This is primarily a travel blog in which I write about traveling in our motorhome. Our travels have

Nacogdoches, TX, United States
I began this blog as a vehicle for reporting on a 47-day trip made by my wife and me in our motorhome down to the Yucatan Peninsula and back. I continued writing about our post-Yucatan travels and gradually began including non-travel related topics. I often rant about things that piss me off, such as gun violence, fracking, healthcare, education, and anything else that pushes my button. I have a photography gallery on my Smugmug site (http://rbmartiniv.smugmug.com).

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Traveling Blues

I made my last post (Time Travel) from Coyote Ranch RV Park in Wichita Falls, TX but only told of the day I visited Fort Sill, OK. As it turned out, the trip to and from Wichita Falls was not without unexpected delays. I don’t normally make two posts in such a short time, but there are exceptions to every rule.

Our RV club rally was to begin on Monday evening so we decided to leave Sunday afternoon and make it an easy two day drive (only 310 miles). We left Nacogdoches about 3:00 PM last Sunday. It was a nice day, we were in no hurry, and I drove a rather sedate 62 MPH (slow for me) most of the way. We stopped for the night 200-miles and four-and-a-half hours later at a Walmart in Denton, TX. That left only 110-miles to drive Monday morning, allowing us to arrive rested and relaxed. Monday morning we entered the RV park address into our Rand McNally RV GPS. It is made especially for RVs because they can’t always follow the same routes as automobiles. This GPS allows for your rig’s height, length, and weight when calculating what should be a safe and sensible route for the RV. Now, it doesn’t always work out the way it should. I have been led completely around a city block only to end up right where I started, I have been instructed to turn onto non-existent roads that would have had me driving across fields and woods, it has attempted to route our 26,000-pound motorhome onto a road with a 12,000-pound load limit bridge, and it has informed me that the area in which I was driving has not yet been mapped. In other words, it would appear that the database still has a few bugs. However, we had no reason to believe that it would not lead us safely and accurately to Coyote RV Park in Wichita Falls.

Entering Wichita Falls from the south on US 287 North (a limited-access, divided highway) we could see two very large billboard-size Coyote Ranch RV Park Signs on the left. Randie (the female GPS voice) instructed us to take the next exit (Fisher Road - remember that name). We drove up the exit ramp to the stop sign at Fisher Road. A few feet to the right of the stop sign was a very small sign sporting an arrow pointing to the left and the words “RV Park” beneath it. However, Randie was telling us to make a right turn, which didn’t make much sense to me. It made more sense to turn left, cross the overpass, and return to US 287 on the southbound side and drive back toward the large signs where I assumed we would find the RV park. I pointed this out to Carol Ann but she insisted we follow Randie’s instruction. I turned to the right.

We crossed several railroad tracks before Randie had us make another right turn onto US 287 Business (southbound). There were some curves and underpasses involved and we were led back to US 287 southbound. Randie then told us to make the next right onto Stevens Ranch Road. As I began the turn I noticed the road was dirt, contained large potholes, and required crossing two rough railroad crossings, uphill. I was already committed and had no choice but to make the turn. The two large Coyote Ranch RV Park signs were only a couple of hundred yards ahead and to my right, on the other side of a fence. I stopped after crossing the second set of tracks and checked my options. There were three. I could continue on the dirt road (but it sported a “Dead End” sign), turn right (but it sported two signs, “ONE WAY” and “DO NOT ENTER”), or the third option, which would put us back on US 287 heading north (away from the RV park).

I decided that my best option was to call the RV park to ask for directions. Lynn answered the phone and I described where I was. I let her know that I was on Stevens Ranch Road and could see the RV park signs. She didn’t seem to know where I was but as we were talking a car pulled up and a man asked if I needed help. He was very nice and told me I needed to get on US 287 North and exit at Fisher Road. He even agreed to guide me. “Follow me,” he said. We followed him back onto the highway and as we approached Fisher Road he gesticulated wildly with his left arm out the window, letting us know that we should exit there. I did so and we found ourselves right back where we had been earlier when Randie told us to turn right. We were sitting at the stop sign for Fisher Road. As before, Randie was telling us to make a right turn. This time I convinced Carol Ann that a left turn was in order. I turned left and as expected, it put us back on US 287 but headed south. After driving south for two miles Randie instructed us to make a right turn. This was when I realized it was the same rough dirt road we had turned onto after our first trip down Fisher Road (when we turned right). This time, instead of turning onto the very rough dirt road as directed, I passed it and continued southbound until I could find a crossover and return to US 287 North. It wasn’t long before we were once again, for the third time, exiting onto Fisher Road. While we were sitting at the now familiar stop sign trying to decide what to do a car pulled alongside the RV. It was the same guy who had led us back to Fisher Road earlier! We told him that we were still unable to find the RV park. “Follow Me. I’ll take you right to the gate!” he said. We turned left followed him across the overpass and back down onto US 287 and headed south again. Only this time he exited to the right before we reached the dirt railroad crossing. It was a Stevens Ranch Road exit of which Randie was apparently unaware. The good Samaritan did as promised and took us right up to the RV Park entrance. The third time was a charm. We had made it!

That night at supper we related our story to the other club members and learned we were not the only ones who had trouble finding the entrance to the park. Apparently most GPSs led their owners over the same obstacle course. Two of the couples related stories of a woman leading them onto the “ONE WAY” “DO NOT ENTER” road (turns out it was only for a very short distance) directly to the RV Park entrance. We would be able to attend our rally after all.

