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Copper Canyon 4 with a Special Train

by Chris Guenzler

The next trip was to celebrate my thirty fifth birthday the Bananafish way and I contacted them in November to set it up with Bill who gave me a huge discount for being a regular rider plus a super nice guy. I had a passenger who I took with me as Sandy asked me if I could transport her to Mexicali. She lived in Glendale so she took an Amtrak San Diegan to Santa Ana where I met her. We drove do to Calexico the day after Christmas via San Timiteo Canyon, Indio and CA 111 along the Salton Sea so I could take some pictures along the way. We parked at AA Parking us usual, walked across the border then taxied to the Hotel Lucerna. I was interested to see what the railroads in Mexico were like after the Mexican Government merged all of their nation's railroads into one system called the FNM. The other thing I was hoping to see were the big Alco and Milwaukee engines that used to be on the BC Rail when I rode it back in 1986 and were bought by the FNM and assigned to the Pacifico Region, the old FCP along Mexico's west coast. I checked in, got my room then started my solo partying by watching Dallas in Spanish with some guy's wimpy voice doing JR Ewing as I started my drinking session. I later watched the Yuma and El Centro station before going down for dinner. I spent some time with Bill and Sandy before I returned to my room for a series of nightcaps and bed.

FNM {SBC} 1 12/27/1992

The next morning, I went downstairs to load my bag on the truck and took the bus down to the Mexicali train station. The station was crowded with holiday travelers heading for points south. Sandy collected our tourist permits and took them to the custom Office where they were stamped before they were returned to her and her to us. We boarded our cars, mine is the Rapid an River which was on the rear of the train. It had a platform area cut out of the end of the car and a small lounge in the middle of the car. It is an ex Southern Railway car and I had a roomette at the back end of the car. Now there was a question that occurred to me on every trip, what was our motive power? Only one way to find out so I walked to the front of the train where I found an ex BC Rail M-630 in British Columbia colors of red, white and blue on the point of train of the now FNM train number one. I returned to the rear of the ten car train with our four Bananafish sleepers and lounge car taking up the rear portion of the train. We prepared to depart with me taking my spot in a folding chair on the rear platform.

We departed Mexicali and passed through the ex SBC Yard with all of the engines being ex BC rail then through the outskirts of the city. The steam wells at Cerro Prieto have really become developed and far more extensive. We passed through Delta before crossing the Colorado River and entering Sonora. We stopped at Coahuila, meeting the FNM {SBC} train number three, the Second Class train from Guadalajara running long and heavy. Upon departure from Coahuila, I retired to my room for a few drinks during the ever sandy Altar Desert, only leaving the confines of my room for another picture of The Crosses before returning back to my room for another drink. Upon finishing that one, I went to the lounge car for a nice cold Tecate to have while I caught up with Bill and Sandy. We talked the rest of the way into Puerto Penasco where we all got off into the warm Sonoran sun.

How many Mexican railroad workers does it take to water a car in Puerto Penasco? The answer, sixteen. One guy does all of the work while the other fifteen watch and cheer him on. Why does this seem like the same amount of people to break a boulder in the "Rain, Rain, Everywhere" story? It is more interesting down here in Mexico watching things get done than it ever is in the United States. That is why I love Mexican railroading. Telegraphs, train orders, timetable controlled trains, no signals. Hand signals, marker lamps, no CTC, hand thrown switches and no Freds {Freight Rear End Device} just cabooses. It may not be the modern way of doing things but it does work and works surprising well. We left Puerto Penasco, kicking up the dust as we left town and I rode the rear platform until the Sea of Cortez fades behind the horizon before I returned to my room for a few more rounds of drinks and the music on my headphones. We made good time across the desert and pulled into Caborca, where we met FNM number one with an ex BC Rail unit in the green paint scheme. I took pictures as the two trains passed each other on this delightful December day. Leaving Caborca, I rode in the lounge car to Benjamin Hill having some great conversations with other passengers. Once the first timer on this trip found someone who has experienced something that they are about to do, it is questions, questions and more questions. My motto is, "Ask me your questions and I will tell you all answers," holds true and really worked well as people were buying me drinks. At Benjamin Hill we pulled in well before sunset where I find more BC Rail power and my only ex SBC unit. I wondered where they had all gone. I made the trip across the street to the liquor store to buy some Bacardi {rum} and pick up a two liter bottle of Coca Cola. I returned to my sleeping car to mix a drink and hear Emerson Lake and Palmer song "Pirates" while I sip my drink feeling like I am on a Spanish Galleon, ready to do what a pirate does. I love to close my eyes and have a good fantasy. I always wondered what kind of pirate I would have been. The train from Nogales pulled in and picks us up with a jolt of movement bringing me back to reality. We left Benjamin Hill in twilight and head down the ex FCP mainline south into the night. I fixed myself a sandwich before having another drink on the rear platform. We were really moving, rocking and rolling along through the night. I returned to my room, my headphones and nightcaps before going to bed speeding south through Sonora.

