Vancouver to Black Butte

In October of 1995, my partner had to move his sister's "stuff" from So. Cal. up to Portland, so I drove with him from No. Cal. to share driving and for a cheap excuse for a train trip back. After we got the truck unloaded and spent a day or so checking out Portland, we bussed it up to Vancouver, WA and walked over to the BN yard. Train 681 was what we were looking for, the Vancouver to Klamath Falls man, and since I hadn't ridden it for many years we cruised through the yard hoping to glean some current info from the local mendicants. One group swore (literally) that it left from the "A" yard at around 1 or 2 pm, while a gentleman in the next group assured us that it left between 2 and 4 pm from the "B" yard, and yet another "fountain of knowledge" offered that you could catch it in between the two yards "sometime in the afternoon". With this "wealth" of information in our grasp, we proceeded to set ourselves down "between" the two yards and take our chances. Knowing that the train down to Klamath was the only one likely to get a caboose (other than the Albany man), we passed the day drinking wine and watching for a caboose being shoved onto the back of some string in the yard. Just about the time when you have to make the decision of whether to continue sitting up staring at the ballast or roll out your gear and grab a nap we saw a switch engine pushing a crummy down into the bowels of the yard! Yes! Our train was ready to go! All we had to do was look down the track and figure out which of the 5 million yard tracks the switcher was on... no problem! To our dismay, just then a 122 car UP grain train pulled by on the main at about 10 mph, blocking our view of any activity in the yard. Incensed, I directed our immediate dispatch along the mainline, peering between the endless stream of grain hoppers for a glimpse of the phantom caboose.

At last the freddie went by and we scrambled over to look for our train, which was only a few tracks away... The usual "walk of the train" revealed that the only ride was ONE grainer facing FORWARD, so, with long faces and sore feet, we piled aboard, fearing another encounter with the Bull (whom we had met earlier) on our way out of town. After the usual delays we left town with no surprises, and rode to Wishram sitting up, braving the wind and rain with the strength of seasoned tramps and a gutfull of White Port.

A crew change in Wishram at about 8 or 9 pm and the best part of the ride passed beneath our feet as we slept, awakening to snow on the ground in Redmond and getting set out in Bend. Only quick thinking on my part allowed us to set a World's record for getting out of a warm bag, getting dressed and nailing another grainer that was picked up during the night in the space of a few minutes. This time we had the luxury of riding the back end, and I wasted no time in getting back into the dream I was having with the Swedish Bikini Team.

Late afternoon found us in Klamath, with a trip to the "store" being the first item on our "agenda". With beverage-laden packs we trudged back to the SP yard to await our fate. There was a train in the yard waiting for a crew that would have some work to do at Black Butte, which was where we wanted to get off, so, instead of sitting up all night waiting for a Dunsmuir train, we slunk off to a cozy boxcar to catch some zzz's. Night came and went, but, bolstered by a delicious, warm, dry, quiet, un-interrupted sleep, we greeted the new day with enthusiasm, if little else. The morning was spent ruminating on whether we had enough time to make it to the store for more wine before the train left, or if we should bag something on the mainline and take our chances with him stopping at Black Butte. As often happens, about 10 seconds before I was to embark on a commando-style sprint to the market, we heard the air on our train and shortly afterwards we were on our way.

A groovy ride down to California on a clear, warm Fall day was our reward for not giving in to the temptation of Demon Wine, and, sure enough, we stopped at Black Butte in the late afternoon...