Letchworth became my favorite hangout to disengage from work-related activities outside of the drop zone. Recently I found myself relaxing by the upper falls on more than one occasion, not just to hop passing trains (Although on this occasion train hopping Cheektowaga was in the near future), but to free myself from the stress of work and temporary settlement in WNY.
I set off for a two-day adventure adding another line to my rail riding experiences. These random bits of travel between work made me feel like a 40-miler, but nonetheless, the thrill and pure freedom of riding through the countryside brought smiles to my face. Aside from a hop-out in Flagstaff, where literally the train pulled up as I arrived at the C-C, this came as a close second for my quickest hop-outs, taking roughly 30-minutes.
I stood there mesmerized by the sheer girth of the trestle bridge, spanning across the Genesee River. My mind felt blank and free as the mist splashed my brow from the falls. In that split second I heard the faint screeching of wheels rolling across steel between the rapid thrashings of the waterfall and my heart began to race. I gave Kelly a quick hug and kiss and sped off, galloping up the rustic stone stairwell as I began my chase for freedom on the rails. The train crossed the trestle bridge, going northbound to the unknown. My heart thumped with adrenaline rushing through my veins as I matched up the units rolling by at a smooth 8-10 mph pace. I spotted a grainer with a porch a few units back, towards the end of the train, and made a run for it over the ballast. Carefully, I grabbed onto the ladder and threw myself up it as my feet ran with the beast. It screeched and squealed around the curves until straightening out on the mainline ready to roar to its blazing speed once over the bridge.
This added my first grainer to my train hopping experiences. I stashed my gear and myself in the fox-hole as we rolled through towns, fearing getting pulled off the train, or thrown in jail. With 3-hours of daylight left my eyes gazed out at the near panoramic view of the countryside. My pupils locked onto the greenest pastures with cattle grazing off in the distance. Corn husks sang as their leaves rustled in the wind. The clouds surrendered their puffy, white, cumulus texture to the beckoning, vibrant colors of the sunset as a montage of beauty enveloped the horizon.
The short journey to Cheektowaga made this one of my shorter train rides, but the pure splendor of nature’s majestic presence made every mile worth it. We slowed to a light roll as we entered the yard in Cheektowaga and I made a run for it in the bushes, hiding briefly until I walked in the shadows.
Strawn Avenue took me down a bicycle path parallel to the train yard and I spent much of my night listening on my scanner for night-bound trains going south, away from Canada. I lay under a bridge beneath the I-90 reading monikers from past train hoppers as I drifted away into the coolness of the night. A train with Auto-Racks strung together on the main line ready for departure, but my eyelids remained heavy and closed, drifting slowly to sleep.
I awoke at 2 AM and relocated to the freshly mowed field by the power-lines off of the I-90. By early morning the train departed without me on it and I decided to wander around the city. Dirt paths by the railroads led me to shade from the scorching humidity of the sun. I loitered at public parks indulging in some reading and stumbled upon the CSX yard, with minimal security, other than a tower, and a bull. Eager as I felt to catch out during daylight, little cover existed, and hopping a night-time train did not fit into my schedule as I worked the following day. All trains that stopped on the mainline in the CSX yard looked hot and may not have stopped for 4-8 hours for their next C-C, leaving me in NJ or further east, with little time to make it back to work.
So my adventure shortly came to an end, but I learned more about the yards from listening, and watching the operation unfold around me. Soon I will no longer be a greenhorn as I continue to gain more experience on the rails. I look forward to January 2017 when I plan to hop trains for 4-6 months after finishing my job in Hawaii as a parachute packer. If nothing else, when my season ends here in WNY, I can say I hopped out over the Letchworth trestle bridge before the state replaced it with the newer one in 2017. I rode in both directions from Cheektowaga to Binghamton for a piece of history most will never experience.