We were in good spirits as we left the park on Friday morning. Since Monday, we had learned how to find our way into and out of the RV park. We exited the park on on US 287 North, drove a couple of miles, and exited at Fisher Road-turn,” likes to “make a legal U-turn,” as the GPS likes to say. I was ready to turn left at the stop sign and cross the overpass to get on US 287 South but Randie wanted us to turn right again. Carol Ann said we should do as Randie said. I turned right. We crossed a set of railroad tracks, and after a couple of hundred yards stopped at another set of tracks to find the last half of the last car of a train of grain cars (hoppers) was blocking the turn onto US 287 South Business. I pulled up to and stopped just short of the red and white striped signal arm blocking the way. The front of the train was around a curve and could not be seen. The time was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10:50 or 10:55 AM, the temperature was only 73 degrees, and the sky was beautiful. After a few minutes I switched off the engine to save fuel. I said nothing to Carol Ann to suggest we should have turned left instead of right but after about ten minutes I was beginning to become a little impatient. I noticed a sign on the crossing signal. It displayed an 800 toll-free number and a location identification number. The 800 number could be called to report a signal malfunction. I decided to call the number to find out how long the train intended to sit at the crossing. The call was answered by a man in a maintenance department and I related the situation to him. He was very polite and transferred the call to the Burlington and Northern Railroad. Again the phone was answered by a very polite man to whom I once again related the problem. He transferred me to the dispatcher who, I was told, would be able to give me an answer. I explained the situation for the third time to the dispatcher who checked his computer and told me that the train was adding cars, was almost done, and would be moving soon. I asked him if “soon” meant five to ten minutes or half an hour or more. He said he had no way of knowing (then how did he know it would be moving soon?). I suppose it would move when it moved. I thanked him and hung up. We had been sitting at the crossing for a little over ten minutes by this time. There was nothing else I could do. There was no room to urn around and backing up the motorhome while towing a car was impossible.

The last half of the last car at location 274996P, Fisher Road, Wichita Falls, TX
After twenty minutes of waiting I became resigned to the idea that we could be there for a long time and tried not to stress over it. It actually wasn’t so bad and I decided to make a mental list of what we had going for us.
·      We were the first in line to go once the crossing was clear (actually we were the only ones in line – everyone else must have known about this crossing).
·      We could extend our slide-out rooms and awnings and sit outside enjoying the nice weather.
·      We had provisions for three or four days and enough cat food for weeks (not for us – for the two cats with us) so food wasn’t a problem.
·      We had half a tank (45 or 50 gallons) of diesel to run our generator for electricity. At one gallon per hour we could go for at least two days, three if we didn’t run it all night.
·      With the electricity we would have air conditioning, lights, microwave, television, radio, and the ability to keep our iPhones and laptops charged.
·      We had our own bathroom and bedroom.
·      Our waste tanks were empty but so was the fresh water tank. Water would be the key to our survival. We had almost a gallon of milk, about half a gallon of iced tea, maybe a dozen sodas, and two bottles of wine. We could ration the liquids to make them last three or four days if necessary. The wine would be last, to make the end a little easier.
·      We could signal for help with our emergency road flares should the situation become too desperate.
After thirty-five minutes of waiting, I happened to look in my rear view mirror and discovered we were boxed in. Another train was crossing on the tracks behind us. Once it had passed I expected “our” (I had begun to think of it that way) train to move. But it didn’t happen right away.
It wasn’t until 11:40 AM that the train began to move and we were allowed to head home. Our wait had amounted to at least forty-five minutes. I have no idea how long the train had been there when we arrived. Fortunately, it had not been necessary to resort to the emergency measures, but it is always good to be ready, just in case.
BNSF (Burlington Northern/Santa Fe) RR spokesman Gus Melonas says a 10-minute rule is the railway’s internal policy for freight trains. Melonas also said that vehicle drivers may call BNSF’s network operations center (800-832-5452) if a train is blocking an intersection for longer than 10-minutes. That’s the number that should be on the sign, not the number for reporting malfunctioning signals!
By the way, while researching on the Internet, I learned that railroad crossing regulations vary from state to state, but most states allow no longer than twenty minutes for a train to block a crossing (per Warren Flatau, Federal Railroad Administration spokesman). Section 471.007 of the Texas Transportation Code makes it a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of $100 to $300 for obstructing the crossing for longer than ten minutes. However, the state statute was overturned by the fifth Circuit court of Appeals in 2001, because state law is trumped by federal law (federal law places no time limit on crossing obstructions). The Texas Attorney General ruled in 2005 that the Texas law was unenforceable.
I may have to write some letters – if I can determine to whom I should write. It would seem logical to write the Texas Railroad Commission except the agency website identifies its programs as alternative fuels, mining, oil field cleanup fund, oil & gas, pipeline, propane, liquefied gas, and compressed gases – but no mention of railroads. The Railroad Commission’s website also allows one to submit online complaints regarding coal mining, uranium explorations, and gas bills – but not railroads. They need to change the commission’s name. Maybe I’ll just write to Rand McNally and vent about Randie giving us inadequate directions.

2 comments :

Croft Randle said...

Time to put on a pot of coffee and look for something to watch on TV. Someone will knock on the door and tell you the train has moved. Don't sweat the small stuff1

Sue Cherry said...

I live in this area and that crossing is often blocked for hours by a train. It is infuriating.