The ‘Supe’ of Windy Ridge
It takes a man to use a million dollars worth of rolling stock as ballast
LEO F. CREAGAN
A QUESTIONING look came into the man’s eyes as he caught a glimpse of his own bearded image in a section of broken mirror on the wall of the spurred-out box car which served as telegraph office and living quarters for the night operator at Windy Ridge on the V.&P. Railroad in British Columbia.
“Guess there’ll be no danger in running in to Vancouver some day, to get a few things,” he announced, in the colorless tones of one accustomed to uttering his thoughts aloud. “When Old Pete Sage didn’t recognize me last night, I’m safe enough.”
Listlessly, he went about his nightly duties. The cot he bad just left was put in order; then he ascended the high semaphore ladder at his front door. When the lamp had seen lighted and the red and green lenses polished to hend forth to speeding trains their messages of danger and safety he paused atop the tall mast. What he saw to-night was the lonesome view that had met his eyes on that unhappy night three months before, when he lit the signal lamp for the first time. No sign of human habitation; nothing but unending windrows of foothills sparsely covered with patches of short bunch grass leading away in every direction. On the west, the monotonous picture was partially relieved by the towering slate-colored sides of the Rocky Mountain Range which seemed to reach up and merge with the sky as soon as the sun slipped down behind its dead pile.
A coyote on a nearby hill pointed its nose skyward and welcomed the approaching night with an eerie howl. The man shivered slightly as he slipped down the ladder. In a screened-off, porchlike shack at the rear of the car he busied himself with the evening meal. Household duties finished, he plugged in on the telegraph wires and with a lever changed the signal arms and lights to indicate to |pproaching trains that the most isolated telegraph office on the Pacific division of the V. & P. Railroad was open.
Then his listlessness seemed to slip from him and throughout the long summer night he smoked his pipe and pored over a crude train sheet which had been fashioned on the back of a car report blank. Pen in hand and with a light of keen interest in his eyes he traced upon the maplike form the progress of each train along the 150-mile division. The telegraphic reports, which he set down as though he were the train dispatcher at Pacific Junction, recorded the exact location of each swift-moving train. The spot they were ordered to meet he copied in an old cash book as the messages were sent by the train dispatcher. Not only was he the train dispatcher’s shadow but the train dispatcher’s thoughts must have been his thoughts for he planned the identical moves made by the man at headquarters, and as he issued in his mind and spoke aloud in monotonous tones to the emptiness of his box car office the orders and instructions which invariably leaped across the intervening space, he seemed to feel that he himself had inspired them.
Few duties of his own did he have.
Reporting the flight of the night express trains and the passing of many freights, and, at midnight, a weather report, made up the sum of his usual tasks. Occasionally he copied and hooped up a train-order to a speeding train. Once a week, while he slept, the noon local paused to throw off a food box and couple on to his water car for refilling at Wild Horse tank. No other trains stopped. No freight or passengers to be taken aboard or discharged; nobody lived at Windy Ridge except the man who presided over an office so unimportant as to be kept open only at night.
So it is easy to see why, in the beginning, he occupied himself as if he were indeed the train dispatcher’s shadow. The stark loneliness of the night, the dead stillness had a quality of fear for him. Then, too, the past had to be shut out, the past that had sent him into voluntary exile; and he went about it, not apathetically or perfunctorily, but eagerly and zealously, as if something impelling drove him to it.
To know what brought the man, Scott Carson, to Windy Ridge and why he
stayed on in such mean surroundings, it is necessary to turn back and follow his rapid rise from a place as nightoperator to that of superintendent of the division where now he again served as night-operator. A youngish man, not more than thirty-four, his promotion had been rapid. From operator to dispatcher before he was old enough to vote; chief dispatcher as a red faced youth in his early twenties, and trainmaster before thirty, was Carson’s record. At the age of thirty-one, he was selected to be superintendent of the division where he saw his first service. And never before in the history of the road had the naming of a supervisory officer met with such general approval. ‘Scotty’, as he was known from general manager to track-walker, had become as much a part of the railroad as the Dominion Limited.
The change came three years later when his small railroad, the D. & M.V., was merged with the all-powerful Trans-continental line, the mighty V. & P. System, for in the re-organization that followed Scott Carson’s name was omitted from the official roster.
