Coast to Coast - part 10

klamath falls to portland

Rode from Roseville to Klamath Falls in an empty boxcar on Southern Pacific after spending almost half a day in Roseville. Slept through most of the Sacramento Valley, waking up at Mt. Shasta. Had fun throwing ballast stones into the ponds south of Klamath Falls. Time of arrival in Klamath Falls: 1100 on Saturday, June 26.

I was in the yard in Klamath Falls, having just decided to change trains. The train I was on was just sitting around. The other northbound train that had just pulled in was all TOFC and auto racks, meaning that it would leave before my train did.

As I gathered my gear I noticed some guys on the hotshot, riding in the bed of a pick-up truck on the top level of an auto rack. It seemed weird to blatantly expose themselves like that in the yard. Because I was traveling alone, I avoided other riders like the plague. The presence of those idiots worried me; I didn't want to be near them and didn't want them to know of my existence. When they were looking the other way, I quickly crossed the tracks and boarded a loaded auto rack several cars behind them. I was hoping that they hadn't seen me. But in case they had, I felt safe by being separated from them by several TOFC cars. Once aboard I put my gear in the bed of a pick-up truck on the bottom level and climbed in. In a few minutes the train took off and high-balled, leaving my original train behind in the yard.

Protective fiberglass panels on the sides of the auto rack concealed me wonderfully, but they also obscured the scenery. So once I was beyond Klamath Falls, I moved to the neighboring auto rack - which lacked side panels - to take in the view. Here, too, I rode in the bed of a pick-up truck. The ride was pleasant, but the truck's suspension magnified the swaying of the auto rack. I ate some Fig Newtons and an orange as the landscape rolled by.

Off and on, when looking toward the front of the train, I saw the other riders ahead of me. They were climbing all over the auto racks as the train made its way toward the mountains. I had never seen people do this. Their weird behavior scared me because they could call attention to the train, something I didn't want.

The long ascent on the east side of the Cascades, through bland forest in gorgeous weather, was not especially thrilling. But I got to the summit of the range sooner than I had anticipated; being on a hot train had its advantages. The west slope, with its many curves and tunnels, was far more interesting. And from high on the slope the view down into the valley was great. In the mountain forest the tracks crossed a dirt road; I wondered where this road came from and where it led.

The ride downgrade to Springfield was long and boring. One you've seen a million evergreens they all look alike. Mountainous terrain turned into gentle lowlands. Springfield was merely a prelude to its neighbor, Eugene. At 1600 it came to a halt in the big yard in Eugene, placing me close to the yard tower. Off to the left on some unused land, a kid was riding a loud motorbike. The noise was awful. Fifteen minutes later the train got under way again.

Farther down the line I returned to the "shielded" auto rack and discovered that one of the trucks was unlocked. What luck! I got in and sat behind the wheel. The radio worked, although reception was bad. This was the only time I listened to a radio in a vehicle on a freight train. Just outside of Portland I got out of the cab and back into the truck's bed. I readied my gear for walking. Shortly before sunset, the train terminated on the east side of Brooklyn Yard.

As I prepared to get off the train, voices close by on the east side of the train distracted me. I looked around from the bed of the truck and saw, not more than 80 feet away, two or three SP police cars. Bulls were apprehending five or six guys who apparently had been riding the train. Then I recognized some of them as the idiots I had seen atop the train in Klamath Falls. The bulls asked one guy about stealing car parts from the auto racks - serious stuff. Shit, was I scared! But then I told myself that I hadn't been conspicuous while riding the train, so the police couldn't know that I was on board; besides, even if they found me, they'd realize that I was not a thief or vandal.

Portland police showed up, handcuffed the riders, and hauled them away. The SP bulls drove off. What a relief - but now what to do? Darkness set in. As I prepared to dismount the auto rack I glanced toward the front of the train and saw the movement of a hand-held light, either a flashlight or lantern. My first thought was that a carman was checking the air tanks or brake hoses. But the movement of the light was more erratic than I expected from such work. When I saw similar light movement on the other side of the train, it became obvious that two men were inspecting the train for damage and theft. This got my juices flowing!

Before climbing down the ladder to the ground I had the presence of mind to ensure that I would not create a silhouette that the inspectors could see. I climbed down the ladder, quickly walked - stooping - to the nearby weeds, and laid down, out of sight. In short order the men inspected my car and moved on, never seeing me. Whew.

I was in no mood to continue northward on freight trains that night, so I walked out of the yard onto a street of the neighboring industrial area. From there I walked north to the street that ran over the yard on a bridge. On the bridge I stopped to observe the action: a southbound train came in, but otherwise the place was dead. Just for the hell of it, I urinated off the bridge onto the track below.

A short walk brought me to a city bus stop, where I caught a bus that took me downtown. The YMCA was closed so I paid for a room at the nearby 5th Avenue Hotel.

Sunday, June 27

After a blessed shower I went to bed at 0100. Later in the day I rode a Greyhound bus to Seattle. The ride cost $7.60. My parents picked me up at the Greyhound station in Seattle.