Thursday, November 1, 2018

Whistles in the Mountains: Epilogue

February 27, 2018. Transcript of ABC7 News evening report.
DAN: “Strange news in the mountains, today, as locals in the town of Glenwood discovered that the abandoned railroad tunnel just north of town had been opened recently by some overeager explorers. But when the locals went to investigate, they discovered a grim sight. Natasha is live at the scene.”

NATASHA: “Thank you, Dan. Residents of the sleepy mountain town of Glenwood awoke to a strange scene this morning. An old tunnel, abandoned and sealed by the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1942, was found reopened this morning by a man walking his dog. Gil Pennington, a local homeowner, noticed a Toyota Corolla parked near the tunnel yesterday afternoon. But when he saw it still here this morning, he investigated. He saw in the back seat a copy of Derek R. Whaley’s book, Santa Cruz Trains: Railroads of the Santa Cruz Mountains, and concluded that it must have been somebody searching for the tunnel. What Gil did not expect to find was the author and two of his friends dead just inside.”

GIL: “I climbed down into the gully where the portal is and noticed a small hole, maybe a yard square, cut into the tunnel near the top. I dropped off my dog at my house and grabbed a flashlight before heading back to the tunnel. As soon as I looked in, I saw the bodies on the floor far below....”

NATASHA: “Gil called the local fire department as soon as he discovered the bodies. Sheriff's deputies accompanied them to investigate the scene.”

SGT. MILLER: “This is a highly unusual case. There are three confirmed dead in the tunnel but the cause of death remains unknown. They were not attacked and the only signs of injury are minor wounds sustained from climbing into and attempting to climb out of the tunnel, as well as unusual burn marks on one of the bodies. The investigation is ongoing.”

NATASHA: “Fire crews have now extracted the bodies from the tunnel, although the hole had to be widened to permit crews to access the bodies.”

CAPT. FERNANDEZ: “The three individuals had to have crawled through the hole when they entered the tunnel. A pickaxe and shovels were found nearby. With all our gear, we had to enlarge the hole considerably, which also allowed more light into the tunnel. It has taken about three hours to remove the bodies. ”

NATASHA: “CalTrans plans to seal up the tunnel again, this time with concrete to ensure nobody else attempts to enter inside. Whaley, the only of the three bodies to be identified thus far, was a local historian investigating the history of the railroad lines in Santa Cruz County. Gil suggests that Whaley was following a new lead before his exploration ended tragically.”

GIL: “Derek was a frequent poster on his group on Facebook and announced just yesterday that he had discovered new information regarding the closure of the line in 1940. Although we never met in person, one of my photographs is in his book and we have talked online a number of times.”

NATASHA: “Just what did Whaley discover and was it worth his life? Fire and rescue crews working today did note strange sounds echoing in the tunnel while they extracted the bodies. We will have to wait, though, to find out what happened within the tunnel. This is Natasha Zouves reporting from Glenwood.”

OFF-CAMERA SOUNDS: [A steam whistle blowing nearby. Metal squealing on metal.]

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While some elements may be based on historical fact, the events described are entirely the author's own creation.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Whistles in the Mountains: Chapter 7: Mud and Madness

