I had taken the last boxcar out of the Durango rail yard that day. As I crossed into New Mexico, the sky was there—just like the sky one would expect to see in the Southwest—bright blue, dotted with little-bitty cotton ball clouds. The wind in my face and the awe I felt at the desert brought a cowboy tune to my head and I whistled. I felt the rush of exhilaration I get when I see the wide open spaces, the distant mountains, the moon silhouetted in white on the afternoon sky, sagebrush and cactus dotting the land—life was grand.
At night, the phosphorescent shadow of the Milky Way lit the evening sky. Snug in my sleeping bag, I watched it spin by from the open door of the car.
Suddenly, in a grinding crash of sparks and twisted metal, the train jumped the track. It stopped. I didn’t. Through the cargo door and into the wash I landed, crumpled in a heap with a numbing pain in my leg. I finally came to and dragged myself over the rocks and prickly cactus.
One look was all I needed. The train was a wreck, but fared better than the engineer. He had taken the worst of it. Mangled and crushed against the control panel, he was dead. The conductor and brakemen were trying to pull him out, slipping in the mud from the fuel car’s spilled diesel. By now, the fire trucks and emergency crews had arrived and were giving the crew a hand to extract him. Of little help except to get in the way, my eyes searched the surroundings.
The line of lights of a small city shone in the distance. I headed for the lights.