12/28/1992 The next morning I awoke in Sinaloa on the interchange track at Sufragio and took the usual walk for pictures. Most of the locomotives in the shop area were in the FNM paint scheme with a few still in FCP colors. FNM {CHP} train number three pulled into Sufragio and then departs. I went to the lounge car to get some breakfast of bagels before going back outside to wait for FNM {CHP} number seven to arrive when from the other way a freight train came west down the ex CHP line and I took a few pictures of it. After it left, it was only a matter of time and since I did not know what time number seven would get here, I went to my room to fix a drink. While enjoying my drink, I had a thought, where is the open car? I had not seen it on my morning walk so I went outside with no sign of it. I began to get a strange feeling with the lateness of the hour, maybe they forgot about us. Number seven finally came into view on the flyover above the FCP, sped into Sufragio when the conductor on the caboose spotted us and dumped the air on the train to stop it. They had forgotten us. Now let us see where the open car was? They did their station work, then backed up to a switch, line it and coupled onto a string of cars. Starting with one, I counted forty nine cars pass by before they found it. They then spotted it on the mainline before they put the forty nine cars back where they had found them. They did all this with the passengers cars still attached to the regular train. They then coupled onto our cars on the interchange track then hooked us up to the open car and caboose. Once this time consuming move was done, we finally left Sufragio.

I did my usual railroad post card trick so that our group would have access to the caboose so I rode up in the cupola until Loreto enjoying the countryside. At Loreto, I went to my room for a couple of rums and cokes before returning to the open car and riding my old friend across the El Fuerte River Bridge, through the Descanso Tunnel and over the Chinipas River Bridge. I felt like I knew the line like the back of my hand with every location bringing back fond memories. I headed back to the room for some sunscreen for my face and a couple of drinks for myself before heading back to the open car for the ride up and around Temoris, my favorite place on this railroad.

With every visit I feel like I am seeing it for the first time and the latter almost noon light gave the place a different but unique character. I just love Temoris and the experience of passing through it every time I do. There is no other place in railroading like it. We entered the La Pera Tunnel with that great view looking down into the canyon before entering my favorite tunnel after tunnel section. After the last tunnel, Sandy came out to see if I wanted lunch. I had some of that great San Blas Chicken along with a Tecate. I talked to Bill and Sandy for a while catching up on our lives over the last year.

Sandy wondered how a guy so nice and sweet could be single? I responded with, "I have not found any woman who likes to ride trains like I do!" The three of us had a good laugh with that one. I returned back to my room for a couple more rum and cokes, putting on my headphones and enjoying the passing scenery outside my window. This had turned into a very passive and relaxing trip. After about forty five minutes or one side of a tape, I returned to the open car as we passed through Chihuahuicame and enjoyed our crossing of the La Laja Bridge prior to our arrival at San Rafael. FNM {CHP} train number four as waiting for us to clear before it could depart town. We sat for over thirty minutes before FNM {CHP} train number eight, the Second Class train pulled in. Once he was in the clear, we made a quick run in the very late afternoon sun to Posada Barrancas, where our group detrained and our cars will be taken up to Divisidero to spend the night, waiting for us tomorrow.

