A Stolen Locomotive

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic
A group of railroad workers and friends decide to steal a steam locomotive and hide it, in order to save it from the scrappers torch.

Submitted: January 27, 2014

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Submitted: January 27, 2014

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“It just ain't right.” Said Mack as he set down his beer glass. “It's just all kinds of wrong.”

The whole table remained silent and somber. For hours they'd been in a local bar drinking, trying to wash away the depression of knowing that tomorrow, a whole line of locomotives would be moved to the scrapper and cut up. A line of locomotives that they had spent years repairing, maintaining, and operating, a line of locomotives that had served this country through not one, but two world wars, and a line of locomotives that they had grown fond of.

“It just ain't right.” Mack reiterated.

Mack Johnson was a boilermaker turned diesel mechanic in the back shops of the Katy Railroad in Bellmead, Texas. Short and stubby at 5' 2'', dark skinned and with a tuft of dark brown hair on his head he resembled a barrel far better than he did a man. But it was mostly muscle. You weren't weak if you were a boilermaker. Across the table from him sat Jim Lanney, a conductor and all around average guy. He was average height at about 5' 6'' tall, and with an average skin color and an average hair color of brown, he blended in almost anywhere. Next to him was Jack Parsons, a sandy blonde rear brakeman of about the same average height. On the other side of Jim was Dan Watson, and engineer for the KATY that had run everything from passenger trains to freight in his forty-five years on the railroad. He was tall and seemingly well built, with broad shoulders. His beer belly gave his age away though, as did the mop of gray unkempt hair on top of his head. And rounding out the rag tag bunch of railroaders was Gary Paige. Gary was the local engine hostler for Bellmead roundhouse. He stood tall at about 6' 2'', and was as wiry as anyone could imagine. The shock of red hair on his noggin hinted to his Irish back ground.

They continued to sit quietly together sipping on their beers and trying not to think about their life's work being torched into little pieces.

“It just ain't right.” Mack muttered again

“You know, saying that ain't gonna make it any more right Mack.” Jim quipped back.

“I'm just saying is all.” Mack stated with contempt.

“Well you done said it now about five times. You trying for some record on how many times you can say it?”

Mack started to say something, but thought better of it and just sipped his beer.

“We outta say something to the foreman about saving one of them locomotives.” Said Jack, the rear brakeman. “Seems like such a shame to be destroyin' such a big part of the company's history.”

“I done said something to the foreman.” Mack replied.

“What'd he say?”

“He says that 'Change is inevitable Mack. And sides these old tea kettles is worth more in iron than they is in history.'”

“Well don't that beat all.” Gary whispered to himself. Then he turned to Mack and uttered, “That foreman never was one on tradition. They relocated him down here from somewheres up north back a while. When he showed up he starts telling me how I'm s'posed to be parking the engines on the #1 ready track first and filling it up fore I start filling up the #2 track. I told him there and then that we ain't never done it like that. We always filled up the tracks tuhgether. First set a engines goes out on the number one track and then the next ones go on the number two track. And you keeps repeating that back and forth until you done filled all the tracks up. I said it was a tradition for us to do it that way. And you know what he said to me then? 'Ain't no room for traditions in this modern railroad'.”

“Asshole. Somebody outta show him just how important traditions is around here.” Jack spoke up.

“Well, ain't nothing we can do about it now.” Mack muttered. “Tomorrow, they'll be hooking up that string of engines you put together today Gary and hauling them down to Smith's to be cut up.”

“I called old Smitty this afternoon guys to see how soon he would be cutting up our engines.” Dan finally interjected. “He said he's hired on some extra hands to take care of the work quick. I thought about buying one from him and made an offer, but he says he ain't selling them. Some contract that he's got from the railroad says that he can't sell 'em once he has them.”

They all sat again for a few minutes sipping beer thinking about the torches waiting for they're locomotives when suddenly Mack began to giggle a little bit. Everybody at the table sat up and looked at Mack like he'd lost his mind. Then he looked up at everybody at the table with a sly grin.

“What if he didn't get 'em all tomorrow?” Mack said with a chuckle.

“What are you talkin' about Mack? Of course he's gonna get 'em all tomorrow. They're all out there at the yard ready to go.” Gary shot back.

“Yeah, but what if they wasn't all able to go suddenly? What if the one at the very back wasn't able to move freely for some reason?”

Dan leaned in suddenly with interest and quietly said, “Go on...”

Everybody at the table leaned in with Mack and he began. “Let's say that something went ''wrong'' with that engine at the back overnight that would cause it not to move. What do you think the railroad would do then? They'd probably cut it off and leave it to be picked up for later, right?”

Everybody at the table nodded their heads in unison.

“So what if then that old locomotive was tagged onto the back of say Jim's freight train here the next day and on the way there, near some good hiding place of course, it developed a hot box and had to be set out?”

“How the hell you gonna hide a locomotive Mack? It ain't like hiding something small. It's a damned locomotive!” Jack interceded.

