Modoc Memories

going out the branch

Riding the Modoc Line used to be mostly accidental you either took the wrong westbound from Ogden or the wrong eastbound from Klamath Falls. Depending on your mood, the weather, and the amount of time you had at your disposal, this could either be a bad thing or a good thing. This time I wanted to go out the Modoc, so I rode up to Klamath Falls and stocked up on supplies, then trudged out to the yard to wait.

Modoc trains typically leave from the opposite side of the yard from the mainline, and often have four units instead of three. These features, in addition to subtle differences in the cars they haul, make it possible to tell them from the "normal" trains in daylight, but at night it's a different story. Another nice thing is that the "other" side of the yard has more places for concealment while waiting, which is always welcome.

Wracking my brain to try and remember what times I've observed the Modoc train leaving, I came up with anywhere from midnight to dawn, so I found a good spot to camp out and made it as servicable as I could. Stashing my pack behind some sort of signal box, I walked along nearby strings of cars looking for cardboard. It felt surprisingly good to move about without a pack on a pack that I may have overloaded with White Port, but I planned to ride out to at least Carlin or possibly Ogden, then turn around and catch the first train coming back, whether it was another Modoc train or a train headed to Roseville. I had plenty of time to ride and I didn't want to spend any more time off the train looking for stores than I needed to.

To my delight I found several pieces of reasonably intact cardboard inside a nearby boxcar, so I stacked them up and made my way back to "camp". My bounty not only would insulate me from whatever crud I might find on the floor of my future ride, but it allowed me a "canvas" to draw upon during my down time rolling across Nevada. Making a map of my journey, and the times I got to wherever, would give me something to occupy my time while sitting on sidings, and possibly provide some degree of interest to whoever made use of the cardboard after me.

There were a couple of strings of cars on the "Modoc" side of the yard, but no power anywhere, so I spent the afternoon reading some Reader's Digests that I bought at a thrift store on the way to the yard. Amazing which articles seem so interesting while waiting for a train can be ignored any other time. Once on a train trip I was so bored that I found myself reading the ads for all of the medicines and pills they have, even down to the tiny print stating the dangers and "possible" side effects. This time I was in luck the covers listed at least two articles in each issue that seemed to have at least a minimal amount of interest to me, so I opened a bottle of White Port and began a period of mellowing.

Unfortunately, it was not to last for long, because about an hour later a tramp came walking up to my spot, first announcing his presence by the accepted practice of shouting out "OK to come into camp?", a phrase I hadn't heard in a long time but knew that at least the person had some tramp manners. I hollered "Sure, come on in" as cheerfully as I could and up walked an old tramp carrying a suitcase and a water jug, but nothing else. Knowing that I could always re-immerse myself in the magazines spread out in front of me, I turned my attention to the tramp, as he looked about as genuine as a tramp could look.

Asking if I was waiting for the "Modoc Man", I said yes and he asked in return if he could drop his gear with me while he walked around looking for a ride. I said "Sure" and he disappeared into the yard. His suitcase looked to have as many miles on it as his clothes did, and the water jug had a loop of rope attached to the handle so it could be carried over a shoulder, freeing up at least one arm to climb up a ladder. I didn't really see much value in walking the strings of cars now, because there was no way to tell if they were destined for the Modoc Line or not, and there would be plenty of time to look for a ride once the power hooked up.

I went back to my reading until it became too dark to see, then rolled out my bag and got ready to bed down. The tramp still hadn't returned so I moved my stuff around so when he did get back (in the dark) there wouldn't be anything to trip over. Finishing off the wine I climbed in my bag and drifted off to sleep.

Getting up to pee a few times during the night, I squinted over to where the suitcase and water jug were but didn't see any sleeping form. This seemed a bit odd as the number of cars to walk by and look for a ride weren't that many, and he should have been back long ago. I went back to sleep and was awakened just before sunrise by the eagerly anticipated sound of engines coming toward me. There were four of them, and they backed down onto the second string over, so I hopped out of my bag and dressed quickly. Still no sign of the tramp, so I left a piece of my cardboard stash next to his suitcase and walked over to find a ride. As always happens, if you walk a long string of cars from one end, you won't find a ride until you've almost reached the other end, and vice versa. This time was no exception and just before reaching the end I found a nice boxcar only a few cars up from the caboose.

I left my gear in the boxcar and walked back to the caboose, hoping to find out when they were leaving and if they had any work to do, but it was empty, so I returned to my boxcar and set up "camp" again. By now it was light enough so that no stars were visible, and it looked like it would turn out to be a nice day. If nothing else I was getting an early start, and in a short time a crew van drove past me and stopped at the caboose. A few minutes later I heard the air being pumped up, and wondered if the tramp would make it back to his gear in time. Both doors were open on my car and I knew that when we pulled out I would at least be able to look over and see if his gear was still there.

One troubling detail about this part of a train trip is that there's no way of telling if your car has any flat wheels until you actually start moving. Even at slow speeds you won't feel any harmonic rocking until you're going too fast to jump off. Ideally you'd have several rides in a row, and start in the car closest to the head end, so that if your ride developed "issues" once you got up to speed you could always hop off the next time you stopped and switch cars. Since this was the only ride I saw on the whole train, I dearly hoped that no problems would manifest themselves once we got underway. Actually, since I only walked along one side of the cars, it was possible that there were some boxcars with the door open on the opposite side, and I made a mental note to look ahead once we got to a curvy section of track.

As I was musing over various options my mind was made up when we lurched forward and began to pull out of the yard. I stationed myself at the doorway once we were clear of the first string of cars and was surprised to see that there was no sign of the suitcase and water jug. I pondered this as we snaked our way out to the long siding that extends south out of the Klamath Falls yard, knowing that we would soon come to a stop as the switch was thrown to go out the east leg of the wye. We soon stopped, then began again in a long curve to the left, giving me a chance to see the other side of the train. There were two or three boxcars that looked like they had the door open on that side, but at this time I was looking right into the sunrise and couldn't be sure. Picking up speed I unconsciously let out a sigh of relief, as the ride was smooth and steady. I never did see my tramp friend again, but hoped he was having as good a ride as I was. Opening another bottle of White Port I saluted the rising sun, then sat down and enjoyed the scenery...