NESTLING among the hills of the Scioto valley, in the south-central
portion of the state of Ohio, lies the little town of Wadsworth.
Venerable in its age, proud of its history, the first capital of its
state and the home of men famous in their time, it lives in the past
rather than in the present, and life there moves in a quiet and
dignified manner, conducive to peace but not to progress.
Its streets, shaded by the elms planted by the pioneers, show traces of
those early days; one of the old inns, with its swinging sign still
stands; no roar of traffic disturbs its Sabbath stillness. Just to the
east of it rises Mount Logan, named for the Indian chieftain known to
every train-service, and there is a legend that, standing on the summit
of that hill, the day before his death, he cast a spell over the
surrounding country, in order that the peace of his grave might never be
disturbed. However that may be, certain it is that a dreamy influence
pervades the atmosphere and gives to the town an air of leisure and calm
deliberateness which nothing can dispel.
It had been founded more than a century before, when the country for a
hundred miles around was an unbroken forest, by a little band of
pioneers who, acquiring title to unnumbered acres by virtue of their
service in the Revolution, pushed their way over the mountains from
Virginia. Some of them brought their slaves with them, only to free them
when they reached their new home. Other families from Virginia joined
the little settlement and lent their hands to the battle with the
wilderness. That southern flavour had never been lost, nor the southern
deliberateness and dislike of innovation, nor the southern preference
for agriculture rather than for manufacture.
By mere chance of geographical position, Wadsworth lies half way between
Parkersburg, a hundred miles away to the east, and Cincinnati, a hundred
miles away to the south-west; so, when the great P. & O. railway,
looking for new fields to conquer, purchased the local line which
connected those two cities, and which was fast degenerating into a
“streak of rust,” it saw that Wadsworth must be the centre of the new
division, since it was the most economical place from which to handle
the business of the division and at which to maintain the division
shops. All this, however, it carefully concealed from public view, but,
expressing a supreme indifference as to whether the shops were placed at
Wadsworth or somewhere else, offered to bring them there for a bonus of
a hundred thousand dollars. After long delay and hesitation, the town
was bonded for that amount, and the shops were formally established at
the spot where they must, of necessity, have been placed.
Here also were the division offices, from which the business of the
division was handled. They were upon the second floor of the dingy depot
building which has been described more particularly in “The Young Train
Dispatcher,” and need not be dwelt upon here, except to observe that the
passing years had added to its dinginess and disreputable appearance.
* * * * *
From these offices there descended, one bright October evening,
lunch-basket in hand, a young man, who, springing lightly across the
branching tracks of the yards, reached the street beyond and turned
eastward along it. It was noticeable that he seemed to know everyone
employed around the yards and that they seemed to know him, and greeted
him with a cordiality evidently genuine.
Ten minutes’ walk brought him to a trim cottage standing back from the
street, amid a bower of vines. Its grounds were ample, and well-kept. At
one side was a little orchard, whose trees showed the glint of ripening
fruit. Farther back, near the barn, a cow was grazing, and the busy
clatter of chickens came from an enclosure to the right. The place
somehow gave the impression that those who lived within were happy and
contented people; not rich, but able, by the labour of their hands, to
assure themselves a comfortable livelihood—which is, perhaps, the
happiest condition vouchsafed to human beings.
Through the gate of this house the young man turned, and went slowly up
the walk leading to the door. But as he stretched out his hand to turn
the knob, the door flew open and a girl of about sixteen fairly flung
herself into his arms.
“Why, Mamie!” he cried. “_Is_ it Mamie?” and he held her off for a
moment’s inspection. “When did you get back?”
“On Number Three,” she answered. “I had a notion to wait for you, and
then I thought it would be nicer to come home and surprise you.”
The words “Number Three” stamped both speakers as of the railroad. For
who but one raised in the atmosphere of the road would know that “Number
Three” was the west-bound flier?
“See how brown I am,” she added, holding her face up for his inspection.
“Yes,” he agreed, looking down at her, “you are. Did you have a good
“Only so-so,” she answered, smiling up at him. “I can have the best time
of all right here at home.”
