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Spring Break '97 - part 5

The Twin Cities Revisited

 

view from train I woke from my dreams of trains after first light on Saturday. I was still on the same flatcar, riding under the same pig, and the train was rolling along the Mississippi River. I stretched and packed up my blanket and watched the sun rise.

Soon, we were rolling into the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I stuffed myself and my gear between the trailer's wheels again and hid. Somewhere near St. Paul, the train stopped and set out some auto racks from the head end. Then we rolled on, towards Minneapolis.

The next stop was a yard, but I don't think it was Northtown. I could see the yard tower, as well as the downtown skyline of Minneapolis in the distance. There were light towers, and lots of strings of cars nearby. I seemed to be on a main track, so I tried to be make myself invisible, and waited for departure.

I didn't know this area at all, didn't have a good local map, and was afraid of getting busted, so I stayed put. After several hours, I was getting bored and worried. What if they already cut the power and this train wasn't going anywhere? What if this wasn't my Laurel-bound train after all? It was Saturday now, and I wanted to be in Missoula in two days. How would I do it?

Well, the bull helped me answer that question shortly thereafter. A train to my right had pulled away, leaving me visible from the service road. A new, blue, Chevy Lumina, with "BNSF Special Agent" boldly painted on the side in gold, drove by once and then returned shortly.

Another one approached from the opposite direction, and two bulls ordered me off the train. They were friendly, and curious, and they asked me if I knew anybody that was on the Internet, because they'd heard of people using it to ride trains. They wanted to know where I was going, and so I told them. They said that this train was a Hi-Line train, and wouldn't take me to Laurel anyway. Our chat that ended with: "So if we see you here within 24 hours you WILL go to jail and you WON'T make it back to Montana by Monday!"

So I walked out of the yard, just as my train started backing up noisily. I guess it wasn't going anywhere after all. What would I do now? I was lost in this big city and the yard was way to hot in the daylight to wander around. I'd have to wait until dark or find another way to travel.

I walked out to River road, and started walking towards downtown Minneapolis. I would find the bus station, I figured, and throw in the towel and go Greyhound. If I couldn't, I'd wait till dark and go back to the yard. Meanwhile, I had a great walking tour of northeast Minneapolis.

 

Epilogue - How I got back to Missoula
I've told you all my story, and I hope you enjoyed it. I kept a journal during the trip (when my hands were warm enough to write), and wrote this account mostly from that source.

I suppose I need to add a disclaimer: ALL EVENTS IN THIS STORY MAY BE DANGEROUS TO YOUR HEALTH AND SHOULD NOT BE COPIED. I TAKE NO RESPONSIBILITY NOR LIABILITY FOR ANY ACTIONS TAKEN BY READERS AS A RESULT OF THIS ACCOUNT. Well, so much for that.

So, why an epilogue? This is only a story about hopping trains, and when I got kicked off in Minneapolis, I didn't get on another train. In fact I haven't since, and might not again until next October, when I put my motorcycle away, and start a new train-riding season.

Nonetheless, I figure you might be curious as to how I got back to Missoula...

When the bulls kicked me off the train, they also told me that there had been more severe weather in the Idaho panhandle, and the mainline had been closed up there. That contibuted to my decision to start looking for other ways home.

I walked to downtown Minneapolis, on a warm, sunny, Saturday. I love walking around cities, especially when it's somewhere I haven't been before. But when my feet are hot, and I've got a big pack, and I'm not sure where I'm going, it gets less enjoyable. But, I saw lots of neat stuff. Ever heard of "Grain Belt Beer"?

Anyway, I got to the city, and started looking for the Greyhound station. I figured I could find it, since I'd ridden the bus through there in January, and taken a little look around the city at that time. It took me hours, but I found it eventually, at about 2 pm.

Then, I used my credit card to spend my next paycheck on a bus ticket to Missoula, and sat down to wait for the bus, which left at 6 pm Saturday. I finished "Neon Rain", and bought a new book, "Black Cherry Blues", also by James Lee Burke.

When the bus left, I was on it, and it was packed with people. One of the greatest thing about our brand of train travel is all the open space we've got!

The bus rolled through the night and by noon the next day, we were in southeast Montana. There was a layover in Billings.

During the trip, between reading chapters of my new paperback book, I wondered, what happened in Minneapolis? Where was that train going? Could I have caught out of there without getting caught? Am I still going to be proud of this trip even though I threw in the towel and took the bus?

Rolling out of Billings, MT in the early afternoon on Sunday, at least one of those questions was answered. As I watched out the window of the coach, I saw BN unit #6801 sitting at the head end of a string of various autoracks and mixed freight waiting on the main track in the yard there. That was the same locomotive that had pulled my train out of Clyde yard two days before. That HAD to be the same train I'd lost back in Minnesota! It had beat the Greyhound, meaning it must have left shortly after I left the yard. But I couldn't be sure. I hadn't written down car numbers from the train I'd been on nor did I remember them.

That sight unnerved me for a while, but the rest of the trip was uneventful. I finished my book, and when I got home I penned a postcard to those friendly bulls in Chicago.

Then, I had a good night's sleep. I awoke just after dawn to the sound of a train rolling past my window, and I knew it wouldn't be long before I was riding again.