ur first day on the railroad. We started with the crews gathered and the home hoggers telling us what we needed to know and what was expected. The first was a two-man job up in Walong, just below the famous loop. Looked at Steve and asked if he wanted to start out together. Sure. So we grabbed the job, our bags, and headed out into the sun-fried hills of central California.
We found ourselves on a PFE (Pacific Fruit Express) reefer block, just starting to thaw. It worked out that he’d get the front end (and the conductor duties) and I’d ride further back in the helpers (pretty much staring at a west end of an eastbound reefer). And off we rolled, getting things managed and under control. And outside of a minor deviation of going into staging (last night’s crew left it open (please don’t read the prior entry too close)) we were out of the loop and rolling for Tehachapi in fine style.
Up at Tehachapi, we did it by the book. Steve stopped just east of the station and allowed me to get the helpers off and into the wye track. While he backed, coupled, pumped and blew out of town, I turned my units on the wye (just so they’d still be short-hood forward). Then I looked both ways before crossing the main and running down siding number 2 to park them. Truthfully I was waiting for an order to roll them down the hill but the station operator, channeling for the dispatcher, told me to scram. Someone else would take them.
Picked up paper immediately, hopping a cab for Mojave and arriving just in time to see Hooper roll through. Had to work with the east end troll to get everything ready for my west roll – an empty reefer block this time. Rolled out of Lancaster staging, up the long helix and into Mojave, tucking down behind the station on service tracks with my sixty bunkers because I had a passenger train coming up my ass in twenty minutes.
I’d fully expected to wait around – this railroad is all about waiting. But no, my orders were up and ready. Had to frown over them – I was cleared to run ahead of the second passenger train of the two train section run. I’ve never gotten one of those before and it really puts me in a strange place (unless the second is way back – I can’t really steal his rights for mine). But since I had paper and the the first section wasn’t due out of Lancaster yet (not quite yet) I dashed my departure time into the register, tossed the turnout throws and rolled out of town,
And this is where TT&TO is churner. I had two sections (at least) coming up behind. Yet I had another passenger train on the approach. Since the line is double track to the Tehachapi summit, I wasn’t too worried about them. But the varnish behind me had to be cleared. So I had to get to the Tehachapi sidings and unfold my evil plan.
When I got there, I ran down siding 1, which is long but not long enough for me. But siding 2 would take up the excess. Flagging against those eastbound passenger trains (which I was assuming were pinned by my overtaking twins) I eased out the west end and doubled, backing down 2. And here’s where I’m really, really glad I left those helpers well down the track, back by the station, to save a make-believe walk. If I’d tucked them up at the head-end of the siding they’d have been in the way. So a nod of appreciation to the station operator who suggested I play it lazy.
In talking to the operator, I found out that those eastbounders had been giving rights over my westbound trailing varnish, and within five minutes one of them was rolling through the station, clickity-clack (glad I’d doubled promptly). Behind me, the first westbound was tucking up to the station, getting his orders and getting ready to depart. I looked back at him, planning to let the opposing traffic go by, then let him pass, then slid in behind him (with my permission to run ahead of his second). Easy. But little did I know of the near disaster that was looming around the plywood view-block.
So the second section on the inbound train rattled past. I was looking back to my trailing passenger, watching for him to come down the main to port. The nearby station operator was reviewing his paperwork. And suddenly, to the shock, surprise and drawer-filling of all concerned, suddenly an 800 series freight and roaring past, hot on the eastbound passenger train.
Nobody had expected this. We all blinked at how dangerous (and illegal) this move was. Had the varnish off my caboose been a little quicker, he’d have caught the trespasser dead (literally) to rights. I think the operator asked him something along the lines of “WTF?”. The engineer shrugged off his mistake, not really owning up. Apparently the day’s superintendent “had words” with him later about the event.
It was a more somber writer who watched the first trailing section go by. Without the second section in sight (though sneaky-vision told me he wasn’t even in Mojave yet) I came out onto the main, riding loosely down behind the passenger train. Nothing else was scheduled up and I got a nice run around the loop.
One thing about the shot to the left – this is when Steve came looking for me and told me he was waiting for me in Bena, with me as one of five trains listed with rights over him in his orders. With that in mind, I slowed down a bit. Waiting would be good for him.
Little did I know how bad waiting would be for me.
Once I was into Bakersfield and out of the engine, I went to lunch. Then I came back to put my name back on the hill pool. Should be no problem – I’d been running hot all morning.
But nothing. Zip.
If I’m going to be critical about La Mesa for anything, it would be this – they were a bit more disorganized then years prior. I know the club has had riffs and problems, and the crew callers from pre-covid times were not about, and Steve Miller (a great guy at keeping things moving) has passed away (RIP, Steve. Missing you). But this was annoying. I sat for a while. Went outside for a bit and looked at the booths. Read my paperback. Actually fell asleep at one point (another member was more than happy to snap a picture of me snoring).
I’m not just bitching here – five hours! That’s how long I cooled my heels. Worse, I saw a couple of guys roll by on a train. Then back they’d go on another! People were getting reassigned. Just not me. I’m not sure who I pissed off (god or man) but as we clicked towards that five hour mark, I decided that to hell with it – there was a street event going on outside and I’d just go out and mingle there until end-of-day. Yes, I was pissy and cranky but hell, I’d flown this same amount of time just to be here. So yes, I was going to act like a baby.
Of course, as soon as I walked in to quietly return my throttle and slip out, someone rushed up and stuffed a soup ticket (an order to work) into my hands. “There you are! Get over to Bakersfield! They got a reefer block for you that needs to roll!”
This time it was a block under the yellow and blue warbonnet of the ATSF. I was assigned a helper who’d hook on, in Santa Fe fashion, at Bena. But I had to go now – I had another of those annoying passenger trains an hour behind me, and one an hour ahead. If I didn’t want to get caught between them I had to do track speed and spool rails behind me. So off I went.
This was one of the nicer runs of the day. My helper crew was attentive and disciplined, meaning I wasn’t getting knocked out of my seat by rough train handling. We found the slack and maintained it up through Cliff, Rowen, Woodford, around the loop. Checking my timetable (over and over and over) we saw that we had twenty-five minutes to run up through Marcel and Cable and beat the passenger train there. Sounds like a lot of time but when you are trying to not f**k up in front of dozens of serious pros (as well as indirectly losing your little pretend life) you find yourself alternating between pocket watch and timetable. But no problem; we cleared into Tehachapi well ahead of the varnish’s advertised. We took our time cutting the power out – I thanked my helper for his great assist up the hill. The passenger train rattled past. And then there was nothing left save a slow roll down to Mojave, doing my bit to get that fresh lettuce to eastern markets.
So yes, other than the annoying mid-session five-hour gap, the rest of the day was a total, absolute blast!
One more day to go!