“So can I,” he agreed. “It’s been a little lonesome with you away.”
“Has it, Allan?” she asked, quickly, her eyes shining with the glint of
sudden tears. “It’s nice of you to say that.”
“Well, it’s true: and it won’t hurt to say it, now you’re back. But I
didn’t dare tell you when I wrote. I wanted you to enjoy your visit. I
thought you were going to stay till Tuesday.”
“Oh, I couldn’t stay any longer than to-day!” she protested, quickly.
“Why not?” he asked, looking at her in surprise. “What’s going to happen
“Come in and you’ll see,” she answered, and led him triumphantly into
Through the hall they went, into the dining-room beyond, where a
bright-faced woman, just entering middle-age, was putting the finishing
touches to a table immaculately spread.
“Oh, there ye are!” she cried, turning as they entered. “What kept you
so long, Allan?”
“I’ve been out here gossiping with Mamie,” he explained, laughing.
“I was afeerd the supper would git stale,” she said. “I don’t like to
keep things warmed up; they ain’t got the same taste they have when
they’re cooked jest right and served right away.”
“You needn’t wait for me, if there’s company,” he said, seeing that an
extra place had been laid.
“Oh, I reckon the company’s willin’ to wait,” she retorted, with a
laugh. “Only don’t be no longer than ye kin help.”
“I won’t,” Allan promised and hurried away.
Five minutes later, he opened the door of the dining-room again, and saw
who the visitor was.
“Why, Reddy!” he cried, going quickly forward, his hand outstretched.
“How are you? I’m glad to see you.”
“The same here, Allan,” answered Reddy Magraw, warmly gripping the hand
outstretched to him in his own honest palm. “An’ mighty glad I was when
Jack asked me t’ be here t’-day.”
“To-day,” echoed Allan, glancing quickly around at the smiling faces.
“Why, what day is it?”
“Don’t you know?” asked Jack, his face all one broad grin. “Don’t you
Mamie’s eyes were dancing, as she looked at Allan’s perplexed
“Oh, it’s a disgrace, Allan, if you don’t remember!” she cried.
“I’ll tell you what day it is, me boy,” said Reddy, his face beaming.
“It’s jist eight year ago t’-day sence a little scalpeen named Allan
West come along out there on Section Twinty-one an’ asked the foreman,
Jack Welsh, fer a job. We’re meetin’ here t’-night t’ celebrate his good
jedgment in givin’ ye one.”
“’Tis the thing in all my life I’m most proud of,” said Jack.
“An’ the thing that has made me happiest,” added Mary.
“And I’d never have forgiven him, if he hadn’t,” cried Mamie, at which
they all laughed, a little uncertainly, and sat down, their hearts very
“Can it really be eight years?” asked Allan, after a moment’s silence.
“It doesn’t seem possible. And yet when one thinks what has happened—”
“They has a lot happened,” agreed Reddy. “An’ many a happy day we had
out there on Section Twinty-one. Not that I don’t like the work now,
Jack,” he added. “But my gang don’t seem t’ be loike the old one. Mebbe
it’s because I’m gittin’ old an’ don’t see things with quite so much
gilt on ’em as I used to.”
“Old! Nonsense!” cried Jack. “Why, you’re a young man, yet, Reddy.”
“No, I ain’t,” said Reddy. “I ain’t young by no means. An’ I’ve allers
thought that that belt I got on the head from that runaway ingine had
took some of the ginger out o’ me. But that’s all fancy, most likely,”
he added, hastily, seeing Allan’s eyes upon him.
“Look here, Reddy,” said Allan, “do you think my hitting you that time
had anything to do with it?”
“No, I don’t,” said Reddy. “I think that was the only thing that saved
me. I’ve told ye already that I wouldn’t have complained if ye’d kilt
me. Tell me about it ag’in, boy; I can’t hear that story too often.”
So Allan told again the story of that wild Christmas eve when, as
track-walker, he had found a gang of wreckers tearing up the rails, and
how the pay-car had been saved, and the lives of those in it.
“Oh, it must have been terrible!” cried Mamie, who had been listening
with starting eyes, as though she had never before heard the story.
