He's Gaining on us! February, 1978, Columbia River Gorge.
The highway calls my name.
It's always out there, tempting me to shuck responsibilities for a few hours, a few days, a month. . .just calling me, imploring me to put rubber on asphalt and head out.
It really doesn't matter where. A two-lane road is preferable. And if there's a railroad track next to it--well, that's just the icing on the cake. I've done it since I was old enough to drive--shit, I used to talk my parents into doing it for me--and I can't see giving it up now!
Everyone familiar with the lure of railroads and the open road has their favorite highways. Highway 6/50 between Provo, Utah and the Colorado line: diving into the narrows of the Wasatch, hugging curve-for-curve next to the double-track Rio Grande, climbing Soldier Summit and diving into the steep Price River Canyon. And beyond Helper, where the mountains open up--well, how great is that: another hundred-plus miles of baked mud desert down to Green River and up again to Colorado.
I've worn untold sets of tires out on the two-lane: the bitumen with abstract tar patterns laid across it where weather and an unsettled earth have risen up and cracked its surface. Desolate Utah 257 between Delta and Milford is like this--and the old "San Pedro" to Los Angeles is rarely more than 100 yards away, and the experience is sublime to drive south at dusk in the summer, windows down, maybe some Patsy Cline on the stereo, US&S searchlight signals keeping you company to a $30 motel room an hour down the road.
There's the granddaddy of them all, if you ask me, The Lincoln Highway, old US 30, which is high on the list of any train chaser's list, following the Union Pacific west from Lincoln all the way to Ogden, over 900 miles. Much of it, of course, has been erased by the modern Interstate 80, but bits and pieces survive. On the old highways, where vegetation closes in on the concrete slabs from the sides and from beneath, one can set a rhythm with the "thunk-ka-thunk-ka-thunk-ka-thunk" coming from the tires beneath. And right alongside, UP squeezes the old two-lane against the timeless sandstone cliffs of Echo Canyon.
The two-lane forces you to slow down, of course. Maybe you're lucky in Idaho and still see a series of old "Stinker" gas station signs--one tattered relic from the 40s still standing near Mountain Home, Idaho, advises "Free Lava Boulders: bring one home to your mother in law!" There's old gas stations, hold hotels, mom and pop restaurants that hang on due to a few locals and the hungry curious who've wandered off the Interstate. If you love ghost towns, there's plenty of those too, folks who gave up after the new highways sucked away their business.
The list is endless. Don't Forget Winona, indeed, on the Mother Road, old Route 66, following the Rock Island, the Southern Pacific, and then The Santa Fe to California. There's Highway 99, in California's Central Valley: town after town bisected by the highway and Southern Pacific. Highway 2, the fabled "Hi Line" across Montana--hello, Great Northern.
Do you have your favorite?
It's always time well spent, even if I don't see a train. But I usually do. Then the heart rate ratchets up. Sometimes, there's a quick U-turn to backtrack ahead of a fast-moving freight. The sensation of trains at night are magnified: the roar of exhaust, whine of traction-motors, the pinging and banging of wheels and the howl of flanges on steel rail. Exhilirating.
Let's go chase a train. It's good for the soul.
The photo: We're westbound along Washington Highway 14 in February 1978, chasing a Burlington Northern train through the Columbia River Gorge. This train was cooler than usual to chase, being powered up by a trio of exotic Alco locomotives.