It was already dark as we headed out of LaCrosse. I didn’t realize it, because up until this point I’d never ridden on an intermodal car, but this was a shallow well, barely deep enough to stay mostly out of site.
I was able to watch the yard office as we passed by and, of course, there was a car with its headlights on pointed directly at the train. I ducked back down and hoped for the best. We maintained a steady but slow speed, ten miles an hour I suppose, for a mile or so and then stopped and we sat there. I looked down both sides of the train and couldn’t see anything or anyone approaching, so, I wasn’t too worried, but still, you never know.
It was a beautiful late Spring evening, stars were out. I just laid back and relaxed a bit and tuned into the scanner. Where we were stopped there were two sets of tracks, and from the week before, I was pretty sure the line was double tracked all the way to St. Paul, so I wondered why we were stopped. I looked occasionally up and down both sides of the train and couldn’t see anything that would alarm me.
Pretty soon the trees to my left started to light up from the million candle power or so headlight of an approaching train coming toward us. It rolled passed us at a leisurely pace, probably about the same 10mph we had been going before we stopped. Before it was fully past my train jolted into motion. I never have gotten used to that slack action bang, even when I know it’s coming. I didn’t expect this one before the other train was completely past.
The adventure is officially underway. I know enough about modern day railroading to know there are crew change points that are usually associated with larger yards along the main routes. The first crew change ahead is the Northtown Yard in Minneapolis but first, we have to work the Midway Yard.
I don’t know if it the excitement of clipping along the Mississippi or the fact that it is the beginning of a trip and the excitement and adrenaline of making the connection with a freight train make time fly by, but it isn’t long until we roll past the CP’s Pig’s Eye yard and continue into Minneapolis. It takes about three hours, but it seems like no time as I see the locks and occasional tug boats along the way. The towns seem sleepy this time of night and you can see inside and recognize right way that you have given up the warmth and coziness of a small town existence in exchange for the elements and a little excitement. Adventure is priceless, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some cost;)
First stop, we have to pick up more of our train at the BNSF Intermodal facility located at the Midway Yard. I suppose it is called Midway because it is midway between St. Paul and the Northtown yard. I stayed hidden as well as I could and listened on the scanner. It would be easy to see me if a person looked and we rolled right past a worker in a pickup truck as we stopped at Midway. Turns out, the worker was a temporary crewman added to our train crew that radioed instructions etc., as the worked back and forth picking up, and perhaps, dropping of cars. Fortunately, my part of the train remained intact and eventually the jockeying stopped and I heard them “release”, or perhaps the word was “detach”, the extra crewman and off we went.
I was surprised, we accelerated quickly and wasting no time ran at a surprisingly good clip over to Northtown. As we neared the yard there we began to slow just as we were passing a slower train on the parallel track headed north too. The difference in our speed was had dropped to maybe two or thee miles per hour as we slowed. Yikes! we were barely creeping past the train, and I was going to be visible for a good 30 seconds as we crept past the engines at the head of the other train. All the conductor would have to do is glance down as we went past while their light shone on me, and that could be it, trip over:(
Luckily, just as I could see the head engine on the other train, we slowed to a stop as it kept rolling ahead. The yard is pretty well lit, but I was far enough back on the train to be out of the main lights of the Northtown Yard. It is a big classification yard with a hump. It’s not he kind of place you want to have to navigate, ever, let alone at night. Rail cars move on on their own in hump yards, and quietly too!
These hotshot Z trains don’t usually sit for long periods, and this one was no exception. Within a few minutes we were rolling on.