The Million-Dollar Freight-Train
by Frank H. Spearman
It was the second month of the strike, and not a pound of freight
had been moved; things looked smoky on the West End.
The general superintendent happened to be with us when the news
You can't handle it, boys, said he, nervously. What you'd better
do is to turn it over to the Columbian Pacific.
Our contracting freight agent on the coast at that time was a fellow
so erratic that he was nicknamed Crazyhorse. Right in the midst of the
strike Crazyhorse wired that he had secured a big silk shipment for New
York. We were paralyzed.
We had no engineers, no firemen, and no motive power to speak of.
The strikers were pounding our men, wrecking our trains, and giving us
the worst of it generally; that is, when we couldn't give it to them.
Why the fellow displayed his activity at that particular juncture still
remains a mystery. Perhaps he had a grudge against the road; if so, he
took an artful revenge. Everybody on the system with ordinary railroad
sense knew that our struggle was to keep clear of freight business
until we got rid of our strike. Anything valuable or perishable was
But the stuff was docked and loaded and consigned in our care before
we knew it. After that, a refusal to carry it would be like hoisting
the white flag; and that is something which never yet flew on the West
Turn it over to the Columbian, said the general superintendent;
but the general superintendent was not looked up to on our division. He
hadn't enough sand. Our head was a fighter, and he gave tone to every
man under him.
No, he thundered, bringing down his fist, not in a thousand
years! We'll move it ourselves. Wire Montgomery, the general manager,
that we will take care of it. And wire him to fire Crazyhorseand to
do it right off. And before the silk was turned over to us Crazyhorse
was looking for another job. It is the only case on record where a
freight hustler was discharged for getting business.
There were twelve car-loads; it was insured for eighty-five thousand
dollars a car; you can figure how far the title is wrong, but you never
can estimate the worry that stuff gave us. It looked as big as twelve
million dollars' worth. In fact, one scrub-car tink, with the glory of
the West End at heart, had a fight over the amount with a sceptical
hostler. He maintained that the actual money value was a hundred and
twenty millions; but I give you the figures just as they went over the
wire, and they are right.
What bothered us most was that the strikers had the tip almost as
soon as we had it. Having friends on every road in the country, they
knew as much about our business as we ourselves. The minute it was
announced that we should move the silk they were after us. It was a
defiance; a last one. If we could move freightfor we were already
moving passengers after a fashionthe strike might be well accounted
Stewart, the leader of the local contingent, together with his
followers, got after me at once.
You don't show much sense, Reed, said he. You fellows here are
breaking your necks to get things moving, and when this strike's over
if our boys ask for your discharge they'll get it. This road can't run
without our engineers. We're going to beat you. If you dare try to move
this stuff we'll have your scalp when it's over. You'll never get your
silk to Zanesville, I'll promise you that. And if you ditch it and make
a million dollar loss, you'll get let out anyway, my buck.
I'm here to obey orders, Stewart, I retorted. What was the use of
more? I felt uncomfortable; but we had determined to move the silk:
there was nothing more to be said.
When I went over to the round-house and told Neighbor the decision
he said never a word, but he looked a great deal. Neighbor's task was
to supply the motive power. All that we had, uncrippled, was in the
passenger service, because passengers must be movedmust be taken care
of first of all. In order to win a strike you must have public opinion
on your side.
Nevertheless, Neighbor, said I, after we had talked a while, we
must move the silk also.
Neighbor studied; then he roared at his foreman.
Send Bartholomew Mullen here. He spoke with a decision that made
me think the business was done. I had never happened, it is true, to
hear of Bartholomew Mullen in the department of motive power; but the
impression the name gave me was of a monstrous fellow; big as Neighbor,
or old man Sankey, or Dad Hamilton.
I'll put Bartholomew ahead of it, muttered Neighbor, tightly. A
boy walked into the office.
Mr. Garten said you wanted to see me, sir, said he, addressing the
I do, Bartholomew, responded Neighbor.
The figure in my mind's eye shrunk in a twinkling. Then it occurred
to me that it must be this boy's father who was wanted.
You have been begging for a chance to take out an engine,
Bartholomew, began Neighbor, coldly; and I knew it was on.
You want to get killed, Bartholomew.
Bartholomew smiled, as if the idea was not altogether displeasing.
How would you like to go pilot to-morrow for McCurdy? You to take
the 44 and run as first Seventy-eight. McCurdy will run as second
I know I could run an engine all right, ventured Bartholomew, as
if Neighbor were the only one taking the chances in giving him an
engine. I know the track from here to Zanesville. I helped McNeff fire
Then go home, and go to bed, and be over here at six o'clock
to-morrow morning. And sleep sound; for it may be your last chance.