Carson had been looking forward to the consolidation. He believed that when the official cards were shuffled and dealt he would draw nothing less than a general superintendency.
Just how he came to be left out cannot be said. At first he couldn’t believe he had been cast into the discard.
Keen disappointment and the pain of wounded pride had been late in coming to Carson, but the delay made these inevitable ingredients of life all the more bitter. He was stunned and belligerent and made no move to learn why he had been dropped. As it later developed, he might have stayed on with the new management, accepting temporarily, perhaps, a less important position,
but a foolish pride would not permit overtures on his part. And, after waiting a week for General Manager Johnston to send for him, he started out to find another official position.
0 NEED to go into his failures to find what he ^ sought.. Nor his subsequent rebuffs when, without realizing that his dejected air was closing doors of opportunity in his face, he found himself forced to bejgin once more at the bottom. It was a terrific wrench tom haughty spirit that had known little else but suffering since his dismissal three months before. Only approaching hunger could have reduced him to the state where he must stand in line to make application to an arrogant clerk for a place as telegrapher. '
Up to this time Carson had avoided the V. & P. System, the hated line that had swallowed up his once beloved railroad. Then, when no work could be found on other lines, he dragged reluctant feet to the Vancouver offices of the great V. & P. R. and begged for a job.
Gone now was pride; gone, too,was ambition to begin where he çould and beat his way back. The desire to lead men and to help them to better things had vanished with the other worthwhile motives which in the past had quickened his life. He knew but one desire now; to escape from the hell of job hunting into a place where trivial duties would be the big things of life, a place where, above everything else, promotion and success were unknown. He wanted to bury the past, and the future, too; bury them in a single grave.
And it seemed that the hand of destiny had prepared the ideal station for him,-for the clerk grinned and said: “No vacancies to-day, unless you’d consider a job at Windy Ridge on the Pacific Division, a place where there’s nothing much but wind and coyotes to—”
“I know all about—” Carson caught himself in time, “—all about lonesome places. Windy Ridge will suit me fine.”
The clerk gave him a look of commiseration.
“Fill out these blanks,” he directed briskly; “I’ll send you out on the night train. What’s the name?”
Carson had seated himself at a desk and was writing his name on the form. He had written “Scott Palmer” and his pen was poised to add his surname. His mind was crowded with thoughts of going back to his old division, to the meanest station upon that division, a division where once he had been superintendent. He sat staring at the paper.
The clerk, with a gesture of impatience, glanced over Carson’s shoulder at the form. Then he attacked a typewriter in eager haste. “All right, Palmer,” he threw a pass in front of Carson, “hurry up and finish those blanks. Want to get you out on the night train.”
Carson glanced at the pass made out to Scott Palmer. He opened his mouth to speak but closed it without saying a word. He had not yet added his surname to the application form. A whimsical grin tugged at his lips. Here was an opportunity to hide his identity, at the highest point on his old division.
DAWN was just breaking when Carson alighted from a sleeping car at Windy Ridge. He stood a moment on the deserted cinder platform watching the change in the eastern sky. From cobalt to indigo, from indigo to delicate rose and finally an indescribable splashing of vivid coloring marked the exact location of the rising sun. With a quick intake of breath he turned to glimpse the receding tail lights of the train. A chill of loneliness passed over him.
The first week at Windy Ridge passed quickly. The business of hiding his identity occupied him at first. During the three months he had been away from the road he had grown a mustache. Now, to render disguise more complete, he put aside his razor and only trimmed his own hair when its shaggy length made him uncomfortable. His eyes were hidden behind dark glasses. His grotesque appearance made it inevitable that the crews of the speeding trains would name him. To them he became ‘Coyote Bill’.
But to the train dispatchers at Pacific Junction he was a mysterious personage. His peculiar Morse piqued their curiosity. Certain they had heard it before, they tried to draw him out. To their questions he replied briefly that he was Scott Palmer from the States; that his railroad experience included many lines. But once, in a great hurry to complete a train order to avoid stopping an approaching train, he gave his old familiar sign—“S.C.” —to the order.
“Your sending sounds as much like our old boss as if it was the old boy—‘S.C.’ himself,” the dispatcher remarked when the train had passed, “Didn’t you sign ‘S.C.’ to that order?”
