WILLIAM EDWARD HAYES
A railroading story that will make non-railroaders take off their hats to the men who "keep her rolling"
MR. ORVIS KLITCH was an alert and enterprising young man who had read that successful persons succeeded by broadening their perceptive powers to include a great deal more than their immediate work. Mr. Klitch’s immediate work was in the statistical department of General Manager Peel’s office. Mr. Klitch was the assistant chief clerk and was equipped with a pair of small, brilliant eyes which, much to the annoyance of certain gentlemen scattered over a thousand miles of track, missed nothing. These eyes, behind their rimless glasses from which a little gold chain dangled, were invaluable to Mr. Klitch’s broadening process.
Mr. Klitch, vitally aware of his importance, gave it a swagger and a tilt of the chin to set it off. He approached the desk of Mr. Rimer, the chief clerk, on this wintry afternoon, and dropped a tabulated form before his superior.
“If the Western Division,” Mr. Klitch said emphatically if thinly, “calls this train performance, then I don’t know what railroading is!”
Mr. Rimer raised quick, pale eyes and a corrugated brow to meet Mr. Klitch’s eloquent smirk. Mr. Rimer was spare and bald and the very essence of austere dignity.
“The Western Division again.” Mr. Rimer took the form and scanned it. He nodded his long head. “Why, this —this is preposterous!” He frowned at the figures. “This —if this is correct—shows Driscoll’s division to be operating at a cost beyond the limits set as reasonable by Mr. Peel himself.”
“It’s true,” Mr. Klitch affirmed, “and, as you say, preposterous. And do you know what did it?” Here his voice hinted at the enormity of his discovery.
“The handling of manifest freight train No. 95 on the night of the 31st.” Mr. Klitch’s pause was portentous. “A freight train supposed to make a certain schedule and to carry certain commodities. Superintendent Driscoll, I’m sorry to say, seems to have stepped on thin ice once too often this time.”
“Superintendent Driscoll.” Mr. Rimer asserted, “is— well, a man of Driscoll’s make-up was perfectly acceptable in the days of small tonnage and light power and negligent accounting, but with things like they are now ...” Mr. Rimer tch—tched.
“You remember our last staff conference with Mr. Peel?” Mr. Klitch asked, his chin tilted, his smirk still visible.
“I remember distinctly that you brought up the subject of Driscoll’s operating ratio,” Mr. Rimer recalled. “That was a month ago, and the percentage was increasing at an alarming rate.”
“And,” Mr. Klitch added, “you'll remember Mr. Peel specifically advised me to watch that ratio on Driscoll’s district. Well, I’ve watched it. A whole month. I’ve watched it get closer and closer to the deadline, you might say. And Driscoll might have got through the month by the very skin of his teeth had it not been for No. 95 on the night of the 31st. That simply clinched it.”
“The first thing we know we’ll have the vice-president’s office demanding explanations of us,” Mr. Rimer mused. “I think, Mr. Klitch, a letter to Mr. Dris—”
“I’ve dictated it,” Mr. Klitch, one think ahead of his job, interrupted. He produced the typed sheet. “I’ve made it pointed, Mr. Rimer. Here we have a railroad on which we’re trying to get economic co-operation—cutting
corners wherever we can—and then we get something like this—this handling of No. 95. It’ll be interesting to see what Driscoll has to say—the sort of alibi he has to offer.” “This office, Mr. Klitch, is through with alibis,” Mr. Rimer answered indignantly. “Leave the letter with me. If I can strengthen it any ...”
"L-TE HAD ANOTHER name but no one seemed aware
of it. Clinker was what they called him, and they’d called him that for thirty years, from the day he knocked his first fire from beneath a leaky crown sheet into the roundhouse cinder pit—Clinker Driscoll, the Western Division boss. And it was no misnomer. He had rough edges, he was tough and hard. Somewhere along the way, in his years with his brains to a fire door and a coal scoop in his hands, he had absorbed enough sulphur from bituminous combustion to flavor his disposition for the rest of his life. The relentless rawhiding at the throttle of wheezy locomotives through days and nights of storm and snow and searing prairie heat had strengthened and tempered the fibre of his being, had given him a background against which to build and develop his understanding of men.
Clinker Driscoll knew his men from their scuffed, ballastworn shoes to their respective crowns. He expected a day’s work from a crew, asked no man to do a thing he would not do himself. He knew the limits of men and motive power, the vast difference between theory and practice, between anticipating things on paper and getting things out of brains and smoke and ballast dust. The cinders were still in his hair and ears, and the soot in his stiff, grey lashes.
These lashes now were drawn to veil incredulous eyes. Clinker Driscoll sat with his great shoulders hunched over his battered desk, his eyes on the letter. His big, hard hands gripped the edge of the desk, spread wide apart. A bitter wind rattled the loose panes behind him, black patches with a bitter night beyond them. From a distance a whistle sounded; five blasts calling in some snow-whipped flagman with his lamps and flares. Through the office was the faint, acrid odor of engine smoke.
Clinker Driscoll read the letter, read the black type on the cold white paper, neatly set and spaced within the precise margins:
Just a month ago you were advised of the steadily increasing operating ratio of your division. You were asked to take such steps as you found necessary to effect a more economic showing. To date there has been no reply to the suggestion and no information as to your plans in the matter. There has been, however, a further increase in the cost to move a ton of freight one mile over your district, an increase which, on the night of the 31st ult., brought your operating ratio outside of all reasonable limits.
