Early Training

Self PortraitTom once hopped a freight train from Omaha to Los Angeles … with his boss. Close to abandoning their alcohol-nurtured plan in a Union Pacific rail yard as midnight approached on a brutally hot summer night, the pair received aid from a sympathetic brakeman. Tom soon had possession of an official forty-page route schedule, along with this piece of invaluable advice: “Ride in one of the extra engines. If anyone asks, you’re with Maintenance Way.” Four national parks, two mountain ranges, and one sprawling dessert later, the train trudged into the vast L.A. yards, at which point a voice blared from a speaker built into the control stand: “You have riders in Unit 3. You have riders in Unit 3.” A good minute passed before the engineer – who most likely had witnessed some very unprofessional behavior on the part of his passengers, from smoking a distinctly odiferous substance to hanging out windows to properly photograph the Wasatch Mountains – replied on that same speaker, “They’re with Maintenance Way.”

Apart from living a number of places – Tom grew up on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Dubuque, Iowa, studied at the University of Iowa’s Fiction Writers Workshop, worked in Council Bluffs, Des Moines, Jacksonville, Florida, and the District of Columbia – he didn’t make much of his brief internship as a drifter. Witness his final move to Colorado… now more than two decades ago. But he still has his Union Pacific freight schedule, sealed away in a box somewhere, should that lonesome whistle call.

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