Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 6, August 1969
The street curved parallel to the bend of the tracks as the train line aimed north. It was here that Rosie pulled her dad’s car over to drop us off. Albert had cut it close when we met up, so our freight was already sitting there.
I stepped out and searched the string of boxcars for an open door. “There’s an empty one about a dozen cars back,” I said. Albert was already moving in that direction. “Stay close, Charlie. Thanks, Rosie. I’ll see you when I do.”
“Not if I see you first.”
Her smiling eyes reminded me that I should have kissed her. Damn!
We scrambled towards the open car, and just when we got there, the train started to inch forward. Albert threw his satchel in, grabbed the ledge at the bottom of the door, and swung himself aboard.
I tossed my duffel into the boxcar, bent down, and scooped Charlie into my arms. Walking next to the slow-moving train, I deposited her inside, and Albert pulled her back from the door.
The floor of the boxcar was almost at shoulder height because the ground began to slope away from the tracks. I placed my arms over the ledge, gripping with my elbows. As the train picked up speed, my legs were dangling below. I swung my left leg up onto the ledge and hooked my boot heel into the wood floor. Feeling the weight of my other leg hanging below, I tried to figure out how to gain leverage to propel myself into the rail car.
Albert solved the problem: He gripped my jeans at the knee with one hand and my shirt at the shoulder with the other. I flipped my other leg up and rolled into the car.
The train moved at a lazy pace until the outskirts of town and then picked up speed. As the wheels jumped from one rail to the next, their low-pitched click-click … click-click … click-click … produced a steady beat. The grinding roar of wheels on track and the rattling of the metal boxcar put the volume at rock-concert decibels.
I shouted to Albert, “North to Alaska, man. We’re on our way.”
“Yeah. The train shouldn’t stop before Dunsmuir. Should get there late afternoon.”
“Cool!” I gave him a thumbs up.
Saving our voices, we settled back for the ride. I watched parcels of flat Sacramento Valley farmland pass by while brushing my fingers through Charlie’s fur coat. A crop duster made a graceful swoop over a rice paddy.
I flashed back to a one-day job flagging for a dusting outfit. I’d stand at the opposite end of a field from another flagman. We’d wave our white flags high over our heads while the pilot raced towards us twenty or thirty feet above the ground—dropping seeds while deafening us with engine noise. We were warned to run like hell if the plane did anything unusual—which didn’t generate confidence.
That low plane buzzing at me was daring and dangerous work for pitiful wages—a bit of a rush, that’s for sure.
With too much time for thinking, I realized how little it would have taken to kiss Rosie’s inviting lips. And then, of course, I kept kicking myself for missing the opportunity. Seems I’m always pining over some chick—and here I go again, hopelessly falling for another skirt.
I told myself to snap out of it. Let it go, man. But I didn’t! That image of us in the barn kept popping up. I knew from experience that I hadn’t seen the end of it. I hoped that I haven’t seen the last of Rosie either.
After several hours, the terrain changed from flatland to hilly. After a few more, the train slowed and gradually came to a stop with a series of loud screeching sounds, followed by a few final “clunks” as our boxcar collided with its neighbors. We had arrived in Dunsmuir.
The silence that followed was remarkable.
We moved our baggage to the edge of the door and jumped down. I hoisted Charlie to the ground and threw my duffel over my shoulder, then hiked up an embankment to a street.
Albert looked at the street sign. “Hey, we’re on Sacramento Avenue! That’s Hal and Nancy's street.” Dunsmuir was tiny, but the houses weren’t in neat rows, and very few of the homes were numbered.
It took a while to find their house, which was set back from the road. It was a faded, tan Victorian with a covered porch on two sides. No one was home, so we stashed our gear behind a box spring leaning on the side porch and set out in search of food. A battered, old diner with a “CHINESE FOOD” sign offered some hope. With nothing else close by, we stepped inside.
The booths had those mini jukeboxes mounted on the wall above the tables. The chrome, maroon plastic, and glass machine displayed ten cards you could flip in a semicircle by grabbing a metal arm below. Each card listed a collection of songs on each side. You could pick one and punch in the letter-number combination to hear the music play.
I flipped through it, reading selections: Johnny Cash – Folsom Prison Blues: B5. Ray Charles – Ruby: A3. Elvis Presley – Heartbreak Hotel: D4. Bing Crosby – Hey Jude: B9.
“Albert, can you believe it? Guess who they have here singing ‘Hey Jude?’”
“The Beatles song?”
“I don’t know. Who?”
“You think it’s the same ‘Hey Jude’ the mop heads sing?”*
“How could that be? Let’s play it.”
I fooled around with the device, pushing the “B” button and the “9” button several times before realizing it didn’t work.
