The Winter of My Discontent - part 2

the shortest distance between three points

Dropping my gear in the head end of the car, I hopped down to do an "inspection" that I learned from an Old Timer I met years ago I looked at the wheels of my car, as well as the wheels on the other 3 or 4 boxcars in this string to see how much wear they had. Very shiny wheels with damaged flanges indicated that the car had "hunted", or rocked violently back and forth, which was not how I wanted to ride all the way across Nevada. The wheels on my car looked pretty damn shiny, and I walked back to check out the other cars. The last boxcar, though dirty and filled with scraps of newsprint, had wheels that looked almost new, so I retrieved my gear from the first car and set up camp in the last.

I really wanted to just flop down and start drinking, but I figured that a little housekeeping now would make a big difference later when we were speeding along and the wind could create mini-tornadoes of paper shreds. Using a piece of cardboard as a "fan", I managed to blow quite a bit of the papers over to the doors and out, but there were still lots of larger pieces that wouldn't cooperate, so I resigned myself to collecting them for future reading material. It appeared that they were all remnants of a recent Sunday edition of the Ogden paper, and I began piecing together shreds from here and there to allow me to read various articles. Unfortunately, a good part of the larger scraps were from the classified, real estate, and religion sections, so I concentrated my skills to re-create an intact sports section, as anything related to local or World news was mysteriously absent.

Once the train got going I quickly realized that my reading period was coming to an end, but within minutes a new game emerged from the swirling cloud of papers. I would try to guess which piece would be the next to blow out the door as they all danced around the boxcar in a manner that would have made Saint Vitus proud. Part of me mourned the fact that there was all of this littering going on as we crossed the remarkable Salt Lake, but there was little I could do about it short of closing the doors, and that wasn't going to happen, of course. I supposed that considering all of the construction done here over the years, along with the diesel smoke and leaking oil and grease, the addition of some paper scraps would go unnoticed, except by passing train crews.

Crossing the lake on this line is very eerie... especially at this time of year when all of the wind-driven spray, as salty as it is, still manages to freeze into zillions of icicles all along the tracks. I was glad I didn't have to walk this line for any reason. Leaving the lake and entering the desert, I saw the entire western horizon covered in almost black clouds, and I retreated to my down cocoon and began to quench my thirst. The car I settled upon did have a very smooth ride for an empty, and looking ahead at one time I noticed the first car I chose was rocking from side to side, just as I imagined. Soon the clouds lowered and it began to snow, and I had thoughts of getting set out somewhere around here in the middle of the night in a bad-ordered car. It had happened to me once before, on the Union Pacific line, when a sympathetic brakeman let me follow him up to the head end and ride the rest of the way in the last unit.

Another night on the train, but this one much warmer and much less windy, but the ground was still snow-covered. Looking out the open doors at night, with the sky invisible and the featureless ground white, it was hard to tell where I was, and I obtained great comfort in that. At one point I got up to pee and, returning to my bag, remained upright sipping wine and staring out the door. It reminded me of watching old cartoons on TV, where the running character stayed in one place and the scenery passed by behind him, repeating as if on a roll continuously spinning. I thought of making my own train riding "experience" when I got back home I would buy an old boxcar, support it on some contraption that rocked it back and forth, add some exterior fans that were ducted inside, and have a continuous roll of fabric with scenery painted on it that would pass by on rollers. Refinements were limited only by my imagination, such as heaters focussed on brake shoes that would pass the smell into the car, etc.

Crawling back inside my bag, I awoke next when we slowed to a crawl and made a sharp turn, much more pronounced than if we were pulling into a siding. Jumping out of my sleeping bag I almost slid out the door on the layer of frozen snow that had blown into the car during the night. We were turning off onto another track entirely, and I knew immediately that it was the Modoc Line we were going to Klamath Falls, not Roseville. There was nothing I could do except wish that it was daylight, as I liked the scenery on this line, but the stars were still visible, so I climbed back into my bag again and drifted off to sleep.

The last few hours before we got to Klamath were spent in a freezing fog, which coated everything in the back half of the car in a coating of ice. I was glad I wasn't sharing this car with other tramps. With nothing to see outside except fog, I noticed that there were only a few pieces of paper left in the car, but a reasonably large piece held the comics, and that provided unexpected reading for a few minutes at least. Noticing from the milepost markers going by outside I knew that we were getting close enough that I could roll up my gear, so the last few swallows from last night's wine bottle disappeared and I paced back and forth, trying to get warm.

As we slowed to turn into the yard we stopped at the mainline where a southbound train was moving along slowly. Here was my ticket to Roseville, so I jumped down and walked over as the units passed out of sight around a curve. If there weren't any rides I could still make it back to my train and ride it into the yard, but along came an empty boxcar, something that normally isn't found on southbounds, so I ran along and pulled myself up inside. As we wound around curves and I could look back on the train I saw that it was the only ride, and there weren't any ahead of me either. What luck! This saved me hours of waiting in Klamath for a train, and every mile got me further and further south, where it was warm... and sunny, and at some point I could read a real newspaper cover to cover...