The Kid Engineer
by Frank H. Spearman
When the big strike caught us at Zanesville we had one hundred and
eighty engineers and firemen on the pay-roll. One hundred and
seventy-nine of these men walked out. One firemanjust onestayed
with the company; that was Dad Hamilton.
Yes, growled Dad, combating the protests of the strikers'
committee, I know it. I belong to your lodge. But I'll tell you
nowan' I've told you aforeI ain't goin' to strike on the company so
long as Neighbor is master-mechanic on this division. Ain't a-goin' to
do it, an' you might as well quit. 'F you jaw here from now till
Christmas 'twon't change my mind nar a bit.
And they didn't change it. Through the calm and through the
stormand it stormed hard for a whileDad Hamilton, whenever we could
supply him with an engineer, fired religiously.
No other man in the service could have done it without getting
killed; but Dad was old enough to father any man among the strikers.
Moreover, he was a giant physically, and eccentric enough to move along
through the heat of the crisis indifferent to the abuse of the other
men. His gray hairs and his tremendous physical strength saved him from
Our master-mechanic, Neighbor, was another big mansix feet an
inch in his stockings, and strong as a draw-bar. Between Neighbor and
the old fireman there existed some sort of a bonda liking, an
affinity. Dad Hamilton had fired on our division ten years. There was
no promotion for Dad; he could never be an engineer, though only
Neighbor knew why. But his job of firing on the river division was sure
as long as Neighbor signed the pay-rolls at the round-house.
Hence there was no surprise when the superintendent offered him an
engine, just after the strike, that Dad refused to take it.
I'm a fireman, and Neighbor knows it. I ain't no engineer. I'll
make steam for any man you put in the cab with me, but I won't touch a
throttle for no man. I laid it down, and I'll never pinch it againan'
no offence t' you, Neighbor, neither.
Thus ended negotiations with Dad on that subject; threats and
entreaties were useless. Then, too, in spite of his professed
willingness to throw coal for any man we put on his engine, he was
continually rowing about the green runners we gave him. From the
standpoint of a railroad man they were a tough assortment; for a fellow
may be a good painter, or a handy man with a jack-plane, or an expert
machinist, even, and yet a failure as an engine-runner.
After we got hold of Foley, Neighbor put him on awhile with Dad, and
the grizzled fireman quickly declared that Foley was the only man on
the pay-roll who knew how to move a train.
The little chap proved such a remarkable find that I tried hard to
get some of his Eastern chums to come out and join him. After a good
bit of hustling we did get half a dozen more Reading boys for our new
corps of engine-men, but the East-End officials kept all but one of
them on their own divisions. That one we got because nobody on the East
End wanted him.
They've crimped the whole bunch, Foley, said I, answering his
inquiries. There's just one fellow reported herehe came in on 5 this
morning. Neighbor's had a little talk with him; but he doesn't think
much of him. I guess we're out the transportation on that fellow.
What's his name? asked Foley. Is he off the Reading?
Claims he is; his name is McNeal
McNeal? echoed Foley, surprised. Not Georgie McNeal?
I don't know what his first name is; he's nothing but a boy.
Perhaps you'd call him that; sort of soft-spoken.
Georgie McNeal, sure's you're born. If you've got him you've got a
bird. He ran opposite me between New York and Philadelphia on the
limited. I want to see him, right off. If it's Georgie, you're all
Foley's talk went a good ways with me any time. When I told Neighbor
about it he pricked up his ears. While we were debating, in rushed
Foley with the young fellowthe kidas he called him. Neighbor made
another survey of the ground in short order: run a new line, as Foley
would have said. The upshot of it was that McNeal was assigned to an
As luck would have it, Neighbor put the boy on the 244 with Dad
Hamilton; and Dad proceeded at once to make what Foley termed a great
What's the matter? demanded Neighbor, roughly, when the old
If you're goin' to pull these trains with boys I guess it's time
for me to quit; I'm gettin' pretty old, anyhow.
What's the matter? growled Neighbor, still surlier, knowing full
well that if the old fellow had a good reason he would have blurted it
out at the start.
Nothin's the matter; only I'd like my time.
You won't get it, said Neighbor, roughly. Go back on your run. If
McNeal don't behave, report him to me, and he'll get his time.
