by Frank H. Spearman
We stood one Sunday morning in a group watching for her to speed
around the Narrows. Many locomotives as I have seen and ridden, a new
one is always a wonder to me; chokes me up, even, it means so much. I
hear men rave over horses, and marvel at it when I think of the iron
horse. I hear them chatter of distance, and my mind turns to the
annihilator. I hear them brag of ships, and I think of the ship that
ploughs the mountains and rivers and plains. And when they talk of
speedwhat can I think of but her?
As the new engine rolled into the yards my heart beat quicker. Her
lines were too imposing to call strong; they were massive, yet so
simple you could draw them, like the needle snout of a collie, to a
Every bearing looked precise, every joint looked supple, as she
swept magnificently up and checked herself, panting, in front of us.
Foley was in the cab. He had been east on a lay-off, and so happened
to bring in the new monster, wild, from the river shops.
She was built in Pennsylvania, but the fellows on the Missouri end
of our line thought nothing could ever safely be put into our hands
until they had stopped it en route and looked it over.
How does she run, Foley? asked Neighbor, gloating silently over
Cool as an ice-box, said Foley, swinging down. She's a regular
summer resort. Little stiff on the hills yet.
We'll take that out of her, mused Neighbor, climbing into the cab
to look her over. Boys, this is up in a balloon, he added, pushing
his big head through the cab-window and peering down at the ninety-inch
drivers under him.
I grew dizzy once or twice looking for the ponies, declared Foley,
biting off a piece of tobacco as he hitched at his overalls. She looms
like a sky-scraper. Say, Neighbor, I'm to get her myself, ain't I?
asked Foley, with his usual nerve.
When McNeal gets through with her, yes, returned Neighbor,
gruffly, giving her a thimble of steam and trying the air.
What! cried Foley, affecting surprise. You going to give her to
I am, returned the master-mechanic unfeelingly, and he kept his
Georgie McNeal, just reporting for work after the session in his cab
with the loose end of a connecting-rod, was invited to take out the
Sky-Scraper488, Class Has she was listed, and Dad Hamilton of
course took the scoop to fire her.
They get everything good that's going, grumbled Foley.
They are good people, retorted Neighbor. He also assigned a helper
to the old fireman. It was a new thing with us then, a fellow with a
slice-bar to tickle the grate, and Dad, of course, kicked. He always
kicked. If they had raised his salary he would have kicked. Neighbor
wasted no words. He simply sent the helper back to wiping until the old
fireman should cry enough.
Very likely you know that a new engine must be regularly broken, as
a horse is broken, before it is ready for steady hard work. And as
Georgie McNeal was not very strong yet, he was appointed to do the
For two months it was a picnic. Light runs and easy lay-overs. After
the smash at the Narrows, Hamilton had sort of taken the kid engineer
under his wing; and it was pretty generally understood that any one who
elbowed Georgie McNeal must reckon with his doughty old fireman. So the
two used to march up and down street together, as much like chums as a
very young engineer and a very old fireman possibly could be. They
talked together, walked together, and ate together. Foley was as
jealous as a cat of Hamilton, because he had brought Georgie out West,
and felt a sort of guardian interest in that quarter himself. Really,
anybody would love Georgie McNeal; old Dad Hamilton was proof enough of
One evening, just after pay-day, I saw the pair in the post-office
lobby getting their checks cashed. Presently the two stepped over to
the money-order window; a moment later each came away with a
Is that where you leave your wealth, Georgie? I asked, as he came
up to speak to me.
Part of it goes there every month, Mr. Reed, he smiled. Checks
are running light, too, noweh, Dad?
A young fellow like you ought to be putting money away in the
bank, said I.
Well, you see I have a bank back in Pennsylvaniaa bank that is
now sixty years old, and getting gray-headed. I haven't sent her much
since I've been on the relief, so I'm trying to make up a little now
for my old mammie.
Where does yours go, Dad? I asked.
Me? answered the old man, evasively, I've got a boy back East;
getting to be a big one, too. He's in school. When are you going to
give us a passenger run with the Sky-Scraper, Neighbor? asked
Hamilton, turning to the master-mechanic.
Soon as we get this wheat, up on the high line, out of the way,
replied Neighbor. We haven't half engines enough to move it, and I get
a wire about every six hours to move it faster. Every siding's blocked,
clear to Belgrade. How many of those sixty-thousand-pound cars can you
take over Beverly Hill with your Sky-Scraper?
