Trippin’ Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 7, August 1969
Sitting on the box spring, I surveyed our surroundings and came up with an idea.
As the train picked up speed, we dragged over two pallets and laid them end to end between the two open doors of the car. We stacked on another tier of pallets and then placed the box spring on top. I set my duffle bag at the head of our makeshift bed, and we stretched out in perfect comfort. Charlie made herself at home between our feet.
“This is the life!” I said, admiring the pristine forest as it passed by.
“We’re just getting started,” Albert said, pulling a joint from his shirt pocket. “Hal slipped me this just before we left.”
We smoked the “J” and settled back, enjoying the scenery. The train moved through the hills, never reaching the speeds we’d achieved in the flatlands. At one point, we applauded a series of scenic waterfalls with a string of exclamations! We had dubbed our engineer “Barney,” and occasionally we praised his performance: “Cool scene, Barney!” “Good job, Barney!”
After a few hours, the train pulled onto a siding and stopped in the woods. Then one of the train crew surprised us, walking past the open door. He stopped and stared at us reclining on the bed with Charlie lounging at our feet. He just shook his head and chuckled. “I don’t know. It looks pretty comfortable to me.”
As he continued his walk, Albert said, “He’s just checking the hot boxes as they wait for another train to pass.” Eventually, the other train rumbled by, and we began moving. We didn’t stop again until we came to a train yard outside Klamath Falls, Oregon. After not moving for twenty minutes, we began to get concerned.
Looking out, Albert said, “There are two refrigerator cars purring in front of ours, so Barney isn’t going to sit here too long.”
Meanwhile, it was getting dark, and I thought it would be prudent to be less visible. “There may be train inspectors coming around. Let’s put the box spring in the nose of the car and stack pallets in front of us as camouflage.” We set to work creating our hiding place and placed the pallets in uneven piles so it wouldn’t appear arranged.
When the task was complete, I said, “How about we catch some z’s?”
We settled down, out of sight on top of the box springs. I was glad we hid. Someone wandered by and shined a flashlight into the boxcar, sweeping the beam from one end to the other.
I was thankful Charlie wasn’t a growler. If I told her to “watch the truck” and someone approached, her throat would rumble and she’d show more teeth than you thought could fit in her mouth. But if I didn’t give her guard duty, she stayed as quiet as a mouse.
“Good thing we took precautions,” whispered Albert. “We might as well grab some shut-eye while we wait for the train to move.”
I was jolted out of a sound sleep by a loud clanking jerk of the train, followed a bit later by a gliding motion.
Albert sat up and said, “I told you we’d be moving soon.”
“Yeah, but Barney didn’t have to pop the clutch like that.”
“It was kind of a rough start. But so far he’s driven pretty good.”
We settled down, and I sank back into a deep slumber. That is, until the WHAM-CLUNK that violently threw me into the front wall of the boxcar—slamming Albert against my back.
“Shit! What the hell is going on?”
We untangled and stood up. I protested in an annoyed voice, “We should get our damn money back! I’m going to give Barney a piece of my mind. ” I walked over and peered out the door—but wasn’t prepared for what I saw. “Albert, look at this!”
Our train had been reduced to four boxcars, and they weren’t the same ones we started with. The refrigerator cars had disappeared. Albert leaned out to see what I was staring at. “Damn! They broke down our train!”
We looked out into the night. It was a vast, open space with a dozen parallel pairs of tracks set on a slight slope. The yard was lit by clusters of lights mounted on tall poles—the kind you see in a baseball stadium. The misty night gave everything an ominous glow.
A silent boxcar rolled past at a snail’s pace on one set of tracks.
Albert spoke with an air of wonderment. “This is a saucer yard. They disconnect one car at a time and let it drift downhill on different tracks to build new trains. We were floating along like that car.”
“Let’s get out of here. This train won’t be ready to roll for a long time.”
I nodded, and we retrieved our bags. Albert jumped down and I handed him Charlie. Then I hopped off after him. Now that we were outside, it was even more eerie. “Stay close, Charlie.”
We crossed a couple of tracks, and then Albert stopped me with his arm. While waiting, a silent boxcar glided by in slow motion—a mystic shadow sailing in the night. Then we crossed a few more sets of tracks.
“Hurry,” I warned, as we slipped in front of another soundless car, a tanker this time, that was starting towards us forty yards up the slope. We stopped to watch it drift by behind us in its strange, silent journey. Then we ran over several more sets of tracks until we reached the edge of the yard, climbed up an incline onto a paved road, and commenced walking north.
For two hours, we hiked along the deserted roadway carrying our gear, stopping a few times to rest. Heavier than my bag was the weight of Rosie’s image on my mind. What was it about that girl? How did she get so far under my skin. Like a persistent wood tick edging its way deep into my heart—the longing was beginning to fester.
When we approached a bridge, we decided to cross it, hoping to find the interstate highway. We needed a populated street to hitch out of here. The passage turned out to be an overpass above the northern end of the train yard—which was proving to be massive. The first morning light began to appear as we walked along the lengthy span. A bit winded, we paused to rest about a third of the way across and surveyed the scene below.
There were four long strings of train cars sitting side by side beneath us. As we watched, a pair of engines were jockeyed into place in front of the freight cars on the far left. We could also see a few open boxcars. “They’re hooking up that train for travel," Albert said. “Let’s get down there.”
I hoisted my duffel over my shoulder and we scurried back across the overpass, climbed down the slope, and boarded the train. Fifteen minutes later, we began to move.
We rode along in comfort, watching towns and thick forests drift by. Close to noon, Albert shouted, “Portland should be getting close. When the train slows down, we need to exit so we don’t become dog chow. I’ll jump off first, and you can throw me our stuff. Then you follow.”
I shouted back, “Sound’s good. How much longer do you think?”
With his thumbs up, he yelled, "Can’t be far.”
And he was right. I started to hear the squealing of brakes less than a half hour later, and the train began to slow down. We placed our gear in a ready position and waited for the train to decelerate to a safe speed. As we rolled into Portland, the train continued to brake.
With a “Here I go,” Albert leaped out and hit the ground running, almost losing his balance. The train was crawling along so it didn’t take much for him to catch up. I tossed him his satchel, which he dropped to the ground, opening his arms for my duffel. We repeated the process, and then I sat with my legs hanging out the door. I motioned for Charlie and lifted her. When Albert came within three feet, I tossed my thirty-pound fur-ball into his waiting arms. Perfect!
I jumped off, hitting the ground at a run. It was an exciting departure, but it couldn’t have gone smoother. We walked back to fetch our bags and crossed another set of tracks to a busy street.
I eyed the traffic. “All right. We did it. It’s thumbs up from here on.”
“Yep. That worked out well. I was thinking we should make a sign. I brought along a black marking pen but I need something to write on.”
“I bet we can get some cardboard at that shop down the street. We can also ask if this is a good place for a ride north.”
Albert returned with a cardboard box that he dismantled, then began printing ‘SEATTLE’ on it in big block letters. “We’re in luck! The guy told me this street hits the interstate about ten blocks up.”
Albert held the sign up in view of oncoming cars as we moved up the block towards the interstate. Having made the transition from bums to thumbs, we continued our northbound journey.
To be continued ...
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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