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The Overland Tales: Wanderlust, Steam & Transcendental IDGAF

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When the Union Pacific Big Boy locomotive #4014 returned to steam, Robert John Davis made a pilgrimage of a lifetime to see it on it's home turf in Utah and Wyoming. Along the way he found fellowship, sunny days, good food and drink. 68 page ebook PDF.

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  • DOWNLOAD THAT BOOKS INTO AVAILABLE FORMAT (2019 Update) ......................................................................................................................... ......................................................................................................................... Download Full PDF EBOOK here { http://bit.ly/2m6jJ5M } ......................................................................................................................... Download Full EPUB Ebook here { http://bit.ly/2m6jJ5M } ......................................................................................................................... Download Full doc Ebook here { http://bit.ly/2m6jJ5M } ......................................................................................................................... Download PDF EBOOK here { http://bit.ly/2m6jJ5M } ......................................................................................................................... Download EPUB Ebook here { http://bit.ly/2m6jJ5M } ......................................................................................................................... Download doc Ebook here { http://bit.ly/2m6jJ5M } ......................................................................................................................... ......................................................................................................................... ................................................................................................................................... eBook is an electronic version of a traditional print book that can be read by using a personal computer or by using an eBook reader. (An eBook reader can be a software application for use on a computer such as Microsoft's free Reader application, or a book-sized computer that is used solely as a reading device such as Nuvomedia's Rocket eBook.) Users can purchase an eBook on diskette or CD, but the most popular method of getting an eBook is to purchase a downloadable file of the eBook (or other reading material) from a Web site (such as Barnes and Noble) to be read from the user's computer or reading device. Generally, an eBook can be downloaded in five minutes or less ......................................................................................................................... .............. Browse by Genre Available eBooks .............................................................................................................................. Art, Biography, Business, Chick Lit, Children's, Christian, Classics, Comics, Contemporary, Cookbooks, Manga, Memoir, Music, Mystery, Non Fiction, Paranormal, Philosophy, Poetry, Psychology, Religion, Romance, Science, Science Fiction, Self Help, Suspense, Spirituality, Sports, Thriller, Travel, Young Adult, Crime, Ebooks, Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, History, Horror, Humor And Comedy, ......................................................................................................................... ......................................................................................................................... .....BEST SELLER FOR EBOOK RECOMMEND............................................................. ......................................................................................................................... Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth,-- The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company,-- Call Sign Chaos: Learning to Lead,-- StrengthsFinder 2.0,-- Stillness Is the Key,-- She Said: Breaking the Sexual Harassment Story That Helped Ignite a Movement,-- Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones,-- Everything Is Figureoutable,-- What It Takes: Lessons in the Pursuit of Excellence,-- Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Teach Their Kids About Money That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not!,-- The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition: A Proven Plan for Financial Fitness,-- Shut Up and Listen!: Hard Business Truths that Will Help You Succeed, ......................................................................................................................... .........................................................................................................................
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The Overland Tales: Wanderlust, Steam & Transcendental IDGAF

  1. 1. The Overland Tales Wanderlust, Steam & Transcendental IDGAF words and images by Robert John Davis
  2. 2. The Overland Tales: Wanderlust, Steam Trains & Transcendental IDGAF Created for my own amusement. And yours. Robert John Davis rjd@robertjohndavis.com October 2019 Version 1.1 All rights reserved. Content may not be reused without permission. Online version available at www.robertjohndavis.com
  3. 3. Dedicated to Patricia and Ben for your tolerance and support. I love you both. And with thanks to Jimmy and Mike for all of the adventures over the decades.
  4. 4. Prologue I’ve contained my wanderlust. More accurately, I have compartmentalized the desire to roam into small three or four day bursts. Often with family. Occasionally with friends. Rarely on my own. Between these condensed pockets of freedom, I run the course of daily life, making notes and charting the next ramble. On good nights I dream in the voice of Kuralt, narrating nocturnal visions worthy of Steinbeck and Kerouac. On the bad ones? I lay restless in the glow of my iPhone, obsessing over satellite images of the back roads and rusty rails awaiting me. Presented here are vignettes of one such indulgence. In early May 2019 my passions for railroading, history and roadside culture collided in the great American west as I bore witness to the return of the grandest steam locomotive ever built: Union Pacific Railroad #4014, one of the legendary “Big Boys.” The restoration was born from the railroad’s desire to celebrate — in the biggest of ways — the 150th anniversary of driving the Golden Spike to celebrate completion of the transcontinental railroad. One can read more about the motivation and mechanics behind the project on the pages of TRAINS magazine. There’s no need to cover that here. I have something a bit more personal share. Oh, yes, there is some adult language peppered throughout. Sensitive readers should approach each sentence with fear and trepidation as to what I may say next. Just like in conversation, which in many ways is exactly what this is. — Rob
  5. 5. Chapter 1: A Sort of Homecoming
  6. 6. Flaps extended. Wheels down. I land with my secret intact. Someday, the right moment for contact may come. For now, I slip between bodies in the airport, wondering if any share my DNA. Given my druthers one genetic match would be walking at my side: my son. I am here to see the return of Big Boy steam locomotive #4014, a blueprint of which has hung in his room since he was three. Pictures of him in front of one adorn our living room. We’d often talk about seeing a Big Boy run, but we never thought it possible without a lottery windfall. The days ahead will realize an adventure I’ve long dreamed of sharing with him, but thanks to school calendars and commitments that don’t revolve around steam trains, I am alone. For now. May 9, 2019: A Sort of Homecoming The scenic spectacle on approach to Salt Lake City International Airport humbles even the most narcissistic heart. Passengers on the right stare at reach-out-and-touch-me peaks, still frosted with snow on this early May afternoon. Those on the left gaze upon the endless horizon of high desert fading away behind ridges surrounding the Great Salt Lake basin. The rest crane their necks in middle seats looking for a glimpse of something. Anything. Only the pilots are fortunate enough to see the entire expanse. I’m thinking of another pilot: my father, a man I never met. He lived here in the Wasatch foothills raising a family oblivious to my existence. I look out the window doubtless that below relatives are going about daily routines, unaware an unknown half- sibling, uncle or cousin glides above them.