He was asking both men. The engineer looked at his chum.
I reckon maybe thirty-five or forty, said McNeal. Eh, Dad?
Maybe, son, growled Hamilton; and break my back doing it?
I gave you a helper once and you kicked him off the tender,
Don't want anybody raking ashes for menot while I'm drawing full
time, Dad frowned.
But the upshot of it was that we put the Sky-Scraper at hauling
wheat, and within a week she was doing the work of a double-header.
It was May, and a thousand miles east of us, in Chicago, there was
trouble in the wheat-pit on the Board of Trade. You would hardly
suspect what queer things that wheat scramble gave rise to, affecting
Georgie McNeal and old man Hamilton and a lot of other fellows away out
on a railroad division on the Western plains; but this was the way of
A man sitting in a little office on La Salle Street wrote a few
words on a very ordinary-looking sheet of paper, and touched a button.
That brought a colored boy, and he took the paper out to a young man
who sat at the eastern end of a private wire.
The next thing we knew, orders began to come in hot from the
president's officethe president of the road, if you pleaseto get
that wheat on the high line into Chicago, and to get it there quickly.
Trainmen, elevator-men, superintendents of motive power, were
spurred with special orders and special bulletins. Farmers, startled by
the great prices offering, hauled night and day. Every old tub we had
in the shops and on the scrap was overhauled and hustled into the
service. The division danced with excitement. Every bushel of wheat on
it must be in Chicago by the morning of May 31st.
For two weeks we worked everything to the limit; the Sky-Scraper led
any two engines on the line. Even Dad Hamilton was glad to cry enough,
and take a helper. We doubled them every day, and the way the wheat
flew over the line towards the lower end of Lake Michigan was appalling
to speculators. It was a battle between two commercial giantsand a
battle to the death. It shook not alone the country, it shook the
world; but that was nothing to us; our orders were simply to move the
wheat. And the wheat moved.
The last week found us pretty well cleaned up; but the high price
brought grain out of cellars and wells, the buyers saidat least, it
brought all the hoarded wheat, and much of the seed wheat, and the 28th
day of the month found fifty cars of wheat still in the Zanesville
yards. I was at Harvard working on a time-card when the word came, and
behind it a special from the general manager, stating there was a
thousand dollars premium in it for the company, besides tariff, if we
got that wheat into Chicago by Saturday morning.
The train end of it didn't bother me any; it was the motive power
that kept us studying. However, we figured that by running McNeal with
the Sky-Scraper back wild we could put all the wheat behind her in one
train. As it happened, Neighbor was at Harvard, too.
Can they ever get over Beverly with fifty, Neighbor? I asked,
We'll never know till they try it, growled Neighbor. There's a
thousand for the company if they do, that's all. How'll you run them?
Give them plenty of sea-room; they'll have to gallop to make it.
Cool and reckless planning, taking the daring chances, straining the
flesh and blood, driving the steel loaded to the snapping-point; that
was what it meant. But the company wanted results; wanted the prestige,
and the premium, too. To gain them we were expected to stretch our
little resources to the uttermost.
I studied a minute, then turned to the dispatcher.
Tell Norman to send them out as second 4; that gives the right of
way over every wheel against them. If they can't make it on that kind
of schedule, it isn't in the track.
It was extraordinary business, rather, sending a train of wheat
through on a passenger schedule, practically, as the second section of
our east-bound flyer; but we took hair-lifting chances on the plains.
It was noon when the orders were flashed. At three o'clock No. 4 was
due to leave Zanesville. For three hours I kept the wires busy warning
all operators and trainmen, even switch-engines and yard-masters, of
the wheat specialsecond 4.
The Flyer, the first section and regular passenger-train, was
checked out of Zanesville on time. Second 4, which meant Georgie
McNeal, Dad, the Sky-Scraper, and fifty loads of wheat, reported out at
3.10. While we worked on our time-card, Neighbor, in the dispatcher's
office across the hall, figured out that the wheat-train would enrich
the company just eleven thousand dollars, tolls and premium. If it
doesn't break in two on Beverly Hill, growled Neighbor, with a qualm.
