Cowboys Ride the Iron Horse


At the Sacramento station we boarded the eastbound Amtrak to Reno, meeting Barb and Earl and Janie and David there. I stored my luggage, and found a set of seats in coach for the family, settling in for a second day on the rails.

"I want to go find the others," I decided. "Do you want to come?" I asked Mary.

She declined to follow me to find my friends, feeling watching over the kids was more important. Without such childcare worries I hurried off to the observation car, the place where the parties happen. The red-colored hills outside Sacramento began showing patches of white as the train climbed in altitude, and rain showers became snow flurries. A massive snowstorm had been dumping on the hills all evening, all week in fact, and the train was heading directly into the thick snowpack.

"Hey Janie, Barb," I walked to the observation car, that's the party place. I found the girls in swivel seats sitting with their feet on the windowsill watching the snowflakes.

"Where's Earl?" I asked Barb.

"He's downstairs with David, they're playing cards," she replied.

Dropping down the stairs to the snack level I found them at a booth farthest away from the snack bar, probably because they were sipping clandestine gin and tonics while they played cards.

"I thought Uncle Dale was coming, Earl," I questioned him because I didn't see the rest of the wedding party.

"He's driving up with Richard and Fred," Earl replied.

They invited me to play a game with them, but I declined and returned to Barb and Janie, see what they were doing.

The Sacramento-Reno Train is called the Party Train, bringing people from California over the hill to the Biggest Little City in The World for whorin' and gamblin'. These two had found two other ladies, and were now engaged in serious conversation.

Barb was explaining her deal, telling her new friends Mary Macgregor was singing at her wedding tomorrow night in Reno. I love Barb dearly, I've had many unique times with her, or because of her, but it was time for me to slink away before she noticed Mary Macgregor's husband was near. I knew I would become caught up in her next bright idea if I didn't disappear. That's why Mary hated Barb, the way she acted like a bad big sister, continually egging me on to find the next cool thing to do, which usually wasn't condoned by grownups. Likely it infuriated Mary that I subscribed to this nitwit fantasy as though we could all go back to being twenty years old, reliving the best of times regardless of consequences. I was torn, feeling I needed to spend time with Mary, but she justifiably kept the kids out of the party car, so she was sitting in the boring spot. She was such a good sport on that trip, trying hard to accommodate my wishes, plus she never wanted to be here to begin with, it was a favor Barb begged her to do. So I sat down next to my wife and family to act like a grown-up.

But that didn't last very long.

Suddenly the train slowed down and stopped. The lights went off. It was still and dark even though it was daytime. There was a different color coming through the windows. Unlike natural sunlight, it was white, filtered, and cast a bluish tinge. Squinching my face against the window, I could see the blue sky up at the top.

"We're in a snow tunnel!" I exclaimed. This was way too exciting to be in coach.

"I'll be right back," I promised.

I saw a conductor when I started between cars. He said a brake line ruptured. They had to shut down the electrical system. He told me not to open any windows or doors and not to use the bathrooms because the toilets need electrical power to operate.