‘m on the Denver platform, watching a standard gauge crew drive standard gauge rails through the midst of the Western Bay Railroad’s narrow gauge yard. Wonder if SP will be hiring? Frowning, I’m checking my watch – just got in from another train and am conducting Number 2 back to Alamosa. It’s almost 2pm, the platform is filled with passengers yet the tracks are empty. Where’s our train?
My engineer comes up, a guy I’ve never run with but we exchange courtesies and decide who’s going to do what and confirm waterstops and so forth. Out in the yard. I can see two teakettles pushing coaches around, sorting things out. Finally, fifteen minutes after departure time, the coaches are rattled back into place. I’m trying not to look like I work on the line, what with all the glaring coming from all the angry passengers.
The engineer climbs up, the hostler climbs down, a coal-blackened Bruce. “Right on time,” I note, checking the fob, minute hand at the 20 past mark. “Shut up,” he tells me, starting on his long walk back to the turntable. Good enough. As the train lurches forward, I work through the cars, punching tickets and explaining that we’ll do everything we can to get back on our paper promise.
Good time to Alpine. While the engineer waters, I go into the tiny lineside shack, hooking up the phone to chat to the office clowns. They give me rights all the way through to Navajo, which will save us some chatter-box time. We toss the spout aside, pulling out so quickly that we wash the roof of the mail car. Yeah, my engineer wants to get us back in step with the WBR’s promises.
Through Dulce, ten minutes down, a quick stop for more water while a short freight watches us from the siding, cudding their lunches. Two sharp whistles and we’re off, rumbling through the snowshed at Ute, thankfully set correctly by the last train through, and into Navajo at … Mother of Grace … right on the dot. As the fireman hooks down our water-spout and I punch the ticket of the one passenger, an ageless Indian woman, I nod to the engineer – we’re back on schedule.
But two questions – where is 121, who we were supposed to meet here, and where’s the dang front office – the phone in the shed doesn’t seem to be working. We can’t get through. So we buzz and buzz and wait for them to pick up.
Standing in the shed door, seeing us slide back five minutes, ten, I call up to the engineer. “Do you think that was 121 at Dulce?” He shrugs. Neither of us thought to check the number boards.
Finally the dispatcher answers the phone. He sounds boozy – either it’s been a long shift or he’s into his bottle again. We tell him what we want – Alamosa, please! – and he gives me the hold-on. Finally we’re cleared. Out of Navajo we rumble, once again twenty minutes down.
Yeah, maybe the SP is hiring…
(Many thanks to Al Sohl and his gang for having us out – the fun and games make the long drive worth it. You can see his amazingly detailed railroad HERE).