It was plain that the master-mechanic hated to do it; it was simply
He's a wiper, mused Neighbor, as Bartholomew walked springily
away. I took him in here sweeping two years ago. He ought to be firing
now, but the union held him back; that's why he hates them. He knows
more about an engine now than half the lodge. They'd better have let
him in, said the master-mechanic, grimly. He may be the means of
breaking their backs yet. If I give him an engine and he runs it, I'll
never take him off, union or no union, strike or no strike.
How old is that boy? I asked.
Eighteen; and never a kith or a kin that I know of. Bartholomew
Mullen, mused Neighbor, as the slight figure moved across the flat,
big namesmall boy. Well, Bartholomew, you'll know something more by
to-morrow night about running an engine, or a whole lot less; that's as
it happens. If he gets killed, it's your fault, Reed.
He meant that I was calling on him for men when he absolutely
couldn't produce them.
I heard once, he went on, about a fellow named Bartholomew being
mixed up in a massacree. But I take it he must have been an older man
than our Bartholomewnor his other name wasn't Mullen, neither. I
disremember just what it was; but it wasn't Mullen.
Well, don't say I want to get the boy killed, Neighbor, I
protested. I've plenty to answer for. I'm here to run trainswhen
there are any to run; that's murder enough for me. You needn't send
Bartholomew out on my account.
Give him a slow schedule and I'll give him orders to jump early;
that's all we can do. If the strikers don't ditch him, he'll get
It stuck in my cropthe idea of putting the boy on a pilot engine
to take all the dangers ahead of that particular train; but I had a
good deal else to think of besides. From the minute the silk got into
the McCloud yards we posted double guards around. About twelve o'clock
that night we held a council of war, which ended in our running the
train into the out freight-house. The result was that by morning we had
a new train made up. It consisted of fourteen refrigerator-cars loaded
with oranges, which had come in mysteriously the night before. It was
announced that the silk would be held for the present and the oranges
rushed through. Bright and early the refrigerator-train was run down to
the ice-houses and twenty men were put to work icing the oranges. At
seven o'clock McCurdy pulled in the local passenger with engine 105.
Our plan was to cancel the local and run him right out with the
oranges. When he got in he reported the 105 had sprung a tire; it
knocked our scheme into a cocked hat.
There was a lantern-jawed conference in the round-house.
What can you do? asked the superintendent, in desperation.
There's only one thing I can do. Put Bartholomew Mullen on it with
the 44, and put McCurdy to bed for No. 2 to-night, responded Neighbor.
We were running first in, first out; but we took care to always have
somebody for 1 and 2 who at least knew an injector from an air-pump.
It was eight o'clock. I looked into the locomotive stalls. The
firstthe onlyman in sight was Bartholomew Mullen. He was very busy
polishing the 44. He had good steam on her, and the old tub was
wheezing as if she had the asthma. The 44 was old; she was homely; she
was rickety; but Bartholomew Mullen wiped her battered nose as
deferentially as if she had been a spick-span, spider-driver,
She wasn't muchthe 44. But in those days Bartholomew wasn't much;
and the 44 was Bartholomew's.
How is she steaming, Bartholomew? I sung out; he was right in the
middle of her. Looking up, he fingered his waste modestly and blushed
through a dab of crude petroleum over his eye.
Hundred and thirty, sir. She's a terrible free steamer, the old 44;
I'm all ready to run her out.
Who's marked up to fire for you, Bartholomew?
Bartholomew Mullen looked at me fraternally.
Neighbor couldn't give me anybody but a wiper, said Bartholomew,
in a sort of a wouldn't-that-kill-you tone.
The unconscious arrogance of the boy quite knocked me, so soon had
honors changed his point of view. Last night a despised wiper; at
daybreak, an engineer; and his nose in the air at the idea of taking on
a wiper for fireman. And all so innocent.
Would you object, Bartholomew, I suggested, gently, to a
train-master for fireman?
I don'tthink so, sir.
Thank you; because I am going down to Zanesville this morning
myself and I thought I'd ride with you. Is it all right?
Oh yes, sirif Neighbor doesn't care.
I smiled. He didn't know who Neighbor took orders from; but he
thought, evidently, not from me.
Then run her down to the oranges, Bartholomew, and couple on, and
we'll order ourselves out. See?
The 44 really looked like a baby-carriage when we got her in front
of the refrigerators. However, after the necessary preliminaries, we
gave a very sporty toot and pulled out; in a few minutes we were
sailing down the valley.
For fifty miles we bobbed along with our cargo of iced silk as easy
as old shoes; for I need hardly explain that we had packed the silk
into the refrigerators to confuse the strikers. The great risk was that
they would try to ditch us.