At 4:35 p.m. of the 31st ult., manifest freight train No. 95 with engine 3919, left Ludgate Yard over your division with 6,000 tons, one hour and ten minutes late. It arrived at Mataska, not as No. 95, but as Extra 3919 West at 8:25 the following morning, fifteen hours and fifty minutes in transit with less than 4,000 tons.
It was the inexcusably poor handling of this important train which shoved your operating ratio over the bounds, and you will please advise immediately whether you have held an investigation into the cause of this mishandling, and if so, the result of same. Also advise if any measures have been taken to prevent a recurrence and to ensure more efficient methods of operation. Since your division alone shows such an increase, you will probably wish to take drastic steps to change this status.
Clinker Driscoll’s right eye was almost shut when he got to the last word. His was a smoky complexion at best, and now white streaks showed along the line of his jaws.
He fished into the hip pocket of his pants, produced a poisonous brown square of tobacco, bit off a third of it and began to masticate slowly. His nose wrinkled as if sensing an offensive odor. He cleared his throat and the calendar on the opposite wall fluttered.
A young man appeared at the door, a note pad in his hand, a pencil ready. Clinker shifted his chew, registered centre in the porcelain cuspidor, mumbled through his cud:
The young man sat.
“Personal. General Manager Peel.” Clinker Driscoll exhausted air through his thick nostrils. “Dear Pete: This is off the record ...” His voice trailed off, he rubbed his nose briskly, his smoky eyes in space.
The young man, waiting, examined his pencil point.
THE DISTINGUISHING thing about Conductor Daniel Detwiler was his gait. He was always running. He was a diminutive man, apparently made up of many springs beneath his fiappy, baggy overclothes. He always wore a white starched collar on the band of his blue starched shirt, on duty or off, always looked worried, and was.
On the afternoon of the 31st, Conductor Detwiler trotted through the cold, driving rain toward the ponderous, long-barrelled engine that had just backed on to the cars in No. 8 track of the outbound Ludgate Yard. He kept glancing toward the yard office, some distance to his rear, and the lines between his large round eyes deepened.
Reaching the engine, Danny skinned up the gangway steps, got both feet on the steel plate of the deck and dashed rain from his hat. His little leathery face was drawn and anxious above the enveloping fullness of his long rubber coat. The rain on the coat steamed in the warmth of the curtained locomotive cab.
“No luck?” Engineman Humpy Batson queried, turning on his seat cushion. Mr. Batson was sometimes called the Scopes Exhibit because of certain simian characteristics both mental and physical. His blue eyes searched the fuming conductor.
“Luck !” It was a furious snort. Danny waved his arms. “You’d think it was Friday the 13th I was bom on. I never had any luck, an’—”
“Lissen at him,” Humpy bawled, addressing the somnolent fireman across the cab. “No luck! Tomorrow he’s gettin’ tied up to the one good-lookin’ female in Mataska, an’ just because he can’t get anybody to let him lay off an’ deadhead home tonight, he’s gotta go cryin’ — Did you call up Clinker?”
“Sure I called up Clinker,” Danny retorted. “I’d even call the president if I thought I could get him.”
“An’ what’d Clinker say?” Hump wanted to know.
“He said if the trainmaster couldn’t round up a conductor to take my place, he sure wasn’t gonna take it for me. An’ just because I wanna get off once in a blue moon, there’s not a ding-dong conductor anywhere. An’ I promised Bess I’d be there for that shindig at her uncle’s house tonight.”
“That shindig,” Engineman Batson declared, “ain’t gonna bust up before nine bells or so, is it?”
“We got No. 95 manifest, ain’t we?”
Danny’s eyes blazed. His lower jaw suddenly thrust forward. “Have we? Ask me somethin’ I can answer. You mean we will have No. 95 if an’ when they can round up enough cars to make tonnage. Manifest !
“Well,” Hump drawled, “if the yardmaster don’t take too long to get tonnage for us, Danny, I’ll put you into Mataska almost as soon as No. 19 could do it, providin you could talk 19’s conny into lettin’ you ride it with your pass. The trouble with you, Danny, you ain’t grateful. The luckiest guy on the Western Division, with a big swell weddin’ all set for nine o’clock in the mornin’, an’ you belly-achin’ because you can’t lay off an’ deadhead home.” “It wouldn’t be so bad, maybe,” Danny admitted with reluctance, “if we could get our train an’ get goin’. We’re danged near an hour late now, though, an’ that means we couldn’t possibly make Mataska under nine-fifteen. I better go over to the yard office an’ wire Bess’s uncle, an’ tell him—”
“You guys better break up your party in here,” a new voice boomed, “an’ get your mind on your work. I sure ain’t gonna stand out there in the rain an’ break my arm givin’ signals.” It was the rotund and puffing yardmaster with a face the color of a smoked-up ruby switch-lamp lens.
“Did you scrape up enough cars?” Danny retorted sarcastically. “Because if you didn’t—”
“Yeh, you got enough cars.” The yardmaster was positively nasty. “You got a hunnerd an’ two of em, mostly loads, an’ you gotta pick up one more at Purvis.” “Holy smoke! You get that, Hump? Six thousand tons, an’ then we gotta stop at Purvis.” Danny swung on the yardmaster. “What are we? A manifest or a local?”
