Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Blog Slacker

I've been busy.  That answers the question about where I've been lately.  Talk about nipping things in the bud.  Let me see...where to start?

I guess sometime around Sunday the 3rd would be as good as any.  In true railroad fashion, there would be no recognition of Independence Day in the form of a shutdown or even a slowdown.  On the most picnic-prone, family reunion attending, fireworks shooting, beer drinking and pool diving day of the year, the carriers dig in and want everybody to work.  They'll never learn.  The layoff list was an epic as everyone jockeyed to get time off for the Fourth.  This in spite of an endless and sometimes pathetic barrage of phone calls from Crew Management searching desperately for warm bodies to fill vacant slots on trains.  The Fourth of July weekend is one of those times when they might be better off to ask who WILL work rather than who won't and just take it from there.

Me, I'm going on vacation soon anyway so I answered the mechanical voice and went to work Sunday in the wee hours.  Turns out it was an EP (extra pay) day for us engineer types so I made some extra cash but I have a hard time figuring out how the carrier thinks that's an incentive when they don't tell anybody about it until the actual day.  As I've been told repeatedly, I don't see the BIG PICTURE but in my small picture, it seems it would work out a lot better if everybody knew what was going on a little in further in advance.  Oh well...

So a train awaited and off I went through considerably more than the usual tribulations.  The whole affair seemed doomed from the start as it took almost six hours just to depart the terminal.  I won't go into all the sad details but let's just say it was an exercise in futility that led to our time expiring at a fairly significant distance from our destination.  A further lengthy wait for a crew van and the round-about route out of our parking space kept us on duty for close to 16 hours.  By the time we made it to the crew warehouse to be stacked and racked until needed, there wasn't much left of the old guy.  I think my collision with the pillow was noted on Richter scales in 5 counties.  I was pretty much non-functional when I finally peeled back the sheets, turned off the phone and collapsed.

I guess there is such a thing as miracles because for all the insanity of the outbound trip, the return was remarkably uneventful.  It still took about three hours of gyrations to get out of the yard as is fairly common but once we got out and running, we sailed.  It helped that not much else was out there as most of the usual traffic was sitting somewhere hooked for a crew.

The only fly in the ointment was a stretch through a Pennsylvania town where the tracks looked like a pedestrian mall.  The local municipality was putting on their fireworks show and about half the city was using the right-of-way and bridges as a shortcut to the field or just setting up lawn chairs on the banks.  We were forewarned by the dispatcher and it's a good thing or we'd have smoked into that mess at a considerably higher rate of speed than we did.  We arrived right at prime-time for the event.  It was just about dusk and the warm-up shells were going off overhead.  People were everywhere and no amount of horn-blowing or bell-ringing seemed to make much of an impression on the populace.  They just ambled along like the zillion-ton monster bearing down on them was of no concern.  Some were even pretty annoyed that they had to detour out of the gauge to let us pass.  I'm always amazed by the capacity of Joe Public to look stunned and angry by the fact that there's a train on train tracks.  What were they expecting?

Normally sane citizens seem to just lose their minds around tracks.  Not too many cognizant people would stroll casually down an airport runway under normal circumstances because they could reasonably expect a large, heavy, fast moving vehicle with the potential to kill them to arrive unannounced.  The fact that railroad tracks are pretty much like that is lost on a sizeable portion of the world.  I also don't know too many people still living who would jump out on the interstate and put junk in the road in front of a tractor-trailer "just to see what happens" but they were lined up to put coins and rocks on the rail in front of us.  "Hold my beer and watch this" was in full effect.  I hope nobody got zinged by the shrapnel.

It took a while but we got by the madness eventually.  I dragged the train through with the brakes on both so I could stop quicker and to keep some yo-yo from pulling a cut lever back there and putting us in emergency.  It was one of those times where if you slow down too much, the half-drunk idiots will try to climb on but if you go too fast, you risk running down some bonehead who believes with all his heart that you can steer around him.  You just have to find an unhappy medium and go with it.  My buddy Stosh is fond of saying, "You can't fix stupid" and I agree but I'd rather not kill anyone to prove it.

From there on out, for the next 15 miles or so, it was a continuous fireworks display from all sides.  Unlike in grouchy New York, fireworks are legal in PA and the party people take full advantage of it.  I dare say I've never seen so much 'rockets red glare' from so many places all at once.  The cannons and star-shells shot up in that one hour probably would have made a dent in the national debt.  The whole valley reeked of flash powder.  At least nobody actually shot at the train this time (which happened to us a couple of years ago when we got peppered by rockets and cherry bombs all the way through town) but a few strategic shots went off just as we passed and rattled the windows.  It was all good fun after worrying about that herd on the tracks now far behind us.
Even as we were climbing up the hill out of town, the sky was flashing colors and an occcasional boom made it past engines in Run 8.

It was quite a display and I was duly impressed.  I'd rather have been home on the deck with a cool something listening to the neighbors blow up stuff but that's how it works out sometimes.  I'll get my time off later just like all the other birthdays, anniversaries and holidays I've missed.  The timing is usually wrong but the heart is in the right place.

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