I was watching the track as a mouse would a cat, looking every
minute for trouble. We cleared the gumbo cut west of the Beaver at a
pretty good clip, in order to make the grade on the other side. The
bridge there is hidden in summer by a grove of hackberrys. I had just
pulled open to cool her a bit when I noticed how high the backwater was
on each side of the track. Suddenly I felt the fill going soft under
the driversfelt the 44 wobble and slew. Bartholomew shut off hard and
threw the air as I sprang to the window. The peaceful little creek
ahead looked as angry as the Platte in April water, and the bottoms
were a lake.
Somewhere up the valley there had been a cloudburst, for overhead
the sun was bright. The Beaver was roaring over its banks and the
bridge was out. Bartholomew screamed for brakes; it looked as we were
against itand hard.
A soft track to stop on, a torrent of storm water ahead, and ten
hundred thousand dollars' worth of silk behindnot to mention
I yelled at Bartholomew and motioned for him to jump; my conscience
is clear on that point. The 44 was stumbling along, trying, like a
drunken man, to hang to the rotten track.
Bartholomew! I yelled; but he was head out and looking back at his
train, while he jerked frantically at the air lever. I understood: the
air wouldn't work; it never will on those old tubs when you need it.
The sweat pushed out on me. I was thinking of how much the silk would
bring us after a bath in the Beaver. Bartholomew stuck to his levers
like a man in a signal-tower, but every second brought us closer to
open water. Watching him, intent only on saving his first
trainheedless of saving his lifeI was really a bit ashamed to jump.
While I hesitated, he somehow got the brakes to set; the old 44 bucked
like a bronco.
It wasn't too soon. She checked her train nobly at the last, but I
saw nothing could keep her from the drink. I caught Bartholomew a
terrific slap and again I yelled; then, turning to the gangway, I
dropped into the soft mud on my side. The 44 hung low, and it was easy
Bartholomew sprang from his seat a second later, but his blouse
caught in the teeth of the quadrant. He stooped quick as thought, and
peeled the thing over his head. But then he was caught with his hands
in the wristbands, and the ponies of 44 tipped over the broken
Pull as he would, he couldn't get free. The pilot dipped into the
torrent slowly; but, losing her balance, the 44 kicked her heels into
the air like lightning, and shot with a frightened wheeze plump into
the creek, dragging her engineer after her.
The head car stopped on the brink. Running across the track, I
looked for Bartholomew. He wasn't there; I knew he must have gone down
with his engine.
Throwing off my gloves, I dove just as I stood, close to the tender,
which hung half submerged. I am a good bit of a fish under water, but
no self-respecting fish would be caught in that yellow mud. I realized,
too, the instant I struck the water that I should have dived on the
up-stream side. The current took me away whirling; when I came up for
air I was fifty feet below the pier. I felt it was all up with
Bartholomew as I scrambled out; but to my amazement, as I shook my eyes
open, the train crew were running forward, and there stood Bartholomew
on the track above me looking at the refrigerators. When I got to him
he explained to me how he was dragged in and had to tear the sleeves
out of his blouse under water to get free.
The surprise is, how little fuss men make about such things when
they are busy. It took only five minutes for the conductor to hunt up a
coil of wire and a sounder for me, and by the time he got forward with
it Bartholomew was half-way up a telegraph-pole to help me cut in on a
live wire. Fast as I could I rigged a pony, and began calling the
McCloud dispatcher. It was a rocky send, but after no end of pounding I
got him, and gave orders for the wrecking-gang and for one more of
Neighbor's rapidly decreasing supply of locomotives.
Bartholomew, sitting on a strip of fence which still rose above
water, looked forlorn. To lose the first engine he ever handled, in the
Beaver, was tough, and he was evidently speculating on his chances of
ever getting another. If there weren't tears in his eyes, there was
storm water certainly. But after the relief-engine had pulled what was
left of us back six miles to a siding, I made it my first business to
explain to Neighbor, nearly beside himself, that Bartholomew was not
only not at fault, but that he had actually saved the train by his
I'll tell you, Neighbor, I suggested, when we got straightened
around, give us the 109 to go ahead as pilot, and run the stuff around
the river division with Foley and the 216.
What'll you do with No. 6? growled Neighbor. Six was the local
Annul it west of McCloud, said I, instantly. We've got this silk
on our hands now, and I'd move it if it tied up every passenger-train
on the division. If we can get the infernal stuff through, it will
practically beat the strike. If we fail, it will beat the company.
By the time we backed to Newhall Junction, Neighbor had made up his
mind my way. Mullen and I climbed into the 109, and Foley with the 216,
and none too good a grace, coupled on to the silk, and, flying red
signals, we started again for Zanesville over the river division.
