gazette9.com

8/30/02

A Last Shot at the Train;
or,
Out of Gas in Amboy

The steam locomotive and its train were scheduled to pull out of Parker, Arizona on the morning of the 26th, and head back to L.A. via Cadiz, Amboy, and Barstow. I couldn't resist another sight of the train, so rode out west on 66 again, hoping to check out the museums in Barstow and catch the train there.

At about noon, I turned south off 66 three miles to Cadiz ( pronounced "Katie's" by the train crews), and the train was there - stopped a 1/4 mile south of the siding for water and lube service.

There were about 100 people scattered around the siding, and as usual it didn't take long to get into a friendly chat with some of them. This time I had a scanner with the track frequency, and drew a small crowd.

After a while, the train gave two hoots on the whistle and started moving. It eased around the curve on to the main line at about 1/2 mph. I could see a few orange flickers of flame under the firebox. A BNSF brakeman worked the track switch, and climbed aboard the engine for the ride.


El Loco at Cadiz. With over 3200 drawbar horsepower, and 80-inch diameter driving wheels, this steam locomotive has been clocked at a top speed of 103 mph.

I got some photos, then rode back to 66, headed for the museums in Barstow. 10 miles down the road, I went through Amboy again - as utterly empty and lifeless as it was the last time. But at the railroad crossing on the west side of town, I found another crowd of train chasers, and stopped to check it out.

I had an interesting conversation with a young guy who'd spent the entire week chasing the train over its route, with his lady, in a Suburban. He'd done the race from Topock to Kingman also, and said he'd been nailing the gas pedal pretty hard, too. Everybody I've spoken to on this run has been having a blast with the train.

After 30 minutes or so, 3751 came up the straight miles of track, out of the mirage from Cadiz, and flew by. We got our shots, and the chasers gunned their rigs back onto 66, racing the train on down the line. Me too!

But my bike's been getting very erratic mileage lately, and a few miles west of Amboy Crater, it backfired and died. I watched the black smoke of the locomotive disappear in the distance of the Mojave Desert.


The volcanic Amboy Crater, 250 feet high.

25 miles to Ludlow, and I knew I wouldn't make it on the tank's piddling reserve. I was down to about a pint of 100 degree water in my canteen, too. So I turned and headed back toward Amboy, wondering what I'd do there without fuel or water on a 104 degree afternoon in the Middle O. Nowhere.

I rode back slowly to conserve what fuel I had. I was so low on gas I had to stop and lay the bike down to slosh some over to the tap side of the tank.

But then coming in on the west side of Amboy, I saw a hand-lettered sign: "Gas Ahead"! I thought it must be a mirage!

Riding into Amboy, I kept my eyes peeled for this gas. I half expected to see some Indians beside the road selling it out of five-gallon jugs. Nothing.

I pulled up at Roy's Café, and asked a feller parked in the shade by the pumps, "There any gas around here?" "Sure", he said. "That pump right there."

"Man, am I in luck!"

I couldn't believe it. A Mexican guy leaned out of the café door and motioned me to get with it. The bike took 2.2 gallons - exactly what the tank holds. To top it off, there was a cooler inside, full of ice and bottled water - only a dollar a pint! And Roy's excellent blend of desert regular is only $2.99 a gallon.

I hate to give up on a chase, and for some reason I felt sick about missing Barstow. But I didn't think I had any chance of catching up to the train by then, so headed on home, sunburned and gritty again.

This little adventure is over - for now. But it's been great fun. Hooray for Santa Fe 3751, and the people who keep the engine on the rails!

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joe@gazette9.com
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