t’s a sliver before midnight on a cold, rainy evening in Martin Yard. I’m huddling close to my idling GP-9s, trying to soak in their warmth and shield myself from the drizzle. All I can say is, “Hell of the thing, Shannon. Hell of a thing.”
My trains is on track 2, six cars going over to Zanesville and Carbon Hill. Shannon has the shorter run to Mingo but the thing is he’s hauling something like forty cars tonight. I mean, the usual summit-topper drag freights are shorter than that. Forty cars? Did they tear down Mingo Junction and are now rebuilding it? Such an uneven distribution of cars almost suggest that, instead of a freight department, we created random waybills off a spreadsheet program and the strange allocation was the luck of the draw. But that would be preposterous.
Fortunately I’ve got the jump on Mingo before he bottles the main so I’m gone at the stroke of midnight, rattling along the outside lead from the yard, eyeing the rain-swollen river, watchful for washouts. But the plaster and glue seem to be holding and soon enough we’re booming to Mingo to take the siding.
There, I am pleasantly surprised to find that I’m only meeting Silver Bullet Two. I look at my ballast bunny and he shrugs. Usually a meet between 927 and the two early eastbounds is railroad canon. We hardly get into the siding when the lit windows of the varnish flash past. With the turnout thrown, we continue to Zanesville. Passing the interchange, I exchange glances with my brakeman – the interchange shifter out of Tipton isn’t there. Since they won the rights to switch the GM Automotive Plant above Zanesville (trust our dear LM&O to go cheap on the bid), we now drop off interchange cars for the plant and they work it – we only do Carolina Desk out and the box company on the return. It’s getting to be a weird rainy night on the line. So many crazy things.
Even stranger is that we are directed into the GM siding, not the LM&O siding where the overdue 202 is idling – I can see Engineer Jim glaring at me through the rain-streaked glass. I toss him back a shrug – this was the dispatcher’s decision, not mine. And speak of the devil – when I report to the dispatcher that Tipton isn’t here, we sorta, kinda, more-or-less agree that the LM&O (meaning me) will have to work the plant.
“<Expletive>!,” spits my brakeman. After all, we just doubled our work in Zanesville tonight because of the TY&E no-show, and he’s the one who will have to dismount in the rain to work the frozen couplers and icy switch throws. Sucks to be him – my GP-9 cab is snuggy-warm.
By the time our job here is done, it’s going towards 5am. I whistle in my flag crews and call for paper west. Meanwhile, Zanesville gets impressively busy; an empty 415 with a rain-washed hopper string pulls in on the siding opposite. A moment later, 244’s headlight shines from the tunnel. Three trains are now steaming in the cold rain in the Zanesville block, but I’ve paper out and we’re rolling, knowing that 415 is going to dog us all the way to Carbon Hill, where we both leave the main.
John in 415 is an old hogger, same as me, and we easily work around each other on the mine tracks as an unseen sun rises somewhere above the morning rain. We set out of box for Champion and slip neatly out for the run home. No switching for this, but we still meet a couple of trains (a westbound passenger in Zanesville and a freight in Weirton, newly classified out of Martin. Without a lot of fuss, I dump my pickups on the intermodal track (at the yardmaster’s orders – I heard the dispatcher was sniffing around about this an hour later). But by then, I’d gotten called for Shelfton turn and was already clearing yard limits. I had another shift of switching to do…
As you can see, our supposed “easy” pre-holiday night was anything but. We ran everything but one passenger train (who cares? This is modern railroading) and a freight. It wasn’t a maximum effort like some Thanksgivings but it was busy enough. Sickness, car accidents and travel dropped our headcount.
On the good side, the railroad was running noticeably smoother. Oh, I still got to help drag a train out of the helix but in both my runs, I was able to focus on the train and its operation (hence the imaginary “rain”). Phil did us a solid by taking young Mason on his first run – I’m sure the kid enjoyed himself (but they can be a handful). I know that I scrambled my cards in Shelfton and had to lay out some tarot card waybills to figure out what went where. Of course, primary hogger-awards go to Shannon for running that crazy-long train to Mingo; we should have run it in two runs rather than drop it all on you. But you did it and I am impressed. Head-shakingly impressed. Steve did a great job in the yard (as great as Zach and I can hope, having not reviewed the lading slips yet). Mike ran one of the steel mill jobs, swapping the limestone before taking Harris Glen and then the Nazareth trick – a clean sweep for him. And Zach, since he didn’t rely on mental telepathy this time, did much better on the dispatcher’s desk, though rumors echo of a collision between two Thanksgiving holiday passenger trains somewhere east of Bethlehem (we can all give thanks we weren’t on those trains, I suppose). But the LM&O (and Orlando N-Trak) continues to improve on its operations.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I think dealing with twenty or more operators (and a bunch of guests) will be easier than the family at Thanksgiving when someone slips out a political opinion. I guess I can just get boozy and sit in the corner, smiling about our session. Thanks, guys!