“Think of creeping up alone on that gang of men! Weren’t you awfully
“No,” answered Allan, smiling at her earnestness. “I didn’t have time to
get frightened, somehow. But,” he added, laughing, “I don’t mind
confessing, now, that two or three days later, as I lay in bed thinking
the whole thing over, I was scared nearly to death. It’s a fact,” he
went on, seeing their puzzled countenances. “I just turned kind of faint
thinking about it.”
“An’ no wonder,” said Reddy. “’Twas enough t’ make anybody turn faint. I
remember jest sich another case. You knowed Tom Spurling, Jack?” he
added, turning to Welsh.
“Yes,” nodded Jack.
“Well, then you’ll remember what a hot-headed feller he was—he had a
head o’ red hair, by the way, purty nigh as red as mine. Well, one
evenin’ he was hurryin’ acrost the yards t’ git his train—he was
conductor on the west-bound accommodation. He was carryin’ his cap an’
his dinner-bucket an’ his lantern an’ his little red tin dickey-box, an’
he was hittin’ it up lively, bein’ a minute or two late. It was a kind
o’ foggy night, an’ jest as he got to the platform, Bill Johnson’s yard
ingine come up behind an’ poked him in the legs with its footboard.
Well, everybody expected t’ see Tom ground up in about two winks, but
some way the ingine throwed him up on the platform, where he fell
sprawlin’. Bill stopped the ingine an’ got down t’ see if Tom was
hurted. Tom was settin’ up rubbin’ his head an’ glarin’ down at the
lunch his missus had fixed up fer him an’ which was now scattered all
over the platform and purty well mixed with cinders.
“‘Are ye hurted, Tom?’ asked Bill.
“‘Hurted!’ roared Tom. ‘No, o’ course not, ye blame fool! But look at
“‘Jumpin’ Jehosaphat!’ says Bill. ‘Ye ain’t worryin’ about them are ye?’
“‘Yes, I am!’ yells Tom, jumpin’ to his feet. ‘Why don’t ye look where
ye’re goin’ with thet ole mud turtle o’ yourn? Fer jest about half a
“But some o’ the fellers got ’em apart, an’ Tom climbed on his train a
minute later, still cussin’ Bill fer the loss o’ his lunch.
“Well, sir, he run his train down t’ Cinci all right, an’ next mornin’
started back with her, an’ they’d got as fer back as Midland City, when
one o’ the passengers come an’ told the brakeman that the conductor was
sick. An’ mighty sick he was, layin’ in a seat, white as a sheet,
lookin’ like his last hour had come.
“‘Fer Heaven’s sake, Tom,’ says the brakeman, ‘what’s the matter?’
“‘Oh, I was nearly kilt!’ groans Tom, hoarse as a frog.
“‘Kilt!’ says the brakeman. ‘Where? Shall I holler fer a doctor? Mebbe
they’s one on board.’
“‘No,’ says Tom. ‘I ain’t hurted.’
“The brakeman thought he’d gone crazy.
“‘What you talkin’ about, anyhow?’ he says.
“‘No,’ goes on Tom, ‘but it’s God’s providence I wasn’t chewed into
“‘When?’ says the brakeman.
“‘Last night,’ says Tom, ‘by thet yard ingine at Wadsworth. It’s jest
come to me what a narrer escape I had.’
“Well, the brakeman told me, Tom was about the sickest man he ever seen
fer an hour or more, an’ then he peckered up a little, an’ finally was
all right ag’in.”
“I can imagine just how he felt,” said Allan, amid the laughter caused
by Reddy’s story. “I fancy it’s a good deal like seasickness. It just
swoops down on you and takes the nerve out of you and leaves you limp as
From one story, they passed to another—the wreck at Vinton, the fight at
Coalville, Dan Nolan’s death—stories which have already been told in the
earlier books of this series, and which need not be repeated here.
“Did ye ever hear anything more o’ that snake, Nevins, what I chased all
over creation that night he tried t’ wreck the president’s special?”
“Yes,” Allan answered, “I heard about him just the other day. Mr.
