The River Journal Chapter 15 Hear that Train a comin’

I miss the “Man in Black”.

About two a.m. I heard another old friend. The deep loping sound of giant cams in a big old triple diesel locomotive set up. I had forgotten the tracks ran at rivers edge in this narrow valley. The tree canopy created a great sound chamber. The river had quietened. The water was down and running much slower. The three engines probably were not more than 30 yards away. It sounded as if I was in a small room with the giant engines. It was music to my ears. The loping engines were in neutral, coasting, slowly by the campsite.

I tried to imagine what the engineer was doing. I decided it was one of two situations. Either the engineer was waiting on the slack to come out of his train. Or he was waiting on the slack to come in. The nose being pushed up an incline while the rest of the train finished coming over a hill some three quarters of a mile to the rear. Or his head end was starting up a hill while his caboose was still coming down the last hill. (note: there are no cabooses anymore) I waited for the inevitable. The hoghead would give her a little throttle and then a few moments later the slack would slam out. The throttle eased out slowly to one notch, then two and three. I worked the throttle with him. In my mind, laying in a hammock, I could see his every action by listening to the sounds of his train and his engines. As he picked up speed the coal cars lined up for the pull up the hill. Each car shifted backwards as the train pulled away and up the hill. Gravity pulled them downhill and backward as the engines pulled them up the hill and forward. One by one each car slipped backward that few inches inside the loosely fitted steel coupling. As it hit the downhill side of the coupling the car made a banging sound. When you hear a hundred or more cars make that sound in rapid succession the railroad men call that “the slack coming in” or “the slack going out”. Either way, it makes a hell of a noise and once learned cannot be mistaken for any other sound.

To some it would sound like a huge racket in the middle of the night but to me it was a trip down memory lane. I heard him toot a faint quiet little road crossing with his two shorts a shorter short and a short. Note: it is supposed to be two longs a short and a long. He bent the rules but he didn’t create havoc with those big horns way out in the wilderness. There wouldn’t be any traffic that late at night not on a little dirt crossing next to the river. Good on you “hoghead”. (Note: hoghead is an non-endearing term brakemen used for engineers) Good man. I listened to him pull away. As he “widened out” on the throttle, and began picking up a little speed, the sound of the engines faded in the distance but was replaced by the squeal of the steel wheels on steel rail. I thought, yeah and your wheels were probably made down there in Dallas at Maple and Motor near BWC, the once great and powerful photo lab.

When the screeching wheels went distant quiet came back to the forest. Then a bird began to sing it’s night song. My old pal the Whipporwill showed up. I had not heard one in years. My God, they are soothing to the soul. Then an owl and something that sounded like it was doing the chorus from the “Lion Sleeps Tonight” chimed in and created my night choir. The Tokens never sounded so good. A cool breeze picked up. The hammock swayed ever so gently. It was a great way to drift back off to dream land.

The next morning we had a repeat of the evening show. I made a noise that apparently offended Mr. Buck Deer and he let me hear about it. Again, I froze in my hammock trying to at least get a look at my furry neighbors. No luck. Like the night before they didn’t bust brush they just melted away without a sound.

I thought they didn’t need to see a human at this time of day. I was just trying to use a little woodsy manners. I waited until I thought they were gone and clamored out of the hammock ready or not.

Coffee was quick. Matches were a little problem striking but I found a sure fire way to make water proof matches work. It seems no matter what type of matches I buy and put into my little orange plastic waterproof containers they just won’t strike when I get them out. They aren’t wet they just don’t have good striking material on them. When I was a kid we could strike matches on our jeans or fingernails or in Jackie Thomas’s case on his teeth.  But that was Jackie, he could do lots of things other kids couldn’t do. I don’t think the darned things would strike when I bought them at the grocery store. Ergo don’t ever trust your matches. Get the sure proof answer. No get two of them. They are called a Bic lighters. I keep both lighters and matches in baggies, double bagged and zip locked. When I am ready to light my little Coleman I simply flick my Bic and light the match with the lighter. Why? Because lighting propane stoves with a lighter can be hazardous to your knuckles. Matches let your fingers stay a little further back when the propane decides to ignite. Simple logic learned from basic stupidity. That’s my method and I’m sticking to it.

