Wreck of the Old 97

Jack needed work. It was back in the 60’s and working as a dishwasher in a famous cafe’ didn’t pay much. The music at night was world class acoustic. The nation of many 40 acre musicians were drawn to the cafe’. The pay for the workers was getting fed, bypassing admission prices and an occasional pitcher of beer across the street. The housing was leaky plumbing and roofs, bridge on the river Kwai back stairways and great love expressed. It was indeed a training ground for Jack’s escape from the city with enough money to survive living with the jack pine savages up nort’ (that’s the way they pronounce the word in NW Wisconsin)

Jack was hired on by the railroad on a fluke and in the rail yard office, Jack was referred to as Santa Claus because of his long hair.” Get on that old bus and it will take you out to the job site son.” A bunch of young bucks looking for some muscle pumping and good wages too. First job was surfacing tracks for a new ‘hump yard’. All the tracks had a slight downhill grade so the cars would roll down into their spots for a train build. Jack got the low man job, shoveling ballast into the vibrating jaws of the tamper. It needed to be fed lots of rocks as the huge electric motors on the plunging fingers were constantly stuffing rock ballast under the ties. Jack got the rhythm and sort of liked the job as he got the swing down with a #2 shovel. Even got good enough to do a Queen Ann salute.

The first guys off the bus got the easy jobs and they always let Jack walk leisurely to the job site as they knew he would grab a shovel. A new friend on the gang wised up Jack to the drill. First ones at the job site get the lining bars. One day Jack eased out of the handle driven door, gave a big yawn and suddenly burst into a run and got himself a lining bar to work the jacks. Surprise! Now you can have your old job back and get in shape was Jack’s generous thought towards the other men that now knew Jack was ready for the big time.

Camaraderie and all the badgering and insults and laughter to make the danger and brutal work go by. The testing of the hump yard with a blast of air at Jack’s back as a boxcar whistles by at a good clip maybe five feet away at your back.

Later, after basic training with heavy tools, Jack got a transfer to a local section gang. Easier work and one time Jack was hit near his eye with a half moon of steel from a new guy spiking over the track. Jack’s foreman picked Jack up in his arms and ran with him across ten tracks to an ambulance. Big Leroy. Strong man. “Man, I thought you got hit in your eye!” Thanks Leroy. He cared for his men. He was the opposite of his friend, Woody. Lazy Woody. He could think of more incredible ways to lean on a tool than Jack thought were possible.

A switch-man got coupled one day and they called his wife to say goodbye as when the coupler pin was pulled, he would drop dead on the spot. To this day, Jack cannot walk behind a rail car, even in a museum. ‘Cmon dad! It’s a really cool Pullman sleeper car!’ Sorry son, I can’t make myself do it. Trauma and fear. Jack knew that car would move somehow and kill him. Everyone’s got a dose of trauma. It hides in your lower brain and pops out in a half a second with the proper trigger. Irrational fear usually. Jack struggled for years with that reaction to various trauma in his life. A visit to a psychiatrist helped him realize it. The funny part was when the session just started with that psychiatrist and he said “Now you are safe, there isn’t going to be a train coming through this wall” He didn’t have any idea that was one of Jack’s trauma triggers! It’s a joke with friends and family now. Didn’t feel that way at the time.

At this time in Jack’s life, he began seriously conversing with he Lord, Jesus. Now Jack had a good friend that told him things, things Jack could do for other people. It was such an unexpected joy to hear from his Creator that would politely tell Jack things to help. Little things. Simple things that still amaze Jack and his friends. Things that Jack likes to have in print so other people can take courage to listen and act on their faith.

Jack sang a song for a woman he walked by while he was walking down a hallway in an assisted living facility. The Lord tugged on Jack with a quiet suggestion. “Go back and visit that woman sitting near her doorway.” Jack asked her if he could pray for her. ‘Yes she answered’. Jack prayed for and asked if he could put his hand on her shoulder. He then sang to her: “You’ve been afraid a long long time, but Papa’s here and it’s OK. He will take the fear away, my little one. The man who’s full of grace and truth, someday He will come for you, He’s gonna make all things brand new, my little one” 1. She liked it and rested her frail head on Jack’s hand on her shoulder. Blissful tears still come from the memory of speaking truth to her and to himself. That Man who’s full of power to make me free, someday He will come for me, I am his little one.” It’s pretty good. Jack Gator

1. Jon Thurlow

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