Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Part 188 - Trains in the Night

The hiker dormitory had tables and chairs, a fridge, a stove, a kitchen sink, and four bunks which were available on a first come, first served basis.  When the bunks were full, there were mattresses that hikers could place on the cement floor to sleep on, and if the weather were accommodating, one could sleep on the expansive lawn under the cedar trees, which was where I chose to spend the night.

Andrea, like her counterpart, Donna Saufley, in Agua Dulce, would do laundry for the hikers as well as let them use a spare bathroom in her small home to take a shower.

After retrieving my resupply package, I emptied the box out on the lawn to sort through the items and then to repack the contents into my backpack in a manner that allowed me easy access to whatever I was looking for without having to tear through the whole pack just to find toothpaste.  Items that were not needed, I placed in the hiker box; and while rummaging through the same box, I found a few items, mainly food, that I took back to my pack.  I felt like a chipmunk storing away food for a long winter’s nap.

When my chores were finished, I moseyed over to the automotive bay where Jerry was tinkering with his early model GMC pickup truck.  Jerry was short like his lovely wife, Andrea, and just as pleasant.  Jerry had features that are unique to him:  a belly that would rival Santa Claus, red suspenders to hold his pants up, and an omnipresent cigar in his mouth or held between his fingers by his side if he were posing for a picture.

When it comes to things automotive, I find the conversation easy, especially when it turns to antique cars.  All mechanics have an older-model car they love to talk about; it could be the first car they ever owned or the one they drove to high school or the one he and his wife shared when they were first married.  I love to hear people talk about things they’re passionate about, and Jerry is no exception.

He told me about the used Kenworth log truck he customized to use as a service vehicle when making service calls during his working years as a diesel mechanic; then he showed me pictures of his pride and joy.  It was a large diesel tractor with an oversized metal box attached to the frame that served as his workshop and storage unit for his tools, compressor, generator, etc.  Probably the only thing he didn’t have in it was an English wheel used for shaping sheet metal into complex curves like the gas tank on a motorcycle.

In our conversation, I told Jerry about my row across the Atlantic Ocean, and left him with the small brochure that described some of the preparation for the voyage, as well as some of the events that occurred during the crossing
Whereas most of the hikers were bedded down for the evening inside the dormitory, my campsite for the night was under a large cedar tree at the back of the house.  I chose to be here as I would be up at 4:30 a.m., long before any of the other hikers would be stirring, and packing a backpack was always a noisy activity.  I had a 6:00 a.m. phone call to make to the radio station in Salt Lake City, and I needed to be prepared to start hitchhiking as soon as the call was finished.

Hiker Haven was only three hundred feet from the double set of railroad tracks that run up and down the canyon, and Jerry tells me that up to twenty-five freight trains a day pass in front of his home.  As I was lying on my bedroll waiting for sleep to come, off in the distance and somewhere down in the canyon, I could hear the faint rumblings and screeching of an approaching train.  I waited and listened with great anticipation; I was anxious to see the train. They’re massive and powerful, and although they no longer belch black smoke and steam as they roar through the canyon, they’re still impressive to watch.

The night was black, and there were a few trees that obscured my vision of the tracks in front of me; nevertheless, it was the sound of the approaching train that enthralled me and kept my eyes riveted on the opening in the trees where I presumed the black beast with its flashing lights would suddenly emerge from the foliage.

Blasts from the warning horn of the fast-approaching train ripped through the stillness of the evening air, and then it was there.  Charging like a thousand ironclad soldiers on horseback, the massive hulk of the front locomotive suddenly emerged from out of the trees, its front headlight swiveling from side to side, illuminating the tracks ahead.  Sparks were flying everywhere as metal wheels collided with metal rails; I sat up in my sleeping bag and watched, mesmerized as the massive hulk of three locomotives flew by, followed by at least fifty freight cars.  The cars creaked and groaned and uttered sounds that only freight trains on steel rails could make, sounds that couldn’t be duplicated by any other type of machinery.

The sheer size, power, and complexity of a moving locomotive with its attendant freight cars moving through the dead of night, illuminated only by flying sparks from the thundering steel wheels, was hypnotic.  I watched until the last freight car had passed the clanging bells and blinking red lights that signaled the road crossing in front of Hiker Haven, and then lay back down on my soft feather bed and went to sleep, but not before I laughed out loud because of what I had just witnessed that made me feel so giddy.

I love the trains and all the noise they make; I never find them an annoyance.  For some reason, being so close to the trains and listening to the power and sheer volume of noise they generate, make me feel like a small boy again whose father has taken time out from his busy schedule to spend time with his son – just watching the trains.

Trains in the night.

No comments:

Post a Comment