It was a favorite trick of Neighbor's. Whenever the old fireman got
to bucking about his engineer, the master-mechanic threatened to
discharge the engineer. That settled it; Dad Hamilton wouldn't for the
world be the cause of throwing another man out of a job, no matter how
little he liked him.
The old fellow went back to work mollified; but it was evident that
he and McNeal didn't half get on together. The boy was not much of a
talker; yet he did his work well; and Neighbor said, next to Foley, he
was the best man we had.
What's the reason Hamilton and McNeal can't hit it off, Foley? I
asked one night.
They'll get along all right after a while, predicted Foley. You
know the old man's stubborn as a dun mule, ain't he? The injectors
bother Georgie some; they did me. He'll get used to things. But Dad
thinks he's greenthat's what's the matter. The kid is high-spirited,
and seeing the old man's kind of got it in for him he won't ask him
anything. Dad's sore about that, too. Georgie won't knuckle to anybody
that don't treat him right.
You'd better tell McNeal to humor the old crank, I suggested; and
I believe Foley did so, but it didn't do any good. Sometimes those
things have to work themselves out without outside help. In the end
this thing did, but in a way none of us looked for.
About a week later Foley came into the office one morning very much
Did you hear about the boy's getting pounded last nightGeorgie
McNeal? It's a shame the way these fellows act. Three of the strikers
piled on him while he was going into the post-office, and thumped the
life out of him. The cowardly hounds, to jump on a man's back that
Foley, said I, that's the first time they've tackled one of Dad
They'd never have done it if they thought there was any danger of
Dad's getting after them. They know he doesn't like the boy.
It's an outrage; but we can't do anything. You know that. Tell
McNeal to keep away from the post-office. We'll get his mail for him.
I told him that this morning. He's in bed, and looks pretty hard.
But he won't dodge those fellows. He claims it's a free country,
grinned Foley. But I told him he'd get over that idea if he stuck out
It was three days before McNeal was able to report for work, though
he received full time just the same. Even then he wasn't fit for duty,
but he begged Neighbor for his run until he got it. The strikers were
jubilant while the boy was laid up; but just what Dad thought no one
could find out. I wanted to tell the old growler what I thought of him,
but Foley said it wouldn't do any good, and might do harm, so I held my
One might have thought that the injustice and brutality of the thing
would have roused him; but men who have repressed themselves till they
are gray-headed don't rise in a hurry to resent a wrong. Dad kept as
mute as the Sphinx. When McNeal was ready to go out the old fireman had
the 244 shining; but if the pale face of his engineer had any effect on
him, he kept it to himself.
As they rattled down the line with a long stock-train that night
neither of them referred to the break in their run. Coming back next
night the same silence hung over the cab. The only words that passed
over the boiler-head were strickly business, as Dad would say.
At Oxford they were laid out by a Pullman special. It was three
o'clock in the morning and raining hard. Under such circumstances an
hour seems all night. At last Dad himself broke the unsupportable
He'd have waited a good bit longer if he had waited for me to
talk, said the boy, telling Foley afterwards.
Heard you got licked, growled Dad, after tinkering with the fire
for the twentieth time.
I didn't get licked, retorted Georgie; I got clubbed. I never had
a chance to fight.
These fellows hate to see a boy come out and take a man's job.
Can't blame 'em much, neither.
Whose job did I take? demanded Georgie, angrily. Was any one of
those cowards that jumped on me in the dark looking for work on this
There was nothing to say to that. Dad kept still.
You talk about men, continued the young fellow. If I am not more
of a man than to slug a fellow from behind, the way they slugged me,
I'll get off this engine and stay off. If that's what you call men out
here I don't want to be a man. I'll go back to Pennsylvania.
Why didn't you stay there? growled Dad.
Why didn't you?
Without attempting to return the shot, Dad pulled nervously at the
If I hadn't been fool enough to go out on a strike I might have
been running there yet, continued Georgie.
Ought to have kept away from the post-office, grumbled Dad, after
I get a letter twice a week that I think more of than I do of this
whole road, and I propose to go to the post-office and get it without
asking anybody's permission.
They'll pound you again.
Georgie looked out into the storm. Well, why shouldn't they? I've
got no friends.
Got a girl back in Pennsylvania?