  7. 7. Chapter 2: Brothers and Sisters from Other Mothers
  8. 8. Like me, Dave has compartmentalized his wanderlust, but when he roams, the man roams. He’s everywhere. We regularly find ourselves breaking bread in beer joints around America; each an unplanned moment when our paths cross. On this occasion, among the thousands who have gathered to see the spectacle of the Big Boy, Dave and Matt are in the middle of a two week coast-to-coast drive photographing over a dozen different steam locomotives and visiting countless local brewpubs. Dave is a pop-up party ready to happen. Tonight, he has orchestrated an assemblage around a huge timber table at Ogden’s UTOG brewery. Jim and Kate Wrinn are already there with the TRAINS magazine crew. Pulling up stools, we get right into the flow. Each round brings more friends, friends of friends and a few introverted observers on the periphery of the conversation comforted to be among those who don’t care that they — as Dave likes to say — “have a touch of the trains.” Most have spent the last week photographing the Big Boy’s maiden trip from Cheyenne, Wyoming to Ogden. I order the brewer’s bratwurst. The beer pours. The tallest of tales from the journey grow higher. The beer pours again. I am trying each brew. The Porter is right on target for a chilly spring evening. After a few rounds I start thinking about the name UTOG. May 9, 2019: Brothers and Sisters from Other Mothers The legion of railroad enthusiasts pervades societies around the globe, wherever flanged wheels rolled upon steel rails firing the wanderlust dreams of the populous. Tonight, thanks to the presence of Big Boy #4014, it seems we are all in Ogden, Utah. Well, almost. I am still on my way. Knowing good beer lies ahead, I decided to sample the local ales with imprudence rather than a sip or two before driving back to the hotel. So, I need a ride. My friends Dave and Matt have road-tripped out from Pennsylvania and by happenstance are around the corner, headed up to Ogden. I fold myself into fleshy origami wedged behind Dave’s backseat, bent between camera gear, suitcases, and a collection of exotic microbrews gathered along the journey. Utah traffic is unexpectedly Jersey-bad, and the quick hop up to Ogden turns into a stop-and-go slog. That’s OK by me. I have a front-row seat to the Dave & Matt show: an extempore display of sarcasm, pop-culture references and finely tuned profanity of such caliber that I regret not livestreaming it. Forty-five minutes of nonstop banter shifting effortlessly between base observations worthy of Beavis & Butthead and classic guy humor stamped with the whiskey-breath elegance of Martin & Lewis entertains more than any Netflix-and- chill evening could. Minus the chill.
  9. 9. Many of us who have worked in the New York metropolitan area know UTOG as the name of an executive car service. As far as the brewery’s monicker is concerned, I am guessing UTah OGden. I can’t resist a quick Google to see if “utog” is an actual word. It is. In Cebuano, utog means “erection.” I chuckle, but choose not to share this revelation with mixed company at the table. I make a note to myself that if I am ever sipping gin in at a Bisaya-speaking pub in the southern Phillipines, I’ll be careful about mentioning how I like to have a big UTOG for the ride home from Newark airport or talking about that time in Utah when I sat in a brewery with 20 friends comparing our UTOGs. Amidst the revelry, our waitress approaches me. She caught my eye about 25-feet ago and is now face-to- belly with me. She looks up. She seems uneasy. Maybe even pissed. “I have bad news.” My mind swirls. Is she my half-sister? Is the jig up? Have I been found out? And then it comes to me. The worst possible thing she could say… the one announcement to sour the best sour ale… “You’re out of bratwurst, aren’t you?” She relaxes a bit. “It’s not that tragic.” Excelsior!
  10. 10. The waitress is still talking. Mouth moving. Nothing heard. I’m lost in beer-hazed visions of coriander and caraway laden pork. She repeats herself until I lock back in. Apparently, I have committed the offense of standing up with a loaded pint glass in my hand. Generally, I find the ability to stand through an entire beer session to be an admired skill. I explain this. The waitress is not amused. Her stern gaze stays focused on me. No laugh. No slight crinkle of her crow’s feet giving away a suppressed reaction. This must be a serious violation. I am concerned. I don’t want to do anything that would put a damper on the evening. “What can I do to make this situation better?” “Sit down. Just sit down, and don’t do it again.” She orders. I comply. As the waitress walks away, I turn to Dave. “At least it wasn’t the bratwurst.” I lift my left leg to adjust my ass-on-stool ratio, a voice cuts through the din. “Sit down!” “Yes, ma’am.” Within moments, she’s back. No police, so I must have properly atoned for my standing-with-beer sin. She sets a plate on the table. Displayed in front of me is a perfectly golden-browned tube steak. I swallow a few utog/UTOG one-liners and take a bite. It’s awesome, but there will be no standing ovation.
  11. 11. Chapter 3: A Golden Friday
  12. 12. a rented Ford Expedition with walk-away insurance coverage, a few bottles of water, and no idea where the hell I am going. Bring. It. On. Railroads exit Salt Lake City at points all around the compass dial, quite an engineering feat given the wall of mountains that hems in the city to the east and the 1,700 square mile lake lapping against the city’s west side. A mental roll of the dice finds me driving west parallel to the former Western Pacific “Feather River Route” from Salt Lake City to Oakland, California. I’m just looking for a train. Any train will do. I’ll settle for a full mile of municipal waste cars as long as the lighting is good. And it is good. So much so, that I decide to drive as far west as needed to find a train to chase back east. Mind you, I have no idea if such a train is running today. Interstate 80 more or less follows the old WP across the Great Salt Lake and into the high desert. And I do mean “across” the lake. Mile after mile of the roadway and the railway are built upon man-made causeways. The lake is high this morning and I find it more than a little unsettling to be driving with nothing but water along both shoulders of the road and a good 50 feet of lake between me and the eastbound lanes. May 10, 2019: A Golden Friday The faithful and the curious are gathering at the Golden Spike National Historical Park in Promontory Summit, Utah this morning to watch replicas of 1860’s steam locomotives reenact the moment the Golden Spike was driven and iron rails bound the nation. Many friends will be there. I will not, having turned down a ticket in exchange for a day with a guy I don’t get to spend much quality time with: me. And that guy wants to chase some trains. Once a simple pleasure, the art of chasing trains by car intent on finding optimal places to photograph them, has become a technological shitshow. It’s quite common to see my peers set out for the day with a scanner radio in the car, another on the hip, and external antennas stuck to the roof (all to track railroad employee communications about train movements); two full digital SLR cameras with batteries, lenses, and SD cards; a video device of some type with its own accoutrements; tripods for each camera; GPS unit; mobile phone, wi-fi hub; maps; and a tangle of power chargers to keep it all humming. Oh, right. And a drone. Gotta have a drone in 2019. It all makes me want to grab my cameras and leave the rest to fate. That’s what today is all about: fate. I’ve got
  13. 13. Train chasing requires patience and a bit of gut instinct. An hour into my pursuit near the exit for Aragonite, I get the urge to explore local roads that follow the tracks just a little bit closer than the Interstate. I feel like something is coming. Intuition? Luck? Fate? Whatever you ascribe it to, in a few miles I see that a lineside signal is lit red. On this single-track railroad that should mean just one thing: a train is approaching from the opposite direction. And it is. I’m not the first to detour into Aragonite. A group of settlers once followed a California Trail short cut through here. Their leader, George Donner, was trying to beat the coming winter weather. I just want to beat the train to a decent photo spot. I’m hoping for better luck than Mr. Donner and company had. I nose the Expedition onto the dirt shoulder and leap out - camera in hand - amidst my own cloud of dust to capture a BNSF freight train speeding east. Shutter, click. Shutter, click. Wave to the crew. The chase is on.
