inally got a return trip on the Western Bay. And this found me on a chilly December morning sitting in that ice-cold cab of Train #2 in Denver, boots up on the boiler to warm my feet. Slid open the window and shivered in the icy mountain air to spot Conductor Vin. His job was done for him – no passengers dawdled on the platform – all of them quickly tipped porters to stow their bags and scurried up the steps into the stove-heated coaches. At exactly 10:40am, Vin checked his watch and gave me the nod. With two whistle blasts and with our ice cold bell about to break in the chilly temperatures, we rattled over the final points, rolled through a tunnel and began out trip to Alpine.
What can be said? We met Train 1 on the roll past the clapboard station, the operator wiping his window clear to catch our numberboards, his signal dropping. At Dulce we found 123 just clearing the main. A bundled operator came out as the few passengers scrambled in and out of our coaches, clearing us out. And then it was through the long tunnel to Ute (on this cold day, you can bet that Vin was more than happy that this critical turnout between the first and second divisions of the WBRR now had a dedicated switchman there, huddled in his shack with his phone. He just stayed in the coaches and watched the dark snowsheds pass.) And then we were across the bridge and into Navajo, finding 391 loitering for us. We picked up a single passenger from the board that passes for the station “platform” and then, to Vin’s annoyance, I told him I wasn’t going to make the long run to Alamosa on a low tank. 391, eager to spot cars, watched in disgust as I watered up, the spray icing my tender. And then we were stepping up the spin, riding the icy rails out of town, on our way to our final stop.
Yes, it was a great run – it was like I was reading the timetable and watching it magically appear before me. Once #2 was put away, I went to do my second job of the day, assistant dispatcher (a combination of timetable checker, crew caller and yard ass-kicker). Al, the layout owner, was doing a great job. Everything was under control (or so I thought).
Inside the cramped dispatcher office – bedlam. Al was cursing a crew that hadn’t OSed through a station. Then he told me to go find a crew that was missing, their train ready to roll. After that, I was over to Denver to work an issue there.
“Uh, I had a good run, Al.”
“Whatever. Go over to Durango and kick their asses – why isn’t 35 out and running yet?”
I thought he was doing a great job. Everything seemed to be going good (in trying times). I think he finally needed some time away from the desk – he went off to find something out (possibly with a wrench in his hand) and I just stood in the office. “So. I’ll just stay here, right?” Hung for a few minutes and then an OS light came on. I looked at his magnetic board and figured out who it was. Cleared them through. Then helped to get the Goose past 243 in the confusion of Placerville. The next thing I knew, I was running the panel and having a great time. Yeah, I can look all clever and competent but truthfully, Al had shouldered the difficult part of the session. I just sat back and ran things, and even got pulled into an investigation concerning a smashed caboose (the crew fingered me, and I figured them right back*). But it was a great session (for me!) with some high-stepping running and some fast dispatching. So thanks to Al’s crew for letting Bruce and I come and play!
* It was the crew’s fault. Just saying.