Foley was always full of mischief. He had a better engine than ours,
anyway, and he took satisfaction the rest of the afternoon in crowding
us. Every mile of the way he was on our heels. I was throwing the coal
and distinctly remember.
It was after dark when we reached the Beverly Hill, and we took it
at a lively pace. The strikers were not on our minds then; it was Foley
When the long parallel steel lines of the upper yards spread before
us, flashing under the arc-lights, we were away above yard speed.
Running a locomotive into one of those big yards is like shooting a
rapid in a canoe. There is a bewildering maze of tracks lighted by red
and green lamps to be watched the closest. The hazards are multiplied
the minute you pass the throat, and a yard wreck is a dreadful tangle:
it makes everybody from road-master to flagmen furious, and not even
Bartholomew wanted to face an inquiry on a yard wreck. On the other
hand, he couldn't afford to be caught by Foley, who was chasing him out
of pure caprice.
I saw the boy holding the throttle at a half and fingering the air
anxiously as we jumped through the frogs; but the roughest riding on
track so far beats the ties as a cushion that when the 109 suddenly
stuck her paws through an open switch we bounced against the roof of
the cab like footballs. I grabbed a brace with one hand and with the
other reached instinctively across to Bartholomew's side to seize the
throttle he held. But as I tried to shut him off he jerked it wide open
in spite of me, and turned with lightning in his eye.
No! he cried, and his voice rang hard. The 109 took the tremendous
shove at her back and leaped like a frightened horse. Away we went
across the yard, through the cinders, and over the ties. My teeth have
never been the same since. I don't belong on an engine, anyway, and
since then I have kept off. At the moment I was convinced that the
strain had been too muchthat Bartholomew was stark crazy. He sat
bouncing clear to the roof and clinging to his levers like a lobster.
But his strategy was dawning on me; in fact, he was pounding it into
me. Even the shock and scare of leaving the track and tearing up the
yard had not driven from Bartholomew's noddle the most important
feature of our situation, which was, above everything, to keep out
of the way of the silk-train.
I felt every moment more mortified at my attempt to shut him off. I
had done the trick of the woman who grabs the reins. It was even better
to tear up the yard than to stop for Foley to smash into and scatter
the silk over the coal-chutes. Bartholomew's decision was one of the
traits which make the runner: instant perception coupled to instant
resolve. The ordinary dub thinks what he should have done to avoid
disaster after it is all over; Bartholomew thought before.
On we bumped, across frogs, through switches, over splits, and into
target rods, whenand this is the miracle of it allthe 109 got her
fore-feet on a split switch, made a contact, and, after a slew or two
like a bogged horse, she swung up sweet on the rails again, tender and
all. Bartholomew shut off with an under cut that brought us up double
and nailed her feet, with the air, right where she stood.
We had left the track, ploughed a hundred feet across the yards, and
jumped on to another track. It is the only time I ever heard of its
happening anywhere, but I was on the engine with Bartholomew Mullen
when it was done.
Foley choked his train the instant he saw our hind lights bobbing.
We climbed down and ran back. He had stopped just where we should have
stood if I had shut off. Bartholomew ran to the switch to examine it.
The contact light, green, still burned like a false beacon; and lucky
it did, for it showed the switch had been tampered with and exonerated
Bartholomew Mullen completely. The attempt of the strikers to spill the
silk right in the yards had only made the reputation of a new engineer.
Thirty minutes later the million-dollar train was turned over to the
eastern division to wrestle with, and we breathed, all of us, a good
Bartholomew Mullen, now a passenger runner, who ranks with Kennedy
and Jack Moore and Foley and George Sinclair himself, got a personal
letter from the general manager complimenting him on his pretty wit;
and he was good enough to say nothing whatever about mine.
We registered that night and went to supper togetherFoley,
Jackson, Bartholomew, and I. Afterwards we dropped into the
dispatcher's office. Something was coming from McCloud, but the
operators, to save their lives, couldn't catch it. I listened a minute;
it was Neighbor. Now Neighbor isn't great on dispatching trains. He can
make himself understood over the poles, but his sending is like a boy's
sawing woodsort of uneven.
However, though I am not much on running yards, I claim to be able
to take the wildest ball that was ever thrown along the wire, and the
chair was tendered me at once to catch Neighbor's extraordinary passes
at the McCloud key. They came something like this:
Tell Massacree [that was the word that stuck them all, and I
could perceive Neighbor was talking emphatically; he had
apparently forgotten Bartholomew's last name and was trying to
connect with the one he had disremembered the night
before]tell Massacree [repeated Neighbor] that he
al-l-l right. Tell hi-m I give 'im double mileage for to-day
all the way through. And to-morrow he gets the 109 to keep.