Under the Bridge

out of sight... out of mind

Normally, the down side of riding all the way across Nevada during the day is the heat, but this was early Spring (very early Spring) and the ride was actually quite pleasant. Getting into Salt Lake City near midnight meant I could stay on my train and not have to deal with getting off and walking for hours through a dark freightyard, but that would also mean I'd miss out on some nice scenery on the way to Grand Junction. I pondered this decision while we slowed to enter the yard and, after 24 hours of rattling around in a dusty gondola, chose to hop off and get a good sleep, then catch out in the morning.

After dropping to the ground it took me a few steps to get my "land legs" back, and I headed for an overpass a few hundred yards away. It was too dark to see if anyone had already staked this spot out, so I hollered up the embankment and getting no response, climbed up and discovered that the top was not only un-occupied but surprisingly clean. I spread out my gear and sat up for awhile looking out over the yard while finishing off a bottle of White Port.

To my surprise the temperature was warm enough to sit around without gloves even though it was now officially the "middle of the night", and I had no overpowering desire to go to sleep. At some point a service truck drove by on the road below and I crept back to avoid being seen. After he passed I walked down the sloping concrete embankment so I could look back up to where I was sitting and tell if I stuck out like a sore thumb to anyone driving by. From the road you couldn't even see where I was sitting at all, so I walked back up and re-joined my constant companions, Ernest & Julio.

Finally the wine kicked in and I rolled out my sleeping bag and crawled inside. A short but largely un-interrupted period later I got up to pee and saw that the stars were no longer visible, and it was time to sit up again and watch the freightyard begin its day as I began mine. I couldn't remember hearing any trains during the night, and briefely entertained the idea of walking around to see if "my" train was still parked somewhere, but decided to just hang out where I was and see if anything came through.

The next few hours were spent watching a single switch engine arrange and re-arrange strings of cars while I worked on a fresh bottle of Port. Now that the sun was up I could get an idea of how the yard was laid out, and it seemed like the departure yard might be farther south than where I was hanging out. The strings of cars nearby were the object of the switch engine's labors, so I figured that they made up the "receiving" end of the property, which meant that the "departure" end was probably somewhere beyond.

Squinting into the sun I tried to see if there was any sign of road engines on the far end but couldn't tell for sure. I made a mental note to bring a scanner and a small pair of binoculars next trip. In the "good ol' days" I could just look for a caboose to mark the end of a string of cars waiting to leave, but now everything looked the same. Part of me wanted to hoof it down to the other end of the yard, and part of me wanted to polish off the Port and go back to sleep.

As if on cue, I heard the sound of an approaching train from the North, so I quickly rolled up and was ready to go just as a southbound train with four engines slowed almost to a crawl as he zig-zagged through several switches and began to pass under the bridge. Seizing the opportunity to ride to the other end of the yard rather than walk, I climbed down to yard level and made my way over to the train, catching the back of a grainer at a brisk walking pace.

By this time the train appeared to be on the far East track in the yard, and we passed numerous strings of cars before we slowed even more and finally stopped just past a large tower, where I watched as the crew walked away to a waiting van. Unfortunately nobody left the van headed for my train, so I sat back and made myself familiar with this new area for future reference. Numerous yard tracks narrowed down to just a few, and I could see spots where the ground was soaked with what looked like either diesel fuel or oil or both. This tidbit of information affirmed my thought that this is where trains left the yard going South and East toward Grand Junction.

After a brief mid-morning nap I heard another van drive by, this time bringing the outbound crew to my train. After the usual period of wondering why it takes them so long to get going, the welcome sound of air filling the brake lines told me it was time to leave town. Shortly we began to move and I exulted in the fact that although the nearby foothills were dusted with snow, the weather was clear and not too cold. Suburbia dropped away and we began the climb up to Soldier Summit and the Book Cliffs. The wine was brought out and I toasted the Land of the Mormons, who would be my hosts for the next day.