My star-crossed adventure

Posted by Fred Frailey
on Wednesday, July 15, 2009


     In the abstract, my plan was sound, even inspired. I would leave the Vail, Colo., area by car on Day 1, meet my friend Tom in El Paso the next evening and on Days 3-4 we would explore Union Pacific's Texas & Pacific line to Fort Worth. On the morning of Day 5, I'd deliver Tom to DFW Airport and work my way to Texarkana, to follow Kansas City Southern's line northward. On Day 6 I'd reach Kansas City's suburbs and on Days 7-8 drive the rest of the way home to Virginia. Lots of train watching awaited me.

     On Day 1, everything fell apart. I had gone to Denver, then headed  south on Interstate 25. Late that afternoon, passing Raton, N.M., I called Amtrak's automated agent Julie, who said the eastbound Southwest Chief was running on time. I pulled off at the tiny village of Maxwell to await the train. Then I saw a better photo location a quarter of a mile to the west, and bounded down a dirt road paralleling BNSF Railway. I didn't see the foot-deep pothole until I was on top of it. My Dodge Durango went down, then heaved up and finally crashed down. I paid this no heed and got into position.

Amtrak 4 came, I got my photo and headed  back to I-25. Then, disaster. At 40 mph, third gear just disappeared; the motor spun as if it were in neutral.

I drove five miles in second gear to a truck stop at Springer and got beneath my car. No damage or dents were visible. No leaks, either. Because second gear still worked, I drove slowly down I-25 the 75 miles to Las Vegas, N.M. It was the next town with population of more than 10. It also has a Chrysler dealership. I found a motel and checked in.

     At 7 o'clock on Day 2, I was outside the Las Vegas Chrysler shop, waiting for it to open. I hoped against hope that the fix would be quick and cheap. I was due in El Paso that night. But I would never get there. You'll find out why tomorrow. In the meantime, guess what this photo of the Southwest Chief was worth to me?

Fred W. Frailey

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