Mansion Tarahumara 12/28/1992

We hopped into a Tourism Bus for the short trip to the Mansion Tarahumara. We drove down a well graded dirt road, then swung around, crossed the CHP tracks before climbing up the hill to the hotel. There is a huge fireplace on a second level. It is a really nice hotel. The rooms are out up the hill in rows of cabins connected together by wooden walkways. My room was very large and the usual first order of the business was to take a long hot shower, then go out exploring. I shared the room with Jim. We went climbing the ridge behind the hotel and were rewarded with an early evening view of Urique Canyon which in this low light was awesome. We went to the bar and had a round of drinks before the group dinner in the Grand Hall. It looked like something out of the middle ages and dining hall could be just that. They only do three meals a day here all at the same time in a large group setting and this meal was a chicken thing so at least I could eat some of it. I took a walk after dinner to do some star grazing before returning to my room for a few rounds of my whiskey and seven before bed.

My first aid test 12/29/1992

The next morning, members of our group including me decided to hike down into Urique Canyon toward some Tarahumara Caves. We had a really good hike down and on the way back one of our hikers tripped and fell injuring their ankle. Sandy knowing that I am qualified in first aid called me to assist. I could tell it was broken just by the way it looked and with the very light touch of my finger. First thing - immobilize it. We found some sticks, broke them into the right length. I gave up my undershirt as did another hiker and now we had a splint. Now to find something to hold it together, I took off my belt and asked if anyone else had one with two more people donating theirs. I sent four people back up the trail to the hotel for help, a stretcher and a doctor if possible. I asked seven other strong looking men if they would help me carry our injured person out. We carried her using the crossed wrist method with four of us on each side. It was slow going but surely with each step we took we made our way back up to the canyon rim where we were met by the doctor and a stretcher. The same eight carried the stretcher to the hotel lobby where the doctor did a more complete examination. Sandy was on the phone making arrangements for our victim who would be taken by ambulance to Chihuahua City and taken to the hospital there to be worked on. The doctor said that it was the best hospital in the state and then thanked us all for helping, doing the right thing and for working as a team. It is amazing that a group of perfect strangers can come upon a crisis and work together, imagine what the world would be like if we all worked as a team together all of the time.

We collected our bags from our rooms after I fixed myself a good stiff drink and said a prayer for the injured. We caught a bus back to Divisidero before I stored my bag on the train to go shopping, have a drink in the bar overlooking the canyon and then standing outside enjoying the view of Urique Canyon. I went back up to the track to wait for FNM {CHP} number three which will pick us up today to arrive. It came in, let its passengers detrain and pulled forward to pick us up before re spotting the train so the passengers could re board. We left for Creel with me riding in the open car by the Rock of Fertility, circle El Lazo, past both westbound trains in sidings before arriving at Creel. This trip I stayed at the Hotel Neuvo which is almost next to where the train was parked.

Creel 12/29/1992

I went to the hotel room for the customary shower before I went to dinner. I ran into Bill and Sandy at the bar at the Parador Montana and had a watered down local style margarita. I stopped off at the train cars for a drink with the porters and did the nightcap traditional thing in my room.

12/30/1992 The next morning I did the Tarahumara Cave tour but this one was right outside of town. It amazes me that a brand new highway costing millions of dollars {pesos} fronting a cave where people are living inside like they have for centuries in 1992. We went to the usual mission before we drove by a very nice reflective lake before returning to Creel. Bill met the bus telling everyone to be back on the train by noon. Because of the mix up in Sufragio yesterday morning, the FNM was going to give us a special train. I had a couple of drinks in the room of the hotel before checking out returning to the train.