I was using bottled water stored in the ice chest for both my refreshment needs and cooking. I didn’t like all the trash I was generating due to all the accumulating water bottles. I was drinking to keep from dehydrating. But I didn’t have an answer. I thought of bringing a gallon plastic collapsible container but backed out. I have a PUR water filter pump combo but it is so old I wasn’t sure the filter gizmo would still work. The combo of the two should have been the solution to my water needs. I want to leave the ice chest behind on the next trip. Too much weight and space. 

As far as the quality of the river water, I drank it as a kid but a lot of years and a lot of bovine have visited since that time. I will probably stay on the safe side and either drink it filtered or boiled.

My little mountaineer’s teapot holds just about a bottle and a half. That ends up being enough for coffee and a double bowl of oatmeal. So one boiling takes care of my caffeine and breakfast needs.

Rinse out the cups and mini pots and we are ready for the day. When I broke camp I added a little nylon rope and a few little bungee cords to my jungle hammock bag. I found I might want to use the fly from the hammock as a rain protector and yet sleep on a cot with a sleeping bag. The advantage in these woods was there were few mosquitoes due to the cold temperature of the water. Therefore I could actually sleep exposed to the night air without fear of the dreaded buzz and subsequent itching. I will try it out on the next trip.

As far as shelter goes the Clark is supposedly good for winter temperatures as well. Each hammock has pockets that are sewn to the bottom of the rig. You are encouraged to stuff them with articles of clothing or some other insulating material. I guess you could use leaves or whatever was available to stop the cold from coming into the hammock bottom therefore your backside. The Clark also has a roof that zips to a cocoon setting when warmth is need or blowing rain is coming in under the fly. Just zip it up and the elements stay outside. I know I am tooting the Clark horn here but so far I like it as lightweight and practical while being compact.

If you need additional protection or warmth the big old fly is actually a separate piece of material can be dropped down to wrap the cocoon in a double layer of fabric. I am told this makes the thing darned near bomb proof. I look forward to comparing it to my old Moss tent. That thing has been packed away for 16 years but when I pulled it out of it’s sticky little bag and spread it out it looked like it’s old self. I can’t wait to see if it leaks or if the rubber coating withstood what no other tent of mine has ever been able to handle, packed away for long years of a hot dry garage.

I purchased the tent from a back-packing store in Colorado Springs some 17 years ago. It was a high dollar purchase but was supposed to be the ultimate cold weather tent. I was doing a lot of elk and deer hunting up on the Continental Divide and needed something to combat the snow. I also had an Explorer Scout troop that loved camping in the snow. The little tent worked better than anything I had ever owned but that was limited to cheap family tents and a big old Montana canvass wall tent with a wood stove. I liked my little Moss.
When the weather turns cooler I think I will take it along to see if it has dry rot. Apparently, I had my priorities screwed up for quite a while there but I seemed to be coming back to reality with this trip.

I rearranged things in the waterproof sacks so they made more sense in terms of trying to find related items. The oatmeal kit would now live with the coffee kit. The little stove and its’ propane would live with breakfast rather than with supper.

Expensive fragile equipment like cameras got a better bag and were consolidated with padding. I carried everything down the bank to the canoe. The little boat was almost entirely out of the water. The current was pleasant and almost all of the steps were now showing. I guessed the level had dropped two and a half feet over night.

As I tied the safety cord to each of the bags, I couldn’t help but notice how peaceful my little world had become. That isn’t to say everything was quiet.  The woods sounded like a jungle movie. There were a couple of squirrels chattering and a pair of crows giving each other the dickens. It seemed all the winged neighbors had decided to gather and crow good riddance to the big ugly stranger as he packed his boat.

I had to chuckle at the racket they were creating. The peaceful mood might have been within me. But the scene looking out across the rising river fog was what Glenn Campbell might call, “Gentle on My Mind”.

Next up…it’s a great day to be alive.

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