When I was a young boy around ten years old I rode up front with the engineer and fireman in the cab of a fully operable freight hauling Southern Pacific Railroad 4-8-8-2 cab forward locomotive, one of the largest most powerful railway steam engines ever built --- and I rode in one not just once, but twice. The first time was with my older brother on the slightly down angle 50 mile straight-on set of rails in California's high desert out of the community of Mojave. The 100 car plus train was heading southbound towards Los Angeles, the locomotive's 63-inch drive wheels sometimes wavering along the distantly mirage laden tracks howling at flatout speeds approaching 90 miles per hour. The second time I was sans brother riding with just the cab crew on the Donner Pass route out of Sacramento into Reno with the train barely able to crawl over some spots towards the pass and other times barreling down along the rushing Truckee River like an out of control roller coaster.
As thrilling or exciting as riding in the cab of a 6000 horsepower cab forward over the Sierras may sound to some, or as dull or boring as it may sound to others, the whole experience came about initially by an unfortunate set of events in my early childhood, put into motion by by the death of my mother while I was still at a very young age. Within days of her death, because my father was just not able to come up with the strength needed to deal with it at the time after caring for my mother during years of her deteriorating health, what was left of our family disintegrated, scattered to the four winds, with my two brothers and myself each ending up living separately under the auspices of a variety of relatives, shirttale relatives and foster families.
Several years later my father remarried and a short time after that he called the family, that is my two brothers and myself, back together in an effort at being whole again. My new mother, or Stepmother as the case may be, was very wealthy and spared little or no expense to see to it we got whatever we wanted, as long as it was within reason and made sense. What was unusual about all of that was sometimes what my stepmother viewed as being within reason and making sense was sometimes more wayout than what us kids thought would be.
In the process of her newly found motherhood she noticed my younger brother and myself, along with a bunch of other neighborhood kids, spent an inordinate amount of time "playing cowboys" --- with cowboy hats, capguns, holsters, boots, etc., and in doing so we often ended up in the street. Using her logic, she thought, what could be better than having their own real ranch to play on, especially so, not in the street.
So that's what she did, she bought a ranch. A full section of land, i.e., one square mile --- with twenty acres in one corner that was set aside that had a ranch house, barn and horse corral among other things. Then off we went to ride real horses and shoot real guns --- albeit not so much at each other, however.
While on the ranch, as had been in the city and elsewhere, my Uncle along with my godfather were brought in to oversee all of us kids, which by then had grown to included a bunch of strays my stepmother picked up along the way somehow to take care of. Usually there were six or seven of us, with the core being my older and younger brother and our first cousin, a boy around my age somehow related to my stepmother by the name of Richard, and a real young kid we called Bub President Hudson. The kid was supposedly the son of some movie actress my uncle knew who went on-and-on continuously all day and night telling us that his mom was a spy and that she went to school with Tarzan.(see)
My older brother and cousin were the same age and being three years older than the next closest in age, me, made them in their minds too old to hang around with the rest of us. So said, the two of them were always going off and doing neat stuff, and when they would let me, often rather they liked it or not, I tagged along --- usually with my little brother in tow.
Across the ranch from the main gate the full length of the fence on the far end of the property edged right up along the Southern Pacific Railroad's mainline. In those days, since diesel-electrics had not come on the scene yet, the Southern Pacific locomotives for both passenger trains and freight trains were steam powered --- meaning they needed water to keep going. It just so happened that a short distance north up along the tracks from the far corner of the ranch was a major watering stop and siding that the freight locomotives, both northbound and southbound, almost always stopped at to take on water or get out of the way of the limiteds. The red, orange, silver, and black passenger limiteds like the Daylight always raced on by and where they got their water from I don't know, but the freights invariably stopped.
Because of the climb coming up out of Los Angeles into the Mojave high desert and the continuing climb up over the Tehachapi loop and summit in the south-central part of California as well as the need to traverse the Sierras at Donner Pass in the north-central part of the state, the Southern Pacific Railway selected as their choice for motive power, at least during the time I was around --- the 6000 horsepower 4-8-8-2 cab forwards --- or as my brothers and I used to call them when we were kids and first saw them, cab aheads. Cab forwards or cab aheads, in either case were huge long things (123 ft 9 in) counting the tender, so long that the two sets of eight drive wheels were articulated, that is, there was a hinged joint between the first and second groups of driving wheels so the sets could turn or swivel somewhat between themselves going around the tight mountain curves they encountered.