Chapter 7: Mud and Madness

Then. 7:48 p.m.
Harold sat in darkness as the world revolved around him. The train was no longer on its rails and a horrendous scraping shook and shattered any hopes Harold had that this journey would end soon.
A terrific crash and brief blast of light ahead suggested that all was not well on either end of the train. Harold grasped the seat in front of him white-knuckled, but to no avail. He was tossed onto the floor as the train made a ripping sound that shook the carriage violently. Then, just as quickly, the car slowed and stopped, gently rocking from side-to-side.
Harold got up and looked around, but he couldn’t see anything. He felt around for one of the wooden benches to reorient himself. Some distance ahead, he could hear the locomotive straining and coughing. Little orange blasts of light reflected off the tunnel walls, illuminating the right side of the car. It was gone. The derailed train must have hit the side of the tunnel and ripped the entire side of the car clean off.
The locomotive’s whistle cried out again, but it was different this time, as if all the steam in the boiler was trying to escape. It wailed a disharmonious tune that continued to rise in pitch. A chorus of loud screeching joined in, with an accompaniment by metal scraping across solid granite. The ground began to shake as the locomotive, still moving, began bouncing between opposite walls of the tunnel, ripping redwood timber beams and posts with it along the way.
The car shifted again as the locomotive pulled the rails from underneath the carriage and tossed them aside like matchsticks. Harold was thrown back onto his back, and this time he felt blood. Glass and splinters lay everywhere on the floor and seats. The light was gone again, but the smell of smoke and oil permeated his nostrils. Behind him, he heard a scuffling and then a small flashlight shone in his direction. It was the conductor. He had somehow pried the door to the baggage car open and was waving for him to follow.
Harold turned around and forced himself up, but no sooner had he risen than he was on the ground again. A massive explosion sent shards of wood flying in every direction. The locomotive had blown. It had to have. There was simply no other explanation. Everything smelled of soot and brimstone. The twisting of the locomotive in the solid granite bore pushed the locomotive to the extreme. Fortunately for Harold, an entire passenger and tender car were between him and the explosion.
The bleeding cement worker tried to push himself up again, but this time it took a greater effort. He leg was bleeding badly and he had knocked his head on a chair in the explosion. The flashlight was still visible ahead, but it was on the floor now, and the conductor lay sprawled, a piece of glass from the connecting door visible in his head. Harold forced himself to move into the baggage car, seizing the flashlight along the way while carefully working his way around the body.
As he gazed through the baggage car and out the window at the read, he could just make out the rain falling heavily outside the portal entrance. It was only about one hundred feet away. Harold eagerly but slowly limped through the car, dodging a suitcase and some sacks of mail and other debris that was littered everywhere. Just as he reached for the back door to open it, the car began to vibrate. This was unlike anything he had felt before on this ride. It was like the ground itself was moving. Was this an earthquake?
The world around him began to shake with increased ferocity, knocking Harold once more to the ground. Something dropped onto the roof of the car. Then another. And another. Rocks. The car was being pummeled by rocks! The explosion must have liquified some of the granite and exposed a sandstone vein, or, worse, an entire cave’s worth of debris. Harold scrambled toward the door, frantic now to get out of this death trap.
But it was too late. Rocks continued to fall, larger ones. Windows shattered. The roof began to bow and then break from the weight. Harold finally crawled to the door and reached up toward the handle, twisting it slightly. Outside, he no longer could see the rain, only a steady downpour of soil. The air smelled of fresh earth being shoveled into a new garden in the spring. It was a pleasant smell, one that reminded him of the little garden he kept outside his tiny hovel in Felton.
Overhead, a boulder, shifted from all the moving debris, found a path down into the tunnel that had for so long kept it aloft. It fell through the ceiling of the baggage car like scissors through paper and flattened the aging car and everything inside.

