Behind Bars part 2

that's where mine was

back to the freightyard

Now that I was on foot I had to make a long detour over to a spot that I discovered when a friend of mine and I were headed to Arizona to hike in the Grand Canyon. There is a small wash that flows through the freightyard and empties into the Mojave River, which runs (when it has water in it) along side of the departure end of the yard. The wash goes through a couple of tunnels under the tracks and it's possible to walk along it and pass from one side of the yard to the other without being seen. It's also a great place to hang out on a hot day as long as you keep an eye out for snakes. I used this as a way to get from the "town" side of the yard to the "river" side in no time at all, then I made my way over to the departure yard to wait.

Conveniently situated along the edge of the yard is a long berm of earth maybe 15' high, with a row of either eucalyptus or maybe tamarisk trees on top that serve as a windbreak to keep desert sand from blowing all over the tracks. Along the top of the berm is a shallow trench that carries irrigation water for the trees, and if it's not too damp it makes a perfect spot to roll out and sleep, or in my case, look over the departure tracks for signs of a train headed west. Below, a row of yard lights lit up everything like it was daytime, and my scanner gave me some indication as to what was going on. There were long strings of cars, mostly intermodal, but no sign of power anywhere yet.

With a surprisingly warm wind blowing for this late at night, I took my shirt off, sat on my pack, and opened the first bottle of White Port so I could enjoy it before it reached "room temperature". With the blinding yard lights shining away from me and toward the yard, anyone standing down by the tracks would be unable to see me, just like you can't see the car coming toward you at night with its brights on, only the lights themselves. An hour or two went by with nothing happening except my bare back getting sandblasted by the blowing sand, but then I saw just how efficient the Santa Fe was at making up a train.

From one end of the yard came four engines that backed onto the west end of a string of containers and piggybacks, and at the same time a yard engine shoved a caboose up to the east end of the same string. In just a matter of minutes they were aired up and asking for clearance. The last thing I heard from the scanner before I hoisted up my pack and put my gloves on was that it was a "70 mile per hour train" and they were ready to depart. Being used to riding on Southern Pacific where being "ready to depart" meant just about anything up to several hours, I hesitated to enter the yard until I saw the train actually begin to move, as the yard was lit up enough to be seen from Space. All I had to do was run down the embankment, cross a service road, climb over a waist high chainlink fence, and sprint across a half dozen empty tracks to nail my train. I imagined that I was the only person left on Earth, and there was nobody around anywhere to interfere with my plan. Run down, run across, climb over, run to the train... piece of cake.

I turned the scanner off and crammed it in my pack and waited with my eyes glued to the wheels of the freightcars. Estimating how long it would take before I was actually next to the train, I spotted a row of 20' containers one row high on a series of flatcars, and these would be my ticket out of Barstow. The bottom of the containers had a raised area maybe a foot high and a few feet wide running down the middle to provide clearance for the metal guides that are used under the wheels of piggyback trailers, but they were hauling containers now, and I figured that if I took off my pack I could shimmy backward under the container until we were out of the yard. Suddenly I heard a faint squeal and the train began to move, and so did I.

Down the embankment, across the street, one last glance either way for headlights, then up and over the fence and running diagonally over the empty tracks until I got alongside my train, which by now was moving at a brisk walk, soon to be a run. I grabbed the ladder, climbed up on the car and then carefully walked along the side of the front container, holding onto the ribs with a death grip. Between the containers I took off my pack, laid down, and backed under the rocking container, pulling my pack in after me. Cramped it was, but there was no way that even a person standing along side could have seen me. We picked up speed like a rocket and in no time the lights of Barstow disappeared on the eastern horizon and I was on a fast train to Bakersfield.

Wiggling out was much more difficult than wiggling in, and I was chagrinned to find a large grease blotch on my pack and on my wool hat, thanks to the underside of the container. Oh well, a small price to pay for freedom. Sitting up on a smooth riding car, sipping White Port, and looking up at the desert sky while bathed by a warm wind... somehow it all just seemed "right".