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The Overland Tales

Wanderlust, Steam & Transcendental IDGAF

words and images by Robert John Davis


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
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.
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
Chapter 1: A Sort of Homecoming
May 9, 2019: A Sort of Homecoming

The scenic spectacle on approach to Salt Lake City Flaps extended. Wheels down. I land with my secret
International Airport humbles even the most intact. Someday, the right moment for contact may
narcissistic heart. Passengers on the right stare at come. For now, I slip between bodies in the airport,
reach-out-and-touch-me peaks, still frosted with wondering if any share my DNA.

snow on this early May afternoon. Those on the left


gaze upon the endless horizon of high desert fading Given my druthers one genetic match would be
away behind ridges surrounding the Great Salt Lake walking at my side: my son. I am here to see the
basin. The rest crane their necks in middle seats return of Big Boy steam locomotive #4014, a
looking for a glimpse of something. Anything. Only blueprint of which has hung in his room since he was
the pilots are fortunate enough to see the entire three. Pictures of him in front of one adorn our living
expanse.
room. We’d often talk about seeing a Big Boy run, but
we never thought it possible without a lottery windfall.
I’m thinking of another pilot: my father, a man I never The days ahead will realize an adventure I’ve long
met. He lived here in the Wasatch foothills raising a dreamed of sharing with him, but thanks to school
family oblivious to my existence. I look out the calendars and commitments that don’t revolve
window doubtless that below relatives are going around steam trains, I am alone.

about daily routines, unaware an unknown half-


sibling, uncle or cousin glides above them.
For now.

Chapter 2: Brothers and Sisters from Other Mothers


May 9, 2019:
Brothers and Sisters from Other Mothers

The legion of railroad enthusiasts pervades societies Like me, Dave has compartmentalized his wanderlust, but
around the globe, wherever flanged wheels rolled upon when he roams, the man roams. He’s everywhere. We
steel rails firing the wanderlust dreams of the populous. regularly find ourselves breaking bread in beer joints
Tonight, thanks to the presence of Big Boy #4014, it around America; each an unplanned moment when our
seems we are all in Ogden, Utah. Well, almost. I am still paths cross. On this occasion, among the thousands who
on my way. Knowing good beer lies ahead, I decided to have gathered to see the spectacle of the Big Boy, Dave
sample the local ales with imprudence rather than a sip and Matt are in the middle of a two week coast-to-coast
or two before driving back to the hotel. So, I need a ride. drive photographing over a dozen different steam
My friends Dave and Matt have road-tripped out from locomotives and visiting countless local brewpubs.

Pennsylvania and by happenstance are around the


corner, headed up to Ogden. I fold myself into fleshy Dave is a pop-up party ready to happen. Tonight, he has
origami wedged behind Dave’s backseat, bent between orchestrated an assemblage around a huge timber table at
camera gear, suitcases, and a collection of exotic Ogden’s UTOG brewery. Jim and Kate Wrinn are already
microbrews gathered along the journey.
there with the TRAINS magazine crew. Pulling up stools,
we get right into the flow. Each round brings more friends,
Utah traffic is unexpectedly Jersey-bad, and the quick friends of friends and a few introverted observers on the
hop up to Ogden turns into a stop-and-go slog. That’s periphery of the conversation comforted to be among
OK by me. I have a front-row seat to the Dave & Matt those who don’t care that they — as Dave likes to say —
show: an extempore display of sarcasm, pop-culture “have a touch of the trains.” Most have spent the last
references and finely tuned profanity of such caliber that week photographing the Big Boy’s maiden trip from
I regret not livestreaming it. Forty-five minutes of Cheyenne, Wyoming to Ogden.

nonstop banter shifting effortlessly between base


observations worthy of Beavis & Butthead and classic I order the brewer’s bratwurst. The beer pours. The tallest
guy humor stamped with the whiskey-breath elegance of tales from the journey grow higher. The beer pours
of Martin & Lewis entertains more than any Netflix-and- again. I am trying each brew. The Porter is right on target
chill evening could.
for a chilly spring evening. After a few rounds I start
thinking about the name UTOG.
Minus the chill.

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!

The waitress is still talking. Mouth moving. Nothing heard. “Sit down. Just sit down, and don’t do it again.” She
I’m lost in beer-hazed visions of coriander and caraway orders. I comply. As the waitress walks away, I turn to
laden pork. She repeats herself until I lock back in.
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.
Apparently, I have committed the offense of standing up “Sit down!”

with a loaded pint glass in my hand. Generally, I find the


ability to stand through an entire beer session to be an “Yes, ma’am.”

admired skill. I explain this. The waitress is not amused.

Within moments, she’s back. No police, so I must have


Her stern gaze stays focused on me. No laugh. No slight properly atoned for my standing-with-beer sin. She sets a
crinkle of her crow’s feet giving away a suppressed plate on the table. Displayed in front of me is a perfectly
reaction. This must be a serious violation. I am golden-browned tube steak. I swallow a few utog/UTOG
concerned. I don’t want to do anything that would put a one-liners and take a bite.

damper on the evening. “What can I do to make this


situation better?”
It’s awesome, but there will be no standing ovation.