  14. 14. Chapter 4: Rolling the Bones in Rush Valley
  15. 15. Pulling up to the tracks near a grain unloading facility, we see a dozen or so buffs are already set up: an odd site for a weekday morning, especially one where most of the railfan world is gathered on the other side of the lake to celebrate the driving of the Golden Spike. At first glance, it’s not a great spot for a picture but we don’t have much time to look for alternatives. The three of us spread out to pick different angles and lighting. Almost all Union Pacific diesels are painted in DuPont 88-1743, a rich canary color the railroad calls Armour Yellow. As the train noses into the “s” curve ahead of us, the morning sun reflects off a much brighter of shade of yellow on the lead locomotive. And it seems to be surrounded by green. OMG. It’s a heritage unit. #1995 the Chicago & North Western heritage unit. Depending upon how severe your case of “the trains” is, seeing a heritage unit is kinda neat or it’s a utog-inducing moment of a lifetime. As machinery goes, there’s nothing special about them; they are just run of the mill locomotives. The difference — the only difference — is that heritage units are painted in the colors of railroads that are long gone. Almost all the major US railroads have them wandering their systems in regular service. Websites, chat boards and social media accounts track May 11, 2019: Rolling the Bones in Rush Valley The check-box version of yesterday sounds pretty sweet. After the Western Pacific chase, I wandered up the canyon of Spanish Fork along the former Denver & Rio Grande and then explored the old Los Angeles & Salt Lake mainline across the desert and through the hills on the twisting Sharp Subdivision. Saw trains on all of them. Got decent pictures. Had an animal style everything lunch at In-N-Out. A dream day in my book. With 14 hours and 558 miles of train chasing behind me, I made it back to the Salt Lake City airport in time to pick up Mike and Jimmy, two of my oldest friends from back in New Jersey. Rested and refreshed the next morning, we are looking forward to an afternoon in Ogden with the Big Boy. But first, a little train chasing around Salt Lake City. As is often the case, one good day of wandering just makes we want to roam more the next. I drive around the south shore to the late to show Mike and Jimmy a few industrial sites I discovered yesterday morning, hoping that we would happen upon a train. Rolling down I-80 near Tooele, we spot the unmistakeable mass of a double-stack train headed west on the Los Angeles & Salt Lake route. The grade coming up from lake-level into the Tooele Valley is steep enough to slow the train to a walking pace. We have time to get ahead of it.
  16. 16. their whereabouts. Railfans around North America call- out sick from work and flock along the right-of-way bent on capturing images worthy of instant social media sharing. Seeing a heritage unit, even if it is trailing a 5 locomotive consist, is a win. One on the lead of the train? That’s a jackpot. One on the lead on a sunny day? Nirvana. One on the lead on a sunny day rolling down the rails once owned by the railroad it is painted for? A blessing from the choo-choo gods. Today, we have to settle for nirvana as we are a long way from Chicago & North Western territory. As the train approaches, I click off a series of “OK” pictures and stand back to watch it pass. The time intervals between the banging of each truck on the grade crossing lengthen as the train slows. The grade through Tooele has brought the locomotives to their knees, traveling slightly slower than walking rate. I hope that it doesn’t stall, as my car and one of my friends are over on the other side of tracks. Just when I am sure a full stop is upon us, the last car creeps by. A going away shot? Sure. Through the viewfinder, I see the last car trundling off into the mountains. Ahead, the tracks make a left hand turn and disappear. I am spell bound. But wait? Now there’s a train to the right as well? No, that’s not another train, it is the front of our train curving back around. Cool.
  17. 17. There are so many alluring spots, one could be forgiven for hop-scotching along, shooting the train at every opportunity under the cloud-free sky. But we all know that finding a unique location will be more satisfying than any series of roadside shoot and runs. Since there are other folks chasing, a key strategy is to go far enough off the beaten path that a hoard of chasers won’t show up 30 seconds before the train to park pick-up trucks, tripods and plumber-crack asses in our shot. We now have a dilemma. Our goal is to be up north in Ogden this afternoon, but the heritage unit is leading its train south. What to do? There are many things that will prompt a man to change plans, or at least follow a flight of fancy. As a child, it may be the distraction of a butterfly in a field. Later in life, the slightest chance of sex. As a railfan? Heritage unit. Ogden can wait. We are well ahead of the train by the time we enter the beautiful Rush Valley.
  18. 18. I share this nugget of anxiety with Mike and Jimmy, barely finishing the sentence as a puff of dirt rises in the distance down Lofgreen Lane. The cloud moves towards us. I imagine an SUV armada full of safety vest clad railfans hell bent on beating the train in pursuit of a perfectly-lit soulless 3/4 wedge shot taken mere inches from the rails. I’ve always been an oracle of awfulized thoughts. It’s what I do. As the dust cloud approaches. I have visions of every way my fellow hobbyists could disrupt the tranquil scene before me. The source of the sandy veil appears as a pair of off-road buggies bounce into view. Whew! They zip by us, cross the tracks and continue up into the hills. Just as the dust settles, our train pops around the curve ahead, pixel after pixel record the scene and everyone gets exactly what they want. The temptation to keep chasing tugs at us, but we need to get up to Ogden, a destination now 100 miles further away than when we started this morning. We take our time wandering back to the highway, stopping to take pictures of the archetypical western scenes of cattle guards and large caliber riddled metal. And that’s how we wind up along Dog Hollow Creek, down a few miles of dirt road past a bullet-riddled car at a place the railroad calls “Lofgreen.” Settled 130 years ago by a man named Löfgren, his Nordic surname lost an umlaut and gained an extra “e” when the Los Angeles & Salt Lake railroad appropriated it to describe this bit of God’s beauty 5700 feet above sea level. A park service fire road provides an easy path up a trackside hill revealing a perch overlooking the southern rim of Rush Valley. We pick our spots. Mine is already inhabited by hundreds of fire ants frantically running around doing fire ant things. They don’t seem interested in my boots. That’s a positive. Needless to say, I’ve chosen to stand as we wait. Before us lays a 270 degree vista of snow-capped peaks and high desert hills. The tracks swing in from the left, straightening a bit down the grade through Lofgreen before settling into a lazy horseshoe and a series of shallow “s” curves dodging scrub-speckled foothills. The only thing that could spoil our view would be those latecomers pulling up next to the tracks in a veil of dust while we stand above with no recourse.