Now. 7:48 p.m.
Joe, Jon, and I were in a dead sprint now. Why on earth did we hike so far into an abandoned tunnel without telling anyone where we were going? Why did we do it so late? What is my ridiculous obsession with doing things on important anniversaries?
Whatever was making the strange whistling sound in the tunnel, it appeared to be getting louder, not quieter, as we approached the hole we had dug only a few minutes earlier. There was still no sign of the entrance up ahead and our way was light solely by the light of the flashlight in my hand. Another strange noise gave us pause, forcing us to face the demon in the tunnel behind us.
There was nothing there and the noise had stopped. I pointed the flashlight into the infinite abyss and nothing worthwhile could be seen. I lowered it again and then everything suddenly went dark. I held up my flashlight and smacked it a few times, but it didn’t do anything. Joe pulled out his cell phone and switched on the flashlight mode. The light did nothing to light our way, but we were able to use it to swap the batteries around to try to milk a little extra juice from them. I switched it on and a little faint light shone and then winked out.
Okay. Cell phones only, then, I told myself. Let’s get out of here...
As we turned around to reorient ourselves toward the exit, a tiny flicker of light caught my eye. Just a sparkle, nothing more. It was in the wrong direction. The exit was to the south – Joe had his phone out with the compass turned on. The light was coming from the north. What the hell?
The light continued to blink in and out with varying intensities, like a campfire crackling on a windy night. It was both reassuring and unnerving, and we were having none of it. We began carefully walking back toward the entrance. We could no longer afford to run – there were numerous potholes and sand piles along the stretch closest to the entrance and we had no desire to trip now.
All of a sudden, that whistle noise sounded again, but this time it was different. It was a cry for help. A last desperate shout to the world that it was relevant and somebody needed to pay heed to it. It became louder and louder, its pitch rising to such a height that Joe’s glasses cracked on his face. A moment later, the noise stopped. We waited for something more, fearing to move or even breathe. Then we cautiously walked on, step-by-step.
It did not matter. Second later, everything became illuminated in red-yellow and all three of us were tossed onto our faces on the hard ballast ground. The air smelled of sulfur mixed with water vapor, and Jon’s sweatshirt was on fire. He got up and threw it on the ground, stomping it out with his boots. Joe and I both inspected our own coats to find them equally burned, although not burning. Our shoes were partially melted, too, and Joe had second-degree burn marks on his exposed legs.
We hobbled together toward the entrance again, hoping beyond hope that this phantom explosion with real consequences was the final act of this disastrous play, but we were not so lucky.
Jon was the first to hit the bottom of the rubble pile that marked our way out. He pulled out his own phone and started to climb, uncharacteristically ignoring both of us in a desperate desire to rid himself of this cavern of doom. I helped up Joe, whose leg injuries were making it painful for him to climb. Jon was about two-thirds up the rubble pile when we all felt a strange rumble around us.
It was distant at first, but grew in intensity. Jon started to scramble but lost his footing and slid back down to us. He grabbed Joe by an arm and I took him by the other and we started to climb again, but the shaking had only grown worse. Rocks were falling from the ceiling now, making progress slow. My partially-melted shoes made it more difficult to find traction on the rough rocks, and it was impossible for any of us to use our cameras’ flashlights to show the way. We were climbing blind.
At last, Jon shouted that he could see a tree branch. We were nearly there! But the Glenwood tunnel was not done with us yet. The shaking became more dramatic, the rocks larger in size. One hit Jon first, sending him sliding past Joe and me back into the darkness. A series of smaller stones caused me to lose my grip on Joe and topple over, hitting my head hard on a stone. Joe simply fell over, a large rock smashing into his shoulder unbalancing him.
The rocks continued to fall on us, and we were powerless to stop them. Thoughts of mountain railroads and lumberjacks and grouchy old station agents danced through my head. And in my last moment, it became clear to me that the Southern Pacific Railroad covered up this accident not to protect themselves, but to contain the terrible cosmic forces that they had unwittingly unleashed upon the world.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While some elements may be based on historical fact, the events described are entirely the author's own creation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Whistles in the Mountains: Chapter 6: Into the Depths

Chapter 6: Into the Depths

Now. 7:45 p.m.
As the leader of this mission, I took the first tentative step into the hole Jon had bored through the artificial fill in the Glenwood tunnel’s portal. Granted, both of them refused to be the first in and I really had to crawl rather than step, but the end result was the same. I took the flashlight with me and held it tightly in my right hand.
The hole was at least fifteen yards above the original ground of the tunnel, and I was not surprised to find a steep slope ahead of me. The light danced with the shadows in the dark maw of the cavernous tunnel. I looked around as I cautiously crawled, very aware of the thick mesh of white, threatening cobwebs covering every pit in the uneven granite ceiling.
Unlike the Summit Tunnel, which required extensive timberwork to ensure the roof did not collapse, most of the tunnel between Glenwood and Laurel was made of granite and required only token supports. Those supports were removed in 1942, but the ceiling still held firm, except for some minor spills here and there where burrowing animals cut holes through weak rock, or ground shifts and earthquakes let in stray sand.
The roof was still too close for comfort, so I took a few steps down the rubble pile before turning my flashlight on the hole so that the next explorer could enter into the Southern Pacific’s lost cathedral. I could hear Joe and Jon bickering outside over whom would go next. Eventually Jon’s head appeared and Joe followed, looking backward with alarm as if somebody was going to catch us. I shifted down a few more feet as they moved into the space.
“Everything alright?” I asked, not expecting a problem.
“Yeah, I just think we should make this quick. It’s getting really dark out there and nobody really knows we’re here.” Joe stopped and looked around again, his eyes widening.
The rubble pile went all the way to the ground, where the original right-of-way remained largely intact, with covered gutters lining each side to allow water to flow out. Despite the rubble, it appeared that most of the water did indeed seep out through the debris into the cesspool outside since the interior was surprisingly dry. All three of us descended to the ground and I slowly rotated the flashlight around the chamber.
The ceiling was now high above appearing as a continuous rock that had no end or beginning, It wrapped around the sides of the cavern to the floor, wrapping us in its cocoon. Turning ahead, I tossed the light of the flashlight into the distance but received no return. The blackness was complete – a mile of undisturbed tunnel, empty, sealed. The rumors were false. There was no train trapped inside, or the railroad or salvage firm had removed it after the disaster. Although we could see nothing in the distance, our voices alone, which echoed through the roots of the mountain, came back undisturbed.
We started to walk down the tunnel slowly. We didn’t fear getting lost, but we also did not want to explore for too long. I was convinced the legends weren’t true, so hiking further into the bore would accomplish nothing. After hiking for fifteen minutes in near total darkness, I signalled to the guys that we should turn around and head back. It was past 7:30 p.m. and we had been gone far too long for comfort.
As we began our march back, a strange squeal cut into our thoughts. It sounded like somebody was taking a piece of bow and rubbing it hard along a violin string. The three of us turned around. I flashed the light into the darkness, but received no report. “Let’s get out of here,” I said, suddenly aware that we may have destabilised this tunnel by opening it to the elements.
We walked faster this time, but didn’t run. Although we were on edge, it was a slight disturbance. But then we heard the unmistakable whistle again, and this time there could be no doubt that it came from within the tunnel itself. A high scream from a tight metal tube bounded down the tunnel walls, momentarily deafening us. It was followed quickly by the sound of steel-upon-steel and the puff-puffing of an overladen locomotive climbing a steep grade.
We sprinted toward the hole, ghostly shadows chasing us along the walls...

