It must have been the early part of the year 1970 when three young hipsters made the decision to become Universal Life Ministers. The three: Morley Hughes, Timothy Ewing, and myself, DanThomas; all of us about 20 years of age.
The 'becoming a minister' part of this unforgettable voyage had to have been Tim's idea, but it might've been Morleys.
Tim and I were from Yakima via Seattle. We got a ride far to the south part of Oregon on I-5, almost to the border, just below Medford: the wonderfully charming town of Ashland, Oregon. Ashland is home to the famous Shakespeare Festival at the Angus Bowman Theater. Ashland, surrounded by the Siskiyous, antiquated houses on nearly all the streets. I have since awakened on bright cold crisp winter mornings, and hot summer days, breathing in fresh mountain air, and just knowing that even in town there are countless enjoyable and stimulating walks i could go on, beneath Walnut trees, to the Angus Bowman Theater, through LIthia Park, or just on any given street. Our friend Morley, whom we had met when he was passing through Yakima in Washington State, awaited us here. Morley and I back then, in Yakima, had enjoyed playing dual guitars and singing alot of Dylan tunes, to me most memorable was "THE WEIGHT" and "LAY LADY LAY". Morley had already made Ashland somewhat his home by then. I'm thinking it was later when I saw him in Portland, it was so long ago my chronological memory might not be true.
Tim and I had a few friends from Yakima who were young actors in the Shakespeare Festival here in Ashland: Steve Boggess, Alan Fearon and a california friend of theirs, Steve. I forgot that Steve's last name but decades later I saw him on Wheel of Fortune winning about $15,000.00.
Two very pretty girls shared a small apartment right across the street from Lithia Park, designed by the same fellow who designed San Francisco's Golden Gate Park. Tim and I were lucky enough to end up staying with them. (Yes, ... and Yes).
The Vietnam war was raging still and young guys like us were seeking ways to avoid that messy thing. So this Universal life ordination idea took root in our minds and hearts. The home of the Universal Life Church was in Modesto, California, founded by the Rev. Kirby J. Hensley, the Baptist and Pentecostal preacher. Most folks of draft age who sought this free ordination into the Universal Life Church just sent him a request by mail. We were different. I'm pretty sure the riding the rails to transport us to Rev. Hensley's Church and then home idea came from Morley. We had Kirby J. Hensley's address in Modesto and got ready to go.
We each had a moderately sized pack stuffed with what we'd need, which wasn't much. The girls were sweet; they had made us snacks of celery stalks and peanut butter. we were set.
Morley had more experience at this already. He knew what we had to do. Firstly, avoid the railroad boys.
We set out at night, just walking down to the freight yard. This turned out to be a walk in the park. No one was around and there was a roofed and wide open freight car loaded half full of fresh cut lumber. I swear to God the photograph above of the ashland rail yards looks like the exact place we climbed aboard! we pulled ourselves up and in and we all took a deep breath, especially Tim and I. This was going to be new for both of us. And perhaps for Morley as I don't think he had ever gone as far as our planned adventure was about to catapult us.
Somehow we knew this was the California bound freight, but when it was going to leave we didn't know. I think we dove into the celery and peanut butter early on. so we began to wait, while anticipatory thought-dreams careened through our young long-haired skulls. Undoubtedly there was herbal assistance.
Then it moved! Yah!... throwing me off balance a bit. might've been the jolt of the train linking up with another set of cars or just moving, I'm not sure which. But we were moving.
It's difficult to recall specifics, but it seems the train went quite slowly for the longest time. I began to size up other things that might or might not happen. What if they shut the door?! What if a killer hops onto our car?! Then I got to the 'Que Sera Sera' end of that thought. Looked like we'd have a wide vista to see the passing scenery through, the huge freight car door wide open. We spread out our sleeping bags on top of the lumber trying both to find a relatively flat area and trying to avoid getting slivers as we did so. Thus began our Great Adventure, which ended up being over 24 hours, and maybe more like 48. a journey so many older and less spoiled men had taken routinely to get from place to place through decades, through the depression.. and for some, a lifestyle, by choice or not. Such are the fates of us diverse individuals both then and now in the United States of America and through time. Soon the perpetual vibration and the overwhelming volume of the roaring of these enormous steel boxes and the gears and huge steel wheels carrying same, a marvelous iron snake rumbling into the night. That as well as the occasionally shifting lumber, commanded us into acceptance. we tried to shout to each other but not for long. we all then wore involuntary glowing and wry grins when we acknowledged that for the length of our voyage we were without an audible language, for none of us then knew American Sign Language. We would be essentially as three deaf young men for the duration. we were moving. Our journey had begun! Like three Hobbits on a mission.
I know I had possibly been to california once by then, on another youthful adventure or two; I'm not sure of Tim. I'm pretty sure Morley had been to Cali.
The cool night air flew in on it's own schedule. We all wondered if we were missing the spectacular sight of Mount Shasta through the other, closed, door. We did have a crack or a hole in the metal siding wall onto peek through on the East Side. Our open "window" was on the West.
The thump-thump-thumping and monsterous white noise of the entire long metal serpent continued like a completely present earthquake that would not let up. On it went as we made our private adjustments to our 'condition', and poised ourselves to enjoy the whole thing, complete with all it's encumbrances.
At night once, many hours later, Morley nudged me and nodded towards a lower level of lumber on the open door side, just inside the sliding door. We had company in this moving world, undoubtedly one already at home at riding the rods. it was dark and I could barely make him out, but there he was. As we struggled to perform a rendition of sleeping, that guy never acknowledged us. Several hours later, he was gone, but we were puzzled where he might've moved to, because the train, by now going maybe 70 MPH or more, had not perceivably slowed at any time. I wondered if he'd been thrown off, but then I figured he knew how to move around on a moving train. He was not where he had been, in any case. Perhaps he was a ghost.
I know I dreamed. Some nightmarish, but on awakening and remembering where I was and that gave me a form of reassurance.
I do remember, I believe the next afternoon, a nice hot sunny blue sky day, the opposite of our previous night, rounding a lake, perhaps Lake Shasta, and watching people putting about in their own rented houseboats as if they were on television. Looked like something I might like to do someday.
Nice day, lazily trolling the lake, no worries, Ah!
I'll add more soon... there's no real climax but good memories...as we were off to see the 'wizard' Kirby J. Hensley.
coming: the Orange stop and the caboosemen. jumping off @ probably 30 MPH or more! sleeping beneath that beautiful tree near
sacramento. did we find a Denny's or something? hitching to Rev. Hensley's Church, and then to his messy home..(because he had his wife and daughter attending to paperwork at the church, as we had seen)....no recall of the trip back..have to work on it! may SF?