o we had ordered supplies for Wensleydale Feed and Grain (namely 4000 cattle bibs). The Chesapeake and Ohio shipped it to our hometown – Tuscarora – via the Pennsy. I spotted them dropping it on the team track siding as I drove home from the bar, right as promised, midnight. I’d be there with the boys to unload it the next day.
So we had the door open and the truck backed up at 8am sharp. With donuts, coffee and fish stories, they boys didn’t really get working until 8:45. We’d only just gotten everyone aboard and ready to grunt out the first crate when the car shuddered and a bell clanged outside – a way freight needed to drop two cars on this siding. So there we stood, huddled in the rain, as EM-2 pulled our car away and pushed its short string up the spur past the team track. So now it was half-past nine when we got the car back and could get down to unloading.
Thirty minutes of work got three of the heavy crates into the flatbed yet suddenly a horn was going off outside. An apologetic local crew needed us to climb down. Now they had to move the car back out of the way so they could switch our siding. So once more the boys hunched in the drizzle as the PRR clattered and clanked the cars about. At one point, they took our C&O boxcar all the way to the other side of town to run around it. I just stood there fretting. I wished I’d secured the door. What if someone stole a box of cow bibs? The boys bummed smokes off each other.
Just before noon, the car was back on the siding, door open. Of course it wasn’t spotted dead on – our truck was six feet to one side now and had to be moved. And of course, it was lunchtime. The boys drifted up the alley to the diner. I climbed into the rail car, out of the rain, and watched the cargo, stomach growling.
The team moved with burger-belly slowness through the afternoon, the rhythmic patter of rain adding a layer of sleepiness to their sluggishness. We were down to our last few crates when suddenly a damn horn was going off again – another PRR local needed to move the car back out on the mainline while they serviced the fuel industry.
“Sod this for a game of soldiers,” Frank, the informal team lead, declared as he looked at his water-beaded watch. “Quitting time. See you tomorrow.” I tried to get them to stay – there were still a couple of heavy boxes to get down to the truck. There would be no unloading tomorrow – the midnight freight would swing by and scoop the car up in a few hours. I’d be working alone now.
I was still cursing heavy crates into the truck bed when a dull clang sounded from the floor. A moment later my boxcar was rolling, towed out by the PeeDee switcher, sweeping Tuscarora for all PRR outbounds. I gave in and settled, getting a nice tour of the dark, damp town, pausing for a short while in front of the abandoned station while the towerman worked his signals. There was nothing for it – the railroad picked the busiest part of their industrial trackage to plant a team track on. It was like the entire spur system had been designed by model railroaders or something.
Finally, just before 10, the car was nudged back onto the spur, lined up right with my truck. Down the line, the PeeDee pushed its final cut up the branch to Bexley – I could hear it notching up as it followed the White River up the valley. Looking around, both Inner and Outer Industrial Areas were empty, stripped of every last rail car. The PRR had taken everything. But the rain had finally stopped and the stars shimmered overhead. I gave them a long look of appreciation before hunching over the final crate…