Final day of the two-day event. Long, long wait to get out of Mojave – 4 hours (real hours) to clear the yard (protecting me against for freights yet excluding any movement against the overdue passenger train doesn’t do me any good). Missed lunch but ran it down to Bakersfield.
The last run was fun – worked with a guy named Jerry who’s a solid operator. We were talking while waiting for orders in Bakersfield – how we both like to blow the horn properly at crossings, do brake tests, stop to throw turnouts, all that authentic railroad stuff. When we got our paper, it was a blast to clear out of Bakersfield and have Jerry call “Highball!” from the back end when we cleared the yard limit sign. Up to 40mph and off we went.
Soon we were threading our way up the tight valleys above Illmon, wending higher and higher towards Caliente. We were an extra (we don’t show up on the timetable) and we had orders showing that another extra was running against us (think about it – if BOTH extras are running against each other, you’d better have train orders letting each know how to get around one another). So we’re running our long reefer block, working the slack and discussing the meet. It’s 5:50pm. We know from our paper that the extra coming against us must wait at Bealville until 6pm and Caliente until 6:30pm. We’re wondering if maybe we could make Allard in 15 minutes (between Bealville and Caliente) but man, that’s a tight shave. Jerry’s a gutsy guy and he’s almost about to go for it, but I talk him down. We decide we’re going to run into Caliente in about 5 minutes and pull onto the siding to let him go past. But right now my train’s slowing because of all the wheel friction around the tight turns, the slack is bunching funny, I’ve got a handful of timetable, all sorts of distractions. I’m walking backwards, not looking ahead, calling back, “Jerry, we’re almost up on Caliente. Let’s start braking. Watch the slack. Okay, we’re going to slow to a stop to throw the turnout. Then we’ll…” And I’m turning to reach for the turnout control.
And Holy Shit! There is a train roaring down the Caliente main right at us, about 200 yards off!
“Headlights! Headlights! Headlights!” I shout, trying to get the train to stop without buckling it. Jerry’s looking over the top of a blocking hill, shouting “What?” Meanwhile, the engineer of this new train (who had his back to us, chatting with the Caliente station operator) whirls around and nearly drops his handset trying to get stopped. And we do – two ATSF F unit sets, rumbling nearly nose to nose.
“Well who the hell are you?” He calls. Jerry is walking up the length of our seventy car train. “I’ll ask you the same question,” he barks back, in somewhat-mock anger.
Flimsies are produced. This guy is an extra. We have no mention of him on our orders. He has no mention of us on his orders. Two off-schedule trains moving against each other – certain disaster.
I’m not sure if we would have hit, but we certainly went into emergency.
Now Jerry’s in the operator’s face, asking if there were any orders about this. No, there weren’t. So we call the dispatcher and tell him to come out. He does – sheepishly – and tells us that, well, yes, the was a bit of a mistake and could have possibly gotten us all killed. Jerry does a great job mimicking a guy who is being held back by a crew, shouting, “I’ll moidle him! I’ll moidle him!” And I look up Allard-ways and note that other extra who we were planning to meet in Caliente, coming down the long grade.
At this, the dispatcher rubs the back of his neck. “Um, that’s a different guy. He went around the first extra further east. I forgot to mention him as well.”
Jerry and I exchange long glances. “You got anything else up your sleeve?” he asks coolly.
After that, the dispatcher was jumpy. He cleared us (and canceled the clearance) twice more before we could get out of Caliente. By then the session was pretty much over for this year and we had to help put it all away.
I can only hope that my real death can be as much fun as this one was.