Schofield told me that he had seen him at Cincinnati—passed him on the
“What’s he doin’?” asked Jack, quickly.
“I don’t know. Earning an honest living, I hope. Mr. Schofield said he
was well-dressed and seemed to be prosperous.”
“Well, mebbe he _is_ earnin’ an honest livin’, but I doubt it,” said
Jack. “I don’t think he knows how. That reminds me. I heard this
arternoon that Hayes is goin’ to Springfield.”
“Yes,” said Allan. “He’s to be train master on the Illinois division.”
“Then that means that they’ll be a chief dispatcher to appoint here.
Who’ll get it? Goodwood?”
“Yes; he’s next in line.”
“An’ that’ll make you senior dispatcher?”
“When I think,” said Jack, “that eight year ago, this here felly was a
kid lookin’ fer a job an’ that now he’s senior dispatcher, with a mighty
good chance o’ bein’ superintindent some day, I begin t’ believe that a
felly has a fair chance in this country, arter all. You know they’s
allers sayin’ we’re all ground down by wealth; but I’ve noticed that the
fellies who’s ground down are them that spends most o’ their time in
some bar-room hollerin’ about it.”
“That’s true,” Allan agreed. “And don’t forget that you’ve gone up from
section foreman to division roadmaster in the same time, and that you’re
not done yet.”
“Yes, I am, me boy,” said Jack, gravely. “I haven’t got th’ eddication
t’ go any furder. I’ve got the experience, but that’s only half the
equipment a felly has to have to reach the top. I don’t know jest how it
is, but eddication—the real thing—seems t’ kind o’ give a man a bigger
grasp of things. He kin put two and two together quicker—he kin see
“Jack’s right,” said Reddy. “Now I’ve reached my limit in section
foreman. It’s as fur as I kin go. I ain’t complainin’. I’m contented.
But some of us is built fer speed, an’ some of us is built fer strength.
Some of us has to pull freight, and some gits to pull polished Pullmans,
but I reckon it all comes to th’ same thing in the end.”
“Yes,” said Allan, quietly, “passenger and freight all have the same
destination. And you know, as well as I do, that it’s the freight that
counts most when it comes to figuring results.”
The ringing of the telephone bell interrupted them, and Mamie ran to
answer it. She was back in a moment.
“Somebody wants you, Allan,” she said. “Mr. Schofield, I think.”
Anxious eyes followed him, as he arose and went to the ’phone. A call
from the superintendent might mean so many things—usually did mean
disaster of some kind. He was gone a long time, and as the minutes
lengthened, the shadow on the faces of those about the table deepened.
They tried at first to keep up a semblance of conversation, but that
finally dropped away and they sat silent. That it was something serious
But Allan came back at last, and as he caught sight of their anxious
faces, he laughed outright.
“No, it’s not a wreck,” he said, “and I’m not fired.”
He sat down, and the others waited. If it was anything he could tell
them, they knew he would. If it was official business, they did not wish
to question him.
“The fact is,” he went on, slowly, watching
Mamie’s face with evident amusement, “a very unusual thing has
“Oh, Allan!” Mamie burst out, “if you’re going to tell us, please hurry
and do it.”
“A very unusual thing,” Allan proceeded with provoking deliberation.
“You know I told you that Mr. Hayes is going to Springfield.”
“Yes,” said Mamie, encouragingly, bouncing in her seat.
“Ain’t he goin’?” asked Jack.
“Oh, yes; he’s going. He went this afternoon. But the fact is, Goodwood
don’t want his job.”
“He says the hours are too long, and the added responsibility more than
the added salary. He says he’s contented where he is.”
“Ho!” said Reddy. “Reached his limit jest like me, an’ knows it. Well,
it’s a wise man that knows when to let well enough alone.”
But Mamie’s face suddenly gleamed with understanding, and she jumped
from her seat and rushed around the table to Allan’s side.
“I know!” she cried. “I know! Oh, you stupid people! Don’t you see?
Allan’s to be chief dispatcher!”
They were all on their feet now.
“What, Allan! Is it?” cried Jack, incoherently.
