September 1978. The time as a trainee in Altoona was coming to a close. Next stop, a location with a locomotive and car shop that supported actual train operations. No more isolation in Altoona! Out into the real world of railroading!
Our choices were:
Selkirk, NY (Albany area)
Enola, PA (Harrisburg area)
Conway, PA (Pittsburgh area)
Collinwood, OH (Cleveland area)
Two guys to each location. You could request where you wanted to go, but if there were more "askers" than slots, you'd randomly get assigned elsewhere. I would have preferred Harrisburg, or even Selkirk, but I knew there'd be lots of competition for those locations. They were close to where most of us were from. One guy was commuting to Altoona each day from suburban Pittsburgh and I knew he absolutely had to have Conway, so I didn't get in his way.
I asked for Columbus, OH. There were a few reasons. One was that I was pretty sure no one else was asking for it, so I'd get it and not get stuck in Indianapolis - far, far from home - too far from NJ to comfortably drive home for holidays and the occasional weekend. Columbus was only about a 9 hour trip each way. The other was it was it was reasonably close to Lexington KY -about 3 hours away. What's in Lexington? Old girlfriend. What the heck - it was worth a shot.
In mid-September, they told us where we'd be going. Columbus for me. No surprise.
So, one weekend late in September, I set out for Columbus to find an apartment - with the memory of apartment hunting in Altoona fresh in my mind . I grabbed a local newspaper and started scouting furnished apartments on the west side of town, near Buckeye yard. Unlike Altoona, Columbus was a full-sized, full-service, modern, growing city. It didn't take me long to find decent one bedroom place with modest, but serviceable furnishings. It was only about a five minute drive to the yard, if I hit the lights right. After convincing the leasing agent that I really, really did have a job that could be verified and that I really, really did understand that I'd lose my security deposit when I moved out after four months, she let me sign a lease.
Mid-October. It was moving weekend. Here's the plan: Folks come out, load meager furniture from Duncansville luxury garden apartment into station wagon for NJ. I load everything else into my car and head for Columbus, unload stuff into apartment, then take the train to Philly for reasons I forget. Perhaps a debrief of Phase I of training at Six Penn Center? Probably.
Friday, after work, a few of us were headed to a restaurant to eat dinner. A "last supper" of sorts. We're heading north on Plank Road, US-220, which was where the most of the restaurants and newer stores in Altoona were located. It was four lanes, not divided. No center turn lane.
The guy in front me signals for a left turn and stops. I'm making a left a short way ahead, so I stop behind him. Situation normal. Everything's cool, until the car behind me decides to use "collision braking" and does not stop. WHAM! It felt like the end of the world! My head slaps the head restraint and then I flop forward into the shoulder belt (Yes, I was one of the few, strange folk who always wore the lap AND shoulder belt back then...) of my 1970 Plymouth Belvedere as my car bashes into the car in front of me.
I feel okay, though. I look behind me, expecting to see the grill of the car in back of me somewhere in the back seat. Nope. Looks normal. My car is curiously not very deformed. In fact, I can't tell that anything is different. What felt like the end of the world was just a fender-bender. Everyone pulls over into an adjacent parking lot to take a look and exchange information. The car that hit me has a slightly crumpled hood with a multitude of bondo flakes and cracks from several previous repairs. Hmmmm. Looks like he's used "collision braking" before and was trying to perfect the art! The car I hit had a tiny dent in it's bumper.
My car, in the front, looked okay. In the back, the bumper was wrinkled and pushed up a hair into the trunk, making a gap where the trunk sealed against the fenders. But, the real issue was the steam pouring out from under my hood. During the wreck, the engine flexed on it's mounts a bit and the fan grazed the radiator, gashing about one third of the tubes. The radiator was scrap.
I left the car in the lot and went to dinner and got a ride home after. Lots of trouble brewing for Saturday. Could we find a new radiator? Can we adjust the trunk latch to fully close the trunk? Would we be able to install it in time to get to Columbus before the leasing agent went home for the day? Could I unpack in time to make my train to Philly? If I can't get into the apartment, would leaving car full of my stuff in downtown Columbus, with a trunk that really doesn't shut all the way be a good idea?
The next morning, my folks arrived and we nursed the car back to Duncansville. Then, we hunted junkyards fruitlessly until we found one that had one used radiator to fit my car. It was a ways away, but we had no trouble running over to get it. We installed it and tested tested it. It didn't leak! Next, the trunk latch. There were some adjustment slots in the mount and we managed to get it to close all the way. Was it weatherproof? Didn't really know.... Time would tell. Then we got to the business of packing and moving, heading out late in the afternoon - no time to spare!
I drove straight to the new apartment. It was too late to pick up the key, but I'd called ahead and the leasing agent met met at the apartment after I arrived. I hastily threw all my stuff into the third floor apartment and had just enough time to catch the train, the National Limited, in Columbus. I rolled down I-70 and found the "Amshack" that was the Columbus Ohio station and parked.
Phew, I made it! The train arrived close to on time and I found my nice, relaxing roomette. I exhaled as the train slid away from the station and headed east. It was close to midnight. What a day!