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A story from day four walking Wyoming coal country.

Walking Coal Country. 4 of 7 // Those little dark specks in the sky above the train cars are swallows. They build mud nests under the bridge I was standing on. They don't mind the trains passing 24 hours a day, but a person is something unusual and sends them to swooping and squeaking in complaint. I'd stopped to look down into these idle trains, two of them waiting to load coal at the Antelope Coal Mine, the other soon to roll off toward an electricity plant somewhere in America. It's an elaborate system of precise timing, teams of engineers boarding the big diesel engines to pilot the trains to and fro. Crews make the switch south of here in the town of Bill, but also in depots across the United States. The goal of coal mine and train company and power plant alike is to keep them rolling nearly all the time. So idle moments like these, before and after a train passes through the loadout – a hydraulic chute dispensing 100 or so tons of coal into each car, depending on customized computer calculations as the train rolls through – are a moment to consider the system. Each train pulls between 100 and 150 cars. Each day, roughly 75 trains are loaded and roll away from the 12 open-pit mines around Gillette. We are a hungry and demanding people. So before long the trains lurch toward movement, the couplings click from one car to the next in a cascade of sound, and the iron rails sing beneath the pressure. The diesel engines grind and bellow at the effort. But with gaining speed, the engines hum and the coal cars quiet into a playful rhythm, so sure they are that we will keep welcoming their arrival, or at least be unaware of it. #walking #wyoming #coal #travel #journalism #instaessay

A post shared by Tom Haines (@twhaines) on

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