Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Winter (Story) in Spring

In keeping with my semi-serious commitment to tickle the keyboard with tales of railroading on occasion, I bring you a winter night/day/night.  Names and train symbols changed to protect anybody who might still get fired over it:
(Trailer Park...are you listening? )

The weather turned to near-blizzard on the way out of the old home terminal one wintry Friday.  The whole world seemed to be shutting down as the snow piled up and the wind turned from howling to out-and-out screaming but we eventually made it to our temporary home and settled in.  We were figuring on being trapped up north for the weekend but lo and behold...the phone rings at 2:45 am with a call to deadhead home by train (no long-haul crew taxis allowed in bad weather...not safe you know).  The caller said we'd be riding on a foreign carrier train instead of our own which is unusual but not unheard of so I didn't think much of it.  She gave us a symbol of 270 and I know I heard it right because the conductor asked her to repeat it twice to him.  A local taxi was supposed to pick us up at 4:15 am to take us to the yard by 4:45 and then out to the train.  Well, the cab was late because of the horrible weather so we wound up getting to the yard a little past 5.  I see a train (170) pulling out but didn't know at the time that that was supposed to be our ride.  The yardmaster knows nothing about us deadheading on one of his trains but says that the 270 originates at another yard considerably further south so we have to taxi another hour south to catch the thing...oh and by the way...the crew's not on duty till 7:40 am.  Off we go in the cab (remember, we're deadheading by train because it's not safe to be on the road in taxis) to parts unknown.  I've never even seen this other yard so we have to go with the cabby's say-so that we're in the right place.  We found some engines and climbed aboard with our bags to get comfy while we waited for the crew.  A warm, dry haven in the storm.  As advertised, they showed up about quarter to 8 and started getting ready to head out.  By now, lots of people are starting to figure out that we were supposed to be on that long-gone 170, not the 270 and that the crew caller had messed up the call by giving us the wrong train symbol.  We were becoming a hot property as the conductor told us that everybody in the world had called to make sure we really were with them.

After about an hour, we left town with 2 engines running light and us perched aboard the second unit watching a lot of unfamiliar scenery go by.  I pretty much knew we were in for it when the dispatcher called and told the head-end crew that their connection would be late so it'd be OK to stop and grab a coffee.  UH-OH.  The late connection went from 10 to 11 to noon to highball the whole thing and come on down after AMTRAK goes by for Plan B.

The new twist is that we're going to wait for an empty unit train to come in with a nearly outlawed crew, tie our 2 units to his 3 and run south with the whole 99 empty salt hoppers he's got plus the 5 units.  Unfortunately, he's still 35 miles away, AMTRAK is in between him and us, there's a broken joint bar behind AMTRAK, the signals are out part of the way, and the marker on the unit train is dead.  These and a couple of other little complications with north bounds needing to get by and track men fixing the rail led to it being 4:10 pm before we ever left.  The switches were frozen, they had to arm and hang a new marker, tie the engines together etc. and now it's looking like it's gonna be impossible for the only crew with time left to ever make it home.  The 270 crew will go dead at 7:40 and us poor  slobs are still only about 15 miles from where this whole fiasco started.  Oops, I forgot, there was not one, but two crews on the salt train so now there's 8 men riding this freight/passenger train hoping to make port sometime before we all retire.

At long last the whole shebang launches and all's well for about 25 miles...right up until we hit the snowmobile stuck on the track.  I was riding on the second unit with my semi-awake conductor when I heard the horn going non-stop and then I heard the brakes come on.  I couldn't see anything because of the snow dust and the way we were bending around a curve but sure enough, the head end crew tones up the dispatcher to tell him the news.  Luckily, the sled's rider had the smarts to bail off before we vaporized his machine but the ensuing interviews with the police, fire depts. etc. led to another hour delay before they released us to head south again.

Now we KNOW we're not making it in so it becomes a quiz as to where we'll end up and get in the taxi (again).  Well, we made it to a siding about 40 miles short of home.  In the meantime, another local crew has outlawed right next to us with three men aboard.  Now we've got 11 guys dead in the water along with a truck load of grips and the assorted winter junk we have to carry.  A fleet of vans is supposed to pick us up at 7:30 but because of the weather (again), they didn't get there until almost 9.  Everybody piles into the 2 vans they sent out and off we go to again toward home plate.  Better than an hour later, we pull into our office and bail out.  By the time we finish with our tie up screens in the computer, 17 hours and 20 minutes have elapsed since we went on duty.  We've spent almost 4 hours in cabs (remember, we did all this because it wasn't safe to be riding in cabs), hit a trespasser, outlasted 5 dispatchers on 2 different railroads and the crew caller that started the whole mess has now rested and will be back on duty before we ever get home.

The train master called me the next day wanting to know how we ever got a deadhead like that and asking all kinds of questions.  I think he thought we made the whole thing up and just hung around stealing time.  Sorry, but I couldn't lie enough to make up something like this.  I guess we made the morning conference call.  I sometimes wonder if somebody got their lower regions chewed for coming up with an idea like this but I doubt it.  Just another day in paradise.

I keep telling myself that it's not just a job....


Wingnut said...

It's an adventure! ;)

Trailer Park Cyclist said...

Oh yeah, Wayward, I'm watching.

Terms like FUBAR and ClusterF***k come to mind.

I particularly like the phone call asking you to explain. Ever been in a situation where it is easier to make up a lie because no one is going to believe the truth?

There's a book in ya, methinks.