Coast to Coast - part 5

kansas city to pueblo

Rode on the porch of a pregnant grain hopper on a Santa Fe freight train from Corwith Yard in Chicago to Union Station in Kansas City. The frantic pace of travel - almost no stops along the way - drove me crazy and prompted me to forsake the Santa Fe for a more relaxed route further west. Time of arrival in Kansas City: 1700 on Monday, June 21.

Having just alighted from the Santa Fe freight in downtown Kansas City, I found myself in a wide ravine about two stories below street level. I needed something to refresh me, so I wiped my face and neck with a wet bandana. A hobo from Texas showed up; we talked for a long time, mostly about freights - what else? He said he had buried his pack somewhere down the line for free storage while he was in town. I gave him some of my food. He wandered off.

A more thorough washing was in order, so I headed for the station, crossing the empty tracks that were decorated with weeds here and there. It was sad to see the decay of the station and its loading platforms. Some platforms were still in use, but the place had seen better days.

I climbed some stairs to get into the station. Here I came into contact with the bustle of people for the first time since Chicago. This was the magnificent Union Station, a glorious marble edifice. Inquiries led me to the cavernous men's room. Even here marble predominated. The toilet stalls had marble walls but lacked doors (damn). But inside - in addition to toilets - were sinks! Travel truly does broaden one's horizons. While I was washing up properly with soap and water, the hobo showed up again. We talked again and I gave him the rest of my date bread. By the time I was done cleaning up, about two hours had passed since dismounting the train. As I left the main entrance of Union Station the sun was low in the sky; downtown was mostly shadows

My mission now was to get to the Missouri Pacific freight yard in town, where I planned to hop a freight for Colorado. This decision was not made in a vacuum: my Rand McNally road atlas - with hand-drawn railroad routes - showed me all the major rail routes in the country.

A drunkard gave me directions to the MP yard. The nearby bus stop he suggested yielded no bus, so I phoned the city transit system for information. Better informed, I waited at another bus stop, where I boarded a #31 bus at 2140. It was headed for a section of town called "The Bottoms." This was a reference to rivers bottoms and was the location of much railroad activity and industry. To my dismay the bus would not go all the way to the freight yard; I'd have to walk about a mile after getting off. The friendly driver had me get off at Montgomery Ward's, which was as close as the bus got to the yard. The walk with my gear was no fun but tolerable in the warm, late evening air.

At the yard, railroad employees identified the next Colorado-bound train right away. It was going to Pueblo, but not for several hours. This pleasant turn of events was uplifting. But the train, which was still incomplete, had only one empty boxcar, and it was filthy. Instead I chose an empty auto rack. I laid out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag on the middle level - out of everyone's view - and dozed off.

Tuesday, June 22

I awoke to a new day as my car was very slowly pushed and pulled in the yard. This was the last stage of train-building before departure. Soon thereafter, movement was in one direction only: out of the yard. Up ahead, at Paola, Kansas, the MP line split, one line going south, the other west. Being anxious, I worried that the train would go south instead of west. Maybe I didn't trust the yard workers' information. To my delight, the train turned west at the junction.

It was sunny and warm. During a train stop down the line I moved ahead to a flatcar carrying three Case brand farm tractors; whatever attracted me to the car has been lost over the years. Maybe I just wanted to get out of the incessant wind.

The ride across Kansas was slow and mind-numbing. An endless expanse of open farmland interspersed with an occasional farmhouse and even rarer town was boring almost to the point of insanity. The freight car swayed and lurched: I cursed the people who decided to defer much-needed track maintenance. I was lonely as hell for my girlfriend. This was probably the low point of the trip.

Shadows got long. The sun went down. It got dark. Zillions of stars appeared in the sky. It got cold. I put on more clothes. The train kept moving westward. I figured that by now I must be in Colorado. Lightning flashed in the huge clouds to the west and north, illuminating half the sky - very impressive. In spite of the cramped quarters of the tractor's cab, I managed to doze off for a while.

Wednesday, June 23

When I woke up, the faint silhouette of mountains told me I was in or near Pueblo. The approach to the freight yard was long and slow. Soon after passing a passenger station on the right, the train terminated. Across the way was the ATSF/BN yard.

As I got my gear together on the flatcar I talked to yard workers close by, asking about westbound trains. Suddenly a bull stopped his car and walked over. I had visions of a stern lecture, being hauled off of the train, and possibly arrested. To my delight, the man was quiet and pleasant. He had a Kel-Lite flashlight. It was the coolest flashlight I had ever seen. When he asked me what I was doing I told him my story. Then he left without even checking my identification. What a pleasant surprise! By then it must have been about 0300.

A pressure had built up inside me and could not be denied: I had to poop. I found an empty boxcar on another track, got in, dropped my pants, squatted, and let fly. I am ashamed to say that I think I did not clean up my mess. The next thing on my mind was food: I needed to re-stock. In response to my inquiries about grocery stores, switchmen told me of an all-night 7-11 store located a few blocks away. It was up the hill, just above the street bridge south of the train station. As I headed out of the yard I detected a faint light in the eastern sky. Dawn was approaching.