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Where Trains and Cars Come To Die

At 7:39 AM on the third day of the trip, we called at Lamar, Colorado. The train clanged past a car wrecking yard. Among the old models I spotted a 1970s Impala. The piles of crashed and crushed cars reminded me of a cemetery of locomotives in the Gobi Desert on the Trans-Siberian railroad in the summer of 1993. Even though it had lasted seconds – so fast we sped past it that I could not shoot with my film camera – the image had stayed with me. There were green locomotives, some crowned with large, high relief, five-pointed stars. Some were empty bodyworks, like disemboweled beasts. They had moved the Soviet Union. Now they were rusting, as the last embodiment of the Russian Empire had, terminally, two years earlier.

Our call at the Colorado town of La Junta, at 8:46 AM, lasted twenty minutes. Almost all vehicles circulating were pickup trucks and occasionally an SUV. Sedans were rara avis. This was the place where an Amish family of the New Order disembarked. They traveled with us from Virginia and changed to the same train in Chicago. Here, too, was the destination of a disheveled young man, dressed in a neo-Hippie style, with long hair and a shorter beard, holding a kind of lute. He was accompanied by two other men. One of them was tall, looking like a body builder, sporting a goatee and wearing sunglasses even though the sky was cast. The other one was short and limp, leaning on a cane. He was in a baseball cap and an oversize Raiders Football, black and white sports jacket.

At the train station an amiable, small old lady with white hair and large eyeglasses, was manning tables laid out with what in the States are called antiques, but elsewhere would probably be discarded, if not kept for any emotional value. There were some belts in Native American style, with faux fur accents and imitation turquoise incrustations, but the leather was authentic. A pile of yellowing Sudoku magazines was on one corner. Some passengers got off to browse but few walked out with anything.

Our last stop in Colorado was Trinidad, “Trinity,” as we were rolling Southwest across a geography bearing the imprint of Spanish colonialism, Catholicism, and language. If nothing else, the names had survived even if devoid of any content, in a country that moved forth in an eternal present, without looking back.

 

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This is the seventeenth part of The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron, a travel diary. Please see the previous stories below:

The Trans-American Railroad: New York to Los Angeles at the Speed of Iron
The Trans-American Railroad (Part II)
Penn Station: The Journey Begins
Suburbia and the Ruins Outside Philadelphia
The Flies, the Blue Whale, and the Boatman on the Potomac
Descent into West Virginia
The Grain Express: How Tomorrow Moves
The Amish Travelers of the Old Order
The Color-Blind Passenger
To the Sides of the Railways
Away from Cincinnati, and the Sun
Chicago: Four Blocks Around Union Station
The Southwest Chief
The Crossing of the Mississippi
“Next Official Smoke Break: The Paris of the Prairies”
“On the Road”