I was called out of Roseville one morning on a northbound expedited piggyback train, about 8:30 am on duty. It was during the early summer. I loved catching those because they were fast, easy to handle, and we would get to Dunsmuir in a short amount of time, usually about 5 hours. The normal time running a freight train to Dunsmuir was about 9 or 10 hours.
I was running at mostly 65 mph and slowed down to 25 mph to go through Marysville. Leaving Marysville, I started to pick up speed, 65 mph to Chico. As we approached Gridley, ten miles outside of Marysville, we spotted some white stuff alongside the track about a mile ahead. The track looked clear ahead of us, and we had all green signals, so I just kept moving at 65.
Reaching downtown Gridley, where the track runs through the middle of town, there's a park along the west side of the track. On the east side, there was a long line of pop-up shade structures, about 20 feet from the rail. At least 2 dozen of them, with more in the park and parking lot. It was too late to slow down. I started to blow the whistle, continuously and prayed that no one would get in our way. All that I could see from my rear view mirror as we blew past them was a lot of dust and flying pop-up tents.
Protocol states that when a city or town is having an event that will be near the tracks, it is their responsibility to contact the railroad. The train dispatcher would then give us an order on our paperwork stating: date of the event, times, and speed restrictions along the route. I had no paperwork on the event.
After we cleared the area, I radioed the train dispatcher and told him what had happened so he could issue a verbal order or a written order for any train passing Gridley after us from either direction.
I don't know what happened to the people. I never liked that kind of experience because it causes your heart to go up into your throat. Thinking back on it now though, It's kind of funny.