The Special Train 12/30/1992

When the engines and caboose arrived, I was standing in the open car just enjoying the Creel midday air. They coupled onto our coaches but were not taking the open car, so I disembarked, and made a dash to an open vestibule onto the train. Returning to my room, off we went with me having a nice stiff welcome abroad drink of rum and coke as I caught my breath. I went to the lounge car for a couple of Tecates as the train rounded El Lazo, passed the Rock of Fertility and arrived at Divisidero. I detrained taking almost a roll of pictures of our special train with white flags on the lead NdeM SD-40-2. I shot pictures of the canyon, the vendors and even a baseball game the local kids were playing on the only flat spot for miles which just happened to be the railroad tracks at Divisidero. We stayed for thirty minutes then headed down the grade for San Rafael. I had another drink in my room during the station stop, then I rode the vestibule down the grade with only an occasional run inside for another drink or to use the bathroom. We went into the siding at Bahuichivo for FNM number four and at Irigoyen for number eight. I returned to the lounge for the rest of the afternoon having several more Tecates and several excellent conversations. It was then getting dark rather quickly as our waits in the sidings were rather lengthy when I got an idea. Why not ride up in the engine down through Temoris and see it from the engineer's view.

I grabbed a couple of railroad post cards and headed up through our cars and stepped onto the rear NdeM SD-40-2. I walked around and through that unit before I stepped onto the lead unit and walked into the cab of the engine. I was greeted with strange looks by the crew but when I held up the post cards and said, "Ride through Temoris?" the engineer said, "Si" with the fireman giving up his seat to me. Now I was in heaven for a guy like me. I was really into this now as the engines were in full dynamic braking entering the tunnel after tunnel after another segment then suddenly down below were the lights of Temoris. We plunged into the next tunnel with the headlight lighting it up brightly then preceded along the upper level before entering La Pera to change direction, exiting onto the middle level descending steadily. We got orders on the fly from the Temoris station's operator before crossing the Santa Barbara Bridge and continuing down the canyon. I said my thank you to the crew and headed back to our cars with one of the greatest feelings in my life pumping through my body.

I got back to the lounge car to get a Tecate when Sandy asked me in front of a whole lounge car of passengers, "Where have you been?" I responded, "I rode up in the engine down through Temoris and just had one of the greatest experiences of my life. Bananafish has given me so many special moments but this one topped the list, thanks!" Sandy, Bill and the rest of the passengers all smiled making me think just how special it was. I returned to my room for a private celebration listening to some music and drinking. I know the line so well that even in the dark I know when things were coming up. I went to the vestibule for the Chinipas Bridge, El Descanso Tunnel and El Fuerte Bridge. It was a beautiful night as I rode the vestibule the rest of the way to Sufragio on one of the most special nights of my life. I thought back while the wind blew through my hair how I had helped out with our injured person yesterday. I learned earlier today that the family went to Chihuahua City, got the ankle set and were to be flown back to the states. I thought how lucky I am to be continuing experiences with Bananafish Tours and how blessed I am to have Bill and Sandy as friends in my life. I thought how lucky I was to be still single able to take trips like this and what people who do not travel are missing. I then just continued to think as a vestibule on a train at night is a wonderful place to do some heavy duty thinking or even soul searching. It is another reason why I love riding trains. As we pulled into Sufragio, I walked into the lounge car to see what the plan was to be from Bill. He is going to get us on the first train the conductor will take our cars on. He planned to offer a gift of liquor with his verbal request. I decided to call it a night or at least the public participation, returning to my room for some music and series of nightcaps before I finally called it a night. It was December 30, 1992 as I fall asleep in Sufragio wondering where I would wake up on my thirty fifth birthday.

12/31/1992 Waking up now thirty five, I looked out the window getting my eyes focused on the passing scenery. We are on the old Sonora Baja California someplace west of Benjamin Hill. The bad news was that we had traveled all the way up the ex Pacifico in the dark with the good news being what should be an early arrival in Mexicali later today. I got myself together before going to get some breakfast. Both Bill and Sandy were there wishing me a Happy Birthday. Bill told me of the whiskey trick in Sufragio which worked and we got put on the FNM's late running Second Class train number three. We made the best time ever on the Pacifico that Bill remembered thus our location here. I returned to my room for some morning music, peace and solitude with a private birthday celebration. It was a very relaxing morning as the train sped down the ex SBC mainline at a good clip. The lighting of the desert gave a different feel and character to it. The train made a brief stop at Caborca before running non stop to Puerto Penasco arriving there about ten thirty.

