Tuesday, January 03, 2006

The Radio Squawked and Fell Silent

BELEN--There were about half a dozen of us watching the activity in the Belen trainyard: a man pulling a 2-year-old in a wagon, two women standing by the fence with an older gentlemen they brought still sitting in their vehicle, a young man with a couple cameras and a short-wave receiver, and me. The radio hung from the fence. It crackled a little as the Belen Operations Center talked to the engineer of #5410 coming into the yard eastbound. There were 8 engines at the front of that train.

"It must be a huge train," I said.
"Or they are moving engines back east," offered George. He was an off-duty serviceman from Kirtland AFB.

Watching trains is a lot like watching the birds at Bosque del Apache. It is interesting even when nothing much is happening, but every once in a while a flurry of activity or noise leads to a slowly building crescendo of movement.

A short train headed for Albuquerque pulled out. I asked George what the sign right in front of us meant: Rally Point 1. "It's for emergencies--like chemical spills. It's where the emergency teams meet." He pointed to a small windsock directly overhead. "That tells the crew which way the wind is blowing."

He then pointed to a little device that was fastened to the back of the last car of the train headed for Albuquerque. "That takes the place of the caboose. It's a light that blinks. It's also hooked up to the air hose so the engineer can put on the brakes at the rear of the train if he has to."

I nodded, and walked over to see if the Harvey House Museum was open. Unfortunately it is closed on Sundays and Mondays. It is open afternoons the rest of the week.

Two railroad workers passed each other right in front of us. They greeted each other and us as well. George said, "They sometimes call us 'Foamers' because they say we start foaming at the mouth every time a train goes by." The one worker had just come in from Winslow, AZ and was just finishing his shift. He pulled a small rolling suitcase. The other one walked to the train with his own rolling baggage.

Everybody was smiling. Everyone was nodding. The radio squawked and fell silent.

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