Then. 7:45 p.m.
The train whistle cut through the pounding rain heralding the trains approach into Glenwood, the first and only relevant stop through the mountains in 1940. But the train’s late arrival and the inclimate weather made it unlikely anyone was there to flag the train. And, sure enough, the train was not slowing – nobody had triggered the flag to stop.
Harold gritted his teeth as the train sped along the double-track through the Bean Creek valley. It was through Glenwood that he had first come to Santa Cruz County ten years earlier, when there was still a station in town and even a few businesses. Now the place looked abandoned, although porch lights marked where the general store still stood. Harold remembered popping into that store in 1930 to send a letter to his parents to let him know he had arrived. He had traveled via an autobus that operated along the route, and it stopped at Glenwood to unload vacationers who still had some money to spend. Harold was not so lucky, but he could afford a postcard and a stamp. Harold’s father was always fascinated by tunnels and the general store happened to have a postcard showing a train at Glenwood entering the tunnel just beside the town center.
Now Harold realized that that same tunnel was his next destination: a 1.1-mile-long bore through the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains beneath the newly-completed Highway 17, which was closed due to damage from this same storm. After the two previous tunnels, Harold dreaded the thought of entering another, fearing the strange hollow sound, the suffocating smoke, and the sheer blackness. But he was committed and it was too late to detrain anyway.
The train rounded a sharp bend in the track, blasting its whistle as its wheels screamed loudly upon the rails, descending into the depths. Harold took a deep breath, fearing it would be his last. And then, all of a sudden, the train lurched unnaturally to the left and all the lights flickered off...

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While some elements may be based on historical fact, the events described are entirely the author's own creation.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Whistles in the Mountains: Chapter 5: Light and Darkness

