EXEMPT

Written by: Jason Rankin

Main image above copyright and reproduced courtesy of WallyFromColumbia.

That’s the only thing that stood out about the decrepit looking railroad crossing that I had been passing over on my trips to and from my new job over the past few weeks. The old cross bucks, lights and bells were still in place, but could barely be made out of the overgrowth. I never quite took notice of the sign until passing one evening as I returned home late. The reflection of my headlights shown back at me through the dead vines in the barely retro-reflective surface of the sign that states that the crossing is no longer in use. It was obvious that it was barren for quite some time with weeds growing between the rail and the roadway in which it was almost completely hidden under. A stretch of rail reached into a field immediately to the west of the crossing and it disappeared to the East into a large area of brush and trees.

Call me a “railfan”, a “foamer”, or whatever you would like, but it is in our making to be curious about such things. Abandoned and neglected rails and crossings such as this one pull at our heart strings a little and we are magnetized toward them. This was piece of rail history was no different. Each day on my way to and from work I would try and peak a little more as I drove across. Purposely slowing down to cross the slight bump in the pavement and looking each way for clues. It was getting later in the year and autumn was upon us. The sun was lower in the sky each evening as I drove home from work. It was getting cool and crisp outside with a light breeze. This evening as I drove across the forgotten rails, I noticed the sun reflecting off of the rail. The rails shined with the reflection of the late afternoon sun as if heavy steel wheels of a train had just recently passed over them. I thought to myself about how this was not possible. Over the past week or so, I did my research and discovered this line had been out of service for almost 40 years, and it was land-locked with no passage to another track available.

As this road was very seldom traveled by other vehicles during this time of the evening, I pulled over to the narrow shoulder and backed my car up to the crossing just to make sure. The sun, must have poked down behind the hills in the distance in that short time. I could no longer see the reflection that I did a few minutes before. I was luckily able to position my vehicle in such a way to allow my headlights to reflect off the rails the way the sun did. It could not be mistaken for anything other than the fresh run surface of a rail in use, but how was this possible.

Curious, I exited the vehicle leaving it running. It was obvious there was no train through here as the rails that ran to the West of the crossing just ended in plain site about 30 meters off in that direction. I decided to grab my flashlight and head into the brush just to see where these rails went at one point in time. It could have only been about 30-40 seconds of trudging through the thistle and thick bush before I came to that creek where the bridge had been collapsed in half. This was my confirmation that nothing could have been through here. Could it be a vehicle or an old farm tractor with metal wheels shaved the rail down somehow?

I reminded myself to head back to the car before continuing my exploration any further when I heard that familiar sound. It was slightly muffled with every other ring sounding a thud rather than a bell. I quickly turned around to barely see the deep red of the crossing lights flashing through the thick vegetation. I rushed back as quickly as I could to where I left my car. Tangling my legs and knocking my knees each step until I heard a large bang and the sound of metal scraping across the pavement. I fell to the ground, struggling to pull through the bush and get back out to the roadside. When I finally emerged, my car lay on it side on the other side of the crossing and facing the opposing direction. “This could not be possible!” I screamed out loud. My vehicle must have been hit by a passing truck…or maybe farm equipment, but how would it have ended up where it did?

I called for the police, who arrived shortly after to file the report for me as well as assist in getting my vehicle removed. I felt silly telling them why I was back in the woods and why my car was parked where it was in the first place. I rode the tow truck to the police station to finish filing paperwork, and realized that I had still had my car running, which meant that my dash camera would have still been running. The police officer and I had gone back out to my wreck of a car sitting dead on the back of the flat bed truck and removed the dash camera from its perch in the windshield and brought it into the station.

It took a while for it to charge back up, but we were able to get a slight image on the screen. Nothing for the first couple of minutes. It was almost complete blackness save for the slim beams of yellow light from my headlamps shining off the rail. Then it came! The loud crack and the vehicle rolling and being pushed and spun across the road. You could head the thunder and metal on metal almost damaging the speakers on the officers computer. Then it stopped. Dead silent. No bells, no horn, no crunching metal. All you could see was the dust and smoke cloud lit by single working headlight of my car. We were going to stop there until we noticed something. Off in the distance, maybe 100 meters or more, was a single blinking red lamp getting dimmer and more distant until the blackness of night returned.

We were in disbelief as the faces of both the officer and I went stark pale white and my hands trembled as I could not comprehend what had just happened. To this day, there is no explanation. The police department gave up on any investigation shortly after as there was nothing for them to go on. I no longer take this route to or from my job anymore, and when I do come across those “abandoned” crossings with the exempt sign, I slow down and look both ways. No longer because my curiosity gets me wondering why that line was forgotten, but instead looking for that train that I know, still passes down every one of those tracks

Jason Rankin

One Comment

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.