Strange Cargo

Lessons from the Jack London Finishing School

Saturday, August 05, 2006

816 - End of the line


Awakened by a loud burst of white noise I look around to see that I'm in a yard of some size. Laying still in my sleeping bag I savor the moment of waking until I hear the crunch of boots on gravel, reminding me why I woke up in the first place. There are two voices approaching in the dark, the only visual cue I have of them is their spotlights bouncing around on the sides of the trains next to me. Bulls rolling the train on foot!? This is rather unusual.

There is no choice but to stay where I am, for even the rustling of my sleeping bag will give me away at this moment. As they walk by I can hear the guy to my left whistling a fast staccato tune to some obvious degree of merriment. A radio sparks to life and a voice says "Have you found those two,eh?", "No" is the reply. "Well hurry it up please!" comes through a scratch of static whine. "Jimmy's pissed eh?" says the whistler. "Eh." says number two. The men walk by, and as they do, twin beams illuminate the rear well of my car. I'm in the opposite end so they don't have a clear line of sight to me because of the wheels of the trailer. Moving on, number one resumes whistling, CN has happy workers...

Before long there is a volley of shrill barking echoing off the empties on the next track over and when I peek out from under my pig I can see that the two guys that got on in Joffre yard are getting yanked off the train. It's raining too. Damn.

After a while I figure out that I'm in the Gort Yard in Moncton,NS. The train works here for another 45 minutes before departing. The next time I wake it's to the sun climbing over the horizon while the train is slowly making its way into Truro. Realizing that there is only about an hour left of the journey I break out the stove and make some oatmeal and then a cup of tea before rolling up and preparing to detrain. Sitting on my pack watching the landscape fly by I'm suddenly hit by the unmistakable smell of ocean and the memories associated. A couple of minutes go by and then gradually through the trees, a view of the Bedford Basin in Halifax opens up. Soon the train is gliding along the shore with only a couple of feet of dirt and rock between the train and the water.

Before long the train is slowly rolling through the Rockingham yard in Halifax and I throw my pack and water off then squeeze myself out from under the pig which has been my home for the last 20 some hours. This yard is really small and is just a transit yard where westbound trains are built from strings of containers pushed out of the port facility nearby. There is a worker that saw me bailing off the train and he is joined by another one while I'm walking up towards them, away from the port. They say hello and welcome me to Halifax and wonder how far I have come.
"Prince Rupert" I reply and their laughter is deafening. This is kind of an awkward moment but after rephrasing my answer to indicate that I rode here from Montreal en route from Prince Rupert the laughter is replaced by a zillion questions, many of them about the railroad. After answering some of my questions, mainly how to get back out of the Rockingham Yard on a westbound they are off to tie down the train I rode in on. Before leaving I ask them if the bull is around and they just laugh, explaining that he is probably at Timmy Horton's with his buddies and usually never comes around until the evening departures start. The yard is littered with the empty shells of sea urchins and various other detritus from the sea, making me think of days past in my youth walking the Atlantic shore in Norway, another 4000 some miles further east. Too bad there's no tracks eastbound to take me away...

From maps that I memorized at Rod's house I know roughly where I am in relation to the city center. After leaving the workers I cut out of the yard by scrambling up an embankment and into the rear parking lot of a carpet store. It's about 9am but it's getting hot and I really want to get out of my long pants that I put on last night to ward off the chill after the sun went down. There is a small unlocked shed in one corner of the lot and upon opening it the only thing in there is a good size air compressor. After changing clothes in the compressor shed I'm on my way down the Bedford Highway and I can see a Timmy H. up ahead. This is no doubt the same place that the resident CN bull indulges in a coffee/sugar fix as it is almost directly across from the yard office. On approach I eyeball the TH dumpster but decide to let it be as there are two teenage girls in their worker-bee outfits standing in front of it smoking and talking animatedly. They don't even see me as I go in for a cup of coffee.


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