Chapter 5: Light and Darkness

Then. Early Evening.
Harold sat on the edge of his seat, hyper aware of the motion around him. The train was moving very fast, or so it seemed from the inside. The darkness outside was near complete, except for branches that suddenly brushed past the windows only to just as quickly disappear. Although the train was moving no faster than 20 miles per hour, it was more than Harold could handle. He had never been on anything so large moving so fast through utter blackness.
Outside, rain lashed against the windows and sides of the train. Sheets of it fell and the sound of it hitting the coach was near deafening. Occassionally, lights flicked by the windows, ephemeral hints of civilization.
This is a mistake, Harold told himself, his knuckles white on the seat ahead of him. But the conductor, just barely visible through a window in the car behind him, seemed untroubled. Perhaps this is all just in my head, he thought.
Relaxing his grip, Harold shifted in his seat, trying to find some semblance of comfort. Outside, a hollow ringing ran through the train – they must be crossing over a bridge. But what bridge? They had already crossed Zayante Creek. Harold didn’t know and didn’t particularly care.
Five minutes later, the sound suddenly seemed incredibly loud and close. A tunnel. He could smell smoke in the air and the sound of rain on the coach temporarily ceased. But it resumed as quickly as it had stopped.
They were deep in the Zayante canyon now, rising quickly above the creek and toward the summit. A few specks of light glittered down along the valley floor, fireflies dancing in the trees. Everything else was dark.
The train bounced once. Twice. Even in this strange chaos, this new feeling felt different – unplanned. The conductor entered the car and scurried to the front, opening the door to the front coach. His expression did not provide Harold with any confidence. The train slowed slightly, either due to the steep grade or because of something else. The train rocked hard to the left and then righted. Something was wrong.
Another five minutes and the noise amplified again. Another tunnel. This time longer than before. The cabin lights flickered slightly and the smell of smoke was notably worse. The conductor returned to the car with a worried look on his face.
“There’s nothing to worry about,” he told Harold without prompting. “Everything is in order. Just some debris on the tracks.” Harold was not convinced and the conductor’s brow remained creased as he returned to the third car.
The train continued to rock unsteadily as rain pelted it with renewed vigour. The train whistle briefly punctuated the other sounds, signalling our approach into Glenwood.

Now. Early Evening.
Illegally breaking into a sealed railroad tunnel proved harder than any of us had realized. The large stones did not respond well to the pickaxe and we began digging with our hands and shovels just to shift the stones enough for the axe to pull them out of their holds. It was tedious labor, but all three of us hoped the returns would be worth it.
As we had feared, the sun was already setting and the Glenwood vale was already in shadows. We all prayed that our flashlight had enough power and luminescence to suit our needs. Jon had been working with the pickaxe for the past thirty minutes, while Joe and I shoveled stones and gravel down the rubble pile to the bog below. The beam across the Glenwood tunnel portal was still securely in place, and Jon used it constantly to leverage himself against stubborn rocks. The flashlight was now aimed from one side of the beam at our worksite, perched precariously from a hole in the prefabricated steel strut.
Suddenly, a noise pierced the otherwise night sky. It was a loud wheeze, like steam escaping through a teapot. All three of us stopped and looked around. The night air was silent. Perhaps too silent. Whatever had made the noise had vanished.
We resumed digging and Jon yanked hard on an especially large boulder that was lodged behind the beam. It shifted without warning and did something none of us expected: it rolled backwards into the tunnel. We stepped back, our eyes agape at the three-foot-square hole Jon had inadvertently revealed. We had did it. We had opened a pathway into the tunnel.
Almost immediately, a foul odor hit my nose. It smelled of acid, mildew, dry rot, mud, and rust. It was the smell of seventy years of decay and neglect. It was the smell of abandonment, forgetfulness, and lost dreams. But it was the smell of discovery, of new beginnings, of an awakening.
Just then, as we gazed excitedly into the tunnel, the strange noise returned, and this time it was unmistakable. It was a train whistle. An old, steam whistle blasting at full release. Joe, whose father worked at Roaring Camp Railroads, dismissed it, reminding us that the steam engines at Roaring Camp often did night runs and we must just be hearing that. Jon and I were not so sure – the noise seemed to come from the tunnel. But we had come too far to give up now and no echoing whistle from miles away would deter us from our exploration...

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While some elements may be based on historical fact, the events described are entirely the author's own creation.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Whistles in the Mountains: Chapter 4: The Summit Road