It wasn't long after we arrived at the ranch that we started showing up along the siding and watering stop when the cab forwards showed up, watching the train crews do whatever train crews do and getting as close to the rail cars and locomotives as we could. On one of those days my older brother and cousin climbed into an empty gondola car unobserved, and in a classic Sullivan brothers "Hey, fellas, wait for me!" moments, my little brother and I climbed in as well. It wasn't long before the train started to move, then began chugging along at a pretty good clip, ending up miles and miles north in the freight yards in Mojave. Well, getting onto a train stopped along a single siding out in the middle of nowhere was a lot different than getting off a train in a bustling freight yard. Not only that, lost and disoriented and not knowing what to do or what train to get on to get back, the train crew spotted us wandering around almost instantly. Lucky for us several crew members recognized us as being the same kids that hung out at the siding miles back down the track. They got together in a huddle and began a rather animated discussion on what to do with us. Apparently afraid of the reprecussions from higher up and possible loss of their jobs, they somehow convinced the engineer of a just about to leave southbound cab forward to take the four of us as far back down the track as the water stop.
However, my older brother, the redheaded firebrand that he was (read, prick), seeing that the crews were really apprehensive about the four of us being there and were seeking a rather low key solution on what to do with us, began throwing a huge fit saying if he couldn't ride in the engine it could lead to trouble. After another discussion the engineer of the southbound cab forward waved my older brother up the ladder into the cab --- and without anybody stopping me, I followed right behind, riding up front all the way to the water stop while my younger brother, who wanted to ride in the caboose anyway, and cousin rode in the caboose.
That should have ended it, except for one thing. My older brother and cousin continued to catch trains north, and after a couple of times got fairly adept at it, learning the various ins and outs of the Mojave freight yards and how to not get caught as well as how to get on the right trains back. One day though, they didn't return. By the time my uncle noticed they were actually gone and not screwing around off somewhere on the ranch --- and me beginning to worry about them myself --- he got out of me what they had been doing. He flipped out, started pacing up and down the floor trying to figure out what to do next, but before he could do anything he got the dreaded middle-of-the-night phone call. It was a reverse-charge call from my cousin. He and my brother were 500 miles away being held in a switch-tower in the Sacramento yards. A railroad bull had caught them and had all intentions to club them and throw them over the fence when my older brother convinced the bull that his stepmother was quite wealthy and there might be a sizeable reward in the offing if the two of them were returned, especially in a viable condition.
My cousin handed the phone over to the bull and he and my uncle talked for a few minutes, then hung up. Being well past midnight by then, my uncle rather hesitantly called my stepmother explaining the situation, all the while trying to put the best spin on it as he could. After an escalating back and forth semi-yelling match on her part and being rather subdued on my uncle's part she said to give her 30 minutes and slammed down the receiver. Thirty minutes later she calmly called back and told my uncle to tell the man it was possible she could make it beneficial for him but that no harm should befall the boys nor should any of it go any farther up the food chain than it was --- that is, keep it between her and the bull and off the record until she had time to resolve the issue on a personal level. She also told my uncle she wanted to make sure there was as much distance between any sort of trains and the boys when they headed home as possible, so she was dispatching her driver immediately to Sacramento to bring them back by car as well as oversee them. Then she told my uncle she wanted him personally to ensure everything unfolded as she expected, so, in order for it to transpire posthaste, she had called a longtime friend of hers named Pancho Barnes, the famed aviatrix and stunt pilot --- who just happened to own a ranch not far from ours that had three airstips --- informing my uncle that at that very moment Barnes was arranging to have a pilot and a small plane readied to fly him straight to Sacramento the second he stepped foot on her property and not to waste any time getting to either her ranch or Sacramento. As well, unbeknownst to any of us at the time, my stepmother had also called another longtime friend of hers, Johnny Roselli, a man well versed in the intricacies of persuasion. She asked Roselli to have some local Sacramento muscle to go by and visit the switch tower or wherever and make sure the railroad dick understood what she meant when she requested that no harm befell the boys, also in a roundabout way to let the bull know he wasn't dealing with a bunch of rubes.