“Meant it for ‘S.P.’,” Carson replied.
“Did you ever run on to Scotty Carsoninyour travels?” came the question that caused the lone operator’s heart to thump.
“No, don’t remember the name.”
“There was a prince of a fellow, Scotty Used to be our super here. Fine and square as they make ’em,” the dispatcher explained.
It was then that Carson experienced the first moment of real happiness he had known in months. To hear himself spoken of in terms of appreciation by a former co-worker, one who had been an operator and finally a dispatcher in the same office with him; a man who had been wholly loyal when a younger man had passed him and gone on higher, touched him deeply.
“Good old McQuade!” he muttered aloud.
■The lone man at Windy Ridge continued to keep his lingers on the pulse of the railroad by posting the flight
of every train at the varicus stations. At any time between darkness and dawn he knew as much about the train movement as the dispatchers themselves.
It was because of this fact that he was able to quickly detect the “lap order” when McQuade on the “grave-yard” shift lined up two trains to meet headon not far from Windy Ridge. He let slip the oppoitunity of warning McQuade until the trains had passed out of the dispatcher’s reach. At first he was not certain that the railroad stage had been set for tragedy and he hesitated to question his superior lest he betray himself. His first thought was to save his friend from dismissal. Someone might hear the question; someone might gossip, idly, not maliciously.
When Carson was sure the trains would collide unless he stepped into the breach he reached for an order pad and busied himself with his stylus. His semaphore signal was set at ‘danger’.
Came then an engine whistle, and finally four long calls from an approaching locomotive. Insistently, the whistle blasts were repeated, calling for the operator to ‘clear’ the signal. When the gleaming red eye on the mast brought the lone engine to a rioisy stop Carson was on the platform signalling with a red light.
“Back into the spur track,” he shouted, “I’ll open the switch!”
“Why, what’s coming off here, Coyote?” the engineer yelled.
The operator turned the switch and waved a back-up signal.
The spur track, built to hold a few water cars, would accommodate the helper engine.
“Cover your lights,” Carson ordered, “maybe the crew on the east-bound won’t — ”
The roar of the other train drowned his words. A long train of lumber ground through at high speed.
“Old Bob make a slip up?” questioned the helper engineer in relieved tones when the switch was opened.
“Yes, but let’s keep it quiet. Take it easy, and don’t pass Stewiacke before 1.35.”
“All right, Coyote,” the engineer agreed, “it’s jake with me, if you and Bob can cover it up.”
Carson entered the office and sat down to wait. Finally he reported the light engine by at 1.26, which was about twenty minutes after the passing of the eastbound.
“What time did Third 98 go by?” came the agitated question.
“1.09—didn’t you get my ‘O.S.’ some time ago?”
“No, must have missed that one.”
Carson smiled. He wondered if McQuade suspected. He hoped he would not discover it. Well he knew that
mental poise is more important to a train dispatcher than knowledge of error,
But it was not to be. An hour later he heard a message going to the engineer of the helper engine, requesting that he call the dispatcher on the telephone when he arrived at Pacific Junction.
The following night a note was thrown from a lumber
‘Engineer Murphy explained how you handled that meeting point last night. How did you know I had them faced up to hit? Some wizard you are. old boy—and some sport! I’d like to do something for you. Will you take a job as copy operator in the office here at headquarters, where you can make something of yourself. Think you are wasting your time out there in the wilds. 73.
Pleading ill health, Carson declined the offer. But, without being wholly conscious of the knowledge, a subtle something informed him that ambition was rot dead.
It was about this time that trainmen commenced showing him small attentions. Newspapers and magazines and an occasional pack of cigarettes were being thrown from cab windows and cupolas. And always the friendly greeting: “Hi, there, Coyote!”
Then it happened, the event that was not only to unmask the man hidden behind a riotous growth of badly trimmed whiskers, but the attending incidents that were to fan the embers of an ambition all but dead.
CEPTEMBER with its early nightfall had come and ^ October was approaching. It had been raining for several days and nights and streams of soil-red water ran in the arroyos. The track was water-sogged and trains were running late. A few minor washouts had been reported and ballast trains clanked through Windy Ridge. Then one night the tramp of a track-walker sounded on the cinder platform and Carson sprang from his chair, his heart beating violently. When he saw the weatherscarred face of Old Tom Moran pressed against his window he uttered a cry of joy. Carson flung open the door and fairly dragged the old man into the warm office.
