Big Boats to Singing Whales to wobbly Trains...


I hitched from Howell Michigan up to Manitoac to catch the ferry to Wisconsin.

I got in late in the afternoon. The big Great Lakes ferry lift the next morning. A hotel club by the river leading into the harbor with a fine blues band was just right. During a break, I talked and walked with one of the guys. We ended up looking at the big ferry I'd be taking in the morning. He told me years back, he'd seen a large cargo vessel leave port one night. One the stern said the Edmund Fitzgerald. It was it's last voyage. Gordon Lightfoot made a good song about the loss.

The next morning, I watched the choo-choo cars being loaded into the ferry. C & O Railroad. They also ran the vessel. I felt good having a train under me even before I had to sneak on the train more mobile on it's own.

I watched the cars driving up the ramp. Paid my fare and went upstairs. Got breakfast and sat down in the large windowed lounge. Rumble, rumble, rumble. This is a big machine! We set sail.and I feel like I'm up in the topsails, trimming the foresheets. I thought of all the sea chanteys I knew. Hey . . . this was the first time I'd been on water and not seen land!

A promnade on the deck outside was in order... After all, wearing Top Hat, Tailos,just waiting for Edward Everett Horton to tell me Ginger Rodgers was on board so I may be asked to dance after dinner with The Captain.
Gray skies and water. Not blue Pacific or green Atlantic. But still the massive force. Water in motion is like a magnet to me. One time in Heidelburg I was almost hypnotized into the big flowing river. Late night, big castle, I mean a real doggone CASTLE to the right, up a big hill, lighted and mystical. Didn't jump.

I used to jump. East of Troy, N.Y. is a sweet canyon with a deep creek running through. We'd jump about fifty feet into the creek. A guy I skied and trained with every day in the fall and winter didn't make it one time. The last time for him.

On the deck, In a deck chair there was a pretty lady wrapped in a big heavy blanket they offer. We chatted a bit, had coffee and took a nap. All ashore what's going ashore!
Off the ship.
On the landing I'm thumb out hitching to Minneapolis. Cars were driving off the vessel before the train cars. The pretty lady pulls over and asks why I didn't mention my means of travel earlier. IWell it's hop in the escort and onward west for a good long ride to Minneapolis. It wasn't a short trip so we had time to talk in length. She was going to work with troubled kids and have an abortion. Wrong guy. Wrong time. Since I'd lived there for a year or so, I could offer some ideas for happy times in town, I drove most of the time. Knew the road.

In town we went to the Guthrie theater and visited friends I was hanging out with. There's a great musicians Co-op called June Apple that I had worked with. Many of us lived in a three story yellow Victorian on an Island in the middle of the Mississippi. Choo-Choo tracks went across our island. The record company was Train on The Island Records.

I used to go into town walking the trestle. In winter it was magic. Snow and ice covered the ties. Sometimes you slip and wedge in a boot between them and see the river below. I lived in the third floor turret facing the river. a couple of the barge captains lived on the Island. They'd get on the loud speakers and tell wives when they'd get home. We used to ride the barges through the lock at Nicollet Falls. Often in winter Marge, who was married to Pop Wagner would make a lot of stew and tons of Beef Stroganoff. More than one it would snow heavy, roads off the Island closed and it'd be a three day party.
We must have sung, "The Happy Wanderer," a million times.
"Valkeriee . . . Valkarahh . . . with a knapsack on my back".

One time in summer I was about to take freights west and a visitor dropped by. He was heading west to L.A., did I want a ride? He'd just bought a Hot-Rod with flames painted on the sides.
We all played music for a few days. Pop called him out rock-star friend. His name was inlaid on the neck of his guitar. I took the trains and Rodney Crowell flamed off into the sunset.

I took the pretty lady from the ferry to Garrison Keillor's show. When I was hanging around the show, before it went National. There's be tight-rope walker, fire-eaters, mime and juggling. The folks sitting around the radiola in Minot were wondering what the audience in St. Paul was thinking the folks in Minot were thinking... And that whole thought got reversed and doubled back. Since the signal went almost to Central North Dakota, there was an insular feel about things. Same big snowstorm, same hot spring, whatever, we were in the same place. And this wireless stuff was a binding thread linking common Saturday evenings... A Grange Hall supper. Since going National, both content and signal has changed quite a bit.The feeling is broader, maybe just thinner by a hair.

