The Strangest Train Order
Special train from Esquel
Special train from Esquel at Leleque on the narrow gauge line between Ingeniero Jacobacci and Esquel in Argentina, 1995.

Several years ago I was on a special charter train in Argentina on the steam-operated narrow gauge line to Esquel (known popularly as The Old Patagonian Express although the locals call it “La Trochita”).  On the evening of the second day we completed the last of the many run-bys and headed into Esquel for the night.  On arriving at Esquel, one of the party, a Swiss, became agitated as he had lost his wallet from out of his rear pants pocket.  At the last run past he was forced to answer the call of nature.  He walked away from the back of the train and, with one foot on each rail (it was narrow gauge don't forget) dropped his pants and proceeded to do his business.  With the run past finished, the train whistled off and began to move away towards Esquel.  The Swiss was forced to pull up his pants in a hurry and run after the train, just being able to climb on to the last car before it gathered too much speed.  He surmised that the wallet had dropped out of his pants while he was running for the train.

The next morning we were due to return over the same piece of track.  The train crew were given their normal clearance with an additional order which read something like this:

“Stop at a pile of human excrement lying between the rails near km. xxx and search the track in the area for a wallet belonging to Sr. yyy.” 

The order had to be precise in that there are a lot of cattle roaming this area and their droppings are to be seen all over the area but the sharp-eyed engine crew could tell the difference between human and cattle droppings and were able to pick out the precise location.  The train stopped at the designated spot, everyone piled out and the wallet was soon found and returned to its thankful owner.

I can vouch for this story as  not only I was there but became involved in some of the translation from Swiss French to Latin American Spanish explaining the problem to the railway authorities. 

The Old Patagonian Express runs through near desert country which is inhabited mainly by cattle.  It gets very cold at night and the small cars are heated by wood-burning stoves.  There is never enough wood so at the early morning run-pasts we would look out for dry cow pats which, being composed primarily of grass, burn quite well.  We quickly became adept at distinguishing the useful, dried out ones from the useless and messy ripe ones. 

Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders, The Interchange February 2009.

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