“A couple uh dumb clowns, if you ast me,” the yardmaster replied lovingly. “You’d think it was me, instead of the gen’ral manager’s office issued the bulletin that says a 3900 class engine can’t leave Ludgate Yard without tonnage, regardless of train. You’d think it was me instead of the gen’ral manager’s office that says that. I just work here, same as you. Only I work, see? I don’t stand around grievin’, an’ wishin’, an’—”
“No,” Danny retorted. “You don’t stand around. You lie around if you can find a good place to do it in. You lied when you promised me I could get off today so s I could go home this mornin’ like I planned, an’ then you made me stick around—”
“They’re callin’ for the air back there,” Hump bawled
from his window where he had his head out. Immediately he twisted his brake valve around. The yardmaster backed into the rain down the gangway steps.
“Where’s the message about that car at Purvis?” Danny cried, fixing to dismount.
“Here.” The yardmaster fished into a side pocket and brought out a crumpled paper. “One car of mules. You pick up next to the caboose because there’ll be an engine from the connectin’ line at Corndale to take ’em off—be there waitin’ for ’em.”
“You hear that, Hump?” Danny bawled. “Pick up mules next to the hack at Purvis with a hunnerd an’ two loads already ahead of it, an’ then stop at Corndale to let another engine take ’em off. Those mules better be on the stock track at Purvis, because if they’re not—”
“They ain’t.” the yardmaster flung over his shoulder. “They was delivered us from the Van, an’ the Van engine set ’em in on the interchange track.”
“You mean down in the holler?” Danny was fairly jumping up and down.
“Down in the holler.” The yardmaster, as if he had said enough for the day. plunged into the rain with his head down and his shoulders swaying.
DANNY MADE a dive for the cinders. The wind tore at his coat. From back in the misty distance which swallowed up his long train he saw lanterns signalling. A car tonk’s flare demanded the brake release. A glimmering ball of light swung high and made little circles.
“Whatta you say?” Hump called down from the cab window. “Looks like we’re set. That’s a highball.”
“Highball,” Danny retorted.
“An’ don’t forget me. I got to get on just about the time you got this engine a mile from here.”
“How about that move at Purvis?” Hump yelled. “You gonna be over?”
“I’ll be over when you take water at Spar.”
The great, ponderous, high-wheeled engine belched into quivering life. The driver tires ground blue fire from the rails, spun, caught on sand, lunged against a mile of slack between rust-red, rust-black cars. Six thousand tons, inert and helpless, failed of resistance and groaned jerkily into motion.
Danny Detwiler was in motion also. In the opposite direction. He was loping for his red caboose where a sheaf of bills awaited him, partially written in his train book by Hugo Sligh, his flagman, who would be a conductor in his own right if he lived long enough for it. Danny loped along with a deep sense of uneasiness he could not shake off. It had been growing all the fading afternoon, and now that premature darkness was settling over Ludgate Yard, bringing the dots of gold and ruby and emerald glimmering to life, a coldness came to stay between his shoulder blades, for which he could not in any way account.
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And he should be happy, he told himself that as he ran. Humpy hadn’t exaggerated when he had made that remark about Bess being the only good-looker in Mataska. And Mataska wasn’t any village. He should be happy about tomorrow, only he didn’t want anything to go wrong. All his life things had happened disastrously for him, or so it had seemed, and now that Bess would be involved, from tomorrow henceforth until death did them part, she must not be involved in anything that would worry her.
Danny glanced at his watch. It was 4.33. He’d be clear of the Ludgate tower in another two minutes. An hour and ten minutes late. This manifest was due in ! Mataska, 150 miles west of him, at 8.25 normally. The schedule allowed five hours for the trip. Say that Hump would trim thirty minutes off the running time in order to make up the lateness—he ought to be there for Bess’s uncle’s party long before ten. And, too, he wanted to turn in early. A feller didn’t marry every day, and it wasn’t anything to be taken lightly.
His caboose was up with him and he made a stab for it. His fingers gripped the grab irons, his feet went into space. His body seemed, for a moment, to whip straight out on the breeze. Dang that Humpy! What was he trying to do? Leave his skipper behind?
Danny got his feet on the caboose steps, swallowed twice, pulled himself to the platform. Inside, by the yellow lamp over the desk, the flagman was writing up the bills. Danny stared across the yards. The next time he saw them they’d be the same—everything would be the same, yet somehow different. The worry lines deepened between his large eyes. Nine o’clock in the morning at the preacher’s chapel with flowers, and the little Bridger girl and the little Thomas boy walking down the aisle, one with petals and one with the ring on a tiny pillow.
Danny got the lump out of his throat. Only yesterday he had held up the wedding rehearsal a whole half hour because a cop had taken exceptions to a turn Danny had made at an intersection where a sign plainly said no turns. It had taken the most woebegone expression Danny could muster together with his brotherhood card, his pass and a clipping from the evening paper, announcing the wedding, to get the cop to let him go. Deke Tichener, chosen for the best man, had said:
“Danny, when I see you standin’ in front of the reverent, clothed an’ in your right mind, an’ Bess standin’ beside you, j then I’ll believe there’s gonna be a weddin’.