“Come in and warm yourself, while I make you some coffee,” he shouted.
Carson sat down to a midnight supper with Moran, the first time he had broken bread with a human being for more than a hundred days. For twenty years he had known this loyal old veteran who could detect a loose bolt or a protruding spike with unerring accuracy, the guardian of the steel highway when storms were abroad. No words can describe the sensation of pleasure he knew in urging hot coffee and food upon his weary guest, and leading him to talk of things dear to his own starved heart. As he listened to the cryptic report of the roadbed’s condition a feeling of apprehension touched him. Deep down in his being and all unsuspected Carson was as anxious about the division as if he were the superintendent.
Moran shouldered his track wrench and spike maul and calling down blessings upon the operator stumbled away in the darkness.
Carson hurried back to his train sheet, to enter seme reports that had been temporarily stored in his memory while the meal was in progress. The wind howled and sheets of rain beat against the rude shelter. Lightning spent its force in hissing spats against the lightning arresters on the telegraph switch-board. The clatter of the wires grew fainter as, one by one, their metallic voices were stilled. Carson turned up the relays as he sought to find adjustment to fit the volume of escape attendant upon wires torn from insulators and bleedir g their electric life blood away upon wet cross arms.
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Meaningless rattle, like the roll of snare drums, came to him. Then the last wire was silent and nothing but the voice of the elements reached the man in the lonely box car.
Carson sprang to the switch board and grounded the. wires to the east. Turning up his relay, he essayed to communicate with the despatcher, fifty miles to the west. No response. The wires were dead in that direction. Reversing his ground plugs he tried to reach in the opposite direction. One by one he tested the wires. Not a dot or a dash sounded. The last wire in the board clicked and burst into swift chatter. Carson quickly recognized the call for the despatcher. “D.S.! D.S.!” came the frantic cry.
Carson broke in to tell the man he could not reach Pacific Junction; that all wires were dead west of Windy Ridge.
“Can’t I get through on any wire?” The staccato sound betrayed the excitement of the questioner. “The bridge here at Wild Horse is washingbadly ; something must be done!”
“Who is this?” Carson snapped.
“W.S.—Wild Horse station. Old man Moran, the track walker, just called me, he says drift is piling up against the piers and water is almost up to the ties.”
A hoarse exclamation issued from Carson’s throat. He knew that bridge at Wild Horse, a long wooden structure marked for replacement with a modern steel bridge. If he had not been summarily dismissed as superintendent the new bridge might have been under way. But now—
“Wait—stay on duty there, lad,” he directed, “I’ll need you. Hold your signal at danger. Stop all trains and side track them, till I give further orders.”
“Who are you?” came the challenge. “S.C.” flashed the two letters.
“Not Scotty?” incredulously.
“Yes, I’m at ‘W.R.’, and—”
“Fine and dandy! Glad to hear the old mitt in action. Sure, I’ll stay as long as you need me!”
Then the mask was lifted. Scott Carsonassumed his discarded identity without realizing that the change had been made.
First he consulted his train sheet, to get the location of all trains, then he snapped into action. Setting his own semaphore signal at ‘danger’ he called Signal Hill on the wire.
“Hello, lad,” he began, “ ‘S.C.’ talking —got to get quick action now, to save Wild Horse bridge. Get hold of the yardmaster and the round-house foreman and start a double-header train west at once, with twenty or twenty-five dead engines. Going to use ’em to anchor that old—” “O.K. Scotty,” clicked the sounder v “glad to hear—”
. “Better have ’em blow the wreck whistle; you can get a crew quicker that way. I’ll fix their orders when they’re ready to go.”
He gazed at the train sheet with a thoughtful look in his face.
“I’ve »got to get up there to that bridge,” he announced. “I could take my train sheet and order book and handle trains from there, and keep an eye on the bridge too.”
“W.S.!” he tapped with long nervous fingers.
“I, I, W.S.”
“Old Moran there yet?”
“Yes, just in from calling the track gang.”
“Can he get a gas motor car there and run down here, to take me to the bridge?” “How’d you get there, Scotty?” came the question. “Moran says he was at ‘W.R.’ an hour ago and—”
“Will he come? Is there a track car there?”
