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Spring Break '98 - part 4
Homeward Bound

view from trainPAPADALEK: 4:00 pm, Saturday: The Grinch and I parted company at Hinkle, OR. The train we'd picked to take us to Portland, OR headed north instead, and I stayed on. We'd been on high-density track from Ogden to Hinkle, but now there were few trains. I'd say rarely more than two a day.

6:00 pm. The trip took me up the Columbia River gorge for a while, through few towns, and some great evening views. Just at dusk, the train stopped on a desolate siding. I questioned the crew, who had walked to the rear end to throw a switch - an hour stop for a southbound. They also explained how I should get off in Spokane, or otherwise I'd end up in Canuck country.

9:00 pm. I though I knew Spokane well enough to hop off at the crew change that would occur there, take a quick walk to BNSF's Yardley Yard, and grab a train to Missoula.

11:00 pm. The train arrived in Spokane on Saturday night. It stopped for a while outside of town, then did a 90-second stop downtown. Crew change? I didn't think so, but I was wrong. As the grainer picked up speed I knew I had fucked up my plan. This train probably wouldn't stop until Eastport, ID (on the border), then I'd have to hitchhike home. DAMN!

12:00 pm. After zipping through Spokane, and heading out of the city for a while at 30 mph or so, the train slowed down to 15. I decided I'd have to jump for it. I scoped out a nice soft-looking place on the side of the tracks, jettisoned my bag and made quick jump. Not perfect, but I landed on two feet (and one arm), dusted myself off, and went to find where I was. I was at a gas station/freeway exit, about five miles from downtown, so I started walking.

2:00 am. Spokane's laid out pretty square, so I was able to head back west with little trouble. I found a 7-11 with a good map, and found Yardley yard easily. I settled down in some weeds with my scanner and nodded off a few times in the warm, light, rain.

6:00 am. Scanner chatter can be tough to decode, and a train that sat in front of me, on the main for an hour or so that morning was the PAS (Pasco) - ALT (it sounded like) I didn't know what "alt" was. Finally, it started pulling, and they said the full name on the radio - Alliance, Texas! Missoula's on the way to Texas, so I ran down the embankment to try to catch it. It was moving too fast. What if it stopped at the east end of the yard? I started jogging.

7:00 am. I ran two miles with full winter clothing and my pack, only to again miss the same train by a hair. Dejected and out of breath, I checked out a shed over there to see if my marker from years ago was still there Then I slowly ambled back to the catch-out spot.

8:00 am. I had planned to spend the rest of the day waiting for another Missoula train, but I wasn't there for a half an hour before a PTLKCS (Portland to Kansas City) train showed up. Ironically, this is the train I wanted to catch out of Portland, if I'd gone there.

9:00 am. Rolling! I had taken a piggy in broad daylight, since I'd be on Montana Rail Link soon, and in home territory. Beautiful ride! The wind calmed me, and I was glad to be heading home.

12:00 pm. The Clark Fork river was stunning. I'd made this trip before but not all the way in daylight. At Paradise, MT, the tracks diverge, and my TOFC/COFC train took the Evaro Hill route. Genuine jointed rail, for that classic Clickety-Clack that you don't get much on the freights these days.

3:00 pm. Over the hill, and down into the Missoula valley, on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon. I'd made it all the way on trains, from Missoula to Laurel to Cheyenne to Ogden, to Hinkle, and back to Missoula in 10 days. I jumped off the train when it stopped, and walked one block to my apartment, after signing my name on the wall there: PAPADALEK 3/22/98 LAST TIME ??

view from train GRINCH: As our westbound train started taking the sharp turn directly north... a sinking feeling hit my stomach. Papadalek's earlier observation about our CN unit-train had been bang-on. This one was headed north to Spokane and on to Canada. Dammit!!

I yelled at him to get his attention (we were on facing grainer porches) and pointed to the ground. "I gotta get off, man!!" I yelled. He nodded and waved, and I threw my pack onto the sandy desert floor. I paused for a second, as the train was rapidly picking up speed as it started crossing the yard's east-west tracks on its way north.