On the dispatcher's sheet, which is a sort of panorama, I watched
the big train whirl past station after station, drawing steadily nearer
to us, and doing it, the marvel, on full passenger time. It was a great
feat, and Georgie McNeal, whose nerve and brain were guiding the
tremendous load, was breaking records with every mile-stone.
They were due in Harvard at nine o'clock. The first 4, our Flyer,
pulled in and out on time, meeting 55, the west-bound overland freight,
at the second station east of HarvardRedbud.
Neighbor and I sat with the dispatchers, up in their office,
smoking. The wheat-train was now due from the west, and, looking at my
watch, I stepped to the western window. Almost immediately I heard the
long peculiarly hollow blast of the Sky-Scraper whistling for the upper
She's coming, I exclaimed.
The boys crowded to the window; but Neighbor happened to glance to
What's that coming in from the junction, Bailey? he exclaimed,
turning to the local dispatcher. We looked and saw a headlight in the
Where do they meet?
55 takes the long siding in from the junctionwhich was two miles
eastand she ought to be on it right now, added the dispatcher,
anxiously, looking over the master-mechanic's shoulder.
Neighbor jumped as if a bullet had struck him. She'll never take a
siding to-night. She's coming down the main track. What's her orders?
he demanded, furiously.
Meeting orders for first 4 at Redbud, second 4 here, 78 at Glencoe.
Great Jupiter! cried the dispatcher, and his face went sick and
scared, they've forgotten second 4.
They'll think of her a long time dead, roared the master-mechanic,
savagely, jumping to the west window. Throw your red lights! There's
the Sky-Scraper now!
Her head shot that instant around the coal chutes, less than a mile
away, and 55 going dead against her. I stood like one palsied, my eyes
glued on the burning eye of the big engine. As she whipped past a
street arc-light I caught a glimpse of Georgie McNeal's head out of the
cab window. He always rode bare-headed if the night was warm, and I
knew it was he; but suddenly, like a flash, his head went in. I knew
why as well as if my eyes were his eyes and my thoughts his thoughts.
He had seen red signals where he had every right to look for white.
But red signals nowto stop herto pull her flat on her
haunches like a bronco? Shake a weather flag at a cyclone!
I saw the fire stream from her drivers; I knew they were churning in
the sand; I knew he had twenty air cars behind him sliding. What of it?
Two thousand tons were sweeping forward like an avalanche. What did
brains or pluck count for now with 55 dancing along like a school-girl
right into the teeth of it?
I don't know how the other men felt. As for me, my breath choked in
my throat, my knees shook, and a deadly nausea seized me. Unable to
avert the horrible blunder, I saw its hideous results.
Darkness hid the worst of the sight; it was the sound that appalled.
Children asleep in sod shanties miles from where the two engines reared
in awful shock jumped in their cribs at that crash. 55's little engine
barely checked the Sky-Scraper. She split it like a banana. She bucked
like a frantic horse, and leaped fearfully ahead. There was a blinding
explosion, a sudden awful burst of steam; the windows crashed about our
ears, and we were dashed to the wall and floor like lead-pencils. A
baggage-truck, whipped up from the platform below, came through the
heavy sash and down on the dispatcher's table like a brickbat, and as
we scrambled to our feet a shower of wheat suffocated us. The floor
heaved; freight-cars slid into the depot like battering-rams. In the
height of the confusion an oil-tank in the yard took fire and threw a
yellow glare on the ghastly scene.
I saw men get up and fall again to their knees; I was shivering, and
wet with sweat. The stairway was crushed into kindling-wood. I climbed
out a back window, down on the roof of the freight platform, and so to
the ground. There was a running to and fro, useless and aimless; men
were beside themselves. They plunged through wheat up to their knees at
every step. All at once, above the frantic hissing of the buried
Sky-Scraper and the wild calling of the car tinks, I heard the
stentorian tones of Neighbor, mounted on a twisted truck, organizing
the men at hand into a wrecking-gang. Soon people began running up the
yard to where the Sky-Scraper lay, like another Samson, prostrate in
the midst of the destruction it had wrought. Foremost among the excited
men, covered with dirt and blood, staggered Dad Hamilton.
Where's McNeal? cried Neighbor.
Hamilton pointed to the wreck.
Why didn't he jump? yelled Neighbor.
Hamilton pointed at the twisted signal-tower; the red light still
burned in it.
