Off to Get Drafted - part 5

roseville to eugene

In the previous story I rode a Southern Pacific freight train from Ogden, Utah to Roseville, California (northeast of Sacramento), in an empty boxcar. Time of arrival in Roseville: Thursday evening.


After dismounting the inbound train I walked to the departure yard, about a mile away. This was a huge facility. Two trips to San Francisco had made me familiar with the yard, so I knew where to go.

The walk took me past the ice plant, a large industrial-style building that has since been razed. Near a door of the building, in a lighted area, sat a man in a chair. It was an odd sight to see him there, idle and alone. Maybe he was a guard. As I walked by I said hello. Whatever his response (memory fails me), he showed no sign that he wanted to report me to the railroad police. In those days I encountered a lot of such toleration. His face reminded me of the aging French actor Michel Simon, whom I had seen two years earlier in a cute movie "The Two of Us."

In the departure yard switchmen steered me toward a train bound for Eugene, Oregon. I found an empty boxcar, got in, and went to sleep.

Nine hours later I woke up. Through the boxcar doorway I gazed upon the magnificent Mt. Shasta. I had slept through all of the Sacramento Valley and the cities of Redding, Dunsmuir, and Mt. Shasta. The train wound its way along the northwest flank of the mountain, cutting through old lava flows. A cloud cap hovered over the mountain's summit. Just south of Grass Lake the train pulled onto a siding for a meet. I looked forward to getting off the train to stretch my legs.

But my body had other plans: suddenly I had to poop. Being wary about getting off the train lest it leave me behind, I resolved to do the deed in the boxcar, using a piece of cardboard as my "toilet." In the back of my mind was the awful thought of being in a squatting position when the train resumed its motion, causing me to fall over. The best I could do was to squat in a corner, where I could brace myself against the walls.

In one of the rear corners, far away from my personal belongings up front, I found sweet relief. The piece of cardboard kept the boxcar floor clean, but the train's being on a grade caused the urine to flow off the cardboard and into the corner. While I squatted, a switchman walked by, heading for the front of the train. He glanced into my car and saw me in a compromising position. I feebly said hello. He kept walking. I completed the nature call long before the train moved out, so I didn't have to test my sense of balance when the train pulled forward. Later I tossed the cardboard and its contents out of the car.

After a southbound train passed, movement resumed and I soon reached Grass Lake. At this time of year the lake was dry, forming a level, grassy expanse surrounded by pine trees. A small corral-type building stood near the tracks. (Memory plays tricks on one: for years after this I remembered the humble structure as a two-story house!) Miles down the line I accidentally bit the canker sore that had been bothering me for days - what pain! The rest of the ride to Klamath Falls was uneventful.


During a layover in the yard in Klamath Falls I was apprehended by a bull. He checked my identification and told me to leave the property. I pretended to do so, but when he was gone I headed back to the train. As it started to move out I hopped into another empty boxcar. Actually, it wasn't quite empty: a man stood inside at the front end. He had traveled from Los Angeles with only the clothes on his back, a few dollars, and some cigarettes. He was hungry, so I gave him some of my food, which he relished. I couldn't imagine travelling so "light."

North of Klamath Lake the tracks entered a vast pine forest: mile after mile of identical-looking trees. Only the occasional grade crossing provided relief from the monotony. I paid little attention to it, often sitting on the floor and letting my thoughts wander. Near the crest of the Cascade Range I perked up: low clouds gave the terrain a spooky look. After passing through the summit tunnel I emerged into rain on the western side of the crest. This weather persisted all the way to Eugene.


It was dreary as could be as I neared Springfield. Eugene, just a few miles beyond, didn't offer an improvement. When the train terminated in the yard in Eugene I said good-bye to my accidental companion and went off in search of a ride to points north.