  19. 19. Chapter 5: The Last, Last of the Giants
  20. 20. Next to the lot, a small modern building sported a station sign for “Riverside,” the name given to these several acres of flat land between the Rutland Railroad tracks and Connecticut River. Beyond lay the promised land of steam. Of all the steam traction engines, locomotive and other machines of yore, two were “mine”: the magnificently designed Nickel Plate Road #759 (the first big locomotive I ever saw under steam) and Union Pacific #4012, one of the giant Big Boys. Both were located in the far back corner of the site, so our visits began with a brisk walk past all the displays to begin with the best and the biggest. We’d see the rest later. #4012 was much too big for Steamtown to operate, or to even be pushed onto the turntable and displayed on one of the radial tracks where most of the locomotives were spending their retirement. Thus, by need more than choice, the Big Boy sat on a separate track next to the main. The whole scenario was an elephant-on-a-stool trick, as the siding and the ground under it provided very little support for the giant locomotive. Steamtown did not have the funding required to keep all their displays cleaned and painted, and eventually a very tattered #4012 sank into the mud, partially derailed. But none of that mattered to me. I was standing next to a Big Boy. May 11, 2019: The Last, Last of the Giants My dreams of seeing a Big Boy in operation go back almost 50 years when I first encountered #4012, then part of the Steamtown U.S.A. museum near Bellows Falls, VT. “Museum” is a generous word to describe Steamtown in the 1970’s. It wasn’t much more than a gravel and dirt expanse filled by 50+ inoperable steam- powered machines, a few small buildings and a no-frills “engine house” where a handful of locomotives were kept in working order for the daily excursion trains. It wasn’t much, but it was paradise — my paradise. I’m not sure my mother saw it that way, but she provided plenty of time for me to wander amongst the relics. And for that I am grateful. Trips to Steamtown from our lake cottage in New Hampshire were highlights of summer for me. I anticipated every curve of US Route 5, peering ahead for the two small wooden signs that marked the turn-off for Steamtown Road. It wasn’t much of a road, dropping downhill from the highway, through a metal gate, across the Green Mountain Railway tracks past a toy-like water tower and into a very rustic parking lot. First impressions were not Steamtown’s forte.
  21. 21. The appeal of Big Boy never waned. In my tween years, mom would drop me off at Steamtown in the morning, visit the leather outlet or other shops downriver in Brattleboro, and pick me up at closing time. My routine stayed true: pay the entry admission and head straight back to where lonely #4012 sat in the Vermont mud. Around 1985, #4012 and most of the Steamtown collection left Vermont for a new home in Scranton, Pennsylvania. A year later, I also moved there, as a freshman at the University of Scranton. The Big Boy was displayed directly behind the school just a 90 second walk from my dorm. Eventually, the collection became the nucleus of the Steamtown National Historic Site in downtown Scranton. #4012 was moved to a prominent place by the parking lot. The movie car tradition faded away, but at least kids no longer had to wander past everything else to see the biggest of the big. It was some twenty some years ago that Mike, Jimmy and I made a promise while standing in front of #4012 that if someone ever restored one of these beasts to operation we would be there to see it run. And here we are now on a beautiful Ogden afternoon. All three of us face to face with a hot, living Big Boy. The reborn last, last of the giants. Across the yellow pebble midway sat elderly, wooden Boston & Maine combination car #959: The Movie Car. The end once used for passenger seating was now a humble waiting area of rough bench seats. Through the interior door, a seated “theater” was built in the former baggage compartment. Where the newspapers, milk cans and steamer trunks of New England once rode; now tourists gathered to be entertained by 16mm films projected on an old-school screen positioned in front of folding chairs. The air lay heavy with dank railroad musk built up over 80-years of service. #959 was no Lowe’s movie palace, but it was where The Last of the Giants was screened day in and day out. Ah, The Last of the Giants. Director Allan Krieg’s 1959 opus on the waning years of the Big Boys in regular service. The film, sponsored by the Union Pacific itself, was the only way a ’70’s kid could see a Big Boy under steam. And did I see it. Over and over. My poor mother would await the final scene of a freight train rolling off into a Wyoming sunset as the melancholy uncredited narrator cautions that, “The rumble and roar of Big Bioy will seem still to echo from the high country of southern Wyoming.” As she rose from her metal chair, the inevitable question would come. “Can we watch it again, mom?”
  22. 22. Chapter 6: Roadhouse of My Dreams
  23. 23. Closing time comes early for most eateries in town except - as she explains - for “the sports bar up the road.” The clerk points out the hotel door, “you can see it from here, it’s just next to the Holiday Inn Express Sign.” She’s confident proximity makes everything OK. Whatever. We’re hungry, we need a drink and it’s open. Win. In a town ready to close, I fear “the sports bar up the road” must be one those faux-hometown chains where awkwardly framed baseball jerseys from the local high school hang right next to a shitastic reproduction of Babe Ruth’s bat and the ubiquitous headshot of Mickey Mantle complete with inkjet autograph. Yes, that headshot. The one where even in two-dimensional black and white, he looks like he’d drink you under the table, bang your girlfriend, wreck your car, charge it all to your credit card and still hit a dinger the next day. Asterisk, my ass, Mr. Mantle. We head out guided by our own north star: the Holiday Inn Express sign. The blue and green behemoth looms over our destination; its cool-tone aura overpowered in the pub parking lot by the pink neon haze cast from Romantix, the adult shop where illuminated signs tout a variety of erotic goods and pleasing lotions. The back of the giant lot vibrates with the low rumble of idling long- distance trucks parked for the night. Any connection between the two is not explored, at least by us. May 11, 2019: Roadhouse Of My Dreams The lights of Evanston spread out ahead of us. With a population of just over 12,000 the city boasts a thriving retail scene with liquor, gun and fireworks purveyors lining the exit ramps off Interstate 80. Some shops appear to sell all three. That’s a party for another night. We keep our wallets in our pockets and head directly to the Hampton Inn, a clean and predictable property set on a rise overlooking the Bear River Valley. Arriving Saturday evening at eight o’clock == after a 500+mile day exploring the railroads of Utah and getting up close to Big Boy #4012 has left us all beat — Jimmy listens to his internal jet-lagged clock and retires for the night; Mike and I clean up and go looking for food and something to wash down the dust of the day. We hail from New Jersey, the nexus of all-night diners but I travel quite a bit and I know better than to expect 24-hour souvlaki when on the road. As I approach the hotel front desk clerk for some advice on where to eat, I realize I am probably the 200th train nut she’s had to deal with on this sold-out night. I don’t have to ask the question. “It’s pretty late for dinner,” she chides. Apparently getting seated after eight-thirty on a Saturday in Evanston is not an easy task - even with the town packed by the rolling hoard following the Big Boy.