You changed the signals on him, he cried, savagely. What does it
mean? We had rights against everything. What does it mean? he raved,
in a frenzy.
Neighbor answered him never a word; he only put his hand on Dad's
Find him first! Find him! he repeated, with a strain in his voice
I never heard till then; and the two giants hurried away together. When
I reached the Sky-Scraper, buried in the thick of the smash, roaring
like a volcano, the pair were already into the jam like a brace of
ferrets, hunting for the engine crews. It seemed an hour, though it was
much less, before they found any one; then they brought out 55's
fireman. Neighbor found him. But his back was broken. Back again they
wormed through twisted trucks, under splintered beamsin and around
and overchoked with heat, blinded by steam, shouting as they groped,
listening for word or cry or gasp.
Soon we heard Dad's voice in a different cryone that meant
everything; and the wreckers, turning like beavers through a dozen
blind trails, gathered all close to the big fireman. He was under a
great piece of the cab where none could follow, and he was crying for a
bar. They passed him a bar; other men, careless of life and limb, tried
to crawl under and in to him, but he warned them back. Who but a man
baked twenty years in an engine cab could stand the steam that poured
on him where he lay?
Neighbor, just outside, flashing a light, heard the labored strain
of his breathing, saw him getting half up, bend to the bar, and saw the
iron give like lead in his hands as he pried mightily.
Neighbor heard, and told me long afterwards, how the old man flung
the bar away with an imprecation, and cried for one to help him; for a
minute meant a life nowthe boy lying pinned under the shattered cab
was roasting in a jet of live steam. The master-mechanic crept in.
By signs Dad told him what to do, and then, getting on his knees,
crawled straight into the dash of the white jetcrawled into it, and
got the cab on his shoulders.
Crouching an instant, the giant muscles of his back set in a
tremendous effort. The wreckage snapped and groaned, the knotted legs
slowly and painfully straightened, the cab for a passing instant rose
in the air, and in that instant Neighbor dragged Georgie McNeal from
out the vise of death, and passed him, like a pinch-bar, to the men
waiting next behind. Then Neighbor pulled Dad back, blind now and
senseless. When they got the old fireman out he made a pitiful struggle
to pull himself together. He tried to stand up, but the sweat broke
over him and he sank in a heap at Neighbor's feet.
[Illustration: THE CAB FOR A PASSING INSTANT ROSE IN THE AIR"]
That was the saving of Georgie McNeal, and out there they will still
tell you about that lift of Dad Hamilton's.
We put him on the cot at the hospital next to his engineer. Georgie,
dreadfully bruised and scalded, came on fast in spite of his hurts. But
the doctor said Dad had wrenched a tendon in that frightful effort, and
he lay there a very sick and very old man long after the young engineer
was up and around telling of his experience.
When we cleared the chutes I saw white signals, I thought, he said
to me at Dad's bedside. I knew we had the right of way over
everything. It was a hustle, anyway, on that schedule, Mr. Reed; you
know that; an awful hustle, with our load. I never choked her a notch
to run the yards; didn't mean to do it with the Junction grade to climb
just ahead of us. But I looked out again, and, by hokey! I thought I'd
gone crazy, got color-blindred signals! Of course I thought I must
have been wrong the first time I looked. I choked her, I threw the air,
I dumped the gravel. Heavens! she never felt it! I couldn't figure how
we were wrong, but there was the red light. I yelled, 'Jump, Dad!' and
he yelled, 'Jump, son!' Didn't you, Dad?
He jumped; but I wasn't ever going to jump and my engine going full
against a red lamp. Not much.
I kind of dodged down behind the head; when she struck it was biff,
and she jumped about twenty feet up straight. She didn't? Well, it
seemed like it. Then it was biff, biff, biff, one after another. With
that train behind her she'd have gone through Beverly Hill. Did you
ever buck snow with a rotary, Mr. Reed? Well, that was about it, even
to the rolling and heaving. Dad, want to lie down? Le' me get another
pillow behind you. Isn't that better? Poor Musgrave! he added,
speaking of the engineer of 55, who was instantly killed. He and the
fireman both. Hard lines; but I'd rather have it that way, I guess, if
I was wrong. Eh, Dad?