“I ain't got that far yet Jack.” Mack shot back, “But I think there's a man at this table old enough to know of a unused siding somewhere that we can put a locomotive.”

They all turned and eyed Dan with respect. Dan Watson had spent the last forty-five years working for the KATY and if anybody knew of a place between Bellmead and Smith's, it would be him. In his sixties Dan had probably forgotten more about this division than anyone had ever cared to remember.

“Well,” Dan thought out loud, “seems to me there was this siding back in the teens that had a small building at the end of it for indoor car unloading. They used to unload some sorta material in that place that was delicate and couldn't be outside in the sun or rain. “Bout the 30's it closed down and moved somewheres else. But if I recall correctly I think that old siding is still there. Switch and all.”

“Well, do you reckon that building is big enough for a locomotive, Dan?” Mack asked.

“Oh, I reckon 'tis. Though, mind you, I don't know that its open.”

Mack looked around at all the guys at the table and said, “Well fellas, I think we got us a hiding spot. Now all we has to do is figure out how to get it down there.”

“Now hold on, Mack.” Dan interjected. “I reckon there's a problem with your plan.”

“Oh?” Mack sat back, “And just what's that then?”

“Well, just supposin' you manage to get that locomotive attached to old Jim's train see. And just supposin' you manage to get it down to that siding there and get it parked in that building. What makes you think this here railroad ain't gonna go looking for it at that sidin' once it's parked? You can bet they'll be looking for it if you park it there, and you can bet they'll be checking that building if they get there and can't find their locomotive. Now what then?”

Mack sat there sipping on his beer for a moment thinking to himself. Dan brought up a pretty good point. What was to keep the railroad from looking for it there once it had been reported as being parked there? Then suddenly Mack's sly grin returned. “What if we don't report it as being parked there?” He said out loud.

“Huh?” Dan said not getting his point

“Wait, I think I know what he's driving at, Dan.” Gary said caustiously. “I think what he's saying is what if we parked it there, but reported it as being parked somewheres else?”

Dan thought for a moment quietly and then said, “You know, that might just work. But we'd have to report it as being further south.”

“Why south?” Mack asked

“Cause they'll never look for it to the north. See, all the trains on that side head south and all the ones on the other side head north. If we parked it at that sidin' but reported it further south, when it wadn't there when they showed up, they'd never believe it was north of where we said we left it cause it would have to fight traffic to get back to the north. They'd only ever look south for it.”

“Say that's a pretty swell idea, Dan.” Jack quipped.

“Ok,” said Mack, “So now we gots us a plan coming together. So far we gots a place to hide it, and a explanation on how to get it off the train and keep it hidden. Now, it's scheduled to go out tomorrow morning and we need it to wait until Jim here can tie it on to his next freight train. So, how do we get it on Jim's train?”

“I got another problem Mack.” Dan interceded. “We can't make two stops to hide it. We can only make one.”

“Sure we can make two stops.” Mack shot back at him. “Who's to say something if we do?”

“The fireman and front brakeman.”

“Son of bitch.” Mack muttered under his breath. “I hadn't thought of them. Ah hell y'all, just forget the whole stupid idea.” Mack sunk down in his chair and began chugging his beer. The other men all sat back and sighed dejectedly. They had been so close.

The waitress came over and asked them if they wanted another round. They all said yes and she hurried off to pour some more drinks.

“It just ain't right.” Mack muttered again.

“What if y'all didn't make two stops?”, the wiry young yard hostler Gary asked.

“What?” Mack looked at him puzzled.

“What if y'all didn't make two stops? What if y'all only made one?”

Dan sat up in his chair and said, “How do you figure on making that happen?”

“Well,” Gary replied, “I don't know. But it's still an idea.”

“Yeah, it's an idea alright,” Jim shot at him, “But not a very good one. The only way I could see doing that would be run that locomotive under it's own power from where we left it to where we want to park it. And that ain't gonna happen with the traffic heading south through here. Plus, that locomotive ain't been run in years. Probably half the appliances on it are froze up.”

“You wouldn't need half the appliances on it for this.” Mack shot back. “Just the lubricator maybe, and the air pump and that would be it. Plus my boiler work will stand the test of time. I'd place it against father time himself.”

“Just one problem with this plan fellas,” Dan interjected, “That boiler ain't got no water in it.”

“Son of a bitch, he's right again.” Mack uttered.

“So?” Gary asked. “What if it did have water in it? Just enough for this move. I could drain it out later.”

“How you gonna get water in it before we move it?” Jack asked.

“You just leave that to me, Jack. Ain't nobody at this table more capable of topping off a steam locomotive with coal and water more than me.”

“What if somebody catches you doing it though?”

“You just don't worry about that now. By the time that engine leaves the yard for Smitty's place it'll be full a water and fuel.”

“Alright guys,” Mack interceded again, “Now we're getting somewheres. And I think I know how to keep that engine from moving outta here tomorrow as well.”

“How you gonna do that Mack?” Jack asked.

