A trackage-rights conspirator bows in deference to a master of the host road in a scene where westbound tonnage takes preference over 7,000-feet of eastbound grain dust hanging off the drawbar of a No.2 unit that is off-line, its GEVO likeness pleasing in its aesthetics but wholly unnecessary for the occasion.
It is with patient professionalism that the benign interlopers ply their trade in a foreign land ruled by a blitzkrieg of rumbling Armor yellow and Harbor Mist gray, and it is hoped for that the wave tendered out of mutual respect between opposing crews would be a cordial one, and one involving the proper use of all five digits on the delivering hands.
Here, at Milepost 154.25 along the siding in Luling, Texas, is the precise moment of one of many such meetings; a lateral separation of mere feet between representatives of two great and storied carriers in character on the High Iron Stage, the passing roar of high-horsepower EMD and GE diesel engines reverberating throughout the great amphitheater of modern-day railroading being a far cry from the stack talk of No. 1010 as she worked the grade toward Kingman, the resulting plumage perhaps wafting in through the open windows of the ‘Muskegon’ and soiling the nightsheets in Walter Scott’s Pullman berth.
Even further still from the internally-combusted event depicted here are the colloidally-captured glass-plate memories exposed along the northern margin of the Great Salt Lake where, to the delight of purist and tourist alike, the fragrant and humble but glorious offerings sent forth from No. 119 in her Promontory heyday still drift forth in replication and defiantly refuse to be washed from the Utah sage.
Through all the sameness rolling along today’s high iron, and despite the absence of a ‘burning of Rome’ pyre piling into the noontide skies and rods and linkages flailing about in their simple-expansion reciprocation, there is still a romantic and dramatic element to the trackside moments: The meeting of two giants of western railroading as they transport the commerce of a great nation along a single-track transcontinental mainline in Texas; the deft hand of an expert engineer as he notches out the throttle and the resultant exhaust, albeit turbocharged, blasting forth out of stubby stacks in a fashion not too dissimilar to that of an Espee AC-9 in the hands of a capable fireman; the ‘SPANG!’ of wheel flanges against the railhead and the clank of knuckles and drawbars as the slack runs in on the downgrade, and the nocturnal mourning at a distant grade crossing signaling a remembrance of youthful wanderlust in the hearts of the faithful as the sound of a train fades off into the night.
In a scene as old as railroading itself, though far removed from brass pounders and train order hoops, the dispatcher has weaved the east-west traffic on his electronic train sheet into a delicate mosaic of movement, and in such fashion has set the stage for our drama.
The usher has seated the last of the trackside season ticket holders in their front row seats, and as the lights come down on a sultry Texas summer evening, the hot southerly breezes wave the curtain aside.
And, to the faithful, it’s worth the price of admission.