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Bloviating Zeppelin: A Locomotive Ride

Bloviating Zeppelin

(in-ep-toc'-ra-cy) - a system of government where the least capable to lead are elected by the least capable of producing, and where the members of society least likely to sustain themselves or succeed, are rewarded with goods and services paid for by the confiscated wealth of a diminishing number of producers.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Locomotive Ride

It's funny how sometimes one thing leads to another -- a chunk of synchronicity, if you will.

Yesterday, I posted a little bit of melancholia when I caught a Union Pacific freight passing one of my local crossings in the snow. The photo was taken during a very rare break in the snowstorm we had late in the week and the colors of the units were remarkable. I panned the camera as the lead units passed and only the front was in focus, leaving the rest of the train a blur of movement. I really liked the effect, and used the photo for my post.

Today, the snow melted a bit and I went out for more photos. This time I found a train idling not far from home, waiting to be cleared by the dispatcher to enter the main track. I took some photos and got closer, then struck up a conversation with the engineer, who poked his head out the window. He invited me up into the cab and he introduced me to the conductor. The dispatcher cleared him for a move onto the main track and the engineer asked: you want to go for a ride? "Hell yes," I said, not being stupid.

So I went for a ride up and over Donner Pass on a beautifully-blue day over snow-covered tracks and left my locked car many miles behind. We talked about unions, the state of the country, terrorism, what it was like to work for Union Pacific, what it was like to work for Southern Pacific before it was purchased by UP, politics, religion, locomotives, unions, locomotives, Union Pacific, bosses, locomotives, Union Pacific, and many more things.

The engineer let me hit the horn for a bunch of crossings and showed when when to do it -- when you saw the X of the horn board. He taught me to hit the horn in the standard "long-long-short-long" horn language. The bell automatically rang after you hit the horn and he showed me how to clear the bell. I told him some secrets about my job, and he told me some secrets about his.

We stopped in Truckee and I exited there, thanking the engineer and conductor profusely for allowing me into their work lives. We had some things in common and I told a few jokes and they told a few jokes and we realized we were just three American fat guys who tried to hold the country together as best we could, who worked strange and long hours and did what we did because, the bottom line was, truthfully, we enjoyed it.

Folks, I had a helluva time; and I think they enjoyed my company as well. It wasn't the first time I'd ever been invited into the cab for a ride -- but it was the longest ride I'd ever had, and they were the friendliest crew I'd ever encountered. I've been given about 7 or 8 other rides in the past 10 years -- look, I'm old, I'm short, I'm fat and essentially fuzzy and harmless -- and I take good photographs and tell good stories. Sometimes I even bring brownies and cookies. Many UP employees already know who I am and honk at me in the mountains.

They could get in big, big trouble for doing what they did, so I promised to hold them nameless and not provide any locomotive numbers in the photos. No one is supposed to be in any cab at any time, except UP employees.

It's still nice to see that people can occasionally still be people and appreciate one another's job.

Even as I write this, a few hours later, it is dark; and I can still hear the plaintive horns in the twilight as more locomotives attempt to conquer Donner Pass.


"Roll on, Southern Pacific -- on your silver rails -- in the moonlight."

-- Neil Young


Blogger TexasFred said...

How'd ya get back to your car??

Sat Mar 04, 06:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

That's the expensive part. I had to take a cab from Truckee back to my car. I was hoping no one would ask.


Sat Mar 04, 07:01:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

But ya know what? Money wasn't the issue. That was the least of my concerns. It was one of those "once in a lifetime" things where I just didn't care at the time. It all worked out.

I suspect some people wouldn't have taken the chance. But you know what, TF? I just couldn't turn down the adventure. Think of it: the ADVENTURE!



Sat Mar 04, 07:03:00 PM PST  
Blogger TexasFred said...

LMAO.... Sorry...

Sat Mar 04, 07:48:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

You know, for an experience like that, I'd pay what I paid again and again. Because only a minute number of persons will be able to do what I've done, under the free conditions I've experienced.

Probably not even you.

Predominantly, those days are gone.


Sat Mar 04, 08:34:00 PM PST  
Blogger TexasFred said...

You're right, I won't get to do it, I don't like trains... I don't like ships either... My thing is airplanes... Always has been, and I've been pretty lucky, got to go up in some that was as much an adventure for me as this was for you...

I always wanted to drive a NASCAR, full speed, on a high bank like Talladega but I guess that's one that'll never happen...

Sat Mar 04, 11:57:00 PM PST  
Blogger John The Patriot said...

Great story BZ, it's nice to stop and smell the diesel every now and then

Sun Mar 05, 07:38:00 AM PST  
Blogger Assorted Babble by Suzie said...

I thought the same thing as Fred...(smiling)

That sounded like a day to remember...awesome post and you sharing your experience with me. My grandfather worked for the railroad...actually half of his foot was cut off due to his work. He walked with a cane until he died at 97 yrs old.

Your right I would pay again for a memorable and enjoyable day as you described with real people. Glad your timing was perfect for live it.

Sun Mar 05, 09:20:00 AM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

John: I was always the geeky kid who really did love the smell of diesel. I guarantee you, it is incredible to feel 12,000 HP underneath and behind you pulling an 11,000 ton, 6,211 foot train up and over Donner Pass on 2.5% grades in the snow.

Suzie: as I wrote, it was an adventure and an experience I shall never forget. I have many, many photographs than the one, but I couldn't publish any to the internet for the reasons I indicated. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time -- which is how I've gotten cab rides over the years. But this one was definitely the most exciting and the longest!


Sun Mar 05, 04:46:00 PM PST  
Blogger bigwhitehat said...

You ever gonna ride the Copper Canyon?

Mon Mar 06, 10:14:00 AM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

BWH: Boy, how I'd love to do that!


Tue Mar 07, 02:44:00 PM PST  
Blogger Three Score and Ten or more said...

Brought back such memories. When as a kid, my dad came home from the U.P. shops where he worked, I knew that he was a boilermaker-welder, but in my mind he was an engineer. I have dreamed many times of riding in the cab. (Have, too, switching an moving a hundred yards). You brought back real memories. good ones.

Tue Mar 07, 07:37:00 PM PST  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

3S10: I'm glad I was able to bring back some memories for you. The crafts of Locomotive Engineer and Train Conductor will soon be lost when trains become fully automated in 15 years or so.

I was so lucky, and I know it -- to be able to experience something so few will ever see -- and fewer still in the upcoming years.


Sat Mar 18, 07:02:00 PM PST  

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