Chapter 3: A Golden Friday


May 10, 2019: A Golden Friday

The faithful and the curious are gathering at the Golden a rented Ford Expedition with walk-away insurance
Spike National Historical Park in Promontory Summit, coverage, a few bottles of water, and no idea where the
Utah this morning to watch replicas of 1860’s steam hell I am going.

locomotives reenact the moment the Golden Spike was


driven and iron rails bound the nation. Many friends will Bring. It. On.

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 Railroads exit Salt Lake City at points all around the
quality time with: me.
compass dial, quite an engineering feat given the wall of
mountains that hems in the city to the east and the 1,700
And that guy wants to chase some trains.
square mile lake lapping against the city’s west side. A
mental roll of the dice finds me driving west parallel to the
Once a simple pleasure, the art of chasing trains by car former Western Pacific “Feather River Route” from Salt
intent on finding optimal places to photograph them, has Lake City to Oakland, California. I’m just looking for a
become a technological shitshow. It’s quite common to train. Any train will do. I’ll settle for a full mile of municipal
see my peers set out for the day with a scanner radio in waste cars as long as the lighting is good. And it is good.
the car, another on the hip, and external antennas stuck So much so, that I decide to drive as far west as needed
to the roof (all to track railroad employee to find a train to chase back east. Mind you, I have no
communications about train movements); two full digital idea if such a train is running today.

SLR cameras with batteries, lenses, and SD cards; a


video device of some type with its own accoutrements; Interstate 80 more or less follows the old WP across the
tripods for each camera; GPS unit; mobile phone, wi-fi Great Salt Lake and into the high desert. And I do mean
hub; maps; and a tangle of power chargers to keep it all “across” the lake. Mile after mile of the roadway and the
humming. Oh, right. And a drone. Gotta have a drone in railway are built upon man-made causeways. The lake is
2019.
high this morning and I find it more than a little unsettling
to be driving with nothing but water along both shoulders
It all makes me want to grab my cameras and leave the of the road and a good 50 feet of lake between me and
rest to fate. That’s what today is all about: fate. I’ve got
the eastbound lanes.

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.
Chapter 4: Rolling the Bones in Rush Valley
May 11, 2019: Rolling the Bones in Rush Valley

The check-box version of yesterday sounds pretty Pulling up to the tracks near a grain unloading facility, we
sweet. After the Western Pacific chase, I wandered up see a dozen or so buffs are already set up: an odd site for
the canyon of Spanish Fork along the former Denver & a weekday morning, especially one where most of the
Rio Grande and then explored the old Los Angeles & railfan world is gathered on the other side of the lake to
Salt Lake mainline across the desert and through the celebrate the driving of the Golden Spike. At first glance,
hills on the twisting Sharp Subdivision. Saw trains on all it’s not a great spot for a picture but we don’t have much
of them. Got decent pictures. Had an animal style time to look for alternatives. The three of us spread out to
everything lunch at In-N-Out. A dream day in my book.
pick different angles and lighting.

With 14 hours and 558 miles of train chasing behind me, Almost all Union Pacific diesels are painted in DuPont
I made it back to the Salt Lake City airport in time to 88-1743, a rich canary color the railroad calls Armour
pick up Mike and Jimmy, two of my oldest friends from Yellow. As the train noses into the “s” curve ahead of us,
back in New Jersey. Rested and refreshed the next the morning sun reflects off a much brighter of shade of
morning, we are looking forward to an afternoon in yellow on the lead locomotive. And it seems to be
Ogden with the Big Boy. But first, a little train chasing surrounded by green. OMG. It’s a heritage unit. #1995 the
around Salt Lake City.
Chicago & North Western heritage unit.

As is often the case, one good day of wandering just Depending upon how severe your case of “the trains” is,
makes we want to roam more the next. I drive around seeing a heritage unit is kinda neat or it’s a utog-inducing
the south shore to the late to show Mike and Jimmy a moment of a lifetime. As machinery goes, there’s nothing
few industrial sites I discovered yesterday morning, special about them; they are just run of the mill
hoping that we would happen upon a train. Rolling down locomotives. The difference — the only difference — is
I-80 near Tooele, we spot the unmistakeable mass of a that heritage units are painted in the colors of railroads
double-stack train headed west on the Los Angeles & that are long gone. Almost all the major US railroads have
Salt Lake route. The grade coming up from lake-level them wandering their systems in regular service.
into the Tooele Valley is steep enough to slow the train Websites, chat boards and social media accounts track
to a walking pace. We have time to get ahead of it.
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.