A short pause.
“Sure, he’ll come.”
“Tell him, John, it’s getting cold and there’s snow in the air, and it’s ten miles
down here. If he’ll come I’ll hold all trains till he arrives.”
Carson found that no one questioned his authority to pick up the thread where the train despatcher at Pacific Junction lost it. The prostrate wires to the west left him with a hundred miles of his old division on his hands and a swaying bridge to hold. As he was telegraphing an order for a double-header extra with twenty dead locomotives to run from Signal Hill to Wild Horse with right over all trains, he caught a glimpse of his face in the section of broken looking glass on the table. When the order had been completed and the train with its odd cargo was on its way, he found soap, shears and razor and gave himself the first shave he had had in four months.
Carson was busy with train orders preparatory to closing the office at Windy Ridge. A track car slid to a stop ^nd Moran stamped in and threw his drenched arms around his former superintendent.
“Scotty, me.b’ye,” he shrilled, “what ye m’an, hidin’ behint thim whiskers all the while?”
“Lay off, you old bear,” Carson grinned happily, “let’s be going. Here, put this train sheet in your pocket under your oil skin—it mustn’t get wet.”
“An’ ’tis nawthin’ o’ th’ kind I be doin’,” Moran declared, as he threw off his rubber coat; “’tis yerself which wears it, if ye have none o’ yer own.”
“No, no, Moran, I—”
“An’ ye will, if I must handle ye rough,” the old man said, “a little rain won’t hurt me old thick hide, whilst ye ain’t seasoned.”
UNDER protest, Carson donned the other man’s coat. The track car was turned around and then they were speed-’ ing through the black night. Without anything to shield them they sped straight into the teeth of the storm of rain and snow, Carson bent his head to protect his clean-shaven face but the wind chilled him to the marrow. Moran, he knew, must be soaked to the skin and suffering acutely from exposure to the cold wind-driven rain and snow. But not a word of complaint came from the driver of the speeding car.
Moran’s sacrificial attitude touched Carson and a tremendous excitement tugged at his being. To be back again among men eager to serve him, men who were willing to give coats from their backs to protect him brought joy to his starved heart.
The growl of the river recalled his immediate duty.
“Slip over to the other side, Moran,” Carson shouted into the wind; “let’s see how the old bridge rides; and let’s warm up at the station before we start anything else.”
The track ear rumbled along the high storm-swept bridge. Carson had to turn his back to the wind to get his breath. The bridge trembled like a live thing and the roar of the flood almost frightened him. He knew, without a glimpse of inspection, that a passenger train could not be sent over the structure while the flood battered and pressed against its long wooden supports.
The car stopped in front of the dimly lighted depot. Carson half dragged Moran from his seat and into the waiting room.
“Open up, John,” he thumped on the office door, “my chauffeur is wet to the bones and half froze. Get his clothes off and find him some dry ones. Thaw him out while I take a good look at the bridge.’ “Better see what that operator at Bear Log wants; he’s been tearin’ up the wire, tryin’ to raise the despatcher.”
Carson spread his train sheet upon the table and began issuing orders over his Continued on page 86
Continued, from page 84 own signature. Off in the distance a locomotive whistle sounded.
“Some action they got on that train of dead engines,” he called to the operator; “this is the first time I’ve ever found a use for a double track bridge on a single track railroad.”
He picked up a lighted lantern and stepped to the track. The headlight of a train shone feebly in the rain and snow. Carson waved a come-ahead signal and slowly the train drew up.
“Cut off your live engines and go down through the siding,” he shouted. “Couple on at the other end and shove your ballast engines out into the bridge. Fill the up-stream side but don’t put your road engines on the old rattle-trap.” “That you, Scotty,” boomed an engineer.
“Yep, now pull away!”
The up-stream track was filled with dead locomotives. Carson hurried back to his train despatching duties. The wind seemed to be losing its force. Then the rain slackened and finally ceased. Moran snored by the office stove.
“Think I’ll see how my ballast is riding.” Carson reached for a lantern.
Back on the other side he found the conductor of the ballast train waiting for him.
“Pretty risky business, isn’t it, Scott?” he queried anxiously.
“Well, I’ve seen safer structures, Ed,” Carson grinned, “but we can’t let the old thing go. You know how long it would take to get this railroad started up again if we lost this bridge?”
