he teletype was idly clicking a slow message, a new dispatcher getting an OS report from Navajo down the line about a train coming east. Since I’m at Dulce, I shouldn’t even see that train – he’ll swing off my line at Ute Junction and head to the other division, through Placerville and Dolores. But really, it’s not my problem. I’m checking over the paperwork of a westbound peddler train standing in my station, ready to depart. Yes, it looked good.
I don’t remember what pulled me away from my Dulce job. With long arms and a sneaky manner, I usually help crews spot switches (and rerail when they don’t spot switches) – anything to keep Old Man Sohl off our backs. So I wasn’t really “in” Dulce when the peddler rolled out of town. After all, we’re under TT&TO and crews take responsibility for their trains [sic].
The blast (when it came) blew out all the windows in the Dulce station, knocking the train order board on its side. Pulling myself up from behind the smoldering operator’s desk which saved me, I saw the tail end of the peddler sticking out of the tunnel, on fire. Two trains had collided just inside, the blast channeled like gas from a rifle barrel. And that’s when the rain came, a meaty rain of entrails and cow guts. The nearby livestock corral had taken the blunt of the blast.
Through the smoke, I could see the bent signal mast near the tunnel portal, its scorched and warped arm still in the permissive aspect. Then I realized – Ute Junction had not been thrown for the Eastbounder out of Navajo. So instead of the turnout signal arresting the peddler out of Dulce, the turnout was incorrectly set by the dispatcher so that the eastbound came east, the westbound came west, and the twains had met.
I was wading through the smoldering offal slopped around my station, helping the local coroner separate the remains of livestock from the remains of crew, when a distant rumble sounded over the high hills. It was a westbound goose who’d hit an eastbound freight out of Placerville.
To hell with Blackrock – it had been a bad day here!
Breaking from the narration, it really had been a fun day down here in on the Western Bay. Oh, Steve and John and I keep harping about full TT&TO and how things like this could be avoided running fully under the system (true, we’d just find new ways to crash, I suppose). But overall it was fun. Dispatcher Chip (outside of the horrific wreck) seemed to have a good first day on the job (once he got out of nervously reading us the entire timetable at each OS report). I’m happy to report that, before the entire town was destroyed, the Dulce operator noted that trains were using their whistles and bells correctly in their operations. Unless Al fires the lot of us (or replaces his dispatcher and operators with ChatAI) we’ll continue to get better.
I enjoyed the trip down there but all this, coupled with a private layout tour and a visit to a local model railroad club) made for a long day. An enjoyable day but a long day.
When I got home, my wife asked why I smelled like a barbecue. I just sank to the floor and wept.
Thanks to Al and his crew for having the Orlando boys down!