“Yes,” answered Allan, “I guess it is.”
Jack came over to him and put his hands on his shoulders.
“Eight year ago to-day,” he said, looking him in the eyes. “I’m proud of
ye, me boy. But I don’t need t’ tell ye that.”
“And he’ll make the best chief this division ever had,” added Reddy with
conviction. “Where’s my hat?”
“But you ain’t goin’!” protested Mrs. Welsh. “It’s early yet.”
“I know it is,” said Reddy. “But I can’t stay. Not with this news in my
craw. I must tell the old woman and the boys. They ain’t a man on the
division that won’t be glad.”
TWO days later, Allan West entered regularly upon his new duties as
chief dispatcher of the Ohio Division of the P. & O. railway. Meantime,
news of his promotion had got about, and it seemed as though every
employee of the division, high or low, had made it a point to seek him
out and congratulate him. For Allan, in the eight years he had been with
the road, had endeared himself to everyone by kindness and
considerateness, and even those engineers and conductors who had a
standing grievance against all dispatchers had come to confess that he
was the squarest one they had ever met.
The chief dispatcher’s office is a large and pleasant room, looking down
over the busy yards, and is shared by Mr. Plumfield, the train master. A
great desk stands between the front windows, one side of which belongs
to the train master and the other to the chief dispatcher. On it two
sounders clicked, and from the open door of the dispatchers’ office, at
Allan’s back, came the incessant clamouring of other instruments.
To one unaccustomed to it, this ceaseless noise would have been
perfectly distracting, but to the habitués of the offices it was
scarcely noticeable. And yet, though they seemingly paid no heed to it,
it had a meaning for them, and anything out of routine attracted their
attention instantly. For telegraphers develop a sixth sense, which takes
up and translates what the instruments are saying without interfering
with any of the others.
Perhaps you have seen an engineer sitting beside his engine, reading a
paper while the complicated mechanism whirls smoothly along at its
appointed task. Suddenly, without cause so far as you can see, he starts
up, snatches up an oil can or a wrench, and squirts a jet of oil upon a
bearing or tightens a nut somewhere. No sign of trouble has been audible
to you, but his trained ear, even though his brain was otherwise
engaged, had caught an unaccustomed burr or rattle and had called his
attention to it.
Such instances might be multiplied indefinitely. Everyone who works at a
certain task, or goes through a certain set of motions, becomes, after a
time, to some extent automatic. Physiologists call such motions
“reflex,” and tell us that in time the brain passes on such volitions to
the spinal cord and so frees itself for other work—one of the wise
provisions of our bodily mechanism, whose wonder and perfection very few
of us understand or appreciate.
Allan was, of course, acquainted, in a general way, with the duties of
his new position, and he lost no time in further familiarizing himself
with them. All of the operators along the line were under his control.
He assigned them to their duties, promoted them or discharged them as
occasion might arise, investigated any delinquency on their part, and
held them accountable for the proper performance of their duties. In
addition to this, he was required to see that empty freight cars were
furnished the various agents along the line, as they needed them, and
that loaded cars were taken up promptly and sent forward to their
destinations. Every day, each agent wired in his car requirements, and
it was the chief dispatcher’s business to see that these requirements
were filled as speedily as possible. He was also expected to see that
the dispatchers understood their duties, and to unravel any knotty point
which any of them might not understand.
Further than that, the clerical duties of the position were very heavy.
He must make daily reports of the amount of freight handled; and if any
freight crew was kept on the road more than sixteen hours, a special
report must be prepared for the Interstate Commerce Commission, giving
the facts in the case, and explaining why the crew had been kept out so
long; for it is unlawful to keep any crew on duty for more than that
length of time. A wise provision, for before this law was enacted, in
busy seasons, railroads sometimes kept their crews on duty for
twenty-four, thirty-six and even forty-eight hours at a stretch—an abuse
which inevitably resulted in accidents from the men going to sleep while
on duty, or being so exhausted by the long hours as to grow careless and
forgetful of orders.