My uncle with me tagging along in his shadow arrived at Barne's ranch just as the early morning twilight was barely glimmering along the eastern horizon. Soon we were in the air flying in a single engine overwing aircraft looking all the same to me as a bushpilot type plane only without the pontoons. A little longer than a couple of hours later we were landing in Sacramento. Not long after that we were in a well-worn building along the edges of the rail yard with long bench-like tables that served as an official and unofficial hang-out for train crews. My uncle, the bull and the pilot met at a table in the corner to discuss details while I positioned myself across the room at another table sketching in my drawing pad. There was no sign of my brother or cousin. Apparently my stepmother's request to Roselli had been fullfilled as the bull was quite compliant almost to point of just backing off. My stepmother however, felt business was business and expected to fulfill her side of the bargain --- besides, she never knew when she might need the services of a railroad bull.
I was just in the process of refining and finishing the details of a black and white pencil drawing of a cab forward I had started previously when the drawing attracted the attention of a number of railroad crew members. Soon several were passing it around and when I told some of them I had ridden in a cab forward out of Mojave I was told that I hadn't done nothing yet until I had rode in the cab of a cab forward on the Donner Pass run --- with crew members regaling the thrill of it all. In the meantime my uncle and the pilot finished their dealings with the bull and started on their way over to me when they were stopped by a crew member that had been talking with the bull shortly after the discussion broke up.
Seems the crew member had a wife or girlfriend in Reno that had to get to Las Vegas, and because of extenuating circumstances as quickly and covertly as possible. The crew member, who was an engineer, had overheard my desire to do the Donner Pass run in a cab forward and he was willing to take me in the engine to Reno IF the pilot, on our return trip to Los Angeles would quietly slip his friend out of Reno into Vegas. My uncle, always looking for an adventure for me to participate in thought it was a highly viable proposition. The pilot, who flew P-47 Thunderbolts in World War II, told my uncle he had no problem with it --- because of Pancho Barnes and my stepmother he was at the beck-and-call of my uncle for anything that had to do with flying. He said in a direct quote that he didn't give a crap where we went because he had a blank check, he would take us to Timbuktu if we wanted to. When I looked over to my uncle he told me to forget it, it was going to be no more than the Donner Pass to Reno thing for now.
My uncle gathered up my older brother and cousin, contacted my stepmother's driver who had arrived in Sacramento by then, stuck the two boys in the back of her Fleetwood and sent them on their way back to the ranch, telling the driver to not let them our of his sight. In the meantime I was on my way out of the freight yards in the lead cab forward eastbound in an 80 to 100 car train crawling through the outskirts of Sacramento toward the foothills of the Sierras and Donner Pass.
For me, as the ten year or so old kid I was and simply a ride-along observer and not some poor working stiff who had to make the same run day after day through all kinds of snow, sleet, wind or summer sun, it was everything it was cracked up to be. From the low-grass plains and scrubbrush around Roseville to the tall pines at higher altitude to none at all above the tree line. Tunnel after tunnel, miles of snow sheds after snow sheds, granite gorges, rushing rivers, raw horsepower, billowing smoke, leaning out the window with wind in your face and the sound of whistles blowing.
After my arrival in Reno my uncle picked me up saying there was a slight change in plans. Seems we were going to fly down to some dirt strip 50 miles south of Reno near Minden-Gardnerville and pick up the mysterious woman under the cover of darkness that night. The pilot wanted to put the plane down in at least some daylight since it was an unmarked strip so we left right away without eating or anything. We waited out in the middle of nowhere for hours after the sunset practically freezing to death it was so cold, plus we had no food or water to speak of. Around 9 or 10 o'clock we could see headlights coming across the dirt road toward us. A Chevy panel truck pulled up and a woman got out of the back climbing right away into the co-pilot side without saying a word while my uncle squeezed into the back with me. The woman had a long black full-length coat on, white scarf wrapped completely around her head without revealing the length or color of her hair and showing very little face. She was very pale, had big round sunglasses on and no make up. She also wore gloves and carried no luggage. The pilot had the panel truck pull in behind the plane and shine the headlights down the strip. He walked it one last time kicking a few rocks out of the way he didn't like, then got in, fired up the engine and we took off. Several hours later we landed in Las Vegas and the plane was met by a limo, of which the woman got into. Just as she undid her seatbelt and was about to step out of the plane she turned and patted me on the arm with her gloved hand. She never said a word then nor all the time she was with us and to this day I don't know who she was, how the engineer knew her, what she was doing in Reno, why she had to be in Vegas or why she patted my arm. Because the woman appeared to be so up-scale, like a movie star or something, I just couldn't put her together being the wife or girlfriend of the more-or-less working class engineer. She may have been a sister who moved up to being a professional or he may have been paying off a gambling debt by being involved in transporting her south in such a clandestine fashion. However, because of the mysterious woman, whoever she was, I was able add riding a cab forward through Donner Pass to my repertoire.
