The Unexpected Train Ride

The Unexpected Train Ride

By Roger Heid

 

This little adventure took place in early spring of 1966. I was no longer a High School student. I had been working in the same town where the school was, for nigh 3 years, still commuting daily by train as I had done for the previous 12 years. But now, all of a sudden, a new twist entered the picture.

About 10 days prior, I had gotten my first car. It was a 1957 Opel Rekord. It ran, and I could afford it.

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She was beautiful. Her exterior was in remarkably good condition, except for the right front fender. It was quite wrinkled, and it rattled. In my opinion, this gave her a distinct character, befitting her age. I loved her from the bottom of my heart. She was mine.

Whether or not she would start seemingly depended on the outside temperature, the day of the week and the price of coffee beans on the futures market. Sometimes she would not shut off unless I violently slammed the hood shut. Sometimes, she was very temperamental. She would suddenly decide to quit running, just like a stubborn donkey. She just went dead. A little work under the hood, using my trusted rubber mallet, would usually revive her. I could never figure out just what exactly this rubber mallet achieved.  She was afflicted by a few more rather strange maladies that I managed to cure in short order, without breaking my humble piggy bank.

A far more pragmatic description of her would be that she was actually a piece of junk, but she parked extremely well. I still loved her, though. She was mine, you know. An inexplicable sense of loyalty and responsibility compelled me to take care of all her needs, no matter what.

Several trips to the junk yard and a little elbow grease resulted in her being reasonably reliable, at least in my judgment. I was convinced we could now explore the world, she and I together. That Sunday, I fueled her up and off we went, heading south, just her and me.

Near a small town, about 50-55 miles away from home, she suddenly let out a few ugly noises, accompanied by some ugly stench, and came to a stuttering halt. Suddenly, we were poor things, both of us. Lost in space! It was time to engage in some serious sulking. It never helped me before. It didn’t now, of course.

She wound up being towed to a service station in that small town. Paying the tow truck driver almost cleaned out the cash supply I had with me. I had just enough left to buy a hot dog at the Railroad Station Restaurant. I had told the gas station attendant, some pimple faced goober, that I would call the next day. I wasn’t sure he understood the meaning of my statement.

Now it was a matter to get back home. I should not have had that hot dog, because now I had only enough money left to make two local calls from a pay phone. The calls I needed to make, however, were long distance. Collect calling from a pay phone was not available. Talk about being stranded. The situation I found myself in was outright despicable. I was in a piss poor mood, to put it gently.

I thought about hitchhiking. Now, this was a Sunday in a small town. There was no traffic to speak of, except some dog chasing a cat. Walking to the nearest Interstate access was a menace as the temperature had dropped to a very uncomfortable level, plus it was raining cats and dogs, altogether a situation I was not dressed for.

After some grave pondering, I concluded that turning to the railroad for help was my only chance of survival. Maybe I could hitch a ride on the loco. I had succeed in the past, why not now?

The Station Master patiently listened to my dissertation, not interrupting me even once. The expression in his face made me understand how a rare tropical bug must feel being scrutinized under the microscope by some esoteric entomologist.

“I remember you. You’re the kid that was always looking for rides in steam locomotives. You grew up some, but I still recognize you. In two hours, there will be a train heading straight to your destination. The engineer is an old curmudgeon; he won’t let you on, and I can’t force him. I’ll stick you into the baggage car.”

At the time, I should have been highly surprised about his reaction. I could not recall ever having met this man before. It was entirely possible, though. In my quests hitching rides on locos, I never paid that much attention to the people I was dealing with. I had always focused a lot more on the locomotives at hand. I must have gained quite some notoriety during those days, so I now realized.

Anyway, the two hours spent waiting seemed more like two years; the ride in the baggage car was dark, bumpy, cold and utterly boring. But I got home all right. Once there, I sadly slipped into my bed. This had not been a very good day, plus I was so worried about my poor car.

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I wound up taking out a small bank loan which my employer, a real good guy, co-signed. She needed a new engine. The fender was also replaced. Afterwards, she and I turned out to be a proud couple. She served me well for quite some time to come. For the time being, my days on the railroad were over, so I thought. I was wrong.

Incidentally, it was a BR 38 that pulled my rescue train. Been there, done it. This time around, one of them bailed me out of a deep abyss.

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Nowadays, whenever I run my model BR 38, I sometimes re-live the moments of that dreadful day. I love my BR 38. I have a baggage car just like the one I was riding in. Thank God, I don’t fit into it.

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