We now have a dilemma. Our goal is to be up north in There are so many alluring spots, one could be forgiven
Ogden this afternoon, but the heritage unit is leading its for hop-scotching along, shooting the train at every
train south. What to do? There are many things that will opportunity under the cloud-free sky. But we all know that
prompt a man to change plans, or at least follow a flight finding a unique location will be more satisfying than any
of fancy. As a child, it may be the distraction of a series of roadside shoot and runs. Since there are other
butterfly in a field. Later in life, the slightest chance of folks chasing, a key strategy is to go far enough off the
sex. As a railfan? Heritage unit. Ogden can wait.
beaten path that a hoard of chasers won’t show up 30
seconds before the train to park pick-up trucks, tripods
We are well ahead of the train by the time we enter the and plumber-crack asses in our shot.

beautiful Rush Valley.


And that’s how we wind up along Dog Hollow Creek, I share this nugget of anxiety with Mike and Jimmy, barely
down a few miles of dirt road past a bullet-riddled car at finishing the sentence as a puff of dirt rises in the
a place the railroad calls “Lofgreen.” Settled 130 years distance down Lofgreen Lane. The cloud moves towards
ago by a man named Löfgren, his Nordic surname lost us. I imagine an SUV armada full of safety vest clad
an umlaut and gained an extra “e” when the Los Angeles railfans hell bent on beating the train in pursuit of a
& Salt Lake railroad appropriated it to describe this bit of perfectly-lit soulless 3/4 wedge shot taken mere inches
God’s beauty 5700 feet above sea level. A park service from the rails. I’ve always been an oracle of awfulized
fire road provides an easy path up a trackside hill thoughts. It’s what I do. As the dust cloud approaches. I
revealing a perch overlooking the southern rim of Rush have visions of every way my fellow hobbyists could
Valley. We pick our spots. Mine is already inhabited by disrupt the tranquil scene before me.

hundreds of fire ants frantically running around doing fire


ant things. They don’t seem interested in my boots. The source of the sandy veil appears as a pair of off-road
That’s a positive. Needless to say, I’ve chosen to stand buggies bounce into view. Whew! They zip by us, cross
as we wait.
the tracks and continue up into the hills. Just as the dust
settles, our train pops around the curve ahead, pixel after
Before us lays a 270 degree vista of snow-capped peaks pixel record the scene and everyone gets exactly what
and high desert hills. The tracks swing in from the left, they want.

straightening a bit down the grade through Lofgreen

before settling into a lazy horseshoe and a series of The temptation to keep chasing tugs at us, but we need
shallow “s” curves dodging scrub-speckled foothills. to get up to Ogden, a destination now 100 miles further
The only thing that could spoil our view would be those away than when we started this morning. We take our
latecomers pulling up next to the tracks in a veil of dust time wandering back to the highway, stopping to take
while we stand above with no recourse.
pictures of the archetypical western scenes of cattle
guards and large caliber riddled metal.
Chapter 5: The Last, Last of the Giants
May 11, 2019:
The Last, Last of the Giants

My dreams of seeing a Big Boy in operation go back Next to the lot, a small modern building sported a station
almost 50 years when I first encountered #4012, then sign for “Riverside,” the name given to these several
part of the Steamtown U.S.A. museum near Bellows acres of flat land between the Rutland Railroad tracks
Falls, VT. “Museum” is a generous word to describe and Connecticut River. Beyond lay the promised land of
Steamtown in the 1970’s. It wasn’t much more than a steam. Of all the steam traction engines, locomotive and
gravel and dirt expanse filled by 50+ inoperable steam- other machines of yore, two were “mine”: the
powered machines, a few small buildings and a no-frills magnificently designed Nickel Plate Road #759 (the first
“engine house” where a handful of locomotives were big locomotive I ever saw under steam) and Union Pacific
kept in working order for the daily excursion trains. It #4012, one of the giant Big Boys. Both were located in
wasn’t much, but it was paradise — my paradise. I’m the far back corner of the site, so our visits began with a
not sure my mother saw it that way, but she provided brisk walk past all the displays to begin with the best and
plenty of time for me to wander amongst the relics. And the biggest. We’d see the rest later.

for that I am grateful.

#4012 was much too big for Steamtown to operate, or to


Trips to Steamtown from our lake cottage in New even be pushed onto the turntable and displayed on one
Hampshire were highlights of summer for me. I of the radial tracks where most of the locomotives were
anticipated every curve of US Route 5, peering ahead spending their retirement. Thus, by need more than
for the two small wooden signs that marked the turn-off choice, the Big Boy sat on a separate track next to the
for Steamtown Road. It wasn’t much of a road, dropping main. The whole scenario was an elephant-on-a-stool
downhill from the highway, through a metal gate, across trick, as the siding and the ground under it provided very
the Green Mountain Railway tracks past a toy-like water little support for the giant locomotive. Steamtown did not
tower and into a very rustic parking lot. First impressions have the funding required to keep all their displays
were not Steamtown’s forte.
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.