Years later I was honored to be part of a friendly get together with my uncle at the home of a longtime friend from his youth, cowboy western author Louis L'Amour. Aspects of the above Cab Forward story found its way into our conversation after it came up that my ex-stepmother owned one of L'Amour's most favorite weapons to write about, the Colt Walker. L'Amour had done a lot of hopping trains and 'riding the rails' in his youth and he seemed fascinated by the story. L'Amour, who had written over a 100 novels --- with many of them made into movies --- always interjected into what he wrote parts of his own real life adventures. Although the conversation occurred when it was getting toward the end of his writing career age-wise and the Cab Forward story wasn't about him specifically, and, even though it happened in another era, it did happen in some of his favorite write-about stomping grounds, the High Sierras and the Mojave Desert. Because of same I often wondered if bits and pieces of the story ended up in any of his books.
The video below shows cab forward number 4274 in a variety of operations prepping for a Donner Pass run. The film clip is from an old VHS tape produced by a onetime company called VIDEO RAILS and presented here through YouTube format. Clicking the triangle will start the clip. Clicking the brackets on the lower right hand corner will enlarge the video to full screen size. The second video shows a variety of views of the Daylight Limited.
SRI RAMANA MAHARSHI: THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
RECOUNTING A YOUNG BOY'S NEARLY INSTANT TRANSFORMATION INTO THE ABSOLUTE DURING HIS ONLY DARSHAN WITH THE MAHARSHI
WORLD WAR II COMES TO REDONDO
THE WANDERLING AND HIS UNCLE
Their Life and Times Together
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those who may be so interested as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
During our flight to Sacramento I overheard the the pilot tell my uncle that during World War II he flew P-47s, both in the European and Pacific theaters, with a number of kills under his belt. Both German and Japanese. Later, in a lull while we were hanging out waiting for time to pass I asked him about the plane. He had both praise and fault, but mainly lauded their armament and power. Some he said, even though the Army Air Force would never confirm it, had even broken the sound barrier in steep dives. I told him my favorite fighter plane was the P-40 Warhawk and that I especially loved the Flying Tigers. His response about the P-40 devastated me for years. The pilot said, and this is a quote, "A crappy plane, son, but it had merit." Of course, at the time, as a ten year old, and only a few years after the war, I didn't know the evolution of the planes. I just sort of lumped them altogether as existing all at one time, not realizing that the P-40, as one of the best we had at the start of the war, was totally outdated by the end when P-38s and P-51s dominated the skies.
PEARL HARBOR SURVIVOR
See also DREW HEMPEL AND THE WANDERLING discussing my various Zen droppings found scattered here and there throughout the internet, of which where the following is found:
"I do not claim to be a teacher, if anything I just shovel piles of shit out of the barn so the cows can have more space to move around in. After I have shoveled it out, that same shit shoveled, if used the right way by the right people and in the right places as manure, can contribute toward making flowers bloom or nourishment to be consumed. As chronicled in Riding The Cab Forwards I tell about me as a young boy being on a remote dirt landing strip in the desert along the east side of the High Sierras during the middle of the night waiting with my uncle and the pilot to transport a mysterious woman from Reno to Las Vegas. When she showed up the pilot had the vehicle that brought her swing around behind the plane and shine the headlights down the strip. Then, just before he got in the plane, fired up the engine and we took off, he walked the landing strip one more time kicking rocks out of the way he didn't like. Like the pilot I kick rocks out of the way so the path can be made clear making it easier --- for those who may be so interested --- to soar."(see)
Who knew that reading anything about riding in a 6000 horsepower 4-8-8-2 cab forward would have anything to do with Enlightenment? You can find it in the darnest places --- or is it that it finds YOU?