“Couple o’ weeks, I suppose,” the conductor admitted; “but are you sure you can anchor her? What if she’d fall, engines and everything?”
Carson made no reply. His heart beat a little faster. The ballast on that upstream track represented more than a million dollars in value.
“Cut off your engines, Ed,” Carson directed; “hurry to Signal Hill for the telegraph gang. I’ll want you to go on west to repair the wires as soon as I think it safe to put a train across.”
When the conductor turned away, Carson remained at the water’s edge. The wind was coming up again. Down the river it came in a sudden gust that set ringing a dozen bells on the cold lifeless locomotives; an errie, uncanny tolling, like a requiem.
Muttering aloud he returned to the telegraph office.
Hopefield, a station more than four hundred miles to the east, was calling rapidly.
“General Manager Johnston here on train Number 11,” the metallic words fairly tumbled over each other. “He wants to know about those dead engines somebody has put on Wild Horse bridge.” Carson explained that he had the bridge anchored to hold it against the pressure of the flood.
“He wants to know by whose orders it was done.”
“My own orders,” Carson announced. “Who are you and why have you assumed this authority?”
Carson’s eyes flashed. Then he remembered that Hopefield station was on the Middle Division, beyond the limits of the Pacific Division.
“My name is Carson; I’m the night operator from Windy Ridge but I’ve taken charge of as much of the Pacific Division as I can reach by wire. The reason is because a break in the line has cut off headquarters from most of their railroad,” he explained.
A moment of silence.
“Mr. Johnston says he can’t find your name on the time table; he wants you to pull those engines off the bridge at once and not meddle with the railroad.”
“Tell Mr. Johnston I’ll pull the bridge track when the flood recedes," Carson snapped.
“The old boy is raving mad,” the operator announced excitedly; “he says
nothing quite so insane has even been attempted before; he is begging you to please let the bridge go but save the engines.”
“Say to Mr. Johnston, I prefer to save both bridge and engines and I’ll continue to look after things until some officer competent to handle them arrives. I’ve' a bunch of trains needing orders now, so there’ll be no further discussion of the matter,” he finished.
A whimsical grin tugged at his mouth corners as he resumed his train despatching duties.
“Johnston is the one that’s insane right now,” he muttered; “insane with rage. Suppose he’s right, though, questioning my authority and judgment. Wonder where I did get the authority to be doing this?”
r^AYBREAK and the sun forcing its way through drifting clouds. Carson sought the river bank and gazed at a flood-maddened expanse of muddy water scouring the wheels and lapping at the low-slung boilers of the dead locomotives. He drew nearer and saw that some of the wooden piles forming the upright supports for the bridge had been torn away. The whole structure weaved perceptibly. In the dim morning light, stranded trains, as far as the eye could reach, stood motionless, light rings of smoke curling upward from their stacks.
“Can’t figure out why the water doesn’t start falling,” he muttered; “been no heavy rains in some time.”
The track walker had been dogging Carson’s heels. “ ‘Tis me that can tell ye,” he remarked, “they’s a big drift jam at Devil’s Elbow foive miles north o’ here. All th’ water from th’ hills is thryin’ to go down Wild Horse, whin half c’ it used to go down Lynne Creek.”
Carson uttered an exclamation of astonishment.
“Then it’ll keep on coming up for several hours,” he remarked in dead tones, “till all the water from the foothills comes down.”
“It will, an’ ’tis me what hates to say it, Scotty,” the old man was plucking at Carson’s sleeve, “but ye had betther drag thim ingines off’n th’ bridge, 1’ave th’ old thrap go.”
“No,” Carson’s jaws snapped, “we can’t lose the line, Moran. Why it’d take us so long to get back in commission again that—”
“Then, ’tis a bit o’ a suggestion I be makin’.” Moran lowered his voice. “If we could dynamite that drift jam—an’ we could if we can get to th’ other side in toime, that’d rel’ave—”
Carson had the trackwalker by the arm and was all but dragging him toward a mining machinery store. He gave the order for explosives and thrust some money into Moran’s hand.
“Pay for the stuff and bring it to the depot,” he instructed.
Back in the telegraph office, he found the operator keeping up the train movement record.