Yes, I've got a girl there, replied the boy, as the rain tore at
the cab window. I've had a girl there a good while. She's gray-headed
and sixty years oldthat's my girland if she can write letters to
me, I can get them out of the post-office without a guardian.
There she comes, said Dad, as the headlight of the Pullman special
shone faint ahead through the mist.
I'm mighty glad of it, said Georgie, looking at his watch. Give
me steam now, Dad, and I'll get you home in time for a nap before
A minute later the special shot over the switch, and the young
runner, crowding the pistons a bit, started off the siding. When Dad,
looking back for the hind-end brakeman to lock the switch and swing on,
called all clear, Georgie pulled her out another notch, and the long
train slowly gathered headway up the slippery track.
As the speed increased the young man and the old relapsed into their
usual silence. The 244 was always a free steamer, but Georgie put her
through her paces without any apology, and it took lots of coal to
square the account.
In a few minutes they were pounding along up through the Narrows.
The track there follows the high bench between the bluffs, which sheer
up on one side, and the river-bed, thirty feet below the grade, on the
It is not an inviting stretch at any time with a big string of
gondolas behind. But on a wet night it is the last place on the
division where an engineer would want a side-rod to go wrong; and just
there and then Georgie's rod went very wrong indeed.
Half-way between centres the big steel bar on his side, dipping then
so fast you couldn't have seen it even in daylight, snapped like a
stick of licorice. The hind-end ripped up into the cab like the nose of
a sword-fish, tearing and smashing with appalling force and fury.
Georgie McNeal's seat burst under him as if a stick of giant-powder
had exploded. He was jammed against the cab roof like a link-pin and
fell sprawling, while the monster steel flail threshed and tore through
the cab with every lightning revolution of the great driver from which
It was a frightful moment. Anything thought or done must be thought
and done at once. It was either to stop that trainand quicklyor to
pound along until the 244 jumped the track, and lit in the river, with
thirty cars of coal to cover it.
Instantlyso Dad Hamilton afterwards told meinstantly the boy,
scrambling to his feet, reached for his throttlereached for it
through a rain of iron blows, and staggered back with his right arm
hanging like a broken wing from his shoulder. And back again after
itafter the throttle with his left; slipping and creeping carefully
this time up the throttle lever until, straining and twisting and
dodging, he caught the latch and pushed it tightly home, Dad whistling
vigorously the while for brakes.
Relieved of the tremendous head on the cylinder the old engine
calmed down enough to let the two men collect themselves. Rapidly as
the brakes could do it, the long train was brought up standing, and
Georgie, helped by his fireman, dropped out of the cab, and they set
about disconnectingthe engineer with his one armthe formidable ends
of the broken rod.
It was a slow, difficult piece of work to do. In spite of their most
active efforts the rain chilled them to the marrow. The train-crew gave
them as much help as willing hands could, which wasn't much; but by
every man doing something they got things fixed, called in their
flagmen just before daybreak, and started home. When the sun rose,
Georgie, grim and silent, the throttle in his left hand, was urging the
old engine along on a dog-trot across the Blackwood flats; and so,
limping in on one side, the kid brought his train into the Zanesville
yards, with Dad Hamilton unable to make himself helpful enough, unable
to show his appreciation of the skill and the grit that the night had
disclosed in the kid engineer.
The hostler waiting in the yard sprang into the cab with amazement
on his face, and was just in time to lift a limp boy out of the old
fireman's arms and help Dad get him to the groundfor Georgie had
When the 244 reached the shops a few minutes later they photographed
that cab. It was the worst case of rod-smashing we had ever seen; and
the West-End shops have caught some pretty tough-looking cabs in their
The boy who stopped the cyclone and saved his train and crew lay
stretched on the lounge in my office waiting for the company surgeon.
And old Dad Hamiltoncrabbed, irascible old Dad Hamiltonflew around
that boy exactly like an excited old rooster: first bringing ice, and
then water, and then hot coffee, and then fanning him with a
time-table. It was worth a small smash-up to see it.
The one sweep of the rod which caught Georgie's arm had broken it in
two places, and he was off duty three months. But it was a novelty to
see that boy walk down to the post-office, and hear the strikers step
up and ask how his arm was; and to see old Dad Hamilton tag around
Zanesville after him was refreshing. The kid engineer had won his