I But if you ain’t present at nine a.m. on the I first, I ain’t gonna be surprised.”
Well, by jacks, he was going to be present at nine a.m. tomorrow, or he was going to be dead. Less than sixteen hours ! His breath caught on its way down. He exhaled noisily. Beneath him the caboose wheels clacked over the rail joints with an ever increasing staccato. A hundred and fifty miles! A big engine like that 3919! Nothing to it ! He could snap his fingers.
! Hump would get him there.
Danny leaned out from the caboose platform as it neared the tower, narrowed I his eyes against the rain and the whip of the wind. On the platform of the tower he saw a lantern swing into the highball sign. He answered it, his eyes on that light. Then he swallowed and stepped back.
That wasn’t rain now! Oh, no! Those white, swirling fragments. Snow.
FROM LUDGATE YARD, which was on the northeast side of that metropolis, you wheeled the manifest right down through town, through the outer edge of the Union Station’s tracks. You didn’t have that long and tortuous journey around the Belt to the junction where the Western Division really began. They
highballed you down the passenger main, and you had to keep ’em moving, because there were still some grade crossings and once you stopped a train of box cars a mile long across those city streets you certainly were licked.
From Ludgate to the Union Station it was something better than four miles. By the time Humpy Batson hurled the 3919 along the edge of the train sheds with a clattering racket, it took Hump and his fireman both to read the signal eyes through the white fluff that boiled up in the headlight beam.
Hump would make out a semaphore indication and yell, “Green eye!”
Across the cab would come the fireman’s echo, “All green !”
The time card said the speed restriction on the White River bridge for freight trains was twenty miles an hour. When Hump took the bridge he was straining for sight of the block at the Junction tower and praying it would be the right color. His visibility was more and more limited, and the time card said you should proceed within yard limits prepared to stop within half the range of your vision. Hump couldn’t spend all night in the yard limits which would end once he put that Mount Jeff tower behind him.
Westside strung its cluttered length of classification tracks along his left and he blew for the Belmont crossing. The whistle bubbled as if filled with water, which it undoubtedly was, because Humpy Batson believed in keeping an engine’s belly full. The little dots that indicated houses with lights in kitchen windows, dropped behind and darkness lay across the flats at the city’s western edge.
“Man, that wind’s a-gettin’ cold,” Hump yelled at his fireman above the pound and whirl of flashing rods, the bounce and screech of deck plate. “If this keeps up—what’s that distant signal say? Clear?” His head was out in the early darkness, his eyes squinting. The snow pelted his face, and with it came the sting of sleet in the teeth of the gale.
“All clear!” came the cry from the lefthand side. “Take ’er by the neck.”
Hump took her by the neck. Up on his cushion he bounced. Back came the throttle bar, up, notch by notch, pointed the lever until the throb in the frame became a tremor, then a blur, and the exhaust in the stack became a muffled roll.
Back in the caboose. Conductor Daniel Detwiler got up from his desk, looked out the back door, went inside again. He walked the length of the aisle, finally returned to the rear porch, leaned out and squinted along the rattling, rolling length of his cars. The cold wind pelted the sleet at his leathery cheeks, and the sleet reached icy fingers to his heart. He felt the sudden jerk through the taut couplings; knew, without being able to see, that the board at Jeff was clear—that Humpy had ’em by the neck, taking the buggies to town.
He stood where he was, still watching the darkness until a misty blur of light loomed up. He saw the operator’s lantern signal to him and he answered with a wave. He felt a sudden lessening of the tension. The main line rolled beneath him. A hundred and forty miles were left. They’d take water at Spar and go in the hole to let No. 19, the Western Star, fiio her tail around them. Then on to Purvis and that car of mules. Once they were out of Purvis the rest would be easy Nothing to it at all. Hump, with that big old 3919, would scorch the ties and set these rattlers down in Mataska yards for the crew on the other end of the division to worry about.
Danny mentally checked the speed. He came almost close to a smile. Rollin’ ’em like this even with that wind almost headon, Hump would keep her head in the air. Once they got over the first seven miles of ascending grade and down the long descent to Allenton . . .
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MAYBE IT WAS the way they plunged down on Allenton with the grade in their favor, or maybe it was just because that foreign box car was in the train. Danny didn’t know and didn’t take the time to wonder. All he knew was that fate dealt a rotten hand.
At Allenton, which wasn’t much of anything but the telegraph office and the siding and a few scattered houses, the track westward levels off for a tangent that provides the sweetest running a crew would ever want. With 6,000 tons on your tail and a clear board, you can come down that slant into Allenton at seventy or seventy-five, provided the trainmaster isn’t riding and the dispatcher fudges a little on putting down the actual time of your passing.
Hump came off the slant at seventy-five with his throttle wide open. Danny didn’t need a speedometer to tell him that. Danny was out on the back porch to exchange signals with the telegrapher as per the rules, and was holding on to everything in sight to keep from being bounced into eternity. He didn’t lean out to look ahead. He just stood there holding and braced, and hopefully waiting.
