Thursday, September 24, 2009

An Odd Convergence

Me and Beast took a minor detour on the way home this evening, exploring a side road that bisects a sprawling area of industrial development set amidst the sweeping fields of cedar scrub north of the Big Effer. There is no transitional area between these two modes, old and new; it is as though the industrial complex was deposited—lock, stock and barrel—in the middle of nowhere by an alien spaceship without leaving any traces.

The road looping through this complex meanders a bit, and as Beast and I were heading down this one particularly lovely stretch of straight, rolling road, I saw ahead the flashing lights and descending pikes of a railroad crossing. I assume this sets off the same reaction in everyone that it does in me, which is immediately awakening my inner three-year-old—"Oh boy!! TwainZZZ!!"

I was fortunate in several regards. I was the only vehicle on the road at the time, so I had a front-row seat. I arrived at the barrier barely five seconds before the train. The crossing was small, so the train tracks were just a few yards in front of me.

I began counting the cars after the three locomotives...twenty, thirty, forty, forty-five. Then the strangest thing happened—I heard another loud air horn blast, and there, to my left, was another train approaching. For three full minutes, two trains were passing before me, one northbound, one southbound. Rather than try to count cars, I simply stared directly across the tracks, seeing the world down the road beyond weirdly strobed by the shutter-action of the contra-moving trains. For the life of me, I can't recall ever seeing two trains passing a single crossing at the same time—subway cars in a Metro station, perhaps, but full-blown freight trains, in the middle of nowhere? Never.

While I watched, I tried to figure out where the classic 'clacking' sound came from (welded rails and all, it's a little puzzling). I was able to see the entire rail assembly—rail, plates, spikes, ties—bouncing up and down where the tracks passed onto the road crossing. Each set of wheels slapped the track down as it passed in a steady rhythm, bouncing the track vertically several inches. It was remarkable to see such immense force, and it was a wonder the spikes didn't just work themselves loose in a matter of minutes.

Then, in a flash, it was all over; the last cars passed nearly simultaneously. Two trains disappearing into their respective horizons, sound diminishing as the barriers rose silently to the vertical. I fired Beast up, and we were back on our way in no time. I felt privileged to be witness to such an odd convergence.

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