Chapter 4: The Old Summit Road

Now. Late Afternoon.
It was later in the day than I had hoped to set out when Joe, Jon, and I finally climbed into the Camry for the drive up to Glenwood. Despite the warm temperature, the clouds had started to move in overhead and the humidity was rising. Still, late winter, assuming it wasn’t raining, was an ideal time to hike and work outside in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The cooler air kept you more comfortable for longer. The only real problem was daylight, and we were probably going to be pushing that. Hopefully the flashlight would be enough.
The south – railroad east – portal of the Glenwood tunnel was equally the most conspicuous and inconspicuous tunnel along the entire former mountain route. Whereas the other five abandoned tunnel portals were hidden in mountain glens or otherwise out-of-sight, hundreds of drivers saw the Glenwood portal every day. They just didn’t realize they saw it. That’s because it sat under Glenwood Drive. The only sign of the tunnel visible from the road was a series of steel pipe rails that lined the top of the portal to keep people and cars from falling off the road.
In all fairness, the deception was never intentional. When the road was first built over the tunnel, the entire area was very clear of debris, and the frequent trains running through the tunnel ensured that it remained quite visible from the road. In fact, many drives in later years probably found their cars suddenly barraged with ash and soot if they timed their passing over the portal with a train heading through the portal. But those days are long gone. The tunnel was collapsed by the Army Corps of Engineers in April 1942 on behalf of a salvage company hired by Southern Pacific. Ever since then, the gully around the portal – the former right-of-way – had become increasingly overgrown.
It was this overgrown mess that the three of us had to get through just to get to the portal. Poison oak lined the trail, mixed with pointy blackberry vines. At the bottom of the gully, decades of garbage had collected in a permanently moist swamp. We tip-toed around the water as best we could to get to the portal itself.
A concrete wall towered above us, barring our way. At slightly less than twenty-seven feet high, the tall arch of the tunnel mouth was an imposing figure, one that we would have to overcome. At the top of the tunnel, a taunting “1908” stared down at us, reminding the world of the engineering feat this structure was a century and a decade earlier. But the biggest obstacles were the large steel beams that criss-crossed the artificial cave-in at the entrance of the tunnel. To ensure that the roadway remained intact after the dynamiting of the tunnel entrance, the Army installed these braces just inside the portal to keep rubble confined inside the tunnel and the concrete walls intact.
The three of us looked at each other and discussed what we’d do. The obvious play was to dig a small hole at the very top of the tunnel, just below the top beam. The rubble pile would be the thinnest here.
We started to climb the crumbling debris pile to the top with our tools in hand. It was a difficult climb, but the biggest threat proved to be the small spider nests along the top of the portal. The little white silk cocoons looked ominous and suggested that spiders of a decidedly deadly nature lurked nearby. And here we were...getting ready to dig into a mile-long spider nest. It was not a pleasant thought.
Shrugging off our fears, we found a place that seemed especially easy to dig through, and Joe swung his pickaxe...

Then. Early Evening.
The rain had begun to downpour as soon as Harold was aboard the train. He shook off his hat and removed his blazer. The train only had three cars and appeared to be empty except for the conductor. Wooden bench seats lined both sides of the aisle, with a few facing backwards. Southern Pacific had long neglected this route, and these coaches had seen better days. While nicer cars were brought out for the Suntan Specials in the summer, slowly degrading passenger coaches such as this were used for the daily commutes. The lighter and smaller cars made the turns better in San Lorenzo Gorge and also cost less fuel to haul.
Harold, though, had never been on a train before, so he didn’t mind. In fact, the poorly upkept car reminded him a bit of his home in Felton Grove. Well, at least before it had flooded. He took a forward-facing seat near the middle of the train, setting his blazer and hat on the seat beside him.
The conductor rather lazily walked into his coach from the baggage car at the end. He looked down at Harold and sighed audibly. “Your ticket, sir.” Harold was unsure whether the conductor suspected he had no ticket or was just tired of his job. In any case, Harold presented the ticket. The conductor looked at it, stamped it, and then returned it. Without another word, the conductor disappeared back into the baggage car, clearly done with Harold.
Harold didn’t mind. He had spent most of his life being uninteresting. And this train fascinated him, even if nobody else cared. He gazed outside at Felton Depot one last time. The station agent was closing up and putting on his coat. He turned off the lights, locked the door, and climbed into his Ford pickup truck.
The train made a sudden lurch. Harold grasped the seat in front of him, uncertain what was happening. The train moved again, and this time it kept moving. Very slowly at first, but steadily picking up speed, the train ascended into the dark, foreboding mountains...

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While some elements may be based on historical fact, the events described are entirely the author's own creation.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Whistles in the Mountains: Chapter 3: Up and Out

Chapter 3: Up and Out

Then. Early Evening.

