Technology vs Clouds

Gerry Van Zandt and I made plans to hook up in Dunsmuir on his way from Roseville to Portland. He got down to Roseville on a Wednesday night and would try to catch out as soon as possible. My job was to meet him in the Dunsmuir yard and ride with him as far as Klamath. The main issue here, as it seemed, would be to figure out exactly when he left Roseville, so I would have a rough idea of when his train would be coming into Dunsmuir, thus saving me the task of running up and down every incoming northbound yelling "Gerry... Yo, Gerry...". This being the "90's" and all, we both had cell phones, so I drove to Dunsmuir early on Thursday morning and called Gerry at 6:15 am. He picked up right away and said he had just left Roseville and was in the hole on the first siding north of town, which actually was great because I could hear him very well. We chatted a bit and determined that since it was about a 7 hour ride then he should be getting into "town" around 1:00 pm. He told me that his train was a junker in front and pigs in back and he was on the only ride, a grainer, about 20 cars back from the units. This bit of information saved me from having to walk the entire train looking for him, and would later prove extremely valuable to a tramp I met in Dunsmuir.

Now faced with a 7 hour "wait", I had breakfast at Cindy's (the only 24-hour place in Dunsmuir), parked my truck at the depot and began the ½ hour walk down to the lower jungle. The morning was spent reading, drinking and napping in a forest of pines. Around 10:30 am I phoned Gerry to leave a voicemail message for him to call me with an "update" on his location, figuring it would be difficult to hear his phone "ring" while the train was moving.

Getting "bored" with the lower jungle, around noon I walked up to the main jungle and re-established "camp". Early into my second bottle of wine, at the onset of yet another delicious nap, my phone rang and Gerry informed me that he was just leaving Redding, which would put him up in the yard in about an hour. Needing to re-supply, he wanted to get off in town and wait for the next train, which was fine with me. I packed up and walked into town to get my truck, since I knew exactly where he would be on the train I could just park at a pre-determined spot and leave him with a few second's walk once he "detrained". On my way to town I met a tramp who was waiting on the shady side of a shack next to the tracks.

"Hey, do ya know when the next northbound is comin' in - I'm tryin' to get to Eugene?", he inquired.

Fueled with reams of information from earlier phone conversations, I replied "Sure, there's a northbound that'll be here in about a half hour, the front half is junk and the back half is pigs, but there's one ride, a grainer, that's about 20 cars back from the units, which are two UP's and an SP".

Reeling incredulously from my onslaught of info, he gave me a dis-believing stare, so I countered with an explanation of how I became privy to the facts that confounded him. When he came "back to Earth", I asked him if he had enough food, etc. for the trip, which he didn't, so we jumped into my truck and drove up to the market for grub. Driving back to the yard I was able to park in the shade of a large tree just across from where Gerry's grainer should stop if his train were to change crews in the yard. A few minutes later his train appeared, but looked to be going too fast to stop in the yard, so figuring it would make a depot change, the tramp and I motored up to a grade crossing just south of the depot, and Gerry bailed off his grainer at speed a few cars away, being quickly replaced by my new tramp friend, who I later learned was named Hugh.

Making another trip to the market, this time with Gerry, we drove back to the jungle, off-loaded our packs and I drove back up into town, where I re-parked my truck and walked back to the yard. Our plan was to hang around the jungle drinking and talking until the next northbound came in. This "agenda" worked into my "lifestyle" very well, and we were soon joined by Hugh, whose train had unfortunately backed down into the yard and set out the car he was riding on. The afternoon progressed as expected and just as the sun was going down behind the mountains we heard the horn of an approaching northbound.

Packing up, we walked down a short ways and found a nice, clean boxcar with both sides open. Leaving town (finally) at 8:30 pm, we all enjoyed a great ride up to and around Mt. Shasta, then rolled out our gear and went to sleep. Not wanting to repeat my last trip and sleep through Klamath, I eschewed the warmth of my bag and slept in my clothes, hopefully guaranteeing that I'd sleep lightly enough to sense the crew change in Klamath. Luck was with me and I bid farewell to my companions at 1:00 am as we stopped in the yard. Looking longingly at a southbound ready to leave on the track next to us, I passed on it when I saw that the only ride, another single grainer (weird), had the back "porch" covered with that sprouted grain/fertilizer mix which plagues grainers coming down from Canada. Not wishing to sleep in this "mush", I walked up to the Maverick Motel and got a room.

The Trip Back

Waking up at 8:00 am after another brief but re-juvenating sleep, I packed up and began walking the 3 or 4 blocks over to Gino's for one of their famous breakfasts. As I got to the railroad overpass I saw a southbound come in and stop at the depot to change crews and, torn between a breakfast at Gino's or an early train, opted for the latter. There was yet another single grainer stopped almost directly above me, so I climbed up the embankment, only to find a tramp asleep on the back. Walking forward I found a loaded bulkhead of lumber that had a convenient "gap" on one side, which I clambored into just as the train pulled out. Missing out on a Gino's breakfast was made marginally easier by the fact that I should be back in Dunsmuir shortly after noon, not altogether unpleasant considering I had a small amount of bread with me left over from the day before. To my dismay the train stopped at the end of the yard, where it sat for 3 hours while the outbound crew tried to scrounge up an engine to replace an ailing unit on their train. When we finally left town just after noon I realized that I could have enjoyed a leisurely breakfast of a cheese omelette, hash browns, sourdough toast and coffee at Gino's and still caught the train!

During our "wait" I climbed out of the claustrophobic "gap" and walked up to a gon with metal bars on either end but a large open area in the middle, filled with the usual crap that one finds in a gondola. This ride at least allowed me to stand up and walk about, but shade was definitely at a premium. Alternately turning to and fro, I was able to get out of the direct sun most of the time, and when we picked up speed the cooling breeze masked the effects of the intense sunlight in this part of the country. I made a big mistake when, after yet another bottle of wine, I took off my shirt and rolled out on my back to take a "nap", thereby exposing my pink underbelly to the brutal rays of the sun. Awakening an hour or so later to a rather annoying "burning sensation", I realized that I had made an "error in judgment". Carrying only Gatorade instead of water, if I poured it over my burning gut I'd form a kind of a sugary "skin" that would have to be surgically removed at some later date, so I just crammed myself into the 2 foot section of shade on one side and rode it out.

Coming into Black Butte a little after 3:00 pm I was bummed to see us take the siding. I was only an hour ride from my truck (and shade) in Dunsmuir, but we spent another 3 hours switching here. As I half expected, around 6:15 pm the crew called the dispatcher and told him they were running low on time, so he told them to park the train and sit tight - he'd be sending up a ride for them. Not wanting to spend the entire evening within walking distance of my house (and truck) I called Shelley and she mercifully picked me up and drove me to Dunsmuir to get my truck, which, by the way, had a flat tire.

The next day, after a shower, a good sleep and a quart of sunburn lotion I went out to Black Butte - this time to just relax, drink wine and watch the clouds. It was "afternoon buildup" time, and huge, puffy thunderclouds were swirling around Mt. Shasta. Watching nothing but the clouds, I saw them moving closer together one minute and farther apart the next - sometimes merging to form one big cloud and other times splitting apart to form several smaller ones. This, I thought, is how train riding goes. You really have no chance of predicting exactly what will happen or where you'll end up. All the technology in the world and the whims of clouds... this time the clouds won.