Odd Railroad Incidents
By Herbert E. Hamblen
A FORMER ENGINEER RELATES THE MOST SINGULAR AND INTERESTING
EXPERIENCES THAT FELL TO HIS LOT WHILE ON THE ROAD.
ONE day last summer I came to town over a line of railroad
on which I had once expended some time and much vitality in trying
to keep the wheels turning at the desired rate of speed. The superintendent.
eventually relieved me of that responsibility, which accounted
for the fact that I was now lounging in a chair car, instead of
inventing defensive fairy tales up there in the dust, grime, and
general pother on the "head end," with which to meet
the "old man's" cynical criticism on my arrival.
While languidly noting the changes that had been made since
my time, we glided past an old engine coupled to a train of gravel
cars on a siding. A big dent in her rusty Russia iron jacket,
just above the check on the fireman's side, caught my eye as we
passed. I failed to catch her number, nor can I recall it now;
but I should have known that ten year old dent had I seen it on
the Siberian steppes.
A HOODOO LOCOMOTIVE.
That engine had willfully killed her engineer with a broken
side rod, scattering his remains for a quarter of a mile. She
was a notable hoodoo, and nobody wanted her. When repaired, the
"old man" turned her over to me, with an air and manner
that discouraged dissent on my part. How carefully I inspected
the old vixen, slightly riveting every bolt on her to prevent
the nuts working off! My fireman, wiry, gritty little Danny Cole,
helped me. When we had finished I defied her. I pounded and slammed
her all over the division that night, and she behaved so well
that we agreed that she had been slandered; victim, no doubt,
of a bad name and lazy crews.
We started on our return trip early on Sunday morning, when
there were few passenger trains on the road. She was making a
famous run; I had to sidetrack but once in eighty miles, and we
were both in high feather.
When oiling at the water plug, after following the passenger
train out of the switch, I caught, the first glimpse of her cloven
hoof. The crosshead key on the fireman's side was so nearly out
that it could have been lifted clear with a broom straw.
Now, the taper end of the piston rod is forced into a taper
hole in the crosshead, and secured there by a taper key driven
solidly, point down, through them both. I had never heard of one
of those keys coming out, nor do I know of any one else who has.
Why the piston had not been blown through the front cylinder head
is a mystery to me to this day.
As I drove that key in again, memories of the tales I had heard
of her unaccountable deviltries flitted through my mind, and you
may be sure I gave her another thorough inspection before leaving
the plug. The train crew had become interested, and refrained
from setting brakes on the grades, giving me a chance to "get
a swing on 'em.'' There was a place where the road dipped sharply
into a deep hollow, rising again abruptly on the other side. There
was a station down in the hole, but it had a day operator only.
As there were block signals at the stations on each side of it,
night, freights whooped through there at a lively gait, so as
to get up the other side without "doubling the hill."
It was daylight now, and the block down in the hole was in operation,
but I had bad "clear blocks" all over the road, and
knew there was nothing ahead of me, so I let her out and sailed
down there. A curve hid the station until I was within an eighth
of a mile of it. I glanced back just before I turned the curve,
and the way those cars were dancing through the dust was inspiring.
In the very next breath I shut off and blew a call for brakes
that brought the boys out of the caboose like a fire alarm. A
man was coming down the opposite hill on the run, frantically
waving a red flag. There was another curve ahead which prevented
me seeing the obstruction, whatever it might be.
Although the men were twisting breaks for dear life on the
roofs of the rolling cars, her speed seemed to accelerate, even
after she struck the rising grade. I knew by the flagman's antics
that there wasn't much clear track ahead of me, so I tried to
reverse her. Even with Danny's help I couldn't get her past the
The reverse lever is hinged to the frame at its lower end.
It comes up through a slot in the cab footboardmade a neat
fit to exclude snow and dirtand describes an arc with its
upper end. The reach rod under the engine is connected to the
lever by a bolt which, in this instance, came up through the slot
when reversing. Despite my riveting precautions, the nut had worked
off the bolt far enough to prevent it passing through the slot;
so there I was, galloping into something, and unable to reverse.
A desecrator of the Sabbath had hauled two big blocks of granite
upon the crossing, dropped a wheel, and dumped his load on my
track. The track walker saw it, and it was he who flagged menot
that it mattered much. I plumped into it in fine style, at the
top of the hill, and with all hands tearing wildly at the brakes
when we passed the station operator.
"Second class trains must not exceed twenty miles per
hour."Extract from book o f rules.
On my return from my enforced thirty day fishing trip I found
"the hearse," as Danny had christened her, in worse
shape than ever. Nearly all hands had had a crack at her, making
one trip apiece and reporting sick on their return. My unwarranted
enthusiasm had evaporated; she was her own sweet self, and caused
me many painful interviews with the boss.
One day she stalled dead in the middle of the hill. I sat under
a tree, relieving my mind according to railroad usage, while Danny
labored with the fire. He put, on the blower and sat down beside
me, swearing he wouldn't do another stroke till she got to the
top of the hill if she stood there till doomsday. She started
when she got good and ready, and I threw a stone at her, saying:
"Git app, confound ye ! "
Danny approved, and commenced firing stones at her as she gathered
headway. It seemed to do her good, so, each on his own side, we
stoned her all the way up the hill.
