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Spring Break '98 - part 2

Pokey: Getting In's The Easy Part

 

PAPADALEK: The Grinch and I waited all nite in Ogden only to miss a sweet boxcar in the morning. Damn - Would we be here all day? I was pissed because I'd missed that boxcar, but at least it wasn't raining.

Fortunately we got another chance soon, since the train was still rolling past. It was a plenty long train moving out of the yard, moving too fast for me to grab a boxcar, but luckily not yet too fast to grab a ladder. Within the last 15 cars of the train there were a couple ACF (Ace Centerflow) hoppers, so we grabbed one.

It was a bright yellow CNW hopper. Had the cubby hole and all, but not a great ride for two guys worried about being seen. But at least it was getting us out of Ogden! My heart was racing from the thrill of the catch, and happy from being moving again after 42 hours of not.

We enjoyed the scenery and the sun and the Grinch called his wife on his cell phone when we stopped the first time for a meet. After we diverged from the interstate, there was some neat views, including a dam. On the second stop, we changed cars to keep out of sight better.

Our first plan was to move back to a boxcar, but I wanted to move forward, just in case the train moved too soon. After checking it out though, we settled on a particularly bitchin' "Double-Hulled model" covered hopper. With lots of space in two separate but connected compartments, we were practically invisible from the ground.

We stayed in there until Pocatello at about 2 pm. I watched the yard roll by as we came in - it's long! There's a hump and everything there. We stopped pretty near the west end, as far as I could tell, then sat for a bit and the air was cut. Then a worker came by and pulled all the air from the cars. I was sure we were headed for the hump! We had to get off the train.

The sun was shining brightly as we climbed out and crossed a few strings of cars and the mains to get to a road. Then we strolled into town, looking for water first, then a place to catch out.

 

GRINCH: We pulled deep into the yard at Pocatello, just a few strings over from the huge unit lubrication & refueling building in the middle. Before the air was pulled on our string, I crept down and over to the building to check things out. As there was an unlocked door opening onto the yard, and the area was seemingly deserted (for the time being) I gingerly opened it and walked inside to look around.

The large open-air building was enclosed only on one side - the side I had just come from. There were two or three units in the building in various states of repair/lubrication, one with its covers off. A UP grunt down at the other side of the building looked up at me, and I quickly waved a greeting, which he returned. I guess I looked "official" because of my flannel shirt and overalls, not to mention the UP cap that I had purchased last year from the now-closed UP store at Albina Yard.

I ducked back outside and over to our grainer, and Papadalek and I grabbed our packs and jumped down to the ballast to head into town. We stopped at a convenience store near the yard for directions and bearings, then walked over to a nearby supermarket for eats and drinks. As we sat outside slaking our thirst and scarfing a large bag of Doritos I purchased, the first of many Pocatello citizens gave us sour looks as they entered and exited the store.

Fresh from our "meal," we set out for the UP station & yard office to gather intelligence about our new situation and scout out the yard from afar. Walking the few short blocks to Pocatello's once-grand-now-slowly-crumbling-but-still-beautiful Union Station, I got the bright idea to, well, "inquire within." We set down our packs outside the front door of the station and I went inside.

As I crossed the cavernous first floor of the old station, I happened upon the janitor, who was speaking to another guy dressed like a cowboy, who had a holstered 9mm Smith & Wesson on his belt. I approached the men and told them I was a visiting railfan looking for trains to photograph. The guy-with-gun, named Keith, brightened up and said that trains are constantly coming through town, all one has to do is wait. Inviting me upstairs to his office, he pointed me in the direction of a crossing on the other side of the yard where I could shoot the slow-moving trains as they rumbled through town. He cautioned me to stay off railroad property, for my own safety.

As we descended the stairs toward the back door, he said "wait a minute, I have something for you." He walked outside to his bull-mobile and returned with an official 1998 UP railroad calendar. "Here. Photos in this baby are taken by guys just like you." I thanked him, shook his hand warmly and headed for the front door. I started to debrief Papadalek on the intelligence I had gleaned from Keith. Just as we were thumbing through the calendar, my friendly bull-friend suddenly came around the corner of the building.

 

PAPADALEK: With a gaze of pure hatred and a suddenly fiery temper, he kicked us out of the parking lot! That's right, after telling us he'd throw us in jail if we rode the trains, he informed us that we were on railroad property (the front steps of the station), and that we'd have to get off. Now.

Dejected and feeling kinda stupid, we wandered off away from the tracks. We discussed the situation, trying to figure out how we'd get out of town if he was onto us, even though we didn't have any real good idea of the yard layout. I pointed us east along the highway, in view of the tracks. Maybe if we saw a train come in, we'd know how to get out later, when we weren't being watched. We found a little park to sit in and we watched the sun set.

The air started to chill, so we headed back toward the station, to Stinky's (yes, that's a convenience store where a skunk is the mascot) for some hot coffee. While we were drinking it in the parking lot, a stack train came in, westbound. One of the things that the Grinch learned from Keith was that trains stopped just short of the station to fuel and crew, and would usually be here an hour or more.

