Coast to Coast - part 8

ogden to roseville

Rode in an empty boxcar from Salt Lake City to Ogden on a Denver and Rio Grande Western freight train after giving up trying to ride a Western Pacific train out of SLC. Endured the cold for an hour while the train performed some switching at a warehouse complex south of Ogden. At the SP yard in Ogden, switchmen told me how to catch a ride on a train coming up from Salt Lake City. Time of arrival in Ogden: about 0700 on Thursday, June 24.

As a result of inquiries I had made in the SP yard, I walked to a stream bridge nearby to wait for a ride to California. I was at the west end of what was called Transfer Yard, a place used to transfer freight cars between the Rio Grande and the Southern Pacific railroads. It was just west of the big Southern Pacific freight yard. [In 2004, Transfer Yard was still there, but its function was probably different.] To the east, right behind Ogden, was a beautiful mountain range.

The hotshot pulled in so quietly that I didn't know it was there until the D&RGW units, which had detached from it, rolled by. This turned out to be a run-through engine swap (D&RGW off, SP on) for cars that had come up from Salt Lake City. Seeing the engines was my cue to look for something to ride, so off I went. I selected an empty auto rack. Imagine my surprise upon discovering that it was the very car I had ridden from Pueblo to Salt Lake City the day before! Was this a sign from the gods of freight-hopping? I got on the second level in order to be hidden from railroad officials who were about.

Ahead of me was another empty rack; behind me, three more. The need to poop arose, but I was not getting off the train and risk being seen. With toilet kit in hand I walked back to the last auto rack, stooped over all the while because of the low headroom, and did the deed there. On this beautiful day, the act was an epiphany of physical awareness. A warm wind blew through the yard, stirring up dust now and then. The used toilet paper was caught in the tendrils of the breeze and floated off the auto rack to the ground. Afterwards, when it was safe to dismount the car without being seen, I collected a large quantity of ballast rocks for later amusement. Then I waited.

For a run-through train, the delay seemed a bit long. Even after the SP units connected and pumped up the air, there was a long wait. At last the train got under way, but all it did was creep around the curve to the left and stop. Here it sat for 20 minutes. There was a smattering of modest houses nearby. I watched horses move about in a corral. Also in the area was an auto junkyard. The most mundane things can occupy one's attention at times. After an eastbound train went by, the engineer moved out, heading for points west. [This delay could have been caused by the addition of a helper unit, a realization that came to me when the helper was cut out of the train in Wells, Nevada.]

Several miles down the line - at Promontory Point - the train stopped to pick up a long cut. Great Salt Lake extended southward as far as the eye could see. Switching movements were agonizingly slow, making me question the competence of the crew. After leaving the point, the route followed a rock causeway across the lake. To the right (north), the water was red; to the left, blue.

The causeway, built of boulders, was reinforced at its base with old boxcars that had been filled with rocks. Crystallized salt covered the cars. The ride was slow: it seemed as if I would never get across the lake. At least I had a nice view of mountains in the distance to the south. Suddenly a huge swarm of bugs (brine flies?) engulfed the train. The little devils were everywhere! Eventually the wind got rid of them.

At the western shore of the lake the causeway ended and the lake yielded to barren land. The train plodded onward toward a distant destiny: it seemed dream-like. The monotony killed some of my brain cells. Other trains passed going east; one of them was visible for miles down the line as a thin black line on a background of gray-gold earth. To the north, in the middle of nowhere, I spied a weird structure with a white cone of sorts - an aircraft navigation device.

Up the grade we continued, passing an former railroad settlement where signs of an old wye were visible. A water tower stood proudly near the tracks, a remnant of a past technology. After cresting a summit the train descended gently into Wells, Nevada, where a helper engine was cut out of the train at 1600 or thereabouts. Seeing this made me think that the delay by the corral in Ogden might have been caused by the addition of this helper.

Fairly level terrain now allowed the engineer to pour on the speed. The stones I had collected in Ogden made fantastic splashes in whatever water was near the track. The train stopped briefly - I think in Elko. Later, after the sun had gone down, I went to bed. Being on an empty auto rack meant dealing with constant wind. Wanting to ensure my sleep in such conditions, I fashioned a windbreak with my frame pack. By laying the pack on its side in front of my sleeping bag, I created a wind shadow for my head. It worked like a charm. I drifted off to sleep, rocked back and forth by the swaying of the freight car.

Friday, June 25

I woke up to a sunny morning in the forest. It was about 0800 and the train was going slowly downhill. Either by analyzing my maps or reading trackside signs I determined that I was at Emmigrant Gap, which is west of Donner Pass. I had slept through Reno. To amuse myself I threw the last of the Ogden stones. The descent on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada took forever. There were so many curves and tunnels that I couldn't count them. As I passed through Auburn, I saw a beautiful school building.

At 1130 I arrived at SP's huge freight yard in Roseville. The train terminated, placing me opposite the engine terminal, very close to the point where John B. and I caught an Oakland-bound train in 1969. I felt excited about being "close" to Seattle, but I missed my girlfriend a lot. How quickly I had seen the light about our relationship! The trip was wearing me out and making me lonely.