Saturday, November 19, 2011
The Second Bite of OCS
After doing our best to demolish the free breakfast buffet at the hotel, we left on a hike about the neighborhood to settle down the muffins and kill time. We were scheduled to re-assemble the train when it came in from New England late that afternoon so until the appointed hour, we wandered around the streets like mall-rats peering in store windows. Since we were only going to switch around in the yard and not hit the road till the following day, I wasn't worried about getting caught short on sleep for a change. Not that I could have napped after 8 gallons of coffee anyway...
Later on, as I was just rummaging around in the hotel room getting ready to head to the train, I suddenly felt the building moving under my feet. This is most unusual behavior for the majority of buildings I'm familiar with, especially large and substantially built hotels. My first thought was high winds but a glance out at the sunny sky and stationary trees cancelled that. The fancy mirrored closet doors were banging open and closed and the water in the toilet bowl was trying to leap over the rim. I wondered for a moment if it was possible to hallucinate on a coffee overdose. The gyrations went on just long enough for me to wonder what the hell just happened, paused a moment then did it all again. So now I've had my first experience with an honest-to-west-coast earthquake. It was the weirdest sensation I've ever known without a concussion. The shaking was enough to make it hard to walk and I can't even begin to imagine what it would be like to experience a really damaging quake. It only lasted a few seconds and I later found out the epicenter was actually several hundred miles away in central Virginia. A long ways away from us to be sure but it was enough to send track patrols out to check for shifted rails and bridges all over the northeast. When I said the earth would move before I'd take a special train I guess I wasn't kidding. The TV was still breathlessly running the story when I left to meet the Road Foreman for a ride to the yard.
As advertised, the now-occupied-with-big-names train showed up and the three railroads involved once again tried to out-order each other on how the moves were going to occur. When everyone is nervous, nothing ever works out. Just as the day before, the orders changed repeatedly and I finally retreated to a locomotive cab where at least no one was actively pacing or waving their arms. Our mission was to get the sleeper cars back on the train and stitch the four units back together for the run home in the morning. Simple and only slightly complicated by the fact that while we were switching, dinner would also be served in the dining car. The RFE repeatedly reminded me (in case I didn't get it the first time) that I had to make the hitch on the cars like they were glass or I'd wipe everything off the tables and into well-tailored VIP laps, thereby lowering my (and likely his) career expectations considerably. No stress.
As these things seem to do somehow, the whole affair eventually sorted itself out and a finished product started taking shape. At one point though, I noticed flashing lights out on the street and looked up long enough to realize that the whole roadside running along the yard was jammed with people. The police had the block closed off and onlookers, photographers, kids and what looked like half the local populace was lined up watching us do what we do. I've seen the rail buffs before but this was over the top. Who'da thunk it? It is a shiny train and all but really? There was camera lenses out there that cost more than my truck. I figured they could see what color eyes I have if they focused on the windshield. I wondered if I'd scratched myself inappropriately in the last hour and if it was already on YouTube.
After some further minor confusion, I wound up heading back to make that all-important hitch on the dining car. We took a momentary pause in there for some reason that I can't even remember and as I sat waiting for the next call on the radio, I was surprised to see a set of hands coming up on the door frame followed by a neatly fitted-out gentleman in over-large safety glasses. This was the CEO of the carrier.
Before I could get out of the seat, he shook my hand and introduced himself. My conductor radioed the next move at the same moment but I called a quick stand-by and had a couple minutes with the boss of the bosses. He was extremely pleasant and chatty but what tickled me the most was his interest in our Tour de Cure team. He knew I was the captain and that was pretty much what we talked about. He rides in the Tour every year in Virginia on the huge home-office team but still wanted to hear about our little show. It was the high note of the day to know he noticed us. Too soon, his phone rang and he took a call but the noise in the engine made it impossible for him to hear so with an apology, he slid out the door and was gone. In the meantime, the conductor told me the RFE (who didn't know about my cab guest) was almost having a seizure because I wasn't moving. Oh well, when the guy that owns the train wants to stop in and say hello, he gets to do just that. Rank hath it's privilege.
Back to work, I tried to make that lousy hitch on the diner so easy that an egg on the knuckle would never jiggle. Repeated efforts however failed to make the pin on the coupler drop. Our intrepid road foreman was beside himself. By now, all the worry about hitting it gently went out the window as it finally took a good old boxcar smack to get a good hook. I hoped nobody needed extra napkins.
With that, the train was built and ready for the ride the following morning. It felt like I'd been running the thing all day even though it was only a couple of hours. The pucker-factor had been a little higher on the scale than I typically like but we managed to get through it with our careers intact.
I was thinking as we headed back to the hotel that evening that I was relieved to have met some of the people who'd be on the trip as we'd been backing and forthing during the afternoon. In between moves, a few of my multi-titled passengers had stopped by and I'd found them to be nothing but courteous. Some of my friends said later that when you have that kind of pull, you can afford to be nice to the peasantry but I prefer to think they were being genuine and let it go at that. The pre-supposition I'd had of hauling a train-load of high-powered people with attitudes faded with the daylight and actually started to think I might survive this. We piled our bags in the back of the manager's truck and went for dinner on the carrier. That adventure will be for another tale.
We'd be on the train again at about dawn for the big show so I set my alarm and put in a wake-up call just to be sure. Like I was going to sleep much anyway....