We waited, and decided we should walk up past the head end of the train, wait for it to start rolling out of town, and grab it. That way, even if Keith or somebody else saw us, it'd be too late. There were lots of UP trucks spotlighting various trains, anyway.

So we did, and before long the train was rolling by us. We would've had a good shot at it, but the whole first 3/4 was lousy rides. By the time a well showed up, the train was doing 15+ mph. We missed it. But hey, we said, they probably figured we nailed it, and so Keith ain't looking for us anymore. We headed back east.

When we got back to Stinky's it was time for more coffee. We sat down as before to wait for the next train. This time we would try to catch it as it was crewing. After sitting on the grass at the gas station for ½ hour, a city cop car showed up. Then another! We were surrounded...

 

GRINCH: As the two cop cars screeched into the TV-classic "you're busted! V" cop-car formation just feet in front of us, Papadalek and I looked at each other and smirked. We were big-time criminals now, warranting an "official" police presence. The officers got out of their cruisers and sternly walked over to us.

"Howdy guys," the leader said. "How you doin' tonight?" We replied something along the lines of "doing fine - just trying to stay warm." After perusing and calling in our drivers' licenses (which of course were as legally clean as a whistle) their attitude softened somewhat and they began casually asking us questions, as well as answering ours.

The two officers guessed right away what we were doing, and gave us a firm warning: "Guys, *WE* don't care whether you're riding the trains, but let me tell you, the bull over there won't hesitate to throw you in the slammer if you get caught, so DON'T GET CAUGHT !!"

With that and some additional small talk, the officers gave us a cheerful good-bye and wished us well. Papadalek and I crossed the street over toward the tracks, which was just on the other side of a complex of self-storage units. Approaching the main (there were no fueling trains on it at the moment) we walked up and down, pondering our next move. As it was pretty dark outside by this time, we decided to head west back into downtown and try to catch a westbound from a city park just west of the station. The thought here was that we could nab a "personal Pullman" just as it was pulling out of the station, nice and slow.

Alas - a dastardly combination of fate, a sparse selection of westbound trains, and the constant presence of revellers at Pocatello's downtown bars continued to dog our efforts. We waited on a loading dock for a spell, with no luck. Walking eastward again to our self-storage catch-out spot and back downtown again in hopes of a westbound, we realized it was getting both VERY late and VERY cold. At this point we decided to bed down for the night in a corner of the city park.

Fortunately our chosen spot was ideal: it was just yards off the main, had a convenient hole in the fence, was mostly hidden from an outsider's line of sight, and most importantly, there were two blankets and cardboard there obviously left by a tramp before us. We each grabbed a blanket, and stretching out on a piece of cardboard on the grass, we caught a few winks. We were awakened at one point by flashing police-car lights in the adjacent parking lot (I was *SURE* we were busted) but it was only a cop busting a drunk driver.

We woke up in the middle of the night, it was still pitch black. We made the decision to walk (again) over to our self-storage area, where we took refuge behind a pizza joint that was closed for the night. I spread my blanket on a pile of gravel (a surprisingly comfortable bed much akin to a beanbag) and Papadalek snagged some Zs on some piled-up cardboard boxes, after scarfing down two pieces of a still-warm pizza he found in the dumpster.

Just before dawn, Papadalek saw a mixed freight roll slowly past us. He figured maybe it had stopped at the west end of the yard, so he woke me up and we hurried the 10 blocks or so back toward downtown.

 

PAPADALEK: By this time, dawn had broken. I had slept barely at all last night and was feeling it something fierce. The Grinch and I walked west to about the spot where we'd gotten off the train from Ogden. A whole day, and back where we started. It was time to rethink our strategy.

Grinch wanted to hang out in a boxcar over there, in hopes that we'd see a rideable train come by us. I wanted to head east a couple miles, where I thought the departure yard might be, and find a train originating in Pokey. He thought that just might work.

We found a little gas station, called the "Kwik-E" mart (damned if it wasn't the same as the Simpsons, but unfortunately sans Apoo), and got directions from a very helpful lady who knew exactly what we were doing. It was a long walk there though, thru town, and I just wanted to be on a train. We bought drinks and donuts and scarfed them down in the parking lot as we mapped strategy.

We stated heading over the tracks on a street overpass, when we looked down to see a westbound train on the fueling rack. It was mixed freight, with a big CNW AC unit on the point. I said, "Damn it, we're taking this train!" I wasn't going to let that one go.

We walked off the bridge and then toward the end of the train on the adjacent highway, seeing a few rideable cars and a lot of UP trucks driving up and down. The sun was shining; it was a beautiful morning. We got near the end of the train and decided to make a break for it. To avoid being seen by drivers on the adjacent highway, we hurried up the embankment, between an open boxcar and a lumber rack, and onto the ballast on the other side.

Then we hustled up eight cars to a double-hulled grainer (our second of the trip - yahoo!!), climbed aboard, and hunkered down. Every time a truck went by on the gravel path next to us I stiffened. Fortunately we were well-hidden. It seemed like hours, but only about 15 minutes later, we started rolling and were soon blasting down the track again. We shared some port, and I soon fell into a much needed & well deserved (not to mention delightfully peaceful) sleep...

 

PART 3