Even after Georgie went to work, Dad lay in the hospital. We knew he
would never shovel coal again. It cost him his good back to lift
Georgie loose, so the surgeon told us; and I could believe it, for when
they got the jacks under the cab next morning, and Neighbor told the
wrecking-gang that Hamilton alone had lifted it six inches the night
before, on his back, the wrecking-boss fairly snorted at the statement;
but Hamilton did, just the same.
Son, muttered Dad, one night to Georgie, sitting with him, I want
you to write a letter for me.
I've been sending money to my boy back East, explained Dad,
feebly. I told you he's in school.
I know, Dad.
I haven't been able to send any since I've been by, but I'm going
to send some when I get my relief. Not so much as I used to send. I
want you to kind of explain why.
What's his first name, Dad, and where does he live?
It's a lawyer that looks after hima man that 'tends to my
business back there.
Well, what's his name?
Scaylor? echoed Georgie, in amazement.
Yes. Why, do you know him?
Why, that's the man mother and I had so much trouble with. I
wouldn't write to that man. He's a rascal, Dad.
What did he ever do to you and your mother?
I'll tell you, Dad; though it's a matter I don't talk about much.
My father had trouble back there fifteen or sixteen years ago. He was
running an engine, and had a wreck; there were some passengers killed.
The dispatcher managed to throw the blame on father, and they indicted
him for man-slaughter. He pretty near went crazy, and all of a sudden
he disappeared, and we never heard of him from that day to this. But
this man Scaylor, mother stuck to it, knew something about where father
was; only he always denied it.
Trembling like a leaf, Dad raised up on his elbow. What's your
mother's name, son? What's your name?
Georgie looked confused. I'll tell you, Dad; there's nothing to be
ashamed of. I was foolish enough, I told you once, to go out on a
strike with the engineers down there. I was only a kid, and we were all
black-listed. So I used my middle name, McNeal; my full name is George
The old fireman made a painful effort to sit up, to speak, but he
choked. His face contracted, and Georgie rose frightened. With a
herculean effort the old man raised himself up and grasped Georgie's
Son, he gasped to the astonished boy, don't you know me?
Of course I know you, Dad. What's the matter with you? Lie down.
Boy, I'm your own father. My name is David Hamilton Sinclair. I had
the troubleGeorgie. He choked up like a child, and Georgie McNeal
went white and scared; then he grasped the gray-haired man in his arms.
When I dropped in an hour later they were talking hysterically. Dad
was explaining how he had been sending money to Scaylor every month,
and Georgie was contending that neither he nor his mother had ever seen
a cent of it. But one great fact overshadowed all the villany that
night: father and son were united and happy, and a message had already
gone back to the old home from Georgie to his mother, telling her the
And that indictment was wiped out long ago against father, said
Georgie to me; but that rascal Scaylor kept writing him for money to
fight it with and to pay for my schoolingand this was the kind of
schooling I was getting all the time. Wouldn't that kill you?
I couldn't sleep till I had hunted up Neighbor and told him about
it; and next morning we wired transportation back for Mrs. Sinclair to
come out on.
Less than a week afterwards a gentle little old woman stepped off
the Flyer at Zanesville, and into the arms of Georgie Sinclair. A smart
rig was in waiting, to which her son hurried her, and they were driven
rapidly to the hospital. When they entered the old fireman's room
together the nurse softly closed the door behind them.
But when they sent for Neighbor and me, I suppose we were the two
biggest fools in the hospital, trying to look unconscious of all we saw
in the faces of the group at Dad's bed.
He never got his old strength back, yet Neighbor fixed him out, for
all that. The Sky-Scraper, once our pride, was so badly stove that we
gave up hope of restoring her for a passenger run. So Neighbor built
her over into a sort of a dub engine for short runs, stubs, and so on;
and though Dad had vowed long ago, when unjustly condemned, that he
would never more touch a throttle, we got him to take the Sky-Scraper
and the Acton run.
And when Georgie, who takes the Flyer every other day, is off duty,
he climbs into Dad's cab, shoves the old gentleman aside, and shoots
around the yard in the rejuvenated Sky-Scraper at a hair-raising rate
After a while the old engine got so full of alkali that Georgie gave
her a new nameSoda-Water Saland it hangs to her yet. We thought the
best of her had gone in the Harvard wreck; but there came a time when
Dad and Soda-Water Sal showed us we were very much mistaken.