A cold sensation dribbled down my face in the darkest hours of night. I awoke, confused as to what gently touched my stubbles of facial hair. Rain dripped. It dropped from the abandoned overhang above my camp, slightly splashing me and my sleeping bag, as I lay there looking through the deep fog of chilling sky with my bag perched against the façade of a deep, red, brick factory.
It was 5 AM and the only trains I heard whistled and bled through the silence of my dreams. I sat up on my pad and wrestled into my bivy to avoid further rainfall while squinting through the tangled shadows of vines that shielded me like a womb by the dead train yard.
Moments later, I heard the thunderous slice of freight billow on the mainline. Her lights blinded me through the blurry mist and just like that, my CSX local from Hartford smoked on by me, all six empty gondolas, never stopping for clearance. In my muddled, depressed thought, I lay back down and drifted off to sleep again. I guess that meant another full day lurking in my invisible world in the ghetto of Hartford, avoiding stray needles and any other trouble while I waited for them to build the next northbound.
When I finally moved from my slumber, packing up my gear to hoof it down the tracks, the string on the far side of the yard caught my eye. I noticed it last night as I tagged a few cars, but now it looked longer. So I wandered across the series of slick tracks, slipping on ballast as I kept my head on a swivel for Amtrak and the CT Commuter trains.
When I reached the end of the string I saw a FRED and immediately smiled with a sigh of relief. But, with locked boxcars, empty lumber racks, gondos full of wet, stinky trash, it looked like I had nothing to ride, so I moseyed off back under the nearest bridge. I sat on a milk crate kicking the dirt up as I stared off down the line at the barely visible orange Genesee & Wyoming front engines that sat there idling. My eyes studied the consist of the train again, counting back from the front, until the rusty wall and leading edge of a grainer piqued my interest from afar. Hmmm….I thought, as I stared at it unscrupulously.
The grainer sat seven cars back from the front of the train and I hated the thought of riding that close to the engine, but I just wanted out of this wet wasteland. So I got off my ass and scuttled back on over to the train, walking the line until I reached the grainer. Rust coruscated from the insides of a double barrel shotgun and I couldn’t help but smirk at this opportunity as I had never ridden such a grainer before, only seeing clips in Hobo Shoestring’s wanderings.
My feet clung to the slick rungs as I looked down at the wheels through the suicide porch, snaking my way to a foxhole and cramming my pack into one of the barrels. I sat and waited patiently listing for the sweet sound of air. I watched the new crew drive to the front and almost instantly the bull paraded up and down the train, so departure was imminent. She aired up and her slow, ginger roll, turned into a stampede of clacking metal as she ripped outta the Connecticut Southern Yard to Springfield, MA.
The empty car violently rocked me back-and-forth wrenching me very much like a croc shakes its prey. As I stared out the eye of that double barreled shotgun, I thought of that night ride to Bellows Falls where my buddy woke me as we shook like ragdolls, turning back from a siding before WRJ in VT, as the only boxcar behind the engines. I blamed the intoxicating diesel fumes for knocking me out, but trains calmed me, and I could sleep on any of them, no matter how empty and violently they thrashed. This was not much different.
As she cruised on down the line, the autumn blurs no longer decorated the trees but speckled the forest floor in a deep bronze hue. Some chartreuse clusters of trees still lurked by the banks of the Connecticut River, but for the most part, I watched the remnants of fall fade to winter on this short ride to Springfield.
After evading railroad workers and police once I hopped off in the CSX Yard, now I wander the dark streets of downtown in search of refuge in the woods with fresh clothes and a full stomach.