Time passed slowly at the station. Harold had arrived at just past ten and spent the better part of his afternoon in Felton Depot. Outside, the rain had steadily picked up until it was a light shower. He had gone hungry at lunch but his stomach couldn’t help but growl. The only other person in the depot was the station agent, who sat behind his desk, trying with all his effort to ignore the perceived degenerate who sat only a few yards away. Harold didn’t mind. The days when working manual labor was respectable were long gone and Harold was very aware that most people looked on him with pity, if they looked at him at all.
As seven in the evening approached, a woman arrived with a brown paper bag, which she handed to the agent. The two smiled at each other and Harold looked down. A moment later, the woman stood before him. The hem of her yellow dress was muddy but Harold could still make out the tiny white flowers speckled across it. He looked up sheepishly, but the woman smiled down at him.
“Robert over there says that you’ve been here all day,” she said. She took a seat on the wooden bench beside him. Harold squirmed uncomfortably.
“Yes, ma’am. I’ve got a ticket for the evening train, and I wanna make sure I don’t miss it,” he replied matter-of-fact. He held open his hand to reveal his heavily creased but still legitible ticket. He had been holding it since the morning.
“Well, don’t you worry. The train will arrive, you’ll see, and then you can be off to wherever you’re planning on going.” She continued to smile as she got up off the bench, but before Harold could lower her head, she turned around and handed him the brown paper bag. “Robert called up earlier and said you hadn’t had a thing to eat since you’ve been here. Nasty day, it is, so I figure I’d bring something to tide you over.”
Harold took the bag graciously, uncertain what to say other than a timid “Thanks, ma’am.”
The woman in the yellow dress walked back to the station agent, pecked him on the cheek, and whispered something to him. He glanced over at Harold and then back at her, but she was already walking out the door. Outside, a car engine revved and then the sound of rain returned. The agent and Harold both looked out the door. They then glanced at each other before quickly turning away.
Harold started to dig around in the bag, pulling out a ham sandwich with all the fixings. He consumed it slowly, savoring each bite. It was the first thing he had eaten for two days. When he finished, he looked back up to the agent, who was pretending to read a book at his desk. He decided against thanking the man for making the call. They both knew how much it meant.
Suddenly, a whistle sounded in the distance. Harold looked up at the clock. 7:25 p.m. The train was late. The rain must have slowed its progress up San Lorenzo Gorge. Harold got up and brushed the crumbs of his pants and blazer. Outside, he could hear the locomotive’s brakes screeching to a halt beneath the large water tower beside the depot.
A soot-covered engineer popped into the depot, and the agent and him went outside, leaving Harold alone. Harold looked around and realized he didn’t have any luggage, just his ticket. He left the shelter of the station as rain began to fall in sheets outside. This would be a long ride...

Now. Noon.

I was scratching my head befuddled. Why would the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors go along with Southern Pacific in its coverup. The evidence was so obvious. Even if there were no passengers on the train, the crew still seems to have disappeared on the evening of February 26, 1940. It made no sense. Thinking back to my previous research, though, it became clear that it did make sense. A lot of sense, actually. The supervisors had fought the Sentinel and the Chamber of Commerce throughout the following months as it became clear that the railroad sought abandonment. For whatever reason, they went along with the railroad company’s deception, even the two board members who voted against the motion. By November, the route was officially abandoned and the matter was put to rest permanently.
Cover-up or not, it was increasingly clear that a train had, in fact been buried in the mountains, or otherwise lost. The rumors, the ones I had so emphatically dismissed, were true. This troubled me more than I had anticipated. If a train was still out there, where was it? Surely it must be in one of the mile-long tunnels. The tunnel under Mountain Charlie Road had been exposed for decades and there was no train inside. This would require a whole new level of investigation.
The weather was good for a drive in the mountains. The unseasonably warm air provided the motivation I needed. I called up my two fellow explorers, Joe and Jonathan, and explained the situation to them. Both were eager to join me in this dig. And dig it would be.
Considering the two tunnels, I realised that the more logical one to search would be the Summit Tunnel, but that would also be the most dangerous. Plagued with methane leaks, oil slicks, and coal veins, it was dangerous. Rumor held that a team from UC Santa Cruz had drilled a hole into the interior of the tunnel in 1990 to inspect earthquake damage, but quickly sealed it back up when their monitors detected dangerous levels of gas in the chamber. Exploring that tunnel would be a last resort.
No, the tunnel between Glenwood and Laurel was our target. The portals on either side were easily accessible and the southern portal at Glenwood was obscure enough that locals probably wouldn’t ask any questions if we dug around there. Joe would bring along a pickaxe that he had, while Jonathan would provide the shovels. I had a heavy-duty crowbar and high-powered flashlight. Together, we would do what hadn’t been done in nearly eighty years. We would reopen the tunnel to see just what the Southern Pacific Railroad had left behind.

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. While some elements may be based on historical fact, the events described are entirely the author's own creation.