His caboose whipped past the little station and the platform, and was leaping into open country again when Danny’s eye told him that the lantern on the Allenton platform was making a signal, a most violent one, and the signal called for an immediate stop. Before Danny could let go or do anything at all, he saw the lantern jump from where it had been swinging and bob along as if chasing this fleeing train. Then it was lost to sight in the swirl of snow and sleet, and Danny gulped before he went into action.
Any conductor knows the danger involved in opening the brake valve from the caboose of a freight train as long as that No. 95. Let just one car kick up and brake quicker than any of the others and you’ve got a job for the big hook, a mess fit to tie up any main line for several hours.
Danny thought of all this, but that insistent lantern sign said Stop. Had the engineer missed an order or a message, or had the operator slipped and forgotten to hand an order on?
Breath stilled, eyes closed, lips moving in some sort of broken, skipperlike prayer, Danny braced himself inside his caboose and eased the air valve open. The exhaust blared above his head, his fingers went cold, his heart did tricks. But farther and farther the valve opened and the check of the momentum suddenly was terrific.
Danny thought he heard two muffled whistle blasts and closed his valve to make sure. Yes, Humpy had taken over the control. No. 95 was, so far, grinding successfully down to a stop.
Taking his lantern and going out on the rear platform, Danny tried to look ahead. He leaned out, the snow in his face, the wind biting. Suddenly he sniffed. His face lengthened. He sniffed again. Hugo Sligh, his flagman, came in behind him. Hugo also sniffed and twitched his nostrils.
“Hot one,” Hugo said. “Musta been blazin’ when we passed Allenton.”
“Plenty hot,” Danny said. “I’ll get the dope bucket an’ the water can.” He understood now the urgency of the Allenton operator’s signal. His heart was pounding when finally, laden with hot-box equipment, he planted his feet in the gravel ballast and fought his way forward against the storm.
A JOURNAL BOX on the forward end of a foreign box car was past the blazing stage. The car Danny located almost at the middle of the train. He looked ahead for signs of a lantern coming back from the engine. He had two brakemen over there who ought to be on the job, but you couldn’t expect anybody con-
nected with the engine to have any concern in what might be going on at the rear.
Danny tackled the cooling process. He couldn’t dump water on that bearing because it was almost cherry red. The box certainly couldn’t ride any farther, either. Danny’s watch told him it was 5.15 when they stopped. They were at least a couple of miles beyond Allenton siding. They had to back ’em up. There was nothing else to do. Back ’em up and set this hot one out, leave it behind.
A brakeman from the head end came up out of the storm, was apprised of the situation and was stationed on top to relay signals to the engine. But the engine couldn’t see the lanterns that far away in the storm, so the other brakeman had to come out in the cold.
After fifteen minutes of standing still and fuming and getting himself all worked up, Danny finally got the train into backward motion, moving very slowly but nevertheless moving. It took but ten minutes more to back up far enough to clear the siding switch at Allenton, where Danny broke the train and proceeded to rid himself of one of his buggies.
“You ain’t going to set that car in the passing track,” the operator blurted, slapping his mittened hands together. “You can’t do that, Danny—”
“I can’t?” Danny whirled. “Look, I’m sure as heck ain’t gonna derail it an’ set it off the railroad. It’s not gonna hurt you to tell the dispatcher there’s a nice first-class box in your sidin’ with one bearin’ danged near gone, due to improper packin’ and tonnage overload.”
“To say nothin’,” the operator sneered, “of runnin’ it a coupla miles a minute down this hill.”
It was a slow job, but Danny finally completed it. He got coupled up and on his way again at 6.05. He wrote his troubles on his delay report. They’d never make it to Spar now, to let No. 19 around them. They’d have to go in somewhere else, and that would mean just one more stop.
They tried to go in at Dillingham, but Danny found a string of gondolas stored in the eastward passing track that the dispatcher had failed to advise him of. The eastward siding would take care of 115 cars. The other siding would take eighty. Because there were sixty of those danged gondolas in the eastward track, it meant that Danny would have to split his train.
Splitting a train in that storm when you couldn’t see a lantern signal more than ten car lengths away, was a nice sweet job. No. 95 reached Dillingham, thirty miles out, at 6.55, fifteen minutes ahead of the Western Star, No. 19. It was 7.25 before Danny cleared the main track with the rear half of his train backed down in the westward siding, and the front fifty cars safely tucked in with the gondolas.
No. 19 had thirteen minutes of delay to mark up, and Danny, by the time the passenger train had departed, was frothing at the mouth.
“If I didn’t have any letters to write before on the showin’ of this manifest,” he moaned to his flagman, “I’ll sure have to write ’em now. You don’t stick 19 a whole thirteen minutes without everybody explainin’, from me that done it, right on up to the president.”
One swell wedding eve, Danny mumbled to himself when, thirty minutes later, he was finally ready to proceed. He chased one of his brakemen back to ride the hack, and himself crawled up behind Humpy Batson in the engine cab.
“Just a kinda temporary setback,” Hump opined with a toothless grin. He scratched himself beneath the watch pocket. “Don’t cry, Danny. We’re still on the railroad, an’ as long as I got rails an’ wheels under me, we’ll go places.”
They went places sprightly enough, but Danny was not consoled. They should have made Spar for water at 7.44, but with all that fancy business back at Dillingham, and the hot one to set out at Allenton, they eased down at the Spar tank at 9.35, five hours out and less than
sixty miles behind them. The big end of the division yet to travel.
