One never knows what to expect around the corner, the perfect sunset, a magnificent stand of White Pine, industrial ruin which is why my camera is with me throughout the work day. One sunny afternoon a few weeks ago I snapped the picture in this story and after downloading the image onto my computer the following bubbled to the surface, the characters are fictional. I hope you enjoy.
Nature’s annual revival, spring, is in the air as Melinda and Jim set out on a partly cloudy Saturday morning for a rebirth of their own. A few months earlier, under the cover of night, not a word the two spoke just the sound of rubber on road and a whining 2.4 liter engine as the seaside community of Ventura melts into the conglomerate of urban sprawl that is Southern California a move regretted, yet necessary to forget the past. Ending up in a Eugene, Oregon apartment they lay low until the self inflicted isolation forces action. (Read about their getaway here: https://rockhouse54.wordpress.com/2019/01/11/unexpected-departure/)
As the two head out in the Scion, “You know a few years back,” Jim recalls, “when I was going through that self-help phase I came across a passage by Mahatma Gandhi: ‘The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.’”
Momentarily caught off guard by Jim’s philosophical outburst Melinda retaliates, “That sounds like good advice however, how does this apply to our current situation?”
“You mean getting familiar with our new home?”
Mimicking a Rodin like thinker Jim adjusts, “Well, we just make it in the service of us, or in other words drive with no destination in mind, eh.”
Melinda turns the Scion left, right, right, and left again as Jim, back against the passenger door, watches her exquisite gear shifting technique, sunlight highlights her amber hair as she turns onto Bethel Drive a two lane, blacktop road then clinched teeth flash as two cars ahead almost become one, “Say, have I ever told you have beautiful enamels?”
Before any response Jim’s eyes widen like a prospector discovering gold and after picking up his jaw from the floorboard, “Pull off there, on that access road!”
Melinda brings the Scion to a halt in front of a five by six foot sign painted red, white and blue proclaiming: Eugene Yard, Union Pacific, If It’s Not Safe, Don’t Do It!!! Beyond the sign trains move on the perimeter of an large open area metal crashes together and wheels squeak disturbing early morning calm; with DSLR camera brought with them from the south in hand Melinda snaps a picture of the warning. Literately, on the other side of the tracks lay residential housing the majority older, worn down, tired, having seen better days. To their right a white, grungy two-story building surrounded by power poles, lines connecting to the structure amass. Snap! Snap!
Stopping suddenly, “Hold on,” Jim carefully studies the yard.
“What’s the matter?”
“I feel as though railroad police clad in yellow neon vests are going to ooze out from behind these power poles bludgeons in hand.”
They advance as Jim’s apprehension is for naught. Gravel crunches under foot until the edge of a rather large circular depression, “Well I’ll be a turntable.” With kid in a candy store excitement he continues, “I never thought I’d come across one of these!”
Without hesitation, “A what,” Melinda asks.
“A turntable, these were used to re-position steam locomotives into and out of a roundhouse.”
Melinda, not seeing Jim so animated in a long while, snaps numerous pictures as he brings forth information long dormant, “Let’s see the pit looks 70’ in diameter that rail line there running across the pit turns on a pivot, both ends of the line run along a circular rail on the pit’s edge. The power line there electrifies the table via the u-shaped configuration in the center; the small booth at the end is where the operator would thus turn the table.”
Melinda said as Jim finishes up, “A-ha, I see you certainly are well informed on the subject.”
Sunlight reflecting off the white building regurgitates memory catapulting Jim to summers long ago at his grandmother’s home in a former copper mining town in northern Michigan where railroad tracks ran within 100’ of the house; he and siblings, wide-eyed, watched trains rumble past awaiting the caboose and the inevitable candy tossed by the conductor.
Recollection continues. One afternoon while attending an O. Winston Link photo exhibit at a Ventura, California art gallery Jim takes a place next to a woman with long, fine amber hair both study a 1955 Link photo of a drive-in theater.
Arms folded across chest Jim turns and said, “You know photographing trains was a labor of love with Link.”
The head of amber hair turns, eyes framed by oval shaped glasses, hikes an eyebrow and casually replies, “Oh yeah?”
Momentarily distracted Jim goes on, “Yeah, he was a New York City photographer with a love of trains and just happened on the Norfolk and Western the last steam train in American. Are you a rail fan?”
Melinda came to photography out of necessity of a job, thinking how hard it can be to snap a picture yet struggled eventually developing a zeal for composition. While enrolled in photography courses she setup a digital darkroom on a computer in her parent’s basement processing and printing pictures both color and black and white submitting them to college and local newspapers. Melinda frequented photo shows to observe, to learn; she came to the Link exhibit for fresh air after a 2 year relationship unexpectedly ended.
Casually she answers, “No. But I do love an interesting photograph. In this shot there are three forms of technology the car, with the young couple at a drive-in theater, is placed in the foreground as it dominates in the 1950’s, the jet plane on the movie screen, the latest technology at the time, flies onto the scene, and the steam train alongside the theater, the oldest of the three, is delegated to the background, it’s seen better days.”
This artistic explanation intrigues, a moment of silence Jim said, “Wow, huh I’ll be darned I just saw the train.”
A passing cloud blocks the sun, Jim returns to present time staring at the threadbare white building the spirited narrative continues, “Between the turntable and the building is where the roundhouse stood the concrete floor here outlines its shape. Right along here rails ran and in-between what is now filled with concrete would have been trenches so workers could examine the engines from beneath. Imagine giant, powerful steam engines hissing a rhythmic sound, belching black smoke the ground shakes as they move from turntable to roundhouse to machine shop, grease encased workers milling about.”
“Hold it!” Snap. Viewing the captured image of Jim’s act of pointing an unrelated thought surfaces Melinda said, “Why are people pointing in posed pictures?”
Comes a quick reply, “Don’t know,” brushing aside further interest for talk of trains is rare and Jim is on a roll, “Throughout this area here,” his left arm sweeps the air, “would have been numerous track, switches, and supporting structures designed to put trains together, now nothing. “
Having walked through Union Stations in L.A., Portland, Oregon, and Chicago, Amtrak trips across the country, witnessed Union Pacific’s mighty Big Boy 3985 Challenger, and now the remnants of a bygone era, another notch in his conductor’s cap.
“I wonder what it was like to live nearby as this must have been quite the busy, noisy place,” Melinda doesn’t hear the remark as her eye caught something on the building’s upper northeast side: ‘Southern Pacific Machine Shop’, snap.
Curiosity leads to other locations on the property, more photographs of rusting technology, piles of rotting railroad ties, and the thought of further investigation as to why Union Pacific trains occupy a seemingly Southern Pacific property.
Melinda, eager to process the countless pictures taken, steers the Scion onto Bethel Drive. Uneasiness from their flight north relieved a bit their quest to fit in continues as Jim watches the rail yard fade from view, “We should take a train trip someday.”