It was the call of the foreman. In the middle of the night as well. There’s been a derailment down by Red Wing! Report to the section house with some clothes and get aboard a section car or drive down to the mainline. Dreary and dreading, Jack drove to what he knew would be days of making wages the hard way.
Not resurfacing, not replacing ties on a crossing but cutting and drawing out bent rails. Pulling out smashed ties from steel wheels ruining them and gathering the plates and pulled spikes from the roadbed. Working around the broken cars while the huge cranes lifted pieces of them up. Sometimes lifting just the trucks of axles and wheels with the open bearing boxes dripping greasy packing.
The engine is already righted and placed on the continuing track siding, ready again to work. Sort of. The cleaning of the cab (the engineer and conductor were just injured but their coffee and lunch and such usually don’t fare as well) and the testing of the motor and generators has yet to be done. ’roundhouse’ men are already swarming about the engine panels and spreading absorbent around. It might run.
All of this mess creating by a train going through an open switch the wrong direction. Sometimes a yard engine would push through a set of points on a switch not set for them and get away with it. Fully loaded trains at speed hitting an open switch backwards is another matter. Oh yes, the switch would have to be totally rebuilt. Hopefully the wrecking crews transport would have brought some fourteen foot ties and all the steel and switch parts. The ties were a ‘bit’ heavier and the foreman would have to direct us in the building and precise gauging.
Thinking back on those times. Meals at picnic tables set up in empty box cars, sleeping quarters about the same comfort level. Sometimes, Jack could drive his old 40 ford coupe to the job site and bring along his fiddle. At night, after a late supper, he could lean back on a chair on the end platform, feet up on the brake wheel and begin playing what he knew how to do. No one complained, it seemed to fit. A harmonica would have been OK too.
Lonely sounds like the late night steamers going around the big city. Blowing the steam whistle at every crossing. The letter of Morse code, Q, Long long short long. The last long drawn out and fading to a bit lower note. Only the steam engines could do that. When he was a child, half asleep, Jack would hear that lonely sound from the west side of the cities. It told him, “I am lonely. I know what it’s like” It went in deep to Jack’s memory. The trains still do it today. At all crossings. The electric air horns do not make the same sound however.
So the work was hard and dangerous and Jack made a little extra overtime pay. The food was not roast beef slices on Brioche buns but it filled. Jack’s fiddling got gradually better and the section crew was gracious for the sound and even the mistakes. It felt old time, out on the plains of the 1800’s perhaps with the very old boxcars. Sort of like the old 40 and 4’s of WWII vintage. 40 men or 4 horses capacity.
Same gauge tracks, same wooden ties, same spike malls. Bolts and fish plates and plates under the track. The old rails were 80 to 90 pounds, still found in older switch yards and piled near section buildings. 120 to 130 pound rails unless there was ribbon rail ¼ mile long to be dragged into place, wriggling like a worm.
Nowadays, Jack reminisces and as an analogy, sees his own life as a train wreck at times. Getting off the right rails and into disaster. Who runs the gauge and lays those tracks for Jack? What are the switch points for and what’s the point anyway? Jack was made to run well, run smooth and stay the course. It’s getting better now that Jesus is the engineer and lets Jack know when the derailment is possible or happening. He is the road-master and builder of it all. He wears the white hat of pure light and is trustworthy through it all. It’s pretty good. JackGator