stepped thru the dry ol' prickly bushes in effort to not get any of those nasty burrs stuck on my nice outfit.
Spike and I split up at the downtown area - there is a bar right by the tracks whose name escapes me - we planned to meet there at 5 and have beers waiting for the train back. In the reasonably warm morning light I surveyed the town. It was probably too big to do in one day, so I decided to begin in the middle and work my way south to hopefully reach the ag fields bordering town. I got started.
Two houses into it was a very ramshackle green place with windows as old as the hills. Octavio was the guy's name, and he needed windows. Latino and broke as a joke he agreed to see the salesman next week. Five minutes into the day I had one lead. Not bad. Guaranteed not to sell but I got paid a lead fee for every appointment set. I chuckled thinking of the salesgirl driving 2 hours each way for this one.
I continued. Surveying these homes, I was amazed many of them still stood - a strong breeze could probably have blown many of them free from their moorings and into small shingle shaped pieces across the plains. These guys just hafta want new windows and siding. But as more doors opened, less people were interested than I expected. It became apparent that this was an, uh, "aging" populace. Or bluntly, half the town would probably be dead by next summer or at least in fogey farms or hospice. A lot of homes went past - Gawd, were there any new homeowners anywhere? The day was getting on. A lot of these old ladies just wanted to talk too, so things slowed down at about noon as one kind 90 year old detailed the woes of her son in prison. The state hadn't been kind enough to imprison him in the closeby state pen even. After some ums and awws I peaced out of there and continued.
Old clapboard dumps gave way to brick newer type deals, and luck still wasn't goin on. Like every single other place since starting this joke of a job, nobody was interested. They were too old, too broke, or maybe smart enough to recognize the widespread chicanery of the window business. Another door opened, and this time a nice lady DID want new windows, and fast. And, WOW! Her husband was a conductor for BNSF, of all the nice tidbits. He was on the "extra" crew board which basically exists to fill the gaps in the Sterling-Guernsey and Denver-Sterling crew boards. But no he had not driven a train in last night - that would have been too perfect for him to drive me up here free of charge and then buy a whole houseload of windows. Real cool coincidences like that don't ever happen in real life.
Anyway, they would be glad to meet the salesman tomorrow, and were of so thankful that I had stopped by. I was mature enough not to count the cash yet, but the guy had a good job and they were eagerly interested in meeting with the sales charlatan so things were looking up. I continued amidst the dull cornhusks as the sun reluctantly stayed above the horizon to the south.
My pleasant red golf shirt continued its contrast against the high plains scarecrows, cornhusks, and silos. I maintained a bouncing gate and pleasant grin, to keep things light and friendly. Into the evening I knocked on doors of the working men, the plebeians, the regular Joes and Lyles of northern Colorado. And aw shucks, they were having trouble as it was staying afloat with their job as clerks at gas station and tack and feed store, or guards at the state pen. A lot of the homeowners had tacked plastic wrap over their windows as an insulator to the nefarious arctic temperatures up here. A flannel clad man inside a small clapboard home with a rusty 80s chevy out front looked wistfully at the brochures of the latest double pane argon gas filled windows, guaranteed to outlive the manufacturer by at least a couple of years. But no, this was not the time, with the holidays and such coming up. Maybe in the spring. Until then, he had enough rolls of saran wrap to maybe just make it through.
The sun had soon finished its brief drive past and wave to Sterling, now on the more unhurried segment of its daily trip firmly out of sight of Northern Colorado. Which meant that my efforts must now conclude, and an inebriative quest begin. It was getting dark as I slipped past the glowing wood casement windows of more homes and back to the bar to meet Spike.
I felt a bit remorseful for neglecting my friend for the day, but he had fared well enough watching trains and walking around. And what a chum - he had carried my pack from the camp to the bar. So I gave the barmaid the order for a round of Bud Lites. Not my favorite but there was a happy hour special going on.
For a good half hour we enjoyed our beers as I detailed the success of the trips. Each of the 2 leads I had found would pay $75, and if the BNSF engineer made a purchase, a decent sales commission. The tracks were right out front of the bar - a bit south of the crew change but Spike had definitely seen them pull out slow throughout the day. Even if the next southbound coal load was hours away, we had a warm place to wait with cheap beer. Nothing to complain about. But it had not been more than a half hour at the place when 2 pumpkin orange units trudged past pulling coal cars. I took care of the bill and we hurried outside.
The speed was entirely catchable, as long as the driver didn't gun it for a while. The DPUs were a mile back there still. But the amiable gait continued all the way. We climbed aboard with no problems. Warm air from the cab heater greeted us as we took our seats in the engineer and conductor chairs. Not long after the throttles revved up and we blitzed south out of Sterling.
I was concerned about a possible left turn at Brush Junction towards McCook and Lincoln - some Chicago and KC trains took this more indirect route instead of going through Alliance, but not this one thankfully. There was high speed and few, quick stops all the way to the outer reaches of Adams County and Commerce City, where I called my dad on the cellphone to pick us up. In 20 minutes we were cruising through the refinery area of Commerce City where as always there were bright flames from smokestacks illuminating the area. My dad was parked by the tracks there, and we waved from the engineer's window as we went past at 25mph. He turned and followed the train down the adjacent Brighton Boulevard as our speed dropped off. The road diverged from the tracks but he was able to locate us where the DPU stopped right by the Denver Coliseum.