I’m at the throttle of GP-9 5417, a brute of an engine in the early fifties, big and black and boxy, nothing like those bullet-like F units still working about the railroad. This is the shape of things to come, utility over form, but I’m glad for that. These monsters are blowing heat and smoke like a river boat, their dynamic brakes howling as I come down out of the Lucita Range with tons of beets bulging over to tops of their open hoppers.
The pressure is on – I departed San Luis Obispo with train 923 assembling in my wake – he’ll be hot on me. In my hand is a train order – 923 and 922 have a meet in King City. I’d have liked to beat (no pun intended) him down there but that’s two trains on two tracks, no room for an extra like me. This being said, I clamp on the brakes and bring the train squealing to a stop on the east Serrano turnout. The brakeman, knowing we’ve got hot iron somewhere behind us, hops down and tosses the switch lever. Then we are clunking into the siding, stopping neatly again so the rear crew can dismount and close the turnout behind us. Only after carefully pumping up do I allow my train to slowly ease down the siding to the west end switch, to sit there and let both trains pass. Once they are by, I can glide down to King City and spot a third of my beets at Monarch Sugar.
While watching 923 poke through the pocket tunnels on his way down (okay, I couldn’t really see him from my train’s vantage point but its very fun to watch), I slip into superintendent mode and think about how well the session is going. Yes, I had some pre-session fears. However, we got some quality operators (old sweats and enthusiastic newbies). We’ve got two trainees gaining experience (one of the freight desk, the other in SLO yard). And outside of an engine just suddenly running lousy and another wire in the haunted house we call “Salinas Turnout Control Box” giving way, its been a great session. No runaways. Nothing on the floor. And one of our very reluctant newbies is going to checkride on the Lark, which I’ll ride conductor. The railroad is running like it’s supposed to.
923 passes me, rumbling down the long grade to King City. Even though I know 922 has work to do after the two freights meet, getting down there now doesn’t do me any good (I need that siding too). So I’ll let him work and climb past me. I’ve got five hours until the Starlight comes at me, plenty of time to drop beets at King City and Salinas, then run PFE reefers home to Watsonville.
A good day, all told.