“If we get in by midnight,” Danny grumbled, “we can pat our backs. I better get over to the telegraph office an’ wire Bess, an’ tell her—”
“Hey, Danny!” The Spar telegrapher was under the engine cab as Danny prepared to climb down. “Clinker Driscoll’d like to have speech with thee on the dispatcher’s telephone. You better stare thinkin’ up excuses.”
“I’m rootin’ for you, Danny,” Hump yelled, lighting his torch and taking his long-necked oiler for a poke at the running gear.
Clinker Driscoll was a gentleman of few words.
“What’s eatin’ you, Danny?” Clinker demanded as Danny put the headset on.
“I got too much train,” Danny explained. “Look here, Mr. Driscoll, it’s snowin’. You can’t see signals. We
oughtta reduce tonnage—”
“You read bulletins?” Clinker demanded.
“Know who writes ’em?”
“The gen’ral manager, but—”
“Correct,” Clinker snapped. “An’ no buts, Danny. We reduce tonnage if the temperature drops to below zero. That snow’s wet, ain’t it?”
“Yeh, it’s wet—”
“All right, keep the cars you got an’ tell Hump to quit pokin’.”
“If you’d let me set out just twenty loads,” Danny pleaded. “I just got to get to Mataska tonight an—”
“I hope to kiss a hog you got to get there tonight,” Clinker retorted. “You won’t if you keep on talkin’ to me.”
“How about runnin’ Purvis, an’ lettin’ somebody else get those mules, then?” Danny offered brightly. “The car’s down in the holler—”
“If gettin’ married’s affectin’ your brain already, Danny,” Clinker growled, “mebbe you better quit railroadin’ an’ try farmin’ or something. Now get out of Spar, get your mules an’ get on in. An’ about tomorrow mornin’. Good runnin’, Danny. Bess is a swell kid.”
No. 95 left Spar at 9.45 with a tankful of water and a clean headlight. The front end of the 3919, however, looked like an iceberg on wheels, with snow banked on her pilot and the icicles hanging from her running board and frame.
Danny, crouched at Hump’s shoulder blade, said, “I wired Bess from back there. We’re gonna make it all right, ain’t we Hump?”
“Sure,” Plump said. “We’ll make it unless ...”
THEY’D HAVE made it, perhaps, if they hadn’t been in such a hurry, all of which Danny realized much too late. They’d have made it before midnight if it hadn’t been for the Purvis mules, and the snow, and the head brakeman losing his gloves and . . .
Purvis, the crossing of the Van Line, was in a nasty sag. You were all right if you could highball it, hit it fast and wide open, east or west, but it was bad to get stopped there with tonnage, as any engineer could tell you, especially in the snow with a slippery rail.
In order to get the mules, several things were necessary. The track arrangement at Purvis was such that Humpy could pull his train all the way down past the depot, cut off his engine, back into the long siding, dip into the hollow where the interchange track lay, get the mules behind his tender and come out again.
Danny, with a little master-minding, planned the move. He called over a brakeman named Henry and discussed the strategy.
“We’ll back on through the sidin’ with the mules,” Danny explained, “an’ back out on the main behind the train. Then we’ll catch hold of the crummie”—caboose in English—“an’ drop the mules on to the train by headin’ the engine back into the sidin’, an’ cuttin’ the mules loose. You ride the mules, Henry, an’ I’ll get the switch. If nothin’ happens, we oughtta be outta here in ten minutes.”
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Continued from page 38
But something happened. Henry, the brakeman, lost his gloves. He dropped off the engine as the train slid down past the depot. His orders were to go and ojien the interchange track switch, then see that the coujiler on the mule car was ojien and jirojierly in line.
The wind was blowing at a terrific gale so that the brakeman had to walk headdown against it. There was a coating of ice on everything, including the track, and the brakeman took off his gloves to get his switch key and his jiocket knife in the event he would have to dig ice out of the keyhole. He was not aware that his gloves were gone until he reached the switch, unlocked and ojiened it, and then felt under his arm to recover his gloves. They were gone.
Meanwhile Danny had got the mainline switch, had backed the engine into the siding and thence down into the spur, where the mules stomped restlessly in their frigid car. The coupling was made gently, happily. Danny saw the brakeman’s lantern on the ice-encrusted running board aloft. He did not see the jxxir brakeman blowing on his freezing hands as he released the ice-coated handbrake wheel.
“All set, Henry?” Danny called up.
“Take ’em away,” Henry called back.
As he dropjied off and turned the siding switch and signalled his engine to come on back, Danny looked at his watch. It was 10.20. They had seventy-two miles yet to travel. An hour and a half on a normal night Of course there would be the stop at Corndale to set these danged critters off.
He swung on and rode the stirrup of the stock car back to the east switch, trotted through the snow, got the switch open and signalled his engine to keep coming.
A “drop” in railroading isn’t a particular tricky thing. Strictly defined, it means getting a car that’s behind your engine ahead of your engine in the simplest manner jx)ssible. Which Danny proceeded to do. He took his position at the switch while the engine with the mules behind it, backed up. The engine then headed in, took off the caboose, coupled ahead of it, and backed up again. Extremely simple, nothing to it at all.