Time to wrassle with big iron, weather and throw the watch out the window. Snake a High-Line ride west. With a sincere kiss, I say good-bye to the pretty lady, the rest of Minneapolis and walk over to the trestle, over the Big River to the abandoned Burlington-Northern massive decaying passenger station.

I'd left the light on in my third floor turret room and asked Marge to shut t down when my train came. Warm yellow Victorian on The River filled with nice friends.

We'd skinny-dip and jump off the other trestle coming into Nicollet Island. Shoot. More than just an Island. We're smack dab in the middle of a metropolis as well as the Mississippi. And the Skirts and Sails of town never dropped by or hassle the few of us or the musicians, ducks, chickens and often naked people. Turning back toward big Burlington-Northern Passenger Station that didn╝t pick-up any passengers anymore, I had to watch my footwork on the trestle ties as it was drizzling kind of full.
On the leeward side of a eight or ten foot high stack of ties maybe three feet next to the fifty foot high wall. I hunkered down.

The "Hot-Shots, "or "High-Line Flyers" or Mail Trains left St.Paul and came through here like the engineer had a hot to trot filly in Portland.
I knew I was waiting for a milk Train. If I was in a hurry. I'd have ridden with Rodney in his fancy fifties style hot-rod.

Just like water in motions draws me so do Choo-Choo's. Massive power in motion.

I was just hunkering down in the rain, smelling creosote and diesel fumes from passing major trains. After a couple of hours a train almost waddles around the curve on the riverbank. It creaks and wobbles and sort of sighs to a stop.
It stopped on a siding to let another to pass faster. Side-door Pullman looked dry and mobile to the west. The wheels of the passing train screeched and wailed rounding the rails of the curve.

Trains and Whales are a lot alike.
You know the Songs of the Humpbacks sounds like a similar sized rascal rounding a turn next to bag water in weird yellow lights from high towers in the rain.
They both travel long distances. And there's fewer and fewer of both.
And they sing so sweet.

The Red-Cap helped me into the open freight door. Conductor checked his pocket watch. He was the only one with a watch. He WAS the watch. Had to go by Railroad Time.
"All 'Board!!!"
The car had been used to carry oats and the residue had rotted a bit. The nice Negro steward asked me if I'd enjoy silver service spotless starched tablecloths and our specials de la freight train for dinner. After a wonderful repast (it was a cheese and nothin 'sandwich) he removed the dishes and elegantly brought a cognac. (I'd been given a little bottle of rum).

Trains. With the rocking motion and beautiful sound, put me to sleep quickly. My bed had been turned down with a nice mint on the bottom side of my found refrigerator packing cardboard. I asked the steward for a wake-up call at five-thirty to watch the sunrise arrive over the middle on Minnesota through the open door of a freight car.
He, like the conductor disappeared to prepare breakfast.

The following clouds from the rain last night made for a knockout sunrise.
Traveling along the side of Rte.8, watching some folks in the fields. Chugga-chugga, rumble clank. Some in old Chevy Bel-air's or older International trucks made me just hang out the side of the big door, hang-on, flap my other wing in the wind and howl with laughter!
Ain't goin' fast, but sure goin' wide.

The train stopped at every other farmhouse. Engineer would lean out the window and ask how things were goin'. Ask if he needed anything brought back from town and sure, the wife said we could make Sunday dinner. "Say Hi to Earl when he gets home from the feed store'.

Chug, Chug, Chug. We get up to a Minnesota, "Welll... let's just err on the side of caution sort of speed." Fireman might ask to stop for a haircut. We may get to Fargo for The Centennial Memorial of the passing of Edward R. Murrow.

We stop just of the East side of the river between Minnesota and North Dakota. The Engineer's wife drove up in a late fifties dull green Oldsmobile, to take him home for supper. I drop down to the heavy rock railbed and wander into this perfectly sized plains town.
Got some staples. Dropped by a tavern for a brew and learn about the area from folks. Kept an eye on the sky, my time... walked around then went back to watch sunset from my suite. Since it's in, The Rules. I was sitting in the boxcar door, facing west, playing harmonica.

"BOO!!!"
From the east side open door Smitty was grinning at me.
Big diamond inlaid front tooth.