“I’ve got to go with Moran,” he announced, “check over these orders, John, and do what you can till I get back. Don’t let any trains over the bridge till General Manager Johnston gets here—Number 11 should make it here by six o’clock if—”
He broke off and turned to Moran who came bearing a bulky package.
"I can’t go, Moran,” he said, in disappointment, “I’ve got to stay here to keep some one from dragging the bridge track. Johnston is liable to send a message to some of these crews—”
“Not while I’m here,” the operator interrupted; “I know what you are trying to do, Scotty. I believe you can do it, and I won’t deliver any—”
Carson banged the operator on the back with his open hand. “Good for you, John! Let’s go, Moran!”
HPHE sun had disappeared behind a -*■ mass of storm clouds and a light drizzle had set in. Carson’s eyes caught
sight of the engines on the upper track, huge black shapes looming in the mist, serving as ballast for a swaying bridge, holding intact the line which at any moment might snap. It was then that the audacity of the enterprise struck him with full force.
“Give me the stuff, Moran,” he said; “it’s a job of walking the rail—the ties are out of sight. You stay here and—” “An’ I will not,” Moran declared. “ ’Tis many a rail I’ve walked in me life, an’ ye’ll be a-n’adin’ me t’ help wit’ th’ dynamite.”
Carson knew the man. Hands upon each other’s shoulders they started, along two ribbons of steel, out into the maelstrom where the swiftness of the sheet of water almost swept them down.
Trainmen, speechless at the daring feat, watched in silence. Then they found their voices and shouted warnings, begged Carson to abandon his reckless journey. Forward the two men moved with cautous steps upon a bridge that groaned and swayed under the merciless hammering of drift and flood. Once, as they neared the other shore, they seemed to lose their balance. Wordlessly and motionlessly the trainmen stood while Carson and Moran flayed the air with their free arms in a desperate attempt to regain their balance. Then they were on the other side and gone with long strides upstream along the sparsely wooded bank of the rising river.
Hardly had they disappeared from view, when the call for Wild Horse station sounded in the little telegraph office. It was a call which quickly cleared the line of other business for it was preceded by the general manager’s signal —97. The call came from the station of Kleinburg, a hundred miles to the east. The operator opened the circuit and answered: “I,I,W.S.”
“Mr. Johnston wants to know what trains are there and what crews.”
“Fourth and Fifth 98 and Number 28 are on this side; there’s some trains on the other side, too,” he replied.
“What conductor on Fourth 98.” “Peterson.”
A short silence. Then: “Here’s a message; deliver it personally to Conductor Peterson and to no one else. It read:
On Line—September 25, 1925 Pull ballast locomotives off bridge at once. Cannot risk vast amount money tied up in those engines to save a condemned bridge. Disregard Carson’s orders—he is not now in the service. Don’t fail to carry out my orders.
(Signed) F. W. Johnston,
“O.K. I’ll handle this personally, at once,” the operator said.
“Mr. Johnston says let him know at Westphalia if it’s been done.”
Undelivered, the message was filed in a drawer and the operator reached for a railroad guide.
And if Carson, foot-sore and weary, as he pushed along the water-soaked river bank could have heard the operator’s further comments it would have given him the needed courage and endurance to cover the long, hard miles of travel before him.
“Wonder where I’d better go to find another job,” the telegrapher mused. “When the general finds I failed to deliver his telegram, it will be good night to my first job. But I don’t mind, not if it’ll help Scotty.”
The afternoon dragged. Rain gave way to wet snow and dusk descended early. Westward as far as the eye could reach the line was blocked with trains. Traffic had come to a stand on the great V.&P. System. The elements had found the weakest link in the mighty trans-continental chain, but slender though it was, it still held.
Standing on the main track near the bridge approach 'WPS he road’s finest
passenger train. The engineer switched on the electric headlight and its powerful rays shone full upon the bridge. Ghostlike, the cold engines stood, their boiler bellies scored clean by the flood. Except for the laboring bridge which stood revealed in the headlight glare, black night closed over the scene.
Train Number 11 drew up to the last telegraph office before coming to the river. General Manager Johnston stamped in to demand a reply to his telegram to Conductor Peterson. Had the bridge track been cleared of engines?
“No,” the man at Wild Horse tapped the single word and started to gather up his personal belongings.