These were the duties when everything was moving in regular order. At
other times, the supreme duty of every one connected with the office was
to get them back to regular order. For a great railroad system is like a
complicated machine—no part can run smoothly unless all are running
smoothly, and the throwing of the smallest cog out of gear cripples the
entire mechanism. Although the train master was the “trouble man,”—in
other words, the man whose especial duty it was to superintend the
clearing away of wrecks, and the straightening out of traffic—whenever
anything happened to interfere with it, all other work became
subordinate to that of restoring traffic to its normal condition.
* * * * *
On this morning, however, everything was moving in regular order; the
sounders clicked out the reports of trains on time; there were no calls
for cars which could not be answered promptly and no freight along the
line which the regular locals could not handle. Conductors came and
registered, compared their watches with the big electric clock which
kept official time for the division, and departed; others reported in;
trainmen loitered before the bulletin board, or gossiped in their
lounging-room across the hall; the typewriting machine of the train
master’s stenographer clicked steadily away; and there was about the
place a contented hum of industry, such as one hears about a bee-hive on
a warm day in late spring when the apples are in bloom.
“I heard some bad news about Heywood, while I was in Cincinnati
yesterday,” remarked Mr. Plumfield casually, in the course of the
morning, referring to the general superintendent.
“Bad news?” questioned Allan, looking up quickly.
“I don’t believe he’s making good. Nothing definite, you know; just a
general feeling of dissatisfaction with him. I shouldn’t be surprised if
he lost out.”
“What’s the matter with him?”
“You knew his wife died?”
“She was a mighty sweet woman, and I imagine had lots of influence on
Heywood. Well, after her death, he seemed to go to pieces more or less.
His daughter, Betty, was away at school, or somewhere, and didn’t know
until she came home. You knew her?”
“Oh, yes; very well. I used to see her when they lived here.”
“Yes; I rather fancied, sometimes—”
“I thought a great deal of her and still do,” Allan interrupted.
Mr. Plumfield nodded.
“Well, she came home and tried to brace him up, and I dare say succeeded
pretty well for a while—”
He stopped. There was no need that he should say anything more.
Allan, staring at the report before him, remembered how kind Mr. Heywood
had been to him years before; remembered his first vision of Betty
Heywood, as she came bursting into her father’s office, one day when he
was there. He had not seen her for nearly four years—not since the night
when she had ridden away on the east-bound flyer to go to school in the
East. Had she changed, he wondered, or was she still the same
warm-hearted, impulsive girl whom he had known?
The sounder on Allan’s desk began to call him, and he came back to the
present with a start. He opened the key and replied with the quick ..,
.., which told that he was ready to receive the message.
* * * * *
“Chief dispatcher, Ohio Division,” clicked out the little instrument. “A
special train consisting of combination coach and private car will leave
Cincinnati east-bound about ten o’clock to-morrow morning. You will have
your best engines ready to take it through to Wadsworth, and from there
to Parkersburg. This special is to run without orders, its time to be
governed only by the maximum speed of the engine, and is to be given a
clear track with rights over everything. It must be expedited in every
A. G. ROUND,
Mr. Plumfield whistled softly, as the message ended.
“Who do you suppose it is?” he asked. “The Emperor of Germany?”
“That’s certainly an unusual order,” agreed Allan.
“I never saw but one like it before,” added Mr. Plumfield. “That was
when the president of the road was somewhere in the west, and his wife
was reported dying back at Baltimore. We gave him right of way then.”
“Did he get there in time?” asked Allan.
“Oh, she didn’t die. Maybe it was his presence saved her. Anyway, his
train covered the two hundred miles from Cincinnati to Parkersburg at an
average speed of fifty-three miles an hour. That was going some.”
“We’ll see if we can beat it to-morrow,” Allan answered, and turned to
the task of clearing the track for the special.
As he knew only the approximate time that the special would leave
Cincinnati, it was necessary to prepare several plans, the one to be
adopted depending upon the exact time the train pulled out from the
Grand Central depot. From Cincinnati to Loveland he had a double track
to work with, but from Loveland east, only a single track, and it was
necessary to so arrange the schedule that no train would interfere with
the special and at the same time to provide that they be interfered with
as little as possible. Another difficulty arose from the fact that it
was impossible to tell exactly how fast the special would run, and
Allan’s brow wrinkled perplexedly as he bent above the time-card.
