Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

Saturday, August 05, 2006

7316 - While travelling near or travelling far, keep your hands inside the car...

Quebec & New Brunswick

It's 7AM and I just woke from my slumber by the sound of a freight highballin' through. Supposedly the CHI-HFX intermodal comes through here and crew changes sometime in the morning. That train is my ticket eastward. I came out here last night in case they are early, and spent the night sleeping fairly well concealed on a cut of lumber racks that are parked right at the catch out.

Soon enough, a couple of hours later and after 6-7 junkers have rattled through, a long stacktrain eases on up and stops. A pig in a bucket is only three cars up so I trot on up there and get in. This ride is actually a semi trailer sitting inside an intermodal well car. The floor has a 4x10 flat section at either end, and is otherwise open except for two strips of grating for the wheels of the trailer to sit on. As soon as I'm situated the air goes up with the usual ticking,creaking and banging. Two minutes later the train jerks into motion with a tremendous boom and I wonder if the engineer is some class of greenhorn because that was the roughest start I've experienced in a while. Pretty soon I'm crossing the St. Lawrence river and on the mainline eastbound.

Later in the day at the Joffre yard outside of Quebec City the train stops for awhile and I see two other riders with a dog get in a well about 15 cars down from me. Refugees from the viking festival perhaps. By now it's pretty hot outside and I'm really glad for the shade I have under my pig. The suspicion that the engineer is inexperienced has been confirmed (in my opinion anyway) by the amount of slack-action, I'm only 20 or so cars from the units and it's bad. So I can't imagine what it must be like at the end of the train. I hope he doesn't bust a knuckle and break the train apart...

The heat is making me somewhat sleepy so I try to get a nap on but this proves difficult due to rough track. From where I'm hanging out, the wheels of the train are only about six inches away and when looking at them through a cutout in the wall of the car I can see that the car is not tracking straight at all and the wheel flanges are being slammed into the railheads on both sides as the car jostles back and forth between the rails. It seems somewhat violent and throws up plenty of sparks, but I guess I'm only mildly concerned...

The farmland of upper Quebec is getting repetetive so I settle down to read for the next few hundred miles. I'm reading "Police State America" which is conversely an account of transgressions on civil liberties in the US, and a discourse on the conequences thereof. After that I pick up "Black Hawk Down" (Mark Bowden) but now I'm in New Brunswick and my attention goes to the scenery instead. It is quite beautiful here, almost all deciduous forest over tall rolling hills with lots of water about. Cricket had told me about a series of trestles that thread the CN rails through a small valley in NB and just after hitting the golden hour the terrain opens up to a small town nestled in the bottom of the valley.

Soon the train is upon the main trestle and it is rather impressive. The trestle spans the entire town, going directly above it at a height of about 5-6 stories tall. The view from up here is unreal,the town looks like pictures I have seen of model railroads with painted in sunsets and static plastic people on their way along the streets to meticulously modeled houses. In the waning sunlight of the real world it looks like a Bierstadt painting in color and composition, but is idyllic as Arcadia...

Looking down over the side of the car I realize that the speed of the train is completely blurring the ties on the trestle, thus making it appear as though the rails are floating in thin air. I duck back down under the trailer to look out the bottom of the car and discover that this will probably be the closest I'll ever come to a magic carpet ride. Sitting on the edge of the platform down in my bucket I assume the lotus and pretend to be in charge of this conveyance. It's a wonderful moment of just letting everything go, enjoying the moment, and realizing who I am.

"Natures first green is gold, Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower; But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf,
So Eden sank to grief.
So dawn goes down today, Nothing gold can stay..."


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