I got aboard and called Danny. He was standing on the low bank
with a stone as big as his head, which he threw with both hands
as she came along. It made that dent above the check, slid down,
and wedged itself between check and boiler. There came a hissing
jet of water from behind the cheek, which doubled in volume in
Danny, his sooty face a mere rim about his white eyeballs and
gaping mouth, climbed into the tender. I simply said, " Dump
your fire, Dan," for all the pumps on the road wouldn't have
kept water in her with the check half off the boiler.
Unique reports of "the hearse" no longer aroused
curiosity, and as I happened to be solid with the foreman just
then, my report that a stud had given out was not questioned.
A PROBLEM FOR GEOLOGISTS.
I was just enough late for the main line connection to make
it interesting. The horse of the fellow who flagged me through
River Street had gone lame, and the man favored him to such an
extent that a truck driver, with whom I had exchanged civilities
the day before, backed up to the curb before I could get by. The
railroad being an interloper. I was forced to possess my soul
in patience until he got his load off.
Trains were often late at the junction but while a mail line
man may have a valid excuse, branch trains should arrive
on time and not delay the traffic of the road.
No finer night ever shone out of the heavens. The autumnal
sharpness was grateful after the long, hot summer, and the half
risen full moon, like the golden portal of a great tunnel, lay
squarely on the track ahead.
The weather had cleared after a rainy spell, during which the
blue clay cuts along the road had given trouble. In some places
the clay would melt like brown sugar and drool all over the track.
At others it would peel off in huge slices, and either slide down
or topple over. In either case it was a nuisance, though, so far,
no serious damage had been caused by it.
The country before me was as level as a floor, so I felt my
hair pushing my cap off when I saw that either the moon was returning
below the horizon or the track was rising ahead of me.
An engineer's fingers will close on the throttle lever, and
his elbow will begin to straighten, at every unfamiliar sight.
If he refrains from shutting off, it is by an exercise of will
power. In this instance I allowed the automatic instinct to prevail.
I never shoved a plug in quicker than I did old Helen's that night,
and I turned on the wind with equal celerity.
The moon was now obscured, and in the golden halo ahead the
ties were wavering and squirming in a most disconcerting manner.
I told the fireman to jump as I horsed her over into the breeching.
Her nose came up at an angle of thirty or forty degrees, the moon
reappeared, she pitched over the crest and returned to level track.
I got down to look her over. The conductor came ahead, and
asked what the trouble was. Passengers crowded the platforms and
stuck their heads out of windows, to see what I had stopped for.
I asked the conductor if he had felt anything in the train. He
said the smoker, where he had been riding, seemed to stand almost
on end for a second or so, then to pitch over a lump, and presently
to resume its normal position. We looked back. The two head coaches
were elevated above the others, which sloped away from them in
either direction. But they were straightening out again, and within
thirty seconds their roofs had returned to the usual perfectly
Of course I was late at the junction. I was sent back with
the section foreman to investigate. To my intense chagrin, I was
unable exactly to locate the place. The country thereabouts was
flat and devoid of distinguishing landmarks, and by the uncertain
light of the moon and lanterns we could find no sign of such an
upheaval as I had reported.
As a careful scrutiny by the section men, next day, failed
of results, the entire train crew "walked the carpet."
The superintendent wanted more explicit information than that
furnished by the meager official report.
Under the combined influences of elapsed time, the jeering
remarks of all hands, and the "old man's" indignation
at the palpable thinness of the yarn which he considered we had
foisted upon him, the conductor's memory failed. He had thought
at the time that something, he hardly knew what, had happened
to the train; but he guessed that he might have been mistaken.
The brakemen took their cue from him, and the fireman knew only
that he had jumped by my advice, and had torn his new overalls.
The others dismissed, the old man "set my packing out"
with great severity. He reminded me that while track frequently
slid off sidewise, or sank, it never "riz up." He perorated
with a broad insinuation that I had been guilty of the unpardonable
I accepted it all with the grace of a man who knows himself
to be right, though he can't prove it; but at that gratuitous
insult I blazed up. I told him I had been raised in a fanatically
teetotal section, and that my inherited prejudice had stuck to
me. Encouraged by his tolerance, I pounded the desk and shouted:
" The track did rise; I don't care what anybody says. Johnson
saw it, too, but finding you didn't believe it, he hadn't the
sand to say so," and I flounced haughtily out.
Nearly two years later the superintendent was riding over the
branch on the engine of an excursion train. Time had been lost
on the main line, so he went ahead to encourage the men by his
presence. Sam Billings had her "down among the oil cans"
and she was making good time. The super stood behind him, looking
over his head and watching operations closely.
In the blue clay cut the engine suddenly assumed a position
of acute angularity with the horizon, the track slipped and slewed
under her like slimy asphalt under a bicycle, she dug her nose
into it, and an avalanche of blue clay, of about the consistency
of raw gingerbread, smashed in the cab windows and smothered them
from head to foot.
While the work train was hauling off the superfluous clay,
to bring the track back to level, the roadmaster went into a long
dissertation as to what caused it. The water had percolated through
crevices in the clay, which was probably superimposed upon a stratum
ofsomething or other.
"But," I objected, "two years ago you said it
was impossible for track to rise in this way; what caused it to
do so now?"
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