  24. 24. It turns out the “sports bar” has a name: The Lincoln Highway Tavern. A former gas station, the area under the pump canopy has been walled in as the “Pink Elephant” smoking area, while the restaurant itself is housed inside the original main building. It’s funky cool and our only alternative to hotel room whiskey from the gun/fireworks/ liquor store. Upon opening the door I feel a tingle in my boots, a legitimate twinkle in my weary toes. This is no faux “sports bar.” The Evanston High School Red Devils’ team moms were not the interior designers. No faux memorabilia or cheap pictures of dead Yankees line the walls. The Lincoln Highway Tavern is clearly a roadhouse of the finest order. My kind of place. A haven for honest food and drink, where you don’t have to whisper a pre- apology for the dirty joke you are about to tell. A diamond in the rough? No. It is a shining GIA 4C’s top level bar-light-reflecting rock of Americana. Love at first sight? You bet. And that’s not even the half of it.
  25. 25. The LHT is not a large establishment, showing all it has to offer once you come through the door. A cooler case full of future bad ideas glows along the left wall. Dramatically lit tiers of liquor illuminate the bar back. To the right, a tiny kitchen hides behind a pony wall with all the modesty of Eve’s leaf. In between high-tops, low-tops and bar-tops offer space to take a load off from a dy on the blacktop. And it’s dark, roadhouse dark. If you walk into the Lincoln Highway Tavern during mid-day with your sunglasses on, you may think you’ve gone blind. There’s plenty of light to imbibe by, but not enough that curious cats can watch you do it. The way it should be. At this point, you may expect me to tell you about our greasy meal washed down with pints of PBR and a sleeve of Rolaids to ward off any gastric night tremors. I’d expect that, too, but we’d both be wrong. Very wrong. The secrets of the Lincoln Highway Tavern begin to reveal themselves as Mike and I order our first round. The waitress, a pretty young lady sporting a ponytail and sweatshirt, reels off a list of whiskey options assembled with the variety and good taste I’d expect to find in a Manhattan social club. And she offers a double for just $1 more. Mike goes for a single malt while I begin with a regional whiskey and a pint of Killer Bees, a smooth honey amber ale from up in Jackson.
  26. 26. The menu surprises as much as the whiskey lineup. Emeril Lagasse might call the food core roadhouse staples “kicked up a notch.” I’d say more like eight notches, which happens to mean full-throttle on a diesel locomotive. This is full-throttle food of the best kind. My wings come out fried to crispy perfection: no batter. I’d like to think that any fowl miscreant who’d dare coat wings with an unholy runny paste wouldn’t last long in the LHT. These are wings done right with a very tasty cayenne sauce. If you have a friend who thinks Hooters is the epitome of hot poultry appendages, do us all a favor and straighten them out quickly. I know a place in Evanston… 'The “sports” part of the LHT comes from the good viewing angles of TVs placed around the bar. I am sure this a great bar for watching a game, but fortunately for us no one is playing anything at the moment. The bartender, a bearded gent half my age, turns on an old black and white movie at least three times his age. And it features a train. He’s seen it before, so he talks Mike and I through the plot up until now. This is a full service pub of the highest order. My main course - a hot iron skillet of chili, cheese and America - ups the ante over the wings with Spinal Tap- level flavor: an 11 on a scale of 1 to 10. I take each bite slowly. I don’t want this end. We enjoy another round or two, talking to the bartender across the room and watching TV. I am happy. Truly happy. I have had the pleasure of eating in great restaurants around the world, while also racking up an impressive roster of pubs. I generally prefer the latter.
  27. 27. Tonight, the Lincoln Highway Tavern joins Man of Kent (Hoosic, NY) and the Blackbird (Earl's Court, London) as temples of beer and food that I will always make time for. We leave the LHT knowing there has to be more to the story. The liquor and food selection scream good taste, much more than one would expect from a gas station- turned-pub that is literally the only choice for food past eight-thirty. The mystery was solved a few weeks later after I emailed LHT owner Mick K. in an effort to figure out just what magic he had cast over the humble former service station. Mick, a Wyoming native, bought the place in 2014 and immediately began transforming the five decade old building. The Lincoln Highway Tavern debuted on January 27, 2015. It’s a cool story about something very dear to me - preserving roadside architecture - but the real twist is what Mick did before the LHT. He’s a certified 2nd level sommelier through the Court of Master Sommeliers and has been recognized for his wine lists by "The Wine Spectator.” Mick managed beverages at two major Las Vegas hotels, having the honor of working directly for Chefs Mark Miller at Coyote Cafe and Jean Joho at the Eiffel Tower Restaurant. That explains a lot. The curated selection of beers on tap and the bottles behind the bar is no accident; they are the result of a true professional. The food, an elevation of the roadhouse genre that would make Guy Fieri have redefine his schtick as Diners, Drive-Ins, Dives and the fucking Lincoln Highway Tavern, finds it’s roots from years of experience in great restaurants with master chefs. It makes all the sense in the world. The next time you are driving Interstate 80 through Evanston, Wyoming - heck, the next time you are within a 150 miles of Evanston - check out the sports bar by the Holiday Inn Express sign. If we’re both lucky, I’ll see you there
  28. 28. Chapter 7: Transcendental IDGAF
  29. 29. Transcendental IDGAF comes with permission to excel, fuck up or check out as I see fit. If I capture some neat scenes of the train, maybe I will share them. If I don’t? So what? I haven’t always been this way. I used to be a competitive train chaser who tried to get as many shots as possible no matter what. Weather, traffic and other railfans all were just obstacles to my success. Looking back, I see how ridiculous it was to have a hobby under a halo of pressure from things I could not control. And honestly, many times the pictures could have been better. Aggro train chasing means you are always looking for quick’n’easy shots right off the highway shoulder or at a road crossing where you can speed on to the next spot the moment your shutter clicks. The percipience honed chasing trains for over 40 years revealed a simple lesson: to get the good stuff, you need to forgo the mediocre. The soul of a good photograph is rarely found when one is out trying to get as many images as possible. Thus, here we are at Castle Rock, Utah among at least 200 other folks patiently waiting for the show. I figure the train is still a good 30 minutes away. I imagine that somewhere down Echo Canyon scenes from Death Race 3000 are being recreated at an alarming rate. I don’t care. Transcendental IDGAF. May 12, 2019: Transcendental IDGAF Mike, Jimmy and I developed a no-fucks-given plan for chasing the steam train long before we left New Jersey. We knew we would be side by side with thousands of people doing the same thing and among the throng would be plenty of aggressive, stressed-out train buffs driving like demons to get to their next photo spot. The Utah State Police put out notices earlier in the week reminding would-be chasers that risky driving in pursuit of a photograph will not be tolerated. The train is scheduled stop every hour or so to the check the locomotive. Our plan? Endeavor to find one spot between each stop. Anything more will be a bonus. Anything less is OK, too. I have no problem honoring our chase plans. A couple of days ago, somewhere out along the Western Pacific, I made the full transition into what the acronym generation might call transcendental IDGAF. Anything I want to do is on the table (within moral, legal and financial boundaries, of course) and it’s all good. Train chasing helps me access that level of freedom. Some have yoga or meditation; I have a full tank of gas and the itch to keep moving along the tracks. The trains give me focus, while the happenstance of when and where they might be going brings reason to visit destinations I’d otherwise miss.
  30. 30. It’s evident we are standing with people who really want to be here. Just within earshot are photographers from Germany, France, Canada, China, England and Australia. All of us jostling for space along a cliff overlooking Echo Creek, the original 1869 transcontinental railroad alignment and the 1916 low- grade line blasted through the far hillside. The latter is where the train will be. And it must be coming soon, as I can see the parade of chasers coming up Interstate 80. They’re racing off the exit ramp, jamming their cars into any empty space, running to the cliff, red faced and exhausted. There’s no room for them. Should have been here earlier. The train eases through the tunnels. It’s a scene I never thought I would see in person. Jimmy , Mike and I savor it along with a few other like-minded observers. Before the train is out of sight, the rest of the gaggle is back on the road to chase. It’s less than 20 miles to Evanston and the end of the day’s run. Got to get that maximum number of shots in. We watch as the train disappears around a hillside on its way to the summit at Wahsatch. Mission accomplished. Transcendental IDGAF.
  31. 31. Chapter 8: The Western Stars
  32. 32. We spent the afternoon scouting photo locations for the next day’s run. With frequent freight trains, there was plenty to keep our cameras busy. We didn’t realize while we were out cavorting along the old Lincoln Highway, kicking up dust on side roads which we later learned included the original 1869 right-of-way of the UP, that a crisis was gripping the Evanston restaurant scene. Our crew wanted steaks, so went to a steakhouse. The line of would-be patrons stretched out the door. An electric tension crackled through the hungry masses, most of whom were local families out to celebrate mama. It became clear after a few minutes that there were plenty of empty tables but no one was being seated. That’s when I went to chat with the maitre’d. I didn’t see her tears until we were face to face. They had no food to serve. Not to dusty train buffs. Not to the nonna’s and abuelita’s whose early bird celebrations were turning into a late evening debacle. Not to anyone. As walked back through the line, I heard grumblings about other restaurants running out of essential items. May 12, 2019: The Western Stars (Are Shining Bright Again) Evanston is almost out of food. I am not kidding. There are so many train buffs in town that we have eaten it all including - as one teary maitre’d told me - the stash being held for Mothers’ Day reservations this evening. I can’t say I am surprised. We waited for over an hour at lunch to get a table at Jody’s Diner. The train was parked for the rest of the day so the chasers swarmed Jody’s. While in line for the mens room, two gents in front of me were trying to decompress from their stressful chase this morning. The pressure, as one put it, had never been worse. I’m sorry? The pressure of what? Railfanning is not a competitive sport. There’s no winner. All that matters is if you partake, you enjoy. I wanted to console these gents. To open their minds. To allow them to enjoy their hobby. To let them know that the scanners on their belts, the thousands of dollars of camera equipment around their necks and their new Big Boy t-shirts were all meant to be accoutrements of pleasure. But I didn’t. I stood in line content to just be at ease. Transcendental IDGAF.
  33. 33. Even if Sam I Am liked green eggs and ham, he would have been SOL in Evanston. He wouldn’t have known where to turn, unless he had a taste for the wee dram. Then he’d have known what we knew: in a town without food, the best place is the one with the widest selection of golden brown libations. The Lincoln Highway Tavern was just up the road. And what do you know? They still had food. And drinks. And no heavy scenes. And it had already been on my favorite roadhouse list for 23 hours. Going back was a no- brainer. A delicious no-brainer after which we decided to take a spin by the tracks just to see what was up. And so here we are standing by the Evanston roundhouse museum along the UP freight yard. It’s well past nine o’clock, and the buffs are still at it. The railroad kindly tied down the train next to a parking lot. An impromptu night photo session has broken out with sleeping #4014 and #844, the true western stars. A cadre of fans have kindly arranged their vehicles to illuminate the locomotives with their headlights. A blend of mercury vapor and sulfur street lights fill in the gaps. Consistent color temperatures? Who needs them? I’ve spent hundreds of dollars to photograph steam locomotives under professional lighting, and this freebie isn’t too shabby. Before our new friends wear out their car batteries, I decide that I am done with the cameras for the night. I need to take a long look with my own eyes. The sky above Evanston shines with the same stars seen by the laborers who laid out this railroad a 150 years ago. Stars are equalizers. No matter how important we perceive ourselves to be, one look up on a clear western night lays bare the folly of our self-delusion. It’s time to head back to the hotel. We have an early start. There are still a dozen or so photographers out here. Hopefully, these guys had dinner already. If not…
  34. 34. Chapter 9: Cuppy Draw
  35. 35. In the rush to complete the railroad, the Union Pacific engineering team not only looked for the easiest path through Uinta County, but the least expensive. Rather than dealing with Aspen Mountain head-on, the railroad wound around its south slope. Once the railroad was established as a success, the UP began working on a realignment which would tunnel through Aspen Mountain in 1901, eliminating both the original roundabout route and - by default - the town of Piedmont. Have you ever watched the TV series “Hell on Wheels?” That was Piedmont; a true railroad boom town. That 1901 alignment is the one we have been staring at intently this morning, waiting for steam. I’m still staring. The train is a bit late and the number of chasers has been increasing steadily over the past few minutes. There’s plenty of room for cars, tripods and drone launches. I am in my spot, listening to the wind and - wait - a train! I can hear the low rumble of diesel locomotives growling up the Aspen grade. That’s not a good sign. Given that this ramble to Ogden and back is the Big Boy’s break-in run, I’ve had the quiet worry that at some point we might see #4014 relieved of duty. It’s a comfort to see a freight train roll into view. May 13, 2019: Cuppy Draw Yesterday afternoon Jimmy suggested we check out a location on the western slope of Aspen Mountain where we could photograph the steam train today. He found a spot on Google Maps that seemed to have promise and looked to be a bit of a dead-end for the chase: one way in, one way out. You could see the train there, but probably not get ahead of it before the next scheduled stop at Granger. That fit our game plan perfectly: try for one good spot rather than racing like idiots to get mediocre photos at multiple locations. That’s why we are standing in the glorious Monday sunshine on a hill just west of Cuppy Draw overlooking the Union Pacific mainline. We’re parked with some of the TRAINS magazine crew and a few other folks along a goat trail. Judging by the charred wood, beer cans and animal pellets it seemed to be a multi-species party spot. And it is perfectly lit for the train. The railroad along Stowe Creek does not follow the original 1860’s alignment. That route, the historic right of way of the transcontinental railroad, lays behind us to the south.