Across the yellow pebble midway sat elderly, wooden The appeal of Big Boy never waned. In my tween years,
Boston & Maine combination car #959: The Movie Car. mom would drop me off at Steamtown in the morning,
The end once used for passenger seating was now a visit the leather outlet or other shops downriver in
humble waiting area of rough bench seats. Through the Brattleboro, and pick me up at closing time. My routine
interior door, a seated “theater” was built in the former stayed true: pay the entry admission and head straight
baggage compartment. Where the newspapers, milk back to where lonely #4012 sat in the Vermont mud.

cans and steamer trunks of New England once rode;


now tourists gathered to be entertained by 16mm films Around 1985, #4012 and most of the Steamtown
projected on an old-school screen positioned in front of collection left Vermont for a new home in Scranton,
folding chairs. The air lay heavy with dank railroad musk Pennsylvania. A year later, I also moved there, as a
built up over 80-years of service. #959 was no Lowe’s freshman at the University of Scranton. The Big Boy was
movie palace, but it was where The Last of the Giants displayed directly behind the school just a 90 second
was screened day in and day out.
walk from my dorm. Eventually, the collection became the
nucleus of the Steamtown National Historic Site in
Ah, The Last of the Giants. Director Allan Krieg’s 1959 downtown Scranton. #4012 was moved to a prominent
opus on the waning years of the Big Boys in regular place by the parking lot. The movie car tradition faded
service. The film, sponsored by the Union Pacific itself, away, but at least kids no longer had to wander past
was the only way a ’70’s kid could see a Big Boy under everything else to see the biggest of the big.

steam. And did I see it. Over and over. My poor mother
would await the final scene of a freight train rolling off It was some twenty some years ago that Mike, Jimmy
into a Wyoming sunset as the melancholy uncredited and I made a promise while standing in front of #4012
narrator cautions that, “The rumble and roar of Big Bioy that if someone ever restored one of these beasts to
will seem still to echo from the high country of southern operation we would be there to see it run. And here we
Wyoming.” As she rose from her metal chair, the are now on a beautiful Ogden afternoon. All three of us
inevitable question would come. “Can we watch it again, face to face with a hot, living Big Boy. The reborn last,
mom?” last of the giants.
Chapter 6: Roadhouse of My Dreams
May 11, 2019: Roadhouse Of My Dreams Closing time comes early for most eateries in town
except - as she explains - for “the sports bar up the
The lights of Evanston spread out ahead of us. With a road.” The clerk points out the hotel door, “you can see it
population of just over 12,000 the city boasts a thriving from here, it’s just next to the Holiday Inn Express Sign.”
retail scene with liquor, gun and fireworks purveyors She’s confident proximity makes everything OK.
lining the exit ramps off Interstate 80. Some shops Whatever. We’re hungry, we need a drink and it’s open.
appear to sell all three. That’s a party for another night. Win.

We keep our wallets in our pockets and head directly to


the Hampton Inn, a clean and predictable property set In a town ready to close, I fear “the sports bar up the
on a rise overlooking the Bear River Valley.
road” must be one those faux-hometown chains where
awkwardly framed baseball jerseys from the local high
Arriving Saturday evening at eight o’clock == after a school hang right next to a shitastic reproduction of Babe
500+mile day exploring the railroads of Utah and getting Ruth’s bat and the ubiquitous headshot of Mickey Mantle
up close to Big Boy #4012 has left us all beat — Jimmy complete with inkjet autograph. Yes, that headshot. The
listens to his internal jet-lagged clock and retires for the one where even in two-dimensional black and white, he
night; Mike and I clean up and go looking for food and looks like he’d drink you under the table, bang your
something to wash down the dust of the day.
girlfriend, wreck your car, charge it all to your credit card
and still hit a dinger the next day. Asterisk, my ass, Mr.
We hail from New Jersey, the nexus of all-night diners Mantle.

but I travel quite a bit and I know better than to expect


24-hour souvlaki when on the road. As I approach the We head out guided by our own north star: the Holiday
hotel front desk clerk for some advice on where to eat, I Inn Express sign. The blue and green behemoth looms
realize I am probably the 200th train nut she’s had to over our destination; its cool-tone aura overpowered in
deal with on this sold-out night. I don’t have to ask the the pub parking lot by the pink neon haze cast from
question. “It’s pretty late for dinner,” she chides. Romantix, the adult shop where illuminated signs tout a
Apparently getting seated after eight-thirty on a variety of erotic goods and pleasing lotions. The back of
Saturday in Evanston is not an easy task - even with the the giant lot vibrates with the low rumble of idling long-
town packed by the rolling hoard following the Big Boy.
distance trucks parked for the night. Any connection
between the two is not explored, at least by us.
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.
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.
The menu surprises as much as the whiskey lineup. favor and straighten them out quickly. I know a place in
Emeril Lagasse might call the food core roadhouse Evanston…