Pale with rage, the general manager rushed to the platform and signalled the train to proceed.
“A man can do just so much by telegraph,” he muttered with a gesture of helplessness. “If I can get there in time to drag those ...”
The explosion of a track torpedo and the answering sound of the engine-whistle indicated that the general manager’s train had been flagged at the end of a long line of marooned freight trains, three miles from the bridge. Johnston hurriedly left the car and started forward to the river. Halfway he was halted in his muddy tracks by a sound that struck terror to his heart, a dull, far-flung reverberating boom which to his excited senses could have but one meaning—the bridge and its precious load of ballast had undoubtedly plunged to the bottom of the Wild Horse.
For a moment he stood, speechless with despair and rage.
“Not in my generation,” he shouted, “will my railroad cease to be a thing of ridicule!”
AT MIDNIGHT, Carson was back on the job at Windy Ridge, assisting an overworked train despatcher with the tangle of rail traffic. The congested yards at Wild Horse had been partially cleared. Since ten o’clock, trains had been using both tracks over Wild Horse bridge at slow speed. The river had been falling since seven o’clock. Three hours later, General Manager Johnston had pronounced it safe for traffic at moderate speed.
At 12.15 in the morning, Number Eleven sped through Windy Ridge. In a brilliantly lighted private car attached to the rear of the train, sat the road’s general manager. Perfunctorily, he waved his hand at the man in the telegraph window and went on dictating to his secretary.
Carson fell upon his cot at daylight. The events of the crowded hours were fading from his mind. Just one incident remained to keep away sleep. For he could not forget his horror when Old Moran had slipped and tumbled into the muddy torrent at the drift jam.
“Ducking didn’t daunt the old veteran a little bit,” he murmured drowsily. “Dragged himself out of the water and planted that dynamite charge like a regular ‘powder monkey’. Wish I could do something to show the old fellow how much I think of—”
He slept with a tired smile on his face.
It was night again when Carson was roused from a heavy sleep. A train was passing. Something struck against his window and the friendly cry: “Hi, there, Coyote, wake up!” floated back to him, “the general is following us on a special.”
Dully, the operator stumbled to the cinder platform and picked up a newspaper. Back in the office he lit a kerosene lamp and unfolded the paper. In heavily leaded headlines on the front page he read, while a sleepy smile crept over his face.
GENERAL MANAGER JOHNSTON
RISKS MILLIONS IN LOCOMOTIVES TO SAVE BRIDGE Other Lines Tied up When Bridges Swept Away
Keen Initiative of V ancouver Man Holds Only Trans-continental Line
Carson read the accompanying story and studied the picture of the man whom it publicly proclaimed a railroad genius. Somehow, the misplaced acclaim did not annoy him. All of the bitterness of the past seemed to have left his mind. That a good job had been done and had been thus publicly recognized filled him with satisfaction. The railroad system would be the beneficiary and it was for the railroad that he had staked everything— and won.
He was whistling a tuneless air as he prepared bacon and coffee for his supper. Then an engine whistle silenced him; he recalled the flagman’s shouted warning of the coming of the general manager’s special train.
The two-car special came to a stop and Johnston swung to the platform.
“Well, Carson,” the official boomed, “this is the first time I’ve had the pleasure of meeting you—but I’ve been hearing about you.”
Then he caught sight of the open newspaper on the telegraph table.
“Those newspaper fellows,” he smiled in disdain, “as usual got everything wrong.”
“Wrong!” Carson repeated as he attended the frying bacon. “How do you mean?”
“Oh, that puff stuff about me, giving me credit for—■”
“Well, Mr. Johnston,” Carson gave the other man a straight look, “you deserve the credit. I was only acting in your place, carrying out your wishes in your absence. If you had been on the ground, you would have—”
“Of course, of course,” Johnston beamed.
“As you suggested, I had no authority,” Carson continued, “my name isn’t on the time table; I had no title—not that I needed one with my old men, but—”
“Then you’d better have a title, so there’ll be no misunderstanding,” Johnston laughed genially. “Superintendent Simmons left yesterday on his annual hunting trip. When he returns I 'shall make some changes, promotions, I mean. So I think, Carson, you’ll be superintendent from—”
“From yesterday,” Scott Carson grinned, “won’t you join me in a little supper, General?”