“Bummer. B9 is benign. This thing’s busted. It’s dead.”
“It’s disconnected. I haven’t seen one of these gadgets in years, now that I think about it.”
“Right. You used to see them in coffee shops and soda fountains all the time. It would have been a kick to hear Bing sing it—especially if it’s the same tune.”
Albert changed the subject. “Tomorrow, we need to hop off the train before we hit Portland.”
“The yardman in Davis told me they train the police dogs on the bums up there. I don’t want to be dinner for some chomping German shepherd!”
“For real? I’m with avoiding the Portland wildlife, Albert.”
“Great. We’ll jump off when it slows down coming into town and hitch to Seattle and then get a plane ticket to Alaska.”
* * * * *
We were waiting on the porch, harmonicas ready, when Nancy came up the walk.
She was serenaded with a heartfelt “Hog Fence” duet as she fell to one knee and gave Charlie a two-handed massage behind the ears. “Hog Fence” was a harmonica tune I composed, which had morphed into the theme song among our group. Albert had snuck up behind me in Aspen playing it and we plotted to do the same thing to Marvin up in Alaska.
“Hi, Charlie. Hey guys, what are you doing here?” She continued to rough up the fur around Charlie’s neck, much to my canine’s delight.
“Our train had a flat so we decided to move in,” I joked.
“You came here by train?”
“Yeah, we hopped a freight in Davis. We’re on our way to Alaska to help Crazy Marvin build his cabin in the wild.”
“Sounds wild all right. Come on in. Hal will be here soon. We were going to have dinner in this neat little restaurant in Mt. Shasta. You’ll dig it. They have yummy food.”
Nancy always fascinated me. It was like she was crackling with electricity. When she talked and moved around, it was with subtle, jerky motions—like in those Japanese monster movies, where the fake dinosaurs move in time-lapse frames.
Not that Nancy was like a monster. Just brimming with static energy that couldn’t be contained. I don't think other people noticed, but it caused me to wonder what power lurked beneath the surface.
I fed Charlie, and Hal arrived from the Lumber Mill to more “Hog Fence.” His Irish-setter-colored handlebar mustache and goatee glistened in the sunlight as his tall frame made it up the walk.
He showered, passed a joint, loaded us into his Jeep, and rattled off down the highway. We dined and chatted, sharing a jovial evening.
* * * * *
Morning light filled the living room. The house had a perfect view of the train yards down below. Hal said, “Just wait for a train to pull up, and you’ll have plenty of time to walk down and jump on board. It takes a while for them to maneuver additional engines into place for the steep climb.”
A few hours later, Hal came and stood next to me at the window. He eyed the tracks down below. “Train should be here before long.”
“Good place to watch out for it. Been nice seeing you two.”
“Nice to have visitors. So you hear anything from the draft board?”
As always, I felt a slight restriction in my chest and abdomen. “No, nothing yet. How about you?”
“Nope. Me neither. Hope I never do.”
“I hear that. At least more people are protesting. Maybe it’ll make a difference.”
“Time will tell, I guess.”
A freight finally arrived around two in the afternoon. We stepped onto the porch to say good-bye. Nancy pointed towards the box spring. “Hal, they could take that with them. It would make the ride more comfortable.”
“You’re right. We sure don’t need it.”
Hal tipped the box spring down, and Albert placed his satchel on top and hoisted one end. Nancy, Charlie, and I walked down to the tracks, with Hal and Albert toting the box spring behind us.
When our parade was close to the train, they set it down, but there were no open cars near where we were standing. “We’ll have to hike towards the rear of the train until we find one that’s empty,” Albert said.
Hal scratched his chin and looked at the long line of rail cars, “We’ll wait here and throw it in when you guys roll by.”
“Sounds good. Thanks for everything, guys.” I was anxious to find an open boxcar before the thing started to move again.
We took off towards the caboose end of the train. After hiking past thirty cars, we found two open ones next to each other. We boarded the front one, which was vacant except for a haphazard pile of wooden pallets stacked in the nose.
Ten minutes later, the train began to creak and bang and roll. Albert and I were standing on either side of the door with our heads out as we approached Nancy and Hal, who were holding that old box spring between them.
“Stay back, Charlie,” I cautioned. And, as always, she stood exactly where I pointed.
When we were almost abreast of our friends, they began to swing the box spring back and forth, and once our car was lined up with them, they heaved it in. Albert and I grabbed hold as the front end hit the floor of the car, and we dragged it the rest of the way inside.
Waving, we watched Hal and Nancy disappear out of sight.
To be continued ...
* Bing Crosby sang the Beatles’ hit “Hey Jude” in 1968 at the age of sixty-five.
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns