Once again I find myself "under the bridge" — this time it's in the Burlington Northern yard in Klamath Falls, Oregon. The plan is to ride out the Bieber Line and down to Keddie and eventually Stockton. I'm not in any hurry, which is good, because being in a hurry and riding freights don't go together very well.
I rode up from Dunsmuir courtesy of Southern Pacific, and got off at the far northern end of the yard to facilitate a stop at Gino's, a café who's food more than rivals it's external appearance. The atmosphere is relaxed, the portions large, the flavor great, the price is reasonable — what's not to like? If that's not enough, there is a bar next door that serves one of the largest and best tasting hamburgers I've ever eaten, rivaled only by those in Rice Hill, Oregon, the current "gold standard" of hamburgers as far as I'm concerned.
After downing enough grub to last me for a few days, I headed to the nearby liquor store to check off the other items on my list, then a long walk over to the BN yard, where I staggered up the embankment and plopped down under the overpass to wait for my train.
This spot gave me a great view of the yard, and if it was a sunny day I would fade away into the shadows if a Bull drove by, which he never did. I found a discarded piece of cardboard and ceremoniously arranged it to keep most of my gear from getting covered with dirt before I even left town. The scanner was turned on, my boots were removed, a bottle of wine was opened, and the afternoon wait began.
My train would come in from the North and stop to change crew in the yard. As easy as this seemed to catch out, there was always the possibility that there would be a pick up or set out in the yard, which never seemed to follow any logical pattern. On previous trips I would spot a likely ride as the train pulled in, then run down the embankment and make a beeline for the car, only to have the train stop and set it out in the yard. Having the scanner with me helped to eliminate the guesswork, but I still had to be ready to change cars quickly if necessary.
The afternoon wore on and I resorted to throwing rocks at discarded beer cans on the ground below and reading the tags of previous travellers waiting here for the same train I was. As is often the case, I began to consider taking a nap at the exact moment that I saw a headlight in the distance and watched as it sawed over to the track leading into the yard from the mainline. At a snail's pace it made its way along a vacant yard track, and I spotted a few grainers as well as an open boxcar that magically ended up directly under the bridge when the train stopped. I couldn't resist, so I gathered up my stuff and walked over to the car to look in, where I saw that it not only had both doors open on either side, but was surprisingly clean.
I hopped in and turned the scanner back on, but there was no chatter going on so I sat down to see if this was indeed "my" ride or if I would have to jump out and find another. Soon I heard a truck approaching the head end and was relieved to see that it carried the outbound crew. A few minutes later it passed in the opposite direction with the old crew, and the scanner told me that they would be pulling forward to back down an adjacent track to make a pickup. I couldn't imagine them coming up with a better ride than I was in, but I gathered my gear anyway in case I was set out. After a hard stop I was delighted to be moving again, and soon we rejoined the rest of the train and began to air up. By now I was about 5 or 6 cars past the overpass, and shortly the brakes released and we began to creep eastward. I rolled out my gear and re-aquainted myself with the wine as we sped up and left Klamath Falls behind.
The car proved to be as smooth-riding as I could expect, and I walked over to the doorway to take in what scenery I could during the remainder of the afternoon. A recent rain had held down the pollen from the sage brush along the tracks, which was fine with me, but I still enjoyed their fragrance that mixed with the creosote smell of new ties here and there. Judging from the circular marks on the floor and the general odor of the car, I deduced that it was dedicated to carrying rolls of newsprint, which seemed to account for the overall cleanliness of the interior.
Not too long afterward the gentle rocking of the car and the wine contributed to an overwhelming desire for a nap, so the boots came off and I stretched out on my sleeping bag to relax. At some point I was awakened by the train slowing down and I figured that we were getting close to the crew change at Bieber. This time we again stopped right near a highway overpass, and I drifted back to sleep. Some time later I got up to pee and noticed that we were still in the same spot. Looking down the highway I saw the outbound crew walking back from a nearby café and knew that we would be leaving soon. Another 15 minutes of the air going up and down and we finally pulled through the tiny "yard" and we were on our way. Quickly I realized that we were on much better tracks, and we speeded up considerably as the hamlet of Bieber faded away behind us.
We gradually turned south and thoughts of food began to circulate in my mind, even though the breakfast at Gino's should have been sufficient for the entire trip. A still-pliant loaf of French Bread, coupled with some equally pliant Medium Cheddar cheese made for a great late lunch, as I sat leaning back against the wall looking out through the giant TV screen of the boxcar doors. Not to diminish the delicious breakfast at Gino's, but it always surprises me how something as simple as bread, cheese, and wine can be so satisfying. I've enjoyed this combination on lots of train trips, and even though the bread was sometimes hard enough to pound nails, the cheese soft enough to drink with a straw, and the wine as hot as coffee, it was always good — just sometimes gooder than others.
We slowed a bit as the country changed dramatically. There were now gentle curves where the tracks wound in and out of the mouths of canyons. We were descending into the drainage of a small river which I got glimpses of now and then. Deer began to be seen in fields, with one group looking more like antelope. As afternoon turned into early evening the colors muted and the whole "feeling" of the trip changed. Instead of flying along and looking out at the passing scenery I was now a part of it, with the scenery stationary and the movement mine. I regretted that I couldn't experience this for more of the train trip, but the sun was going down and a cold wind and darkness prompted me to move my gear to the front of the car and get ready for bed.
Standing at the doorway with a bottle of wine to toast the sunset, I had no idea just where I would be going and in what town I would disembark in, and that was a perfect way to end the day...