Scott Sparling

Hallucinations, a blog about writing, trains, and Wire to Wire

Climbing Rex Hill

Posted on Feb 21st, 2011.

The last time I took a freight trip with Iron Legs Burk was in 1989. I cut out of work early and met him on the railroad bridge that crosses the Willamette River south of Portland. We figured the train would slow for the bridge – enough, we hoped, to let us jump it.

By ’89, freights were running without cabooses. Instead of a cab, there was a flatcar with a dinky red light at the end of the train. The set-up was tragic and pathetic – the noble caboose discarded. But it made catching a ride somewhat easier. We just let the whole train pass, then chased down the flatcar.

Jesse, aka Iron Legs, climbed on first, then I grabbed the short rear ladder. I’d lost a step, maybe, and my momentum didn’t quite carry me all the way up, so Jesse put out a hand and gave a pull. That was the first and only time I ever needed help hopping a freight, and maybe a good signal that it was time to hang it up.

When we got to McMinnville, we hopped out, walked through town, and hit a bar, and eventually called my girlfriend for a ride back to Portland. It’s possible I’d forgotten to tell her about our freight plans, because she was not happy about having to drop everything and come pick us up. But she did. We’re still together and it remains on the list of bad things I’ve done.

It was a beautiful ride, though. A crisp August day through great country. That’s me in what we used to call a deep-dish gondola. If you look closely, you can see the trestle we’re crossing. Iron Legs Burk says this photo was taken climbing Rex Hill near Newberg, Oregon, and I believe him.

Photo by D.C. Jesse Burkhardt


Summer, freights, bars, girlfriends: "It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry."

Posted in Trains