staples “kicked up a notch.” I’d say more like eight


notches, which happens to mean full-throttle on a diesel 'The “sports” part of the LHT comes from the good
locomotive. This is full-throttle food of the best kind. My viewing angles of TVs placed around the bar. I am sure
wings come out fried to crispy perfection: no batter. I’d this a great bar for watching a game, but fortunately for
like to think that any fowl miscreant who’d dare coat us no one is playing anything at the moment. The
wings with an unholy runny paste wouldn’t last long in bartender, a bearded gent half my age, turns on an old
the LHT. These are wings done right with a very tasty black and white movie at least three times his age. And
cayenne sauce. If you have a friend who thinks Hooters it features a train. He’s seen it before, so he talks Mike
is the epitome of hot poultry appendages, do us all a
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.
Tonight, the Lincoln Highway Tavern joins Man of Kent The curated selection of beers on tap and the bottles
(Hoosic, NY) and the Blackbird (Earl's Court, London) as behind the bar is no accident; they are the result of a
temples of beer and food that I will always make time for.
true professional. The food, an elevation of the
roadhouse genre that would make Guy Fieri have
We leave the LHT knowing there has to be more to the redefine his schtick as Diners, Drive-Ins, Dives and the
story. The liquor and food selection scream good taste, fucking Lincoln Highway Tavern, finds it’s roots from
much more than one would expect from a gas station- years of experience in great restaurants with master
turned-pub that is literally the only choice for food past chefs. It makes all the sense in the world.

eight-thirty. The mystery was solved a few weeks later


after I emailed LHT owner Mick K. in an effort to figure out The next time you are driving Interstate 80 through
just what magic he had cast over the humble former Evanston, Wyoming - heck, the next time you are within
service station.
a 150 miles of Evanston - check out the sports bar by
the Holiday Inn Express sign. If we’re both lucky, I’ll see
Mick, a Wyoming native, bought the place in 2014 and you there
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.
Chapter 7: Transcendental IDGAF
May 12, 2019: Transcendental IDGAF Transcendental IDGAF comes with permission to excel,
fuck up or check out as I see fit. If I capture some neat
Mike, Jimmy and I developed a no-fucks-given plan for scenes of the train, maybe I will share them. If I don’t?

chasing the steam train long before we left New Jersey.


We knew we would be side by side with thousands of So what?

people doing the same thing and among the throng


would be plenty of aggressive, stressed-out train buffs I haven’t always been this way. I used to be a competitive
driving like demons to get to their next photo spot. The train chaser who tried to get as many shots as possible
Utah State Police put out notices earlier in the week no matter what. Weather, traffic and other railfans all were
reminding would-be chasers that risky driving in pursuit just obstacles to my success. Looking back, I see how
of a photograph will not be tolerated. The train is ridiculous it was to have a hobby under a halo of pressure
scheduled stop every hour or so to the check the from things I could not control. And honestly, many times
locomotive. Our plan? Endeavor to find one spot the pictures could have been better. Aggro train chasing
between each stop. Anything more will be a bonus. means you are always looking for quick’n’easy shots right
Anything less is OK, too.
off the highway shoulder or at a road crossing where you
can speed on to the next spot the moment your shutter
I have no problem honoring our chase plans. A couple of clicks. The percipience honed chasing trains for over 40
days ago, somewhere out along the Western Pacific, I years revealed a simple lesson: to get the good stuff, you
made the full transition into what the acronym need to forgo the mediocre. The soul of a good
generation might call transcendental IDGAF. Anything I photograph is rarely found when one is out trying to get
want to do is on the table (within moral, legal and as many images as possible.

financial boundaries, of course) and it’s all good. Train


chasing helps me access that level of freedom. Some Thus, here we are at Castle Rock, Utah among at least
have yoga or meditation; I have a full tank of gas and the 200 other folks patiently waiting for the show. I figure the
itch to keep moving along the tracks. The trains give me train is still a good 30 minutes away. I imagine that
focus, while the happenstance of when and where they somewhere down Echo Canyon scenes from Death Race
might be going brings reason to visit destinations I’d 3000 are being recreated at an alarming rate. I don’t care.
otherwise miss.
Transcendental IDGAF.

It’s evident we are standing with people who really want The train eases through the tunnels. It’s a scene I never
to be here. Just within earshot are photographers from thought I would see in person. Jimmy , Mike and I
Germany, France, Canada, China, England and savor it along with a few other like-minded observers.
Australia. All of us jostling for space along a cliff Before the train is out of sight, the rest of the gaggle is
overlooking Echo Creek, the original 1869 back on the road to chase. It’s less than 20 miles to
transcontinental railroad alignment and the 1916 low- Evanston and the end of the day’s run. Got to get that
grade line blasted through the far hillside. The latter is maximum number of shots in.

where the train will be.

We watch as the train disappears around a hillside on


And it must be coming soon, as I can see the parade of its way to the summit at Wahsatch.

chasers coming up Interstate 80. They’re racing off the


exit ramp, jamming their cars into any empty space, Mission accomplished. Transcendental IDGAF.
running to the cliff, red faced and exhausted. There’s no
room for them. Should have been here earlier.