Danny saw his brakeman hanging on the stirrup of the stock car just back of the tender, ready to do his stuff. He couldn’t see Henry trying to blow on his freezing hands, trying to keep circulation in them.
Far back on the main track the engine halted. Danny gave his lantern a whirl. It was answered by two short yelps from the bubbly whistle and a wave of the brakeman’s lantern. Danny heard the exhaust belch. The headlight jx>inted at him. He swung open the switch for the siding. The engine came charging down.
Danny’s eyes were on that lantern visible beyond the headlight aura. He saw it streak out, heard the exhaust die for a moment in the engine’s throat. The brakeman was lifting the coupling lever. The lantern flicked again, all in a split second. The engine blasted into new activity running away from its trailing car, shoving the caboose ahead of it.
With perfect timing Danny let the caboose and engine charge into the siding. His eyes were on the wheels. No time to look and see how his brakeman was doing. Eyes on those wheels! A slip now could spell disaster. The tender wheels clacked over the jxfints.
With a mighty heave Danny swung the switch bar over, turned the jxfints from siding to main. The mules were charging down now, rolling free, heading for the train. The yellow glimmer of the brakeman’s lantern was on top.
The brakeman would be tightening down on the icy wheel, twisting it to tighten slack brake chains so that the mules would couple in easy.
That little lantern up there . . .
The cry came back on the wind. With it the icy hand of fear touched Danny’s jx)unding heart. The mules were not slackening pace. The car was—Oh, lord! What had hapjxmed to that brakeman?
Danny put his hands over his ears and started running. He tried to plug his fingers into his ears. He didn’t want to hear the sound when those travelling mules coupled into the standing train.
OUT HE HEARD it anyhow. He heard it and saw something that goaded him on to a faster pace. A ball of light sailed out into space. The brakeman’s lantern.
Humpy, from the engine, had seen it, too, and had hit the snow slipping and sliding. The crash of the stock car coupling in was terrific. Danny’s heart was in his mouth. To hades with the mules! That brakeman who’d been on top there, trying to tie them down . . .
They found the brakeman in a snow bank trying to get to his feet.
“Hurt bad, Hank?” Danny queried. Fie got an arm under the man. The mules were threshing about, stomping, squealing.
“My back,” the brakeman groaned. “Honest, Danny, I couldn’t helj>—it. I tried—my hands—wouldn’t—”
“Your gloves!” Danny cried. “You didn’t—”
“Lost ’em somewhere. Didn’t have— time. Thought—”
“Keep quiet, kid,” Danny said. “Here, Humpy. Gimme a hand.”
Danny felt the brakeman wince as they gathered him up. Up there on that icy car with an icy brakewheel and no gloves ! Just because they were in a hurry, Hank didn’t take time to tell him. Fool thing to do . . .
They got the brakeman into the caboose and stretched him out on a bunk. Danny dispatched the flagman for a doctor. “The operator down at the depot oughtta know somebody to get. Hurry up, now!” He gave the injured man a pat on the shoulder. “I’ll go see how many mules is down an’ mebbe has to be killed, then I’ll go over to the telegraph office an’ get Clinker himself on the wire.”
Hump was left with the brakeman, trying awkwardly to be tender and consoling. Danny gripped his lantern more tightly and raced through the snow. He had put all thought of self out of his mind. His approaching wedding hour, Bess waiting, a dozen little last-minute details—these things slipj)ed from him.
Fearfully he examined the car of mules, brightened when he saw that all ten of them were on their feet and noisy. One’s thigh had been cut, but there w'as no evidence of broken bones—the fear of all railroaders when something happens to livestock cars.
His brightness, however, was short lived. An inspection of the coupler where the mule car hit the standing train brought a hard swallow, a pain to Danny’s throat. Both on the stock car and on the box car ahead of it the timbers, drawheads and even the end sheeting had been smashed and tom ; and the stock car, in trying to go through the standing car, had got its front trucks on the ties.
Danny went on a lope for the telegraph office. The operator informed him that a surgeon would be at the caboose within the next half hour.
“Get me Clinker Driscoll on that telephone,” Dan bawled, “even if you have to wake him outta bed.” He was staring at the office clock, the hands jxfinting incredibly to 11.05.
“Clinker’s on No. 41.” the operator announced, “just now about goin’ by the junction tower. Headin’ for Mataska an’ your weddin’, I guess. Can’t imagine Clinker missin’ that show. How’s the brakeman?”
But Danny had no time for visiting. “Holy smoke! Lemme talk to the dispatcher.”
The dispatcher asked a dozen questions in rapid fire. Danny tried to answer them. How bad off was the brakeman? How long would it take to get the mule car rerailed
and chained on to the train somehow? How much—
“Hey! Look here,” Danny broke in. “I got a hunnerd an’ two cars. Even if I can rerail the mules an’ chain ’em, I can’t turn a wheel until I get another brakeman. They got a full-crew law in this country in case you’ve forgotten.”
“I haven’t forgotten,” the dispatcher snapp>ed. “And about the only thing I can see for you to do is wait there and I’ll see if I can dig up a brakeman. Get your mules back on the tracks, and get your train in the siding out of the way, and then rejx>rt back to me. Mylord! If Clinker Driscoll’d had any sense he’da never trusted a nut about to get hitched with runnin’ a mainline train tonight. A manifest at that!” “You ain’t bein’ asked for any opinions, you fat-headed, brainless—”
Danny stomped out.
