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Kings of the Road, Part 2: Utah Bound

 

After saying my good-bye to Too-Tall Ken in Grand Junction, he disappeared into the darkness of the yard to his east-bound grainer back to Denver. I continued to scout out the yard, walking to the west end up a long train whose Freddy was blinking, indicating it was ready for departure. After walking both sides of the train looking for an open boxcar, I came to the conclusion that my ride to Utah would either be a grainer or one of three gons that was toward the back-end of the train.

I walked back to the gons and dropped my pack, flipping on my scanner to listen for life in the yard. Hiding out in the shadows of the warehouses adjacent to the yard, I waited and listened for 15 minutes or so, then decided to board my selected gon to wait. Climbing over the rail of the car, I dropped my pack onto the floor of the gon and jumped to the floor at the head-end of the car, scanner squawking loudly.

Suddenly, out of the shadows at the other end of the gon, I was greeted with the words "turn that fucking thing off!!" I jumped back, unawares that I had company in my same car. I made out the outline of a tramp reclining against the back wall of the car, resting his head on a rolled-up sleeping bag. "Mind if I join you?" I sheepishly asked while flipping my scanner off. "Nawww... no prob" came the reply.

I walked back and leaned up against the back wall and introduced myself to this mystery tramp. "Name's Grinch, from Portland. How long have you been here?" I asked. "'Bout 2 hours. Name's Boxcar Jimmy," he said.

I dragged my gear next to Jimmy and sat down, and offered him a beer. After talking for about 30 minutes, we heard the air go up and the brakes release, and we slowly began easing out of the yard.

Boxcar Jimmy had been stranded in GJ for two days, and was eager to catch out. He had previously been stranded in Helper, Colo., where he had been hassled by the UP bulls. We exchanged stories and decided to ride together to Salt Lake, then catch the bus up to Ogden to keep moving on. Jimmy was planning to catch the highline from Ogden to head back to Minnesota, and I was Portland-bound by way of Roseville or Pocatello.

We slept semi-comfortably and woke up in the morning sun on a siding about 10 miles out of Salt Lake. We figured we'd wait on the siding for an hour or so, but one hour turned into three, and we decided to de-train in the sweltering heat to catch a bus into SLC, where we could transfer to Ogden. Because the siding was 3-4 blocks from a freeway exit, we ambled over to a Chevron for refreshments and to clean up in the bathroom, then asked the attendant about where the bus line was. Luckily we were only about 10 blocks from an express-bus stop, which would take us directly to downtown SLC. After downing our Cokes, we walked over to the bus stop to wait for the bus. It came within 30 minutes, and we were SLC-bound.

Reaching downtown, we de-bussed and walked over to the transfer point to catch the Ogden bus, which was right next to the UP yards there. "Them're HOT yards, and not a good place to catch out of, even to Ogden," Jimmy noted. "Better to catch the bus for this run, it's only a 45-minute ride."

We made our way on the back roads to Ogden, passing through numerous small Utah towns along the way. The thing that is funny is that every town in Utah - even the smallest towns - have at least one and often two or three Mormon churches, while I only saw one or two Christian churches the entire trip. And Fred wonders why he can't find a decent decanter of White Port in that state... sheesh !!

Arriving in Ogden, we hoofed it down to the yards and checked out the scene. We stopped in the mission (which butts up against the yard... how convenient!) and slaked our thirst. After that, we walked down to the yard to check out the action, which was very little. We staked out a nice jungle near the mission at the base of a large dirt pile, right next to a short spur heading off the yard. Our goal was to "scope" out the yard and see how much bull activity it had, which turned out to be a good move.

As late afternoon passed into evening, Jimmy made a run down to the liquor store (3 blocks away) for a beer run. Returning with four quarts of Schlitz Malt Liquor, we sat down on an unused pallet and watched the sun set. About 9:00 pm we ran out of booze, so Jimmy made another run and returned with more Schlitz under his arm. We drank most of that and watched three trains leave the yard.

The bulls (actually yard workers in their work trucks) swarmed over two of these trains, with two trucks slowly circling around both sides of the train keeping watch for tramps. We saw the bull patrolling the yard at several points (and he saw us from a distance) but he didn't bother us at all. Later on, I saw a work truck park at the edge of the yard alongside the main, facing the tracks. From our dirt pile, I strapped on my camera and ambled over to visit. They said they were just "train inspectors" but it was obvious they were on the lookout for riders.

Walking back, I flipped on my scanner to the local police channels, and it was like we were listening to a live version of "Cops" on the radio !!! Traffic stops, DWIs, domestic assaults, etc. The scanner provided us with a couple hours of entertainment. To pass the time, Jimmy talked about his hard life and what he had done before hitting the rails some five years before. Turned out he had been a DJ at a Nevada country/western station, and he had been quite an accomplished singer. To prove it, he broke in to a stunning rendition of "King of the Road," which I joined him in singing:

Trailers for sale or rent
Rooms to rent, fifty cents
No cars no pool no pets
I ain't got no cigarettes

It takes four hours of pushing a broom
To buy a four by twelve cubic room
I'm a man of men, by no means
King of the road

We laughed at the lyrics of the song, and their particular relevance to where we were and what we were doing right at that moment. We were both "Kings of the Road" right then.

Finally, with no suitable trains leaving any time soon, we decided to bed up for the night atop the 40-foot dirt pile. We rolled out our sleeping bags at the summit of "Mount Ogden" and fell fast asleep.

 

Part 3