You don't see many Black guys riding rails. He clambered up in the car and sat down next to me. Bodie Wagner played a little hall once in The West. He started telling some stories. Didn't know I was in the same town. He began telling tales about Smitty. Said how He'd made up a song about him. People used to say about Bodie, ,Throw him in a room with a coupla' dozen pencils and a roll of wide butcher paper and in two weks he;ll fill it up with tunes.. After giving background on Smitty to the crowd he lifted his head up to a commotion. There I was, roaring with laughter, leaning against the back wall of the hall as he introduced the tune.

"You take this Cow squeezing's hauler to Fargo. By then you might get Jungled Up, go into town and apply for Social Security. It'll take you that long.
Hide in the bushes until a little after midnight. Watch the yard. As long as a Supervisors big truck isn't at the eastern yard shack, you can knock and get some help about the train. It comes in fast and roars out in ten minutes. You have to be waiting where the backside of the train stops to change Engineers. That's where the empty flats are. These are Pigs. They carry the Mail Train's trailers. The empty flats have rails goin' from front to back. That's to jam the tires on to keep the wheels from bouncing off at ninety mile an hour. Sometimes they go up and come down on the other side of the rails, they're kinda heavy.
Don't ride a loaded piggy-back.
You find an empty, get up. By then you goin' about thirty miles an hour. Bumpita, bumpita. There's a space under the rails. Loop your belt through and hook it tight. It's now goin' fifty. Put your feet forward. Put your gear in front of them to cut wind chill. There's a cold storm comin' in. You're goinna freeze yore ass. By then you're closin' on ninety plus. On a flat that's doing it's best to shake you off it's back back back.

Fargo. I stash my stuff in weeds. No trucks by the yard shack. It was getting a bit chilly. Knock, Knock, Knock and a nice guy opens and say walk in. Yeah, he knew Smitty, how's he doing?,
"You're riding the Mail Train? . . Tonight??? In this cold?"
"Here's some coffee. Take this Wild Turkey. Have some more coffee."

Four major road units powering, roaring The Train into The Yard. The ground quivered and I waited until I saw some empty flats. Did what Smitty ordered and flew west into the night looking up into the North Dakota Aurora Borealis.

A High-Line Flyer with me on it's back.
Trains follow old Indian Trails all over the country. Something about Trains strikes me warmly in the solar plexus. As a little kid, Mom and Dad took me and my brother across country by train a number of times.
Looking out the window, walking around as we saw the wide country go by. Dad would always have a map. He's tell history of where we were, what was over the horizon. how things looked when my Grandparents took a number of cross-countries. Lucky kid to do that in the Depression.

When I traveled, there still were the real dining cars. Walk up and down the aisles and folks got a kick out of talking to little kids. I probably learned a bunch of geography and wonderful regional cultural distinctions from all the questions a non-shy kid would ask. I was given plenty of unrushed time with everyone. They'd ask me about me. At night a fella would turn our compartment into the bunks. I'd talk back and forth with the smiling gentlemen. Go to sleep looking out the window watching the far away lights. Mom would tell me to think of Uncle Andy's farm in Kansas.

A boxcar. You're rocking back and forth. The ambient noise of the creaks, clacks and wind must come back unconsciously as the womb. Mom walking around, me inside sloshing back and forth. I bet Mom has my finger nail scars still on her birth canal.
No! . . . I don't want to go! It;'s warm and get ROCKED ALL THE TIME!!! It's COLD out there!"
The thing my Mom's mother said was that I always asked to, "Rock-Rock". We'd climb into her old rocking chair for hours.

If the Boxcar is the Womb. The Mail Train is a rush into intense life. sort of like the delivery, Doctor's beeper went off and darn the slippery little devil slid of the table.
Rats.
"Darn. And our golf game is rained out too..."

Clickity-clack going down the track. I'm tied to the flatcar doing a pretty fair job of imitating a tetherball, bouncing up and down on the concrete base of the flat. My head just bonkng up and down. Cold and windy. Northern lights were pretty, but out of focus through my optical receptors constant motion.
Nothin' between me and the North Pole but a rusty barbed wire, pronounced "wahr". And that's busted in a bunch of spots.
To continue continuing...

Take a Train ride back to Freestone? A little Auto Motoring mosey around The U.S. of A