  36. 36. I expect the steam train to closely follow the freight and by the light haze of smoke over the hill by Sheep Draw it seems I am right. As the magnificent train comes into view, I am burning pixels, swapping camera bodies and lenses like an old west gunfighter with six-shooters on each hip. It’s a visual joy but not much of an aural experience. There’s enough horsepower between #4014, the second steam locomotive #844 and the diesel added for support that it would take 4x more train to make them work. It doesn’t matter. I am enthralled. This is what we came for, and it’s happening right in front of me. On cue, before the middle of the train has passed by our perch, the railfan motorcade starts down the goat path ready to race back to the highway. I am not moving. The track is arrow straight through Cuppy Draw. My eyes are fixed on the spectacle before me and I am watching it until the last possible glimpse. It’s going to be awhile. I am not worried about getting to the next photo location. I am not worried about anything.
  37. 37. Chapter 10: Intersects
  38. 38. A scattering of houses and other buildings dot the area where state highway 412, Leroy Road and the railroad converge. One could be forgiven for driving by, thinking “that’s neat” and continuing on their way. Fortunately, we stopped. Twice. Wandering around Carter, framing its forlorn elegance for pixel-by-pixel study, I kept thinking “why?” Why has this town almost vanished? And why was it ever built in the first place? I had to find out. I don’t proclaim to be historian extraordinaire of Carter. In fact, there's much of the story I have yet unravel. But I know now why it came to be. The story begins just to the east with the town of Granger, Immigrants and emigrants have been drawn westward across the United States from the nation’s earliest days, when Ohio was still hard along the left edge of colonists’ maps. As these explorers dispersed throughout the continent, trails - many times already blazed by Native Americans - evolved into wagon roads, railroads, highways and Interstates. The greatest of these transcontinental transportation pathways converged in southwestern Wyoming upon Granger, a lonely flat spot of semi-arid scrub in Sweetwater County, just east of the Uinta County Line. One hundred and forty-or-so souls call the town home today. May 13, 2019: Intersects I am drawn to deserted places. That doesn’t necessarily mean abandoned. Growing up at the Jersey Shore, I spent more winter afternoons on the beaches and boardwalks than summer mornings in the surf. The off- season experience was much more personal. Stormy days were my favorite: the darker the gloom, the more cutting the wind, the harsher the sheets rain, the more likely I could be found huddled in a seaside coffee shop reveling in moments that most people turned away from. I’d sometimes bring friends along, but there weren’t many other teenage dreamers in town who could be lured out by really bad weather. So, it should come as no surprise that I was instantly drawn to the — almost — ghost town of Carter, Wyoming. Population 10. A handful of sun-bleached weathered buildings battered by wind — those Wyoming gales that swirl up your pant leg, chill your balls blue and exit out of your collar blowing icy songs of cowboy legends in your ear — lining the busy Union Pacific railroad mainline speak to different eras of Carter’s promise. Yes, there’s the expected classic false front building, but next to it is a brick affair emblazoned with a painting of the American flag.
  39. 39. The cluster of one-story houses tucked along the junction with the Union Pacific Railroad’s “Overland Route” and “Oregon Short Line” is easy to miss. Granger, by all appearances, is just another small town overpowered by the endless landscape of the American West. And like so many western towns, the highway goes around it. That wasn’t always the case. Unassuming and humble Granger is one of the most important transportation centers in American history. Don’t remember it from history class? Well, the original name of the settlement was Ham’s Forks. Still doesn’t ring a bell? Same here. Sturdy wagon wheels of settlers headed west along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails; hooves of the Pony Express; and Overland Mail stagecoaches all dug into the dirt and mud of Sweetwater and Uinta counties. Granger grew around the fork where the California Trail and Oregon Trail split. Upon arriving in town, the masses of the western migration had to make a decision: head left towards California or right to the Pacific Northwest. As Indian wars and weather conditions pushed other trails out of favor, stagecoach traffic through Granger increased and the Pony Express joined the flow on what became known as the Overland Trail mail route. Granger was the first major intersection of the far west. Western stage trails generally followed river valleys, climbing mountain ranges only when absolutely required. Logically, as the transcontinental railroad forged west through Wyoming, survey teams closely followed the alignment of known trails. Thus, in 1868 Granger - a hub of stagecoach roads - became a stop on the Union Pacific Railroad. Three years later the Pony Express was out of business and the stagecoach parade was fading into the history books. Without a hint of irony, the Union Pacific dubbed their new rail line The Overland Route, taking the name of the trail and the stage line it put out of business. Since trails followed easier routes, and railroads later followed those trails, it makes sense that America’s early highway system did the same. In 1913 the Lincoln Highway came through Granger on its way across America connecting New York City with San Francisco. Later, US Route 30 was established through the area, turning north to roughly parallel to the Oregon Short Line railroad, followed a few decades later by Interstate 80 built along the historic routes of the Lincoln Highway, Union Pacific mainline and Mormon Trail. Though bypassed by the new highways, the busy Union Pacific junction maintains the status of Granger a railroad town. But what about Carter?
  40. 40. In 1868 the Union Pacific survey team chose a route that exited Granger west along the stage trail to the confluence of Black’s Fork and Muddy Creek. There, the trail bent south along the fork to the bustling trading post at Fort Bridger, while the railroad continued west along the creek. Intentionally or not, the railroad screwed For Bridger and gave rise to a town that would otherwise never be: Carter. The railroad’s decision didn’t sit well with Judge William A. Carter, a sutler who sold provisions at Fort Bridger (and believed to have become the first millionaire of Wyoming), who apparently had the prescience to realize the railroad’s chosen route was an economic liability for the trading post. A short road was built connecting Fort Bridger to the Union Pacific, where a new station was established as a transfer point to serve the bypassed communities. The lonely spot where ruts met rails was named in honor of Judge Carter. Despite the road, the importance of Fort Bridger waned along with the stagecoach while the village of Carter hung on as a small railroad town buoyed by the drillings of the Wyoming-Illinois Oil & Shale Company. A lot went down in Carter over the next 150 years. That’s a story I am still learning. But at least I now know why the town was built.
  41. 41. Chapter 11: The Lincoln Highway
  42. 42. And they call Route 66 the “Mother Road?” Bullshit. The Lincoln Highway was truly transcontinental tying Times Square, New York with Lincoln Park, San Francisco via 3,398 continuous miles. Route 66, at a paltry 2,448  miles, started in Chicago and ended in Santa Monica. Even the Union Pacific and Central Pacific, which built the first “transcontinental” railroad, really only connected Omaha and California. The Lincoln? Coast to coast, baby. It never had a number. Didn’t need it. Still doesn’t, though it did earn a nickname: “The Main Street  Across  America.” All the Lincoln ever required was a modest red, white and blue marker with an “L.” Some were formal, some were homemade; painted on rocks, poles and fences. My own experiences with the Lincoln Highway began back east when I was old enough to start noticing these humble, faded guideposts. As a Jersey boy, I found myself on state Route 27 quite a bit. This stretch of the original Lincoln regularly brought my family to one of our favorite restaurants. May 13, 2019: The Lincoln Highway Let’s get something on the table… Route 66 is carved into the asphalt heart of America. Its iconic badge — symbolizing the innate promise of freedom central to the lure of highway culture — has been whored out by every trinket factory, t-shirt printer and repop sign maker east of the Yangtze River. Long the totem of Route 66 mythology, it has become a marker in our psyche triggering faded Ektachrome visions of an America that never really existed, but one we long to return to. I am not immune. Route 66 excites me. I love it. But it ain’t no Lincoln Highway. The Lincoln - fathered mostly from existing roads in the east and miles of illegitimate horse trails and wagon ruts across the west - predates Route 66 by 13 years. The Lincoln Highway was the route for early automobile adventures. Primitive cars riding on wooden tires, driven by goggled men and women donned with leather accoutrements, fired the imagination of a country that always looked west for a challenge. Going on a cross- country road trip was serious business. The Lincoln Highway gave no quarter when it opened in 1913. In some ways, it still doesn’t.