Chapter 8: The Western Stars


May 12, 2019:
The Western Stars (Are Shining Bright Again)

Evanston is almost out of food. I am not kidding. There We spent the afternoon scouting photo locations for the
are so many train buffs in town that we have eaten it all next day’s run. With frequent freight trains, there was
including - as one teary maitre’d told me - the stash plenty to keep our cameras busy. We didn’t realize while
being held for Mothers’ Day reservations this evening.
we were out cavorting along the old Lincoln Highway,
kicking up dust on side roads which we later learned
I can’t say I am surprised. We waited for over an hour at included the original 1869 right-of-way of the UP, that a
lunch to get a table at Jody’s Diner. The train was parked crisis was gripping the Evanston restaurant scene.

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 Our crew wanted steaks, so went to a steakhouse. The
were trying to decompress from their stressful chase this line of would-be patrons stretched out the door. An
morning. The pressure, as one put it, had never been electric tension crackled through the hungry masses,
worse.
most of whom were local families out to celebrate mama.
It became clear after a few minutes that there were plenty
I’m sorry? The pressure of what? Railfanning is not a of empty tables but no one was being seated. That’s
competitive sport. There’s no winner. All that matters is if when I went to chat with the maitre’d. I didn’t see her
you partake, you enjoy. I wanted to console these gents. tears until we were face to face. They had no food to
To open their minds. To allow them to enjoy their hobby. serve. Not to dusty train buffs. Not to the nonna’s and
To let them know that the scanners on their belts, the abuelita’s whose early bird celebrations were turning into
thousands of dollars of camera equipment around their a late evening debacle. Not to anyone. As walked back
necks and their new Big Boy t-shirts were all meant to through the line, I heard grumblings about other
be accoutrements of pleasure. But I didn’t. I stood in line restaurants running out of essential items.

content to just be at ease. Transcendental IDGAF.

Even if Sam I Am liked green eggs and ham, he would A cadre of fans have kindly arranged their vehicles to
have been SOL in Evanston. He wouldn’t have known illuminate the locomotives with their headlights. A blend
where to turn, unless he had a taste for the wee dram. of mercury vapor and sulfur street lights fill in the gaps.
Then he’d have known what we knew: in a town without Consistent color temperatures? Who needs them? I’ve
food, the best place is the one with the widest selection spent hundreds of dollars to photograph steam
of golden brown libations.
locomotives under professional lighting, and this freebie
isn’t too shabby.

The Lincoln Highway Tavern was just up the road. And


what do you know? They still had food. And drinks. And Before our new friends wear out their car batteries, I
no heavy scenes. And it had already been on my favorite decide that I am done with the cameras for the night. I
roadhouse list for 23 hours. Going back was a no- need to take a long look with my own eyes. The sky
brainer. A delicious no-brainer after which we decided to above Evanston shines with the same stars seen by the
take a spin by the tracks just to see what was up.
laborers who laid out this railroad a 150 years ago. Stars
are equalizers. No matter how important we perceive
And so here we are standing by the Evanston ourselves to be, one look up on a clear western night
roundhouse museum along the UP freight yard. It’s well lays bare the folly of our self-delusion.

past nine o’clock, and the buffs are still at it. The railroad
kindly tied down the train next to a parking lot. An It’s time to head back to the hotel. We have an early
impromptu night photo session has broken out with start. There are still a dozen or so photographers out
sleeping #4014 and #844, the true western stars.
here. Hopefully, these guys had dinner already. If not…
Chapter 9: Cuppy Draw
May 13, 2019: Cuppy Draw

Yesterday afternoon Jimmy suggested we check out a In the rush to complete the railroad, the Union Pacific
location on the western slope of Aspen Mountain where engineering team not only looked for the easiest path
we could photograph the steam train today. He found a through Uinta County, but the least expensive. Rather
spot on Google Maps that seemed to have promise and than dealing with Aspen Mountain head-on, the railroad
looked to be a bit of a dead-end for the chase: one way wound around its south slope. Once the railroad was
in, one way out. You could see the train there, but established as a success, the UP began working on a
probably not get ahead of it before the next scheduled realignment which would tunnel through Aspen Mountain
stop at Granger. That fit our game plan perfectly: try for in 1901, eliminating both the original roundabout route
one good spot rather than racing like idiots to get and - by default - the town of Piedmont. Have you ever
mediocre photos at multiple locations.
watched the TV series “Hell on Wheels?” That was
Piedmont; a true railroad boom town.

That’s why we are standing in the glorious Monday


sunshine on a hill just west of Cuppy Draw overlooking That 1901 alignment is the one we have been staring at
the Union Pacific mainline. We’re parked with some of intently this morning, waiting for steam. I’m still staring.
the TRAINS magazine crew and a few other folks along The train is a bit late and the number of chasers has been
a goat trail. Judging by the charred wood, beer cans and increasing steadily over the past few minutes. There’s
animal pellets it seemed to be a multi-species party plenty of room for cars, tripods and drone launches. I am
spot. And it is perfectly lit for the train.
in my spot, listening to the wind and - wait - a train! I can
hear the low rumble of diesel locomotives growling up the
The railroad along Stowe Creek does not follow the Aspen grade. That’s not a good sign. Given that this
original 1860’s alignment. That route, the historic right of ramble to Ogden and back is the Big Boy’s break-in run,
way of the transcontinental railroad, lays behind us to I’ve had the quiet worry that at some point we might see
the south. #4014 relieved of duty. It’s a comfort to see a freight train
roll into view.