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
There has been no end to the speculation as to who the mysterious woman was that had the need to be transported covertly and without fanfare under the cover of darkness from Reno to Las Vegas. To me, although I was personally never able to see her clearly she carried a certain ambience about her that reeked of being a movie star. In those days, since I was still a kid, except for possibly western movie star Dale Evens --- and maybe Veronica Lake for reasons unknown --- my knowledge of female movie stars ran kind of thin. However, while I may not have known female movie stars per se' I did know comic book characters, and one of the ones I remembered was Lana Lang, the female lead in Superboy comics and the protagonist to Lois Lane in Superman comics.
Why is it important? Because I can still remember overhearing the response my uncle gave the pilot when the pilot asked him who the mysterious all wrapped up in dark clothes wearing sunglasses in the middle of the night woman was. He told the pilot she looked like a Hollywood movie star of the era by the name of June Lang. Now I didn't know who June Lang was, but I knew who Lana Lang was, so putting the two together was enough for me to remember his answer right into adulthood.
First of all, the whole June Lang thing rests on the accuracy of my uncle's perception regarding any resemblances he may garnererd between the woman being transported and June Lang herself. Neither I nor the pilot ever saw the woman other than being basically covered tip to toe, and then only in the middle of the night out in the darkened windswept desert or possibly a little more from the glow of the muted lights of the cockpit dials. My uncle though, was the one that arranged for the actual transportation to occur, so somewhere in Reno when all of that was being set up he may have seen the woman up close and more clearly, maybe even introduced.
The thing is, looking like June Lang and being June Lang are two different things. So said, I have no proof one way or the other who the mysterious woman was except overhearing my uncle's response. He may have been under a gag order not to reveal who she was, so he could have just shrugged his shoulders when asked and let it go at that. Instead, out of respect to the pilot he gave a verbal answer, albeit ambiguous, saying she 'looked like' June Lang --- although he could have easily said Rochelle Hudson --- a movie actress he DID know. By putting together the dots since then there is some circumstantial evidence that leans in the direction of his reply possibly being on target, however weak in solid proof it may seem.
Years later in my initial research I thought if the woman was Lang she may have been in Reno for a quickie divorce. In 1944 she married an Army lieutenant using her real name Winifred June Vlasek and it was weeks before it was discovered by the press. So I thought there was a chance she may have been in Reno incognito. However, although she did divorce the lieutenant eventually, it wasn't until several years after the events we are talking about here.
Then there is the Johnny Roselli connection. If you remember my stepmother contacted Roselli to put muscle on the railroad bull to ensure neither my brother or cousin was harmed in any way. As it happened Roselli had been married to Lang. They were married in April 1939 and divorced in March 1943. On December 4, 1942, just three days short of one full year following the attack on Pearl Harbor --- and while still married to Lang --- at age 37, for reasons not clear, Roselli either joined or was inducted into the U.S. Army. On March 18, 1943, while still serving in the Army, he was arrested on federal labor racketeering charges. The trial began on October 5, 1943 and on December 22, 1943 he was found guilty of conspiracy of extortion against the motion picture industry. Roselli received a prison term of 10 years and a $10,000 fine. After serving roughly three and a half years he was paroled.
Almost down to the day of his arrest he was divorced from Lang and almost down to the day of the start of his sentencing Lang remarried. It was not long after Roselli's release from prison than all this Reno stuff went down. It could be on my stepmother's request Roselli decided to intervene personally, so he may have gone to Sacramento OR he may just happened to have been in Reno in some sort of secret post divorce rendezvous with Lang. In that the mob often had ties to unions in those days Roselli may have requested the cab forward engineer to come forward and ask my uncle for the person to be flown to Las Vegas on the QT, totally leaving Roselli out of the picture or having any connections to or with the mysterious traveler. I personally think the transportation of the woman from Reno to Las Vegas under the cover of darkness was a deal made between Roselli and my stepmother in exchange for his assist dealing with my brother and cousin.