It was only mid morning but the summer heat had already consumed the day. My skin glistened with sweat and the hair that had escaped my ponytail stuck to my shoulders as I slowly balanced my way along the tracks. I was thankful for the short reprieve from the scorching sun as I passed under a railroad bridge and I slowed my pace almost to a halt to lengthen my stay beneath its cover. The cement structure created a short tunnel and my eyes were drawn to the brightly colored graffiti crawling up the walls, coming together at the top of the twenty foot dome. As I wondered just how the artists accomplished this feat I came out the other side and as my view opened up once again I caught a glimpse of something in the distance. I squinted to see better and saw the shimmering metal of the train dancing like a mirage in the desert. A smile crossed my lips and I kept an eye on the cars as I came off the railing and picked up my pace. The gravel crunched below my feet, kicking up as I ran, richocheting off the rails with a tinking sound as I closed the distance between me and the train. I had been told there were some cars left on the tracks, but I had no idea what was waiting for me and I stood in awe as I came to a stop and gazed upon my find.
Standing before me were two trains stretching as far as the eye could see, looking sad but not lonely while in the company of the other. I gave my best effort in an attempt to see where the cars ended but only investigating would satisfy my curiosity so I slipped into the shade they provided and began my quest to find the answer. Though these titans had been decommissioned I could still feel the power emanating from their impressive undercarriages as I moved passed them, the faint smell of axel grease hanging in the air as I looked upon the rusted metal and faded logos. Walking in and out of the heat I wondered where these cars had been before this fateful stop and what they had been carrying so I came to stop at the back end of one of the cars and, by instinct, I looked over my shoulder before reaching up to take hold of the corroded ladder in front of me. Hoisting myself up I brought my foot to the bottom rung and climbed up the side of the train, out of the shadows and into the sun again.
As expected, when I swung my leg over the top and peered in, the car was empty. The only thing left behind was the coal residue that was now all over my hands and I wiped it on my jeans as I looked around from my bird’s eye view. Looking back I could only faintly see the entrance where I had come in and the tracks ahead showed that I had about the same distance to cover before reaching the end. As I sat on top of the car I could feel the sizzling heat of the metal through my jeans and squirmed from its sting. Way too hot to stay where I was, I swung my leg back over the side and descended the ladder, dropping the last few feet to the ground. Turning to the path ahead of me I wiped at my sticky skin and debated whether I should go the rest of the way or just head back since all the cars looked the same. Reentering the airconditioning sounded amazing right then but I knew better; there was no leaving without satisfying my curiosity as to just what lay at the end so I took a drink from the water in my bag and started walking.
It was another 150 yards before I finally emerged back onto the empty tracks and I could see imediately that my decision to continue on had been a good one. Up ahead roughly fifty yards, the track split off to the right and I could see another train. How long was this one? I couldn’t quite tell, but I could see that these cars had something in them so despite the heat I fell into a light jog. Getting a better view as I approached, I could see that the train disappeared around a bend but my attention went upwards at the sight of its contents. Curiosity brought my hands to the metal and once again I scaled my way to the top, stopping mid-climb in awe as my eyes came over the ridge. A slight breeze stirred among the trees, bringing forth the smell of freshly cut wood as it swept past, and I blinked my eyes against the saw dust being kicked up as it went. Piled haphazardly before me were car after car full of brand new railroad ties and I climbed inside and balanced myself on two of them as I took in the sight before me.
Beautiful pieces of wood almost glowed in the sun and I climbed from car to car, wobbling precariously near the edge as I balanced on the beams watching my shadow mimic me as it followed on the tracks below. I could hear other trains, active trains, off in the distance but I was alone here in the woods, free to feel the rush as I teetered my way to the front of the train. When I could go no further I found my footing, looking back at the cars behind me and to the amazing view before me. The engine was gone. Detached, it had left its load here to wait for its return and I wondered how so much material could just be abandoned, vulnerable to the elements that would prove distructive over the passage of time. As I stood contemplating their fate another breeze came through the trees, a humid wind that only accentuated the heat of the day, leaving my skin ignited in the summer heat. Though I didn’t want to leave my perch, the sun had become too intense to stay and I knew it was time to head back. Tired from my workout I chose not to head back over the pilings and instead descended the train from where I was. Back on solid ground, I took refuge in its shade and kept my hand on the cool metal until I made it back to the main tracks. Though I was not quite ready to go home, I was satisfied with my discovery and gave one last look over my shoulder before setting off towards home.