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.

Chapter 10: Intersects


May 13, 2019: Intersects A scattering of houses and other buildings dot the area
where state highway 412, Leroy Road and the railroad
I am drawn to deserted places. That doesn’t necessarily converge. One could be forgiven for driving by, thinking
mean abandoned. Growing up at the Jersey Shore, I “that’s neat” and continuing on their way.

spent more winter afternoons on the beaches and


boardwalks than summer mornings in the surf. The off- Fortunately, we stopped. Twice.

season experience was much more personal. Stormy


days were my favorite: the darker the gloom, the more Wandering around Carter, framing its forlorn elegance for
cutting the wind, the harsher the sheets rain, the more pixel-by-pixel study, I kept thinking “why?” Why has this
likely I could be found huddled in a seaside coffee shop town almost vanished? And why was it ever built in the
reveling in moments that most people turned away from. first place? I had to find out. I don’t proclaim to be
I’d sometimes bring friends along, but there weren’t historian extraordinaire of Carter. In fact, there's much of
many other teenage dreamers in town who could be the story I have yet unravel. But I know now why it came
lured out by really bad weather.
to be. The story begins just to the east with the town of
Granger,

So, it should come as no surprise that I was instantly


drawn to the — almost — ghost town of Carter, Immigrants and emigrants have been drawn westward
Wyoming. Population 10.
across the United States from the nation’s earliest days,
when Ohio was still hard along the left edge of colonists’
A handful of sun-bleached weathered buildings battered maps. As these explorers dispersed throughout the
by wind — those Wyoming gales that swirl up your pant continent, trails - many times already blazed by Native
leg, chill your balls blue and exit out of your collar Americans - evolved into wagon roads, railroads,
blowing icy songs of cowboy legends in your ear — highways and Interstates. The greatest of these
lining the busy Union Pacific railroad mainline speak to transcontinental transportation pathways converged in
different eras of Carter’s promise. Yes, there’s the southwestern Wyoming upon Granger, a lonely flat spot
expected classic false front building, but next to it is a of semi-arid scrub in Sweetwater County, just east of the
brick affair emblazoned with a painting of the American Uinta County Line. One hundred and forty-or-so souls call
flag. the town home today.
The cluster of one-story houses tucked along the Western stage trails generally followed river valleys,
junction with the Union Pacific Railroad’s “Overland
climbing mountain ranges only when absolutely required.
Route” and “Oregon Short Line” is easy to miss.
Logically, as the transcontinental railroad forged west
Granger, by all appearances, is just another small town through Wyoming, survey teams closely followed the
overpowered by the endless landscape of the American
alignment of known trails. Thus, in 1868 Granger - a hub
West. And like so many western towns, the highway
of stagecoach roads - became a stop on the Union
goes around it. That wasn’t always the case.
Pacific Railroad. Three years later the Pony Express was
out of business and the stagecoach parade was fading
Unassuming and humble Granger is one of the most
into the history books. Without a hint of irony, the Union
important transportation centers in American history. Pacific dubbed their new rail line The Overland Route,
Don’t remember it from history class? Well, the original taking the name of the trail and the stage line it put out of
name of the settlement was Ham’s Forks. Still doesn’t
business.

ring a bell? Same here.

Since trails followed easier routes, and railroads later


Sturdy wagon wheels of settlers headed west along the
followed those trails, it makes sense that America’s early
Oregon, California and Mormon Trails; hooves of the highway system did the same. In 1913 the Lincoln
Pony Express; and Overland Mail stagecoaches all dug Highway came through Granger on its way across
into the dirt and mud of Sweetwater and Uinta counties.
America connecting New York City with San Francisco.
Granger grew around the fork where the California Trail
Later, US Route 30 was established through the area,
and Oregon Trail split. Upon arriving in town, the masses turning north to roughly parallel to the Oregon Short Line
of the western migration had to make a decision: head
railroad, followed a few decades later by Interstate 80
left towards California or right to the Pacific Northwest.
built along the historic routes of the Lincoln Highway,
As Indian wars and weather conditions pushed other Union Pacific mainline and Mormon Trail. Though
trails out of favor, stagecoach traffic through Granger
bypassed by the new highways, the busy Union Pacific
increased and the Pony Express joined the flow on what
junction maintains the status of Granger a railroad town.

became known as the Overland Trail mail route.

But what about Carter?


Granger was the first major intersection of the far west.