Ruefully gathering my wits about me, finally I crossed over to the ladder, descended, and hopped off. I landed on my two feet and dropped down into a partial somersault, ending up sprawled on the damp ground. I looked up at Papadalek on the porch of his grainer, gave him a thumbs-up sign, and waved good-bye. Then I spotted an unopened light-blue bottle of UP water just a few feet away, which I retrieved on the way to grabbing my now-dirty pack.

It was about 4:00 p.m., and it was starting to get dark rather rapidly.

Now somewhat pissed at the turn of events (pun intended), I strode the mile or so toward the main line and back to the area where we originally nabbed our car. About this time, the rain started picking up.

I found an empty boxcar a couple of strings off the main, and I decided to wait for a westbound train to come in. As it got darker, I got happier because I would be able to see the headlight of an incoming westbound from quite far away.

But alas, several hours passed, and I was still waiting. At several points I spotted westbounds easing out of the departure yard on the tracks at the north end of the yard, but they were too far away from where I was at. Two eastbounds also came through for their crew changes.

Several times I crossed over the main and down the embankment on the other side, just to break up the monotony of waiting. My memories of Hinkle's utter desolation came flooding back to me as I wandered around the main and stared off into the sage.

Finally at 8:30 p.m., frustrated by a) the incessant drizzle; b) a distinct lack of Fairbanks White Port; and c) the dearth of westbound trains, I decided it was high time for a change. With just a pinch between my cheek and gum, I crossed the darkened yard to the northwest corner in search of a new spot. I wanted one that would put me closer in proximity to the westbounds leaving the departure yard, yet within striking distance of anything coming in on the main for a crew change.

I passed right through the new Hinkle unit shops, which were about half-completed. I marvelled at the sheer size of the building and imagined the place buzzing with UP joes swarming on and around tired Geeps and SDs like flies on rotten meat.

Finding shelter on the back steps of a UP admin building on an embankment right above the unit shop, I dropped my pack and began my wait anew. There was a large GMC Hi-Railer parked a few yards from my position, so I took the opportunity to do a thorough walk-around to check out its equipment and rail-wheels.

Looking the mile or so into the belly of the departure yard, I saw two trains seemingly primed to leave. Returning to my dry spot next to the office, I looked to the southeast and behold, saw a westbound manifest pulling up to the crew-change point. I grabbed my pack and galloped the mile across the yard, aiming for the mid-point of the train. I immediately found a dry ACE CenterFlow grainer, and I stepped up and stowed my gear in anticipation of a speedy ride back to Portland.

After waiting 30 or 40 minutes for the crew change and refueling, the train slowly arose from its slumber and we were on our way. After leaving the yard I spread my cardboard and rolled up in my sleeping bag. It was about 10:30 p.m.

A couple hours later we pulled into the yard at The Dalles, about 100 miles out of Hinkle. I heard the units dump the air and immediately wigged - I didn't want to get stranded in a town that was still 80 miles east of Portland. With one eye open for any other happenings, I slowly drifted back to sleep as the rain started picking up. Finally, about 1.5 hours later, the air went up and we started westward again.

By this time the entire porch of the grainer was soaked, and my bag was beginning to absorb some of the moisture. As we were a reasonable distance from Portland, I decided to just hole up in the cubby (kneeling on my bag) and sleep the rest of the trip there. Hell, at least I'd be dry.

Well, I sleepily remember crossing through Hood River, and next thing I know I awoke with a start. Looking out the cubby-hole, the Hollywood District 7UP sign filled my sights. SHIT!! I was literally only four blocks from my own house, but travelling at 30+ mph. Luckily as I was on the Graham Line I knew the train would be slowing down as the head end neared East Portland Junction and the Steel Bridge. I hurriedly stuffed my bag into my pack and looked out. I was at the Lloyd Center, just where I wanted to be, and the train was moving slow enough to jump off with care.

I dropped my pack and made a picture-perfect "running" dismount from the grainer's ladder. Only 30 blocks to walk, and it was 6:00 a.m. I started back up the tracks along I-84. Along the way another inbound train passed me. The engineer waved and stuck his head out, saying "Good Mornin'".

I waved back, secure in the knowledge that I was just a short walk away from a nice warm bed, admiring stares from my dog and cat, and a hot cup of Peet's coffee provided by my wife Laura.