I got off to photograph the train and since our cars were in perfect light, I did a series of pictures on the Bananafish fleet. Sounds like it should be a navy or a fishing fleet not a rail tour operation. The sun felt so nice and warm with me doing a full body stretch. The climate is a reason why I always loved coming here or stopping at Puerto Penasco. The engineer blew his horn and we were off on our dash west.

My private celebrations continued as we headed out into the very sandy Altar Desert. I had my door closed and the vent shut which was doing a great job of keeping me sand free. The music was playing as I was on my second drink when a thought entered my mind. On this schedule we were on, we would have to meet FNM number two out here someplace and with a First Class train being superior to a second Class train we should go into the siding for him. This should allow me to get a shot of our train and number two someplace out in the middle of the Altar Desert. The only question was which siding would it be? The train passed The Crosses before we went into the next siding and came to a stop. The brakeman got off and I got his attention, pointed to my camera and then down to the ground. He waved me to come on down so I climbed off noticing the train was sitting in the siding at Torres B. I walked forward to get a picture of our train before I got ready for train number two to make his appearance. The brakeman joined me with us having a nice conversation in English which surprised me. Down the tracks appeared a headlight which began to take form of train number two which did track speed flying by me. I shot a coming and going picture then watched him sped off into the distant horizon. Thanks FNM {SBC} for a nice birthday present and great memory.

We climbed back onto the train as my brakeman friend gave the signal to highball and we said our goodbye. I returned to my room for my congratulate drink before going to the lounge car just as people were finishing up lunch and sitting around talking. I got offered some chips and a Tecate beer when Bill announced it was my birthday with a chorus of happy birthday being sung, Bill then presented me with a very colorful bag containing something. It was a rather large bag and I had no idea what was in it. A chorus of open it started, so I opened the bag and pulled out an oil filled railroad lantern. I do not own one of these and it was such a thoughtful gift from Bill and Sandy. The glass was broken and it needed a lot of work but I always need a project. I noticed that on the top of it had the letters LVRR which are the call letters of the Lehigh Valley Railroad. I asked Bill where he had gotten it and said he picked it up on a trip in Sufragio. It would be an interesting story if that lantern could talk on how it got from the Lehigh Valley and made its way to Sufragio, Sinaloa. Too bad there is no way to learn the complete story. I thanked Bill and Sandy for another excellent Bananafish Birthday and this adventure that I spent with them.

As the train pulled into Coahuila, I returned to my room for another couple of rounds while the train entered Baja California by crossing the Colorado River. The train stopped in Delta, followed by the passing through the Geo thermal wells at Cerro Prieto. Sandy stopped by to settle up my bar tab then personally thanked me for being such a loyal Bananafish customer. She hoped to see me in the future and to make sure that I took good care of myself in the future. She left but something about that just did not feel right. It was almost like a goodbye from her but I hope not. I returned to the vestibule for the rest of the ride into Mexicali including the turning of the train on the balloon track and the final backing of the train into the station. We arrived at two thirty in the afternoon, a new record for Mexicali arrival. We taxied back to the Hotel Lucerna where I took a nice long hot shower then spent the afternoon watching television and drinking in my room. That night we had the usual Bananafish New Year's Eve Party with everyone having a good time.

1/1/1993 New Year's Day and I woke up with a hangover something I rarely get so the front desk fixed me a hangover cure which tasted awful but did the trick. My passenger and I taxied back to the United States with me worried how I was going to explain the lantern in the trunk but they never looked in the trunk at the border. We drove back to Santa Ana the same way we had come out and I timed it perfectly with a San Diegan in Santa Ana. I returned home on time to watch the Rose Bowl ending another Bananafish Tour in Mexico.

A Sad Note: Sometime between this trip and my next Bananafish Trip, Bill and Sandy split up.

My 8th Grade MacArthur Varsity Girls Basketball went 6-0 for the second straight year winning the District Championship. These were the best girls I will ever coach. The MacArthur Track Team won their first District Championship with the most impressive team that I ever coached.