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.
Chapter 11: The Lincoln Highway
May 13, 2019: The Lincoln Highway

Let’s get something on the table…

Route 66 is carved into the asphalt heart of America. Its And they call Route 66 the “Mother Road?” Bullshit.

iconic badge — symbolizing the innate promise of


freedom central to the lure of highway culture — has The Lincoln Highway was truly transcontinental tying
been whored out by every trinket factory, t-shirt printer Times Square, New York with Lincoln Park, San
and repop sign maker east of the Yangtze River. Long Francisco via 3,398 continuous miles. Route 66, at a
the totem of Route 66 mythology, it has become a paltry 2,448  miles, started in Chicago and ended in
marker in our psyche triggering faded Ektachrome Santa Monica. Even the Union Pacific and Central
visions of an America that never really existed, but one Pacific, which built the first “transcontinental” railroad,
we long to return to. I am not immune. Route 66 excites really only connected Omaha and California. The
me. I love it.
Lincoln? Coast to coast, baby.

But it ain’t no Lincoln Highway.


It never had a number. Didn’t need it. Still doesn’t,
though it did ear n a nickname: “The Main
The Lincoln - fathered mostly from existing roads in the Street  Across  America.” All the Lincoln ever required
east and miles of illegitimate horse trails and wagon ruts was a modest red, white and blue marker with an “L.”
across the west - predates Route 66 by 13 years. The Some were formal, some were homemade; painted on
Lincoln Highway was the route for early automobile rocks, poles and fences. My own experiences with the
adventures. Primitive cars riding on wooden tires, driven Lincoln Highway began back east when I was old
by goggled men and women donned with leather enough to start noticing these humble, faded
accoutrements, fired the imagination of a country that guideposts.

always looked west for a challenge. Going on a cross-


country road trip was serious business. The Lincoln As a Jersey boy, I found myself on state Route 27 quite
Highway gave no quarter when it opened in 1913. In a bit. This stretch of the original Lincoln regularly
some ways, it still doesn’t.
brought my family to one of our favorite restaurants.
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.

Chapter 12: Leroy Road


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.
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
We found that Leroy Road truly is a pathway to railroad railroad in position for his first shot the next morning.
photography heaven, just one with many obstructions Now he was in my rearview mirror and clearly wants to
that make it somewhat less than a ribbon of contiguous go faster than we are.

fun. Ranch boundaries and gates have a limiting effect,


but so do slides and washouts. 10 miles of expectant joy I pulled over at the next wide spot, which happened to
condensed into about 2.5 miles of real pretty fast.
be right at a washout which was easily 10-24 inches
wide and 5 feet deep. CamperMan pulled right past us
About those washouts. Back east, I am used to driving and crossed the gap like Wilt Chamberlin stepping over
across minor areas on where water has eaten away a few a single LEGO. Sheeeeeeeeeeeeeet! If he can do it…

inches of a dirt road. Rarely are these spots more than a


few inches wide and 6 inches deep. Anything bigger than I looked for my inner Bo and Luke Duke. All I found was
that is usually a no-go as the eastern climate tends to a guy whose greatest automotive feat to date was
keep the ground soggy.
burning donut tracks into local parking lots with a ’72
Dodge Dart Swinger. A badass, all original, 318 powered
Out west, washouts are a different story - at least when penis extension. That Dart was like a Boeing 757: way
the land around them is dry and solid. The bigger your tire
more power than it needed, but one fun machine.

There were some metal and wood scraps lying around I don’t know how long it took before Jimmy had enough
which I assumed must have been used as temporary rocks and Mike had enough leverage to get the hanging
bridges. I wasn’t too keen on that. Mike noted that the wheel some traction. We took a break after popping it
gap was significantly narrower in one area. All I had to do out, tired and dirty on the downhill side of an adrenaline
was drive across there. What happened on my way to the burst. And then came CamperMan, returning — I
narrow section is debatable. The result is not. I managed suppose — after finding a washout even he wouldn’t try.
to get one front wheel across while leaving the other His pick-up bounced across the gap that almost ate us,
hanging in the air. In the middle of nowhere. With no and with a tip of his hat he jostled his way south. I
phone reception. And no other way out.
wonder if he knew what we’d been through. I bet he did.
Fucker.

I can imagine many folks in our position (like me twenty


years ago before age, wisdom and therapy kicked in) Oh, and that picture at the top of the page? After our
freaking the fuck out. I think Mike and Jimmy were recovery, I drove back to where Leroy Road crosses the
waiting for me to snap, but it wasn’t going to happen. UP mainline. All this effort and we hadn’t seen a train.
What would have sent me into a tailspin in my twenties Not content to walk away empty handed, we parked
now just made the story all the better. Remember along the tracks and took a nap until we heard the next
transcendental IDGAF? Try it over a washout with (almost) westbound coming. It’s not an award-winner, but we got
three wheels touching the ground.
something for our troubles.

I am not bragging about this situation. It was stupid and Jimmy’s dad taught me long ago that as long as you
avoidable. I own that. In fact, had it not all worked out OK come away with a story, everything is OK. I’ve lived by
I’d likely never share any of this story, But it turns out that that though now I value coming away with your health,
a couple of great friends, a stack of rocks and some mind and body intact, plus the story. Regardless, we got
elbow grease pushing on the bumper can get you out of a a story on Leroy Road.

tight jams you never should have gotten into in the first
place.
A story we will tell for years to come.

You think you’re sick of hearing it now? Just wait…


Epilogue
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