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Technically, they were off-roading…

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Hemmings file photo.

Last week’s excerpt on how Ferguson helped develop the AMC Eagle’s four-wheel-drive system (aside from the acronyms) was well received and got a few of you talking about your experiences in the off-roadable compacts. But, by far the most entertaining and unique experience in an Eagle came from Steven Robinson, who managed to ride in an Eagle and ride the rails at the same time.

Soo, in the 80’s for a college spring break with not much money and time to kill, a friend and I decided to hop a train riding the rails old school style from Spokane Wa. to Seattle Wa. to visit my sister. We packed our backpacks with camping gear and headed for the rail yard. After some pleasant conversation around a fire at the hobo camp we were directed to a boxcar heading west at around midnight. Lot of stopping and going, pulling off on siding to let trains go by the other way, banging etc. We eventually dozed off but wake up to silence after the boxcar we were in was unhooked on a siding rail yard in Moses Lake, Wa. We sat for the day in an empty rail yard waiting for any train going west. Just before sundown a pretty long train going that direction pulls in and stops. We immediately scope out our pending travel options. Most are locked boxcars, many empty flat cars, a few tankers, and two 3 level car carriers. Yep you know where this is going.  Well between us and Seattle is the cold snow covered Cascade Mountains and a legendary 21 mile long train tunnel. We had been “advised” by our new hobo “friends” this would be the worst part of the trip because of diesel smoke. Its a get in the bottom of your sleeping bag, wet rag over your mouth, cough for a week after kind of thing. We beeline for the car carriers. They were a mix of trucks and cars. We started checking doors and found one that was open on the very top row at the back and it was faced backward. A brand new AMC EAGLE with the keys. So being smart college students we immediately pull the dome light bulbs and accessory bulbs so we can get in and out along our journey without being seen by the crew as the car carrier is only ten or so cars from the engine. We throw our packs in and away we go. Fire it up, got the heat going, threw a jacket over the dash so we would cover its lights and listen to the radio till we hit the tunnel. Man we have it all figured out and are living really really large.

We wind our way west up to and through the tunnel enjoying the ride. After we get through the tunnel still basking in the comforts of the new AMC Eagle and our first class travel option the train starts to slow and this time there is no siding that we are pulling off to let a train go by the other way. As we are almost to a stop we look in the mirrors and realize my friend had his foot on the brake pedal which is very visible to the train engine crew as it is nighttime. Middle of nowhere and I mean really middle of nowhere, no towns, roads, lights, nothing, train stops. We bail with our stuff sensing whats about to happen and stumble into the forest and deep snow along the train track. Flashlights approach and the Engineers yell at us to stay off their train (but not that nicely, included something about trespass, fines, arrest.) That was all pretty much lost on two scared, panicked, retreating kids. They finally headed for the engine, started the train back up and slowly started moving west. We ended up rushing back to the train, jumping on a flatbed car which was our only option at this point, and then almost freezing to death riding on it for the rest of the way down out of the mountains to the Ballard rail yard in north Seattle. Quite the adventure. Ended up taking a bus back home.  This was the only time I have ever ridden in an AMC Eagle. EPIC.”

Indeed, you adventuresome sort, you. Let that be a lesson to the rest of you — yank the fuse for the brake lights if you’re going to do anything similar.