home > stories > Spring Break '96 - part 2

Spring Break '96 - part 2

Nixed in Northport

 

view from coal gondolaIn the last chapter, I had just climbed aboard a southbound coal load out of Alliance, Nebraska. It was just before sunrise on Monday morning. I had never ridden a coal train before. A bed of coal is very comfortable to lie on, compared to steel. Unfortunately, when the train got up to 30 mph or so, the coal dust was blowing so bad that I had to keep my eyes shut. Sunglasses helped a little bit but not much. It took over two hours to reach Northport, NE, 35 miles south of Alliance. Northport is a junction with the Union Pacific. My train stopped for a while near this crossover. As I mentioned in the last chapter, I woke up and saw this train and climbed on, so I wasn't able to get a good look at the power. Now the train was on a curve and I could see. One BN unit at the head, followed by four UP units. The BN unit was cut off, and then turned around onto another leg of the wye. Then the four UP units proceeded to pull the train onto the UP line. This was a discouraging turn of events. I was hoping to go to Denver, but from the looks of things this train was headed east, to Bailey Yard in North Platte, and then who knows? To Jeffery Energy Center, I suppose (That's what the side of the hoppers said) I wanted to bail, but I didn't figure hopping off a moving coal train was worth the risk. Fortunately, the train stopped about two miles down the track. I took the opportunity to dismount, and started walking west. By this time, it was getting pretty warm, and when I got back to the wye, I positioned myself in the sun near the switch on the north leg. I wasn't sure what do to or where to wait, or if I would even get out of here. I took my boots off and had a nap. When I awoke an hour or two later, a train was rolling by me, coming from the north and turning east onto UP. I fell asleep again. The next time I came to, a 10 car UP train was sitting still on the UP mainline, pointing east. I looked around for BN trains and saw two: A loaded coal coming from the west, and a mixed freight coming from the south. I got my stuff together and walked toward the west leg of the wye. I got there right when the southbound coal stopped for a minute or two, and I climbed on, much to the amusement of some BN track workers. The train crossed the river and rolled through the hills of the Nebraska panhandle. I was only about ten cars back from the power (three SD70MAC's). It was around noon and I took off my shirt and bathed in the sun. This was one slow train, but it was headed for Denver.

 

CHAPTER FOUR: Mile High, Mile Long
In the last chapter, I rode a coal train from Alliance, Nebraska to Northport, NE and it turned east. Then I got another from Northport that was headed south. The train ambled along, through Nebraska, and northeast Colorado. Eventually we rode through Sterling, CO, Brush Center, CO, and Ft. Morgan, CO. On the outskirts of Denver, the coal train stopped, and a TOFC/COFC flew by. Big deal, you say? Well, I thought so because I hadn't seen one of those since Laurel two days before. The coal train moseyed along into Commerce City, and into 31st Street Yard in Denver. It was after midnight, but very warm. I was laying in the coal under the bright yard lights, in view of several tower-mounted cameras. I was pretty much clueless as to where I was, even though I've been to Denver by car several times. There were no roads nearby that I could tell, and I was afraid to climb down or move about. I have a great-uncle who lives in Denver but it was too late to call him, that is, if I could find a phone. So I fell asleep in my comfy bed of coal. Several hours later, I woke up and we were moving. I finished off my peanut butter as I watched Union Station and the new Elitch Gardens Amusement Park slide past. But, I fell asleep again and didn't wake up until Pueblo.

CHAPTER FIVE: La Malfunction Junta
view from piggybackWhen we last spoke, I was wiping the sleep from my eyes in Pueblo. It was only about a half an hour after sunrise and I was sitting atop a coal car. I was tired of riding the coal. I mean, I was filthy and my eyes stung and I had been making pretty poor time. So I sat up and looked around. I was in a yard, and off to the west was the Southern Pacific Yard, with a sign saying, "Canon City Junction" I seriously considered jogging over there and getting a train over Tennessee Pass. When I looked down, though, I saw a stack train, right beside me on the mainline. On it, was a Fred. I sat and thought a while, but not very long. I threw my pack off the open hopper and climbed down. The last car on the TOFC/COFC was now moving away at about 5 mph, and I ran and caught the last car and climbed between the wheels under a trailer. It rolled a little bit and stopped right outside an old building with a sign on it that read something like,"A.T.&S.F. and C&S". I waited. 15 minutes later, we were off. It was so nice to be hauling ass again after a day on a coal train. I sat in the sun and waved to people in cars as I cruised along the Arkansas river. About 10 miles before La Junta, was Rocky Ford, CO. They have the best cantaloupes around, don't ya know. I was a little bit worried about getting busted, since I wasn't on BN anymore, so I bailed as soon as the train slowed enough. I was very near to a Texaco food mart so I stashed my pack and went in. I wasn't sure why the lady gave me *such* a funny look when I paid for my 1.1 quarts of Pepsi, but when I went into the restroom I knew: I was almost black. {no offense to any African-Americans}. So I washed up. Then I noticed my nose was pretty badly sunburned. Oh Well. As I walked through town, I realized that I had over-dressed for this trip. It was hot, in the midday sun. I found a place to sit on the east end of town, under a highway overpass, and I drank Pepsi. I hadn't been in town for ½ hour, when the very same coal train that I jumped out of in Pueblo cruised through La Junta. I sat and I tried to figure out how this three-way junction worked. I came to the conclusion that I was sitting in the best place because sooner or later a train would come from the east, stop for a crew change, and then head west to Raton. So I waited. And waited. Two trains came in and got yarded. An Amtrak came through, and that was it. I was getting kind of discouraged as the day wore on. What if this wasn't a crew change? What if I was on the wrong side of town? So, when, in late afternoon, I finally saw a train come around the bend from the east, I vowed to get on. It was a stack train, with four units: 3 BN and an MRL (391). I thought, "With my luck this train will take me right back to Laurel, MT" I wasn't sure if that was a good or a bad thing, but I got on the train anyway, and retraced my steps from that morning, getting to Denver's Union Station about 20 hours after I'd left. Leaning against a tire, stopped in that wide open field behind Union Station in the hot Denver night, I decided that as long as I was here (for the second time), I might as well call up my great uncle Dave.

 

Part 3