The surgeon reached the caboose at eleven-thirty, stripjxxi the brakeman’s clothes off, felt, punched, rubbed, twisted and grunted to himself. Danny and Flumj) Batson and the flagman stood by breathlessly, faces drawn and anxious.
Finally the surgeon said: “Back
sprained, leg ligaments torn, both hands frozen. Haven’t got a hospital here, but if we get him to my house I can save those hands and get him fixed up.”
They got Henry to the surgeon’s home at a little after twelve, and Danny and Hump got back to the remains of what had been a manifest freight train, close to one o’clock, to find a westbound milk train trying to get around them. The milker had to go through the siding, but this couldn’t be accomjflished until Humpy got his engine out of the way. Meanwhile Danny tried to argue the milk train into sparing him a brakeman, but the brother in charge of the milker merely placed a thumb to his large and reddish nose.
The work of rerailing the mule car took exactly an hour and a half, so that at 2.35, ten hours on duty and with still seventy-two miles to travel, the crij^pled hot shot was finally able to get itself off the main line and into the hole.
It was then that No. 41 hove into sight, a slow local passenger train that carried a couple of Pullmans. Danny watched it come to a stop with a great fear in his heart. He was in the telegraph office and, peering through the steamy window on to the snowy jflatform, he saw a familiar figure descend from the day coach—two figures in fact. One was Sujxirintendent Driscoll and the other was a hungry-looking brakeman by the name of Pearl.
“I am sorry, Mr. Driscoll,” Danny said as the super met him in the waiting room. “I sure am. But with this brakeman an’ any kinda breaks at all, we oughtta be gettin’ in before the dogs get us.”
“How’s your injured man?” Clinker snapped.
“Listen! I’d ruther it was me. Honest,
I would. I never had a showin’ like this night since I been railroadin’, an’ that jx>or devil—” Danny shuddered, his face drawn, the worry lines deep. “We been doin’ the best we could considerin’—”
“My lord!” Clinker broke in. “Can’t you straighten that face up? You’re a fine lookin’ sight to be goin’ to the altar with a gal.”
“I feel awful, Mr. Driscoll. An’ as for me—well, goin’ to the altar, as you say, I—”
“Gettin’ married’s a strain on a guy, Danny. Where’s your train book?”
“In my caboose. W’hy?” Danny’s eyes widened.
“We’ll swap places,” Clinker said. “Get your bag an’ get on 4L I’ll take your train in.”
“But, Mr. Driscoll, I—”
“You know an order when you hear it, don’t you?”
“Well, there’s 41, waitin’. You don’t want to lay it out, do you?”
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CLINKER DRISCOLL, smoky eyes in space, paused to shift his chew and spit. The young man across the desk examined his finger-nails. Clinker grunted and a smile played about his grim mouth. Then he resumed his dictation :
“So, Pete, I take all the responsibility for what happened to No. 95 after I took charge at Purvis. I had to keep it there until after five to clear the procession of night passenger trains and two eastward manifests. I set out the 2,000 tons the writer of this nasty letter over your signature is belly-achin’ about. When the schedule approached twelve hours late I personally annulled No. 95 of that date, and ran it on in as an extra.
“I’m givin’ you the details without any alibis. You railroaded out on the cinders long enough in your younger days so’s you ought to have a pretty good picture of everything that went on. Yours sincerely.” “That’s all, Mr. Driscoll?” the young man asked quietly, facing the strange smile on the super’s rocky features.
“Put a P.S.,” Clinker ordered. “Just say, ‘Danny married the girl all right, showed up for his weddin’ without a hitch, an’ without a minute’s delay.’ I’ll sign it, an’ let me have it yet tonight.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Driscoll.”
A/fR. ORVIS KLITCH, assistant chief I-V-L clerk of General Manager Peel’s statistical department, stood indignantly by Mr. Rimer's desk. The brightness of
the morning was not reflected in his little eyes. He had just left Mr. Peel’s private sanctum and had forgotten to swagger, and to tilt his chin.
“Was it about that Western Division operating ratio matter, Mr. Klitch?” Rimer asked, turning pale eyes and washboard brow up to his assistant.
“It was,” Mr. Klitch retorted vehemently.-
“Mr. Peel heard from Mr. Driscoll
“He did, evidently.”
“Evidently, Klitch?” Mr. Rimer cleared his throat. “Didn’t Mr. Peel give you Mr. Driscoll’s explanation to complete your file?”
“Mr. Peel gave me specific instructions,” Mr. Klitch answered heatedly, “to mind my own affairs. Mr. Peel is dictating a bulletin to chief clerks that hereafter, in matters of this kind, he is to be consulted personally before letters are written.”
“I thought, Klitch, we were supposed to watch these things and take action,” Mr. Rimer said. “I can’t understand Mr. Peel’s attitude. I can’t—”
“Nor can I, Mr. Rimer,” Mr. Klitch agreed. “All I can say is that if Mr. Peel wants to put up with railroading like that —that Western Division performance with a westward manifest, then my efforts are wasted. Entirely wasted.”
He went to his own desk with no thoughts on the job ahead of him.