“I tell you what I’m going to do,” he said, at last, “I’m going over the
road with this train myself. I’m not going to take any chances.”
And that night, with the time-card in his pocket and his plans carefully
laid, Allan boarded the accommodation for Cincinnati.
* * * * *
The man in whose behalf this extraordinary order had been issued was no
less a personage than a candidate for the Presidency of the United
States. His election had been thought fairly certain, but hinged upon
New York State. This, he had been confidently assured by the party
leaders, he would carry without difficulty; and he had not visited it
except early in the campaign, for a few speeches. He had then devoted
his attention to some doubtful states in the middle west, when, with the
election only ten days off, he had received a message urging him to
reach New York at the earliest possible moment, that unexpected
opposition had developed there, and that every moment was precious. In
this strait, he had appealed to the railroads, and they had leaped to
Not because of the man, nor because of the fact that he was a candidate
for the greatest office within the gift of the people of this republic;
but because they regarded his election as vital to their welfare. For
the railroads had fallen among troublous times. The business
regeneration of the past few years had affected them deeply. Whether
rightly or wrongly, the American public, or a large portion of it, had
come to believe that railroad management was corrupt and wasteful, that
it discriminated against its patrons and used its wealth and influence
to secure the passage of laws inimicable to public welfare. So severe
measures had been taken to curtail this power, and to protect the
interests of both the stockholders of the roads and of the people who
gave them business. The issuing of passes had been forbidden; a
commission had been established by the government to prevent and punish
any discrimination in favour of any shipper of freight; laws had been
passed curtailing the hours of railway employees; in many states the
legal fare to be charged passengers had been reduced by act of
legislature from three to two cents a mile, and there had sprung up a
wide-spread demand that freight rates be also regulated by law. Many
roads felt that ruin was staring them in the face, and an all-important
question with them was the election of a president who would regard them
with friendly eyes and who would throw his influence against any
revolutionary measures which might be aimed at them.
It was not wonderful, then, that they should have rushed to the
assistance of this man, since his opponent was pledged to work for the
very measures which the roads dreaded; and that, when his election
seemed in danger, they should have placed their resources absolutely at
his disposal, and have given him right of way over everything. He had
been hurried across the plains of Missouri, shot into Saint Louis, flung
across the prairies of Illinois and Indiana, and now, at 9.45 o’clock in
the morning, the train shot into the Grand Union station at Cincinnati,
and came to a stop with a jerk.
Ten minutes before, Allan, able at last to time the exact minute of its
arrival, had sent out the messages which would govern its movements from
Cincinnati to Wadsworth. There were to be no stops, except one for
water, and, if all went well, He was determined to cover the hundred
miles in a hundred minutes. He knew his engine and knew the
engineer—957, with Tom Michaels, lean, gray-haired, a bundle of nerves,
a man to take chances if necessary, yet never to take one that was
unnecessary; and he believed that the distance could be covered in that
Three minutes were allowed in which to change engines, and half a dozen
men were waiting to make the change. The air-hose was uncoupled and the
old engine backed away. While the 957 was run down and coupled up, four
men with flaring torches had been making an examination of the coach and
private car, and in just three minutes, or at 9.48 A. M., the conductor
held up his hand and Michaels gently opened the throttle.
The old engineer’s face was gleaming. It was the first time in his long
life at the throttle that he had ever been given a free track and told
to go ahead. But he nursed her carefully over the network of tracks in
the yards, out through the ditch and past the stock-yards before he
really let her out. Then, slowly and slowly, he drew the throttle open,
and with every instant the great engine gathered speed, while the
fireman, equally interested and enthusiastic, nursed the fire until the
fire-box was a pit of white-hot, swirling flame.
Allan had ensconced himself on the forward end of the fireman’s seat,
and sat for a time, watch in hand. Then he looked over at Michaels and
nodded. They were making their mile a minute.