  43. 43. The highway can still get you to that old joint, but the board of health long ago decreed that you won’t be eating anything upon your arrival. Across my home state, Pennsylvania, Ohio and bits of Illinois the original Lincoln is an old friend of mine. You have to know where to look, as many miles of the original highway are under Route 30 through these parts, while significant sections are now side roads. Finding them used to be a difficult task. If you were lucky, you’d find an old marker or a new historic Lincoln Highway sign. I always looked for hints in street names: “Old Highway Ln.” or “Lincoln St.” Today, thanks to the Lincoln Highway Association, you can give up on your own sleuthing and find your way along all the historic alignments using the map at: https://www.lincolnhighwayassoc.org/map/ Out here in western Wyoming, sections of the original Lincoln are unpaved, though properly graded and maintained in a manner the pioneer motorists could only dream of. East of Evanston, the highway plays tag with the current and historic Union Pacific rights-of-way. South of Leroy, one can even turn off the original Lincoln Highway and on to the railroad’s 1869 alignment. And if you do that, Leroy Road awaits.
  44. 44. Chapter 12: Leroy Road
  45. 45. May 13, 2019: Leroy Road Mike, Jimmy and I have been friends for many decades. Our mutual interest in railroading, winter sports and infinite other things have bound us together. As our passions change and our lives evolve, we always find common ground. Sure, we can expertly push each others buttons, but we’re old enough to know only to use those skills for maximum comedic effect. If that’s not maturity, I don’t know what is. So, how is it that a friendship bound on slopes and in rail yards all over North America, had one of its most memorable moments on a lonely dirt path in God’s country? I can tell you this; we didn’t see it coming. Well, that’s not entirely true. First, let’s talk about maps. Look up LeRoy, Wyoming on any map service and you will find Leroy Road, a train chaser’s dream: 10 miles of nirvana following the Union Pacific Railroad and Muddy Creek through the kind of expansive western views that have been burned into the American psyche. Our friends who had followed the Big Boy on its westbound run raved about the photographic opportunities presented along Leroy Road.
  46. 46. We found that Leroy Road truly is a pathway to railroad photography heaven, just one with many obstructions that make it somewhat less than a ribbon of contiguous fun. Ranch boundaries and gates have a limiting effect, but so do slides and washouts. 10 miles of expectant joy condensed into about 2.5 miles of real pretty fast. About those washouts. Back east, I am used to driving across minor areas on where water has eaten away a few inches of a dirt road. Rarely are these spots more than a few inches wide and 6 inches deep. Anything bigger than that is usually a no-go as the eastern climate tends to keep the ground soggy. Out west, washouts are a different story - at least when the land around them is dry and solid. The bigger your tire diameter, the less minor washouts matter. Unfortunately, our vehicle had wheels barely big enough to step across the sidewalk cracks that broke mothers’ backs in school yard games. Despite that we made out way across a few dry ditches on Leroy Road, albeit slowly. Given the presence of the steam train, even at times when it wasn’t running there were rail buffs out scouting locations and photographing freight trains. All weekend we had seen a gent in a pick- up truck camper doing just that. The difference being while we were out carousing at the Lincoln Highway Tavern, this guy was parked along a desolate section of railroad in position for his first shot the next morning. Now he was in my rearview mirror and clearly wants to go faster than we are. I pulled over at the next wide spot, which happened to be right at a washout which was easily 10-24 inches wide and 5 feet deep. CamperMan pulled right past us and crossed the gap like Wilt Chamberlin stepping over a single LEGO. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeet! If he can do it… I looked for my inner Bo and Luke Duke. All I found was a guy whose greatest automotive feat to date was burning donut tracks into local parking lots with a ’72 Dodge Dart Swinger. A badass, all original, 318 powered penis extension. That Dart was like a Boeing 757: way more power than it needed, but one fun machine.
  47. 47. There were some metal and wood scraps lying around which I assumed must have been used as temporary bridges. I wasn’t too keen on that. Mike noted that the gap was significantly narrower in one area. All I had to do was drive across there. What happened on my way to the narrow section is debatable. The result is not. I managed to get one front wheel across while leaving the other hanging in the air. In the middle of nowhere. With no phone reception. And no other way out. I can imagine many folks in our position (like me twenty years ago before age, wisdom and therapy kicked in) freaking the fuck out. I think Mike and Jimmy were waiting for me to snap, but it wasn’t going to happen. What would have sent me into a tailspin in my twenties now just made the story all the better. Remember transcendental IDGAF? Try it over a washout with (almost) three wheels touching the ground. I am not bragging about this situation. It was stupid and avoidable. I own that. In fact, had it not all worked out OK I’d likely never share any of this story, But it turns out that a couple of great friends, a stack of rocks and some elbow grease pushing on the bumper can get you out of a tight jams you never should have gotten into in the first place. I don’t know how long it took before Jimmy had enough rocks and Mike had enough leverage to get the hanging wheel some traction. We took a break after popping it out, tired and dirty on the downhill side of an adrenaline burst. And then came CamperMan, returning — I suppose — after finding a washout even he wouldn’t try. His pick-up bounced across the gap that almost ate us, and with a tip of his hat he jostled his way south. I wonder if he knew what we’d been through. I bet he did. Fucker. Oh, and that picture at the top of the page? After our recovery, I drove back to where Leroy Road crosses the UP mainline. All this effort and we hadn’t seen a train. Not content to walk away empty handed, we parked along the tracks and took a nap until we heard the next westbound coming. It’s not an award-winner, but we got something for our troubles. Jimmy’s dad taught me long ago that as long as you come away with a story, everything is OK. I’ve lived by that though now I value coming away with your health, mind and body intact, plus the story. Regardless, we got a story on Leroy Road. A story we will tell for years to come. You think you’re sick of hearing it now? Just wait…
  48. 48. Epilogue
  49. 49. That was the week that was. I’m still processing the parts not stored on disk. The moments that I dream about. But as for the words and the images, this is all I can offer. I hope you have enjoyed this meager attempt to share my joy. - Rob

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