When Everything Was New

and things got old fast

Early train trips were... I don't know... simpler than in later years. We couldn't really plan for the unexpected because everything was unexpected. Preparation then, instead of scanning Google Earth images of freightyards and gleaning departure times off the Internet, consisted of throwing a bunch of old clothes into the pack, followed by lots of "camping" food and, of course, alcohol in some form.

Following are some pictures from early trips that served to instill a feeling of adventure and discovery in my riding buddies and I, although we didn't know it at the time...

This was taken on one of my first trips up to Washington in the late 70s or early 80s. Sitting on the back of a grainer leaving Dunsmuir I wondered what winter in Washington was like, or if we'd even make it that far. Wanting to avoid the rain-soaked Washington coast, we road up to Klamath Falls, then switched over to Burlington Northern to reach Bend and Wishram, where we hoped to catch a train to Spokane. Why go to Spokane? Because it was "there", I guess.

The weather, aside from being overcast and cold the entire way, wasn't nearly as bad as I expected. We stopped on the bridge over the Columbia River crossing from Oregon into Washington to watch the span close after allowing a ship to pass underneath and I got my first look at Washington while squatting on a coupler. It didn't look much different from Oregon at this point. Our train was headed to Vancouver, so we got off in Wishram and spent the day trying to stay warm until a Spokane train came by at night.

With my appetite whetted for winter travel, so to speak, on my next trip I headed up the Feather River Canyon to see Nevada and Utah. Here at the lower end of the canyon the rain, which had been pouring down all across the Central Valley, began turning to snow, and my spirits, as well as everything else, began to dampen. The floor of the piggyback car had huge puddles of rain water, and as the train would tilt from side to side going around curves the puddles would transform themselves from one side of the car to the other. To eliminate having to constantly move my gear back and forth I perched most of it on top of the trailer axles and folded my cardboard up as much as I could to make a higher "seat".

After stopping on a siding to let another train pass, I scurried back a few cars and traded my soggy piggyback for a reasonably dry doublestack, which had the top containers extending over the bottom row. This is the view as we crossed the bridge at Keddie and made our way up to Portola. I unfolded my soggy cardboard as gingerly as I could and attempted to dry it out in the breeze as we sped along. A map I had drawn on my cardboard with a felt pen, which was supposed to be a record of our northward progress, was reduced to a Rorschach blot resembling the shape of the Australian continent by the rain.

There wasn't much to see across Nevada because of all the swirling snow that was picked up by our 70mph speed, so I put on every item of clothing I brought along and made the best of it, thanks to a very nouveau Hearty Burgundy, some rock-hard French bread, and a blob of mystery cheese.

I made a quick turnaround in Salt Lake City, leaving town on the back of a grainer in less than an hour after I got off my eastbound train. The weather, however, remained unchanged, and I slowly picked up a coating of snow as we re-entered Nevada. The powdery snow out here, compared to the wet snow of the Sierra, seemed to swirl up and circle our train continuously, so even though there was no snow on the ground it always seemed to be "snowing" alongside my car.

Stopping somewhere in the middle of nowhere, I made a beeline up to the last unit and relaxed with the cab heater going at full blast and my wet clothes spread out on every surface. My scanner batteries were dead by now so I turned on the radio in the engine and amused myself listening to a crew van driver trying to get help after plowing into a snowbank.

Visiting my family in Southern California for Christmas I was enjoying the summer-like weather that passes for winter in those parts, so I decided to come back up north via the desert, instead of the dreary, fogbound Coast Line. Looking up the Las Vegas weather in the newspaper was all the encouragement I needed, so I stuffed my pack full of Holiday leftovers and caught Union Pacific out of LA for Barstow, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake. I took the picture above when we stopped on a siding just north of Vegas where I was basking in the desert sunshine.

By the time we got to Salt Lake the "sunshine" was gone, replaced by low overcast, snow, and temperatures in the 20s. The view above remained virtually unchanged all the way across Nevada, and I kept reminding myself to bring more clothes, more food, and more wine next time.