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Home / Railroad Stories: The Way It Was / Night in an Outfit Car

Night in an Outfit Car

By Michael J. McLaughlin | June 1, 2000

A lonely siding in Colorado was no place for the faint of heart

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The silver bunk car marked “D&RGW” rests on the stockyard spur next to Cisco siding, windows open to the night breeze. Inside, the track-gang members lie sleeping on top of their blankets, the blistering head of the eastern Utah desert sun still lingering in the outfit.

From the west comes the low whine of diesel locomotives in dynamic braking, and a long freight eases downhill and into the siding. The engines make but a low rumble as they roll by in the darkness, a headlight briefly illuminating the cluttered interior of the bunk car. The steel wheels of the freight cars thump over the rail joints, punctuated by an occasional rasp of flange against railhead. Slowing to a crawl, the dirty, work-worn cars creak as they sway over the uneven rails of the siding. With a jangle of draft gear, the cars are slowed, brake rigging clattering as the worn shoes halt the long grad. A momentary silence, and then, with a low-pitched groan, the brakes release and, with air hissing softly, the train waits.

Suddenly, again from the west, the quiet is shattered by the raucous shout of an air horn, blowing for a highway crossing. A passenger train, diesels thundering, slams past the waiting freight and disappears into the night. It’s the Royal Gorge, hurrying toward its namesake canyon and points east.

A dwarf signal changes from red to amber, followed by two quick blasts from the head end, then, with a rolling, jarring crash, slack runs out and the freight begins to move, following the passenger train down toward the Colorado River. The click of the wheels over the joints becomes a rapid chatter as the engines roar, their exhaust carrying across the rolling wasteland. Soon the caboose, markers glowing in the darkness, rolls by the outfit and through the siding switch onto the main line. Gradually the clamor of the diesels fades, the individual sounds of the train merging into a low rumble as it hurries toward its Denver connections.

Inside the bunk car, the men are still sleeping, accustomed to the sounds of trains passing in the night. A faint, faraway whistle, and the desert is quiet again.

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