So I was minding my own business in the cemetery yesterday, straightening headstones and uprighting flower vases, and I kept hearing strange clattering and tooting noises to the South. I finally glanced up and saw a little railroad maintenance car, which I thought was odd, since our railroad doesn’t use railcars, it uses old vans with specially fitted wheels. However, I thought that it was entirely plausible that the railroad probably has a railcar or two sitting around, and I went back to minding my own business when I looked up again, and saw another one.
And then another, and another, and another.
I realized that my insatiable curiosity would only be satisfied if I went over to the site of the commotion to see what was going on.
When I arrived, this is what I saw:
For those of you who aren’t intimately familiar with the cemetery geography of Fort Bragg, the train tracks run right past Rose Memorial, and the cemetery was directly behind me when I took this picture. Literally; a friend’s grave was about 20 feet away from where I was standing. I hope none of the people in our garden of the dead had a problem with the Skunk Train.
I still feel kind of shy about photographing and talking to people, so I took another shot before I worked up the nerve to ask someone what in the heck was going on.
As it turns out, most railroads sold off their railcars at some point, to replace them with foolish looking vans with train wheels on them. The next time I see the Skunk’s van, I’ll photograph it. It looks like a total 1970s molester van, it’s awesome.
So, at any rate, when the railroads sold their railcars, people bought them because they thought they were neat. And people started fixing them up and decking them out, and pretty soon organizations like NARCOA arose. People get together with their railcars and make arrangements with railroads to go on excursions, and these guys came over from Willits with railcars from all over the country. There were a lot of really neat rigs; some were obviously custom, and others were clearly vintage, and everyone looked like they were having a jolly old time.
Some people even had pi!
Everyone was very nice and friendly, and it was neat to check out all the railcars. They were gathering by the cemetery so that they could cross town as a group, rather than holding up traffic for an extended period of time as they straggled through one by one. They were very efficient, with their own flaggers on board who moved into position to stop traffic to allow the railcars through.
I got this shot of the railcars moving out and then my batteries died. Despite the fact that I have spare batteries squirreled away in almost everything I own, I for some reason wasn’t carrying any yesterday. I trailed after the railcars until they hit the Skunk Train’s lot, and they went through the forbidden gate to the Mill Site, where Skunk stores its trains and whatnot. I thought about following them through, but I would have stuck out like a sore thumb the way I was dressed, so I waved good bye and resolved to come back on their way out to get more photos.
Alas, I missed the return trip, although I did get to watch the locomotive maneuver itself around the tracks; I think they stuck the railcars on the back lot so that the railcar people could wander around town, and so that the railcars would be out of the way of the real train when it returned. The railcars had to wait for the train to come back, since we only have one set of tracks, and the train came back earlier than I thought it would so I missed the grand departure. However, now that I know about the NARCOA site, I’m keeping my eye out for Fort Bragg excursions so I can get more pictures next time.
It just goes to show you that something marvelous and amazing really is always happening, even in sleepy little towns like ours. If I didn’t go to the cemetery occasionally, I would have totally missed this event, and I think that most people in town did. Wander around your hometown some day, and you might be surprised by what you find!