“It’s like ridin’ on a shootin’ star,” the fireman shouted up, as he
rested for a moment from his exertions, bracing himself, his feet wide
apart, against the swaying of the engine. “Right through the middle of a
white-hot comet,” he added, scraping the sweat from his forehead. “It
surely is a hot day.”
Then he bent again to his task. Every thirty-five seconds he threw three
scoops-full of coal into the fire-box, then closed the door for the same
length of time. And always he kept his eye on the indicator, to see that
the pressure never fell below the “popping-off” point. It may be that,
for this occasion, Michaels had hung a little extra weight on the lever
of his safety-valve. At any rate, no steam was wasted through it.
There was a block system as far as Loveland, but beyond that, they had
to trust to the observance of orders issued from division headquarters.
On and on sped the train, the speed creeping up to sixty-five miles an
hour, and once to seventy-four on a long down-grade. The whistle seemed
to shriek its warning almost continuously; stations seemed to crumble to
pieces with a crash as the train leaped past them; farm houses fluttered
by or wheeled in stately procession across the landscape. And always
Michaels sat, his hand on the throttle, his eyes on the track ahead,
swaying to the motion of the engine, as a rider sways to his steed; only
moving from time to time to glance at his watch or at the steam and
water gauge, to blow the whistle and open the injector which shot the
water from the tank to the boiler of the engine. The track ahead seemed
to be rushing toward them only to be swallowed up; the nearer landscape
was merely a gray blur; the telegraph poles flashed by “like the teeth
of a fine-tooth comb,” as the fireman remarked; and always there was the
roar of the great machine, the crash and rumble as the engine hurled
itself along the rails. It was a marvel that it kept them, or seemed
so—a marvel that it did not hurtle away cross-country at its own sweet
At New Vienna they paused for water. Michaels, with the skill of a
magician, brought his engine to a stop with the tank-opening exactly
underneath the penstock beside the track. The fireman lowered it with a
clang and the water rushed and foamed down into the almost empty tank.
Then, as the penstock swung up into place, Michaels opened the throttle
and they were off again.
Allan, glancing across at the engineer, saw how the sweat was pouring
down his face; how his face had aged and lined under the strain; how the
lips had tightened. It was a hot day, unusually hot for so late in the
year, and the atmosphere was close with threatened storm—but it was not
the heat alone which brought out the sweat upon the engineer, nor the
discomfort which lined and aged his face. Yet he sat erect as ever, his
eyes glancing from the track ahead to the gauges, and back again. Once
he stooped from his seat to shout a warning word to the fireman, when
the needle for an instant dropped a notch. Allan, glancing back, saw
that the rear car was lost in a whirl of dust. It seemed as
insignificant as a tail—a mere appendage to be whipped hither and
thither as the engine willed. He had ridden in cabs before—many
times—but never under such conditions as these. He knew the track—he
knew the rattle of every target as they flashed past it, the roar of
every bridge as they rushed through it; and suddenly he remembered the
sharp curve just beyond Greenfield, and wondered if Michaels would slow
up for it.
The huddle of roofs that marked the town flashed into sight ahead, grew
and grew, was upon them. The rattle of switches told that they were in
the yards, but yard-limit speed had no bearing upon this case. He caught
a glimpse of the signal before the station, and saw with relief that it
was set at safety. Everything was working well, then, as he had planned
it. Twenty miles more and they would be at Wadsworth, with the first leg
of the journey covered. There was no need that he should go further with
the train—he had tested its capabilities—he would know how to provide
for it. Then the curve was upon them, and he braced himself for the jar
he knew must come as the engine struck it. Michaels, his face drawn and
tense, sat staring ahead, but made no move toward closing the throttle,
even a hair’s-breadth.
There was a mighty jolt, and the engine seemed to climb over the rails.
Allan could feel it lift perceptibly, but the wheels held. A moment
And then, as they cleared the curve and caught a glimpse of the straight
track beyond, he saw steaming toward them, under full headway, not a
hundred yards away, another engine. Only for an instant he saw it; then,
as Michaels closed the throttle and jerked on the brakes, he closed his
eyes involuntarily, for he knew that no power on earth could stop the
train in time.