Saturday, February 05, 2011

Excitement in the Heartland

Discarded cigarette pack on the tracks by our train.

Yesterday morning, I paid for my first cup of coffee in the cafe car and received free refills on account of our tardiness. The good news was that today, even the first cup was free. The bad news was that was because we were running even later.

By the time we crawled into Minneapolis-St. Paul at 1:00 this afternoon – more than five-and-a-half hours late – I wouldn't be surprised if the smokers on the train were exhibiting early signs of withdrawal. The Twin Cities stop was the first smoke break since Minot, North Dakota. Normally, those stops fall at 9:30 p.m. and 7:30 a.m., but our tardiness increased even further yesterday evening, to the point that we hit Minot around 1:30 a.m. and didn't leave until 3:00 or so.

The trip got more interesting east of Havre. Operationally, we had a complicated three-way meet between our train, our westbound counterpart train no. 7, and a container train. At a lonely siding between Havre and Malta, we pulled in behind the container train for no. 7 to pass, then backed out of the siding to pass the container train and continue our eastward journey. Near the North Dakota border, our progress slowed considerably below what the flat, straight track would allow. At first I thought we were following a slow-moving eastbound freight train, but then the conductor announced that our lead locomotive's ditch lights weren't working (the pair of eye-level lights below the main headlight), requiring us to go slowly through every road crossing. We were not able to address that issue until the service stop in Minot, but first we had to contend with internal issues.

The train became more crowded again at Havre, so after dinner in the diner, I staked out a spot in the corner of the observation car to do some reading and writing. There was a card game going on at a table near the middle of the car, to which I paid little attention until voices escalated to shouts and copiously dropped f-bombs and left the two principal antagonists – a tall, skinny guy and a shorter, more squat one – in a standing face-off in the middle of the car. Tensions cooled somewhat as two girls with the skinny guy intervened, but the obvious flow of alcohol continued, keeping the situation primed near the boiling point. The eventual result was a long station stop in Williston, North Dakota, where no less than half-a-dozen police officers from the city and the county sheriff's office boarded the train, and eventually departed with the short guy in custody.

This morning I woke up to a hazy sunrise in Fargo, and thick overcast persisted all day. We had lost enough time through the night that our engineer and conductors had to be relieved at an unscheduled stop between Staples and St. Cloud, Minnesota, leaving us almost six hours late. We encountered another short delay while waiting to get into the station at St. Cloud, but its cause served as a reminder that our situation could still have been worse. We had been waiting for our westbound counterpart, train no. 7, to finish its station stop in St. Cloud – which should have happened almost 11 hours earlier!

Finally through the Twin Cities just after lunchtime, I passed the afternoon in the observation car as we sprinted past the snow-and-ice-covered Mississippi. I spent the last hour of having a pleasant chat with a Korean exchange student from Winona State University, who seemed more impressed with the comfort of American trains than their lack of timeliness. But maybe she was just being polite. John was waiting for me at Columbus, where we arrived five hours and fifteen minutes late, having actually made up a few minutes since this morning.

1 comment:

Lew said...

Fargo in February is kind of depressing isn't it, it seems to be overcast more often than not and everything just seems to be the same shade of grey. Glad you eventually made it to Columbus!