“By tightening up the brakes so she'll slide down the tracks. They ain't gonna spend precious time trying to figure out why she won't move, they'll just leave her and probably send someone out to fix her. I'll just make sure to be the one they send.”

“Just one more problem, Mack.” Dan interrupted this time. “How you gonna make just one stop to set that engine out?”

“Well, I ain't figured that out just yet. But whats say we meet back here tomorrow night to discuss it?”

They all agreed to meet back at the bar the next evening to discuss their plan further. In the meantime, they each had a job to do. That night on Mack's way home he stopped by the roundhouse to “sabotage” the last locomotive in line. He quietly snuck into the shops, picked up a wrench, and crossed the tracks from the shop to the locomotive. Kneeling down, he crawled underneath the front pilot, and set to work tightening the brakes. By morning the locomotive would do nothing but slide when they applied power to move it.

 

The next day everybody showed up to work on time as usual. When the time came to see the engines go Mack and the rest of the shops crew stepped out to wave their fond farewells to the locomotives. And Mack managed to step out with a wrench in his hand.

They stood in somber silence as they watched the foreman back a new fangled diesel engine down onto the cut of steam locomotives, and make the connection. Then he made his way to the rear of the line, climbed up on the tender steps, and waved at the engineer to begin pulling forward. The engineer throttled the big diesel locomotive up a notch and waited for the train to start moving. The big massive pistons in the diesel engine whirled away, generating the electricity needed to move the cut of locomotives out onto the main line. But nothing happened. So the engineer drug it out another notch. The big diesel engine roared higher as it tried to get the cut of steam engines rolling. A big black cloud of smoke wafted out of the diesel locomotive's engines as they struggled under the strain, but still the line didn't budge. Irritated by the fact that he couldn't budge a short cut of steam locomotives the engineer raked the throttle all the way back to notch eight and dumped sand for traction. The engine RPMs roared to their limits and finally the line began to creep forward slowly with a horrific screech. The foreman jumped down from the tender to investigate the howl coming from the line of locos. He quickly spotted that the last engines wheels weren't turning and made the necessary hand gestures to the engineer for all stop. He eyed the locomotive on both sides and made hand gestures at the engineer to apply and release his brakes, but that didn't seem to do any good. Finally he began looking around the yard and spotted Mack with his wrench.

“Mack!” he yelled across the yard. “Comere and take a look at this engine and see if you can figure out what the devil is wrong.”

Mack slowly made his way across the yard. As he approached the foreman he said, “I know what's wrong. She don't want to go to no scrapper's and be torched up. She's protesting.”

“That's stupid Mack. Just get under there and see what's wrong.”

Mack climbed down under the engine and pretended to look at all the rigging. He banged around for a few minutes, and swore out loud as if he was working on something, before finally crawling out from under the locomotive and said, “Her brake riggin' is all stove up. I can't figure out why. It'll take me the rest of the day to dismantle it and figure out what's wrong.”

“Fine, just get it done. We'll cut it loose for today and send it out on the first freight south in the morning. Damned steam engines.” He muttered as he walked away.

Mack took the five minutes he needed to loosen the brakes on the old locomotive and then spent the rest of the day snoozing under it pretending to work.

 

That night, Mack, Gary, Jack, Jim, and Dan meet up at the bar again.

“Well, that old locomotive was still there today when I got back from my run, Mack. So I guess your plan must've worked.” Dan stated.

“Yup, worked just like I thought it would.”

“Good, now how do we stop once and hide the engine at the place we didn't stop?”

Jim Lanney cleared his throat and started, “I believe I know how.” Everybody leaned in close to hear Jim out. “Here's what we do. Gary, tomorrows your day off, right?” Gary nodded in the affirmative. “Good. Well, we already talked about stocking up that engine, right? Ok, so if that engine was left just outside the switch where we wants to hide it, it could move back in under it's own power, right?” Everybody nodded. “Alright, sos what if we dropped it off there by just cutting it loose while we're in motion?”

Everybody looked at each other for a minute and thought about it before giving Jim a cynical eye. Mack was the first one to speak up. “So what your suggestin' is we cut it loose while we're a traveling along at forty miles an hour with the hopes that it comes to a stop past, but near the switch where we wants to hide it. Then we let Gary on the engine to get it hot while it's on the main, before running it backwards. Is that what you're suggestin'?”

“That's what I'm saying.”

“What if a train comes along in that time?”

“Guess we'll have to hope for the best, Mack. You got any bright ideas?”

“I do.” Gary chimed in. “Why don't I just go with y'all and get the engine hot on the way there? Ain't like I don't know how.”

They all looked at Gary and then looked around at each other and grinned.

“That's a great idea Gary.” Jim piped in, “Now how do we get water and coal in it before tomorrow?”

“Who says we have to get water in before we move it? What if we get water on the way? Dan, where'd you say that siding was at?”

“I didn't.” Dan replied.

“Well, where is it?”

“Seems to me that it was just south of Holland.”

“That's perfect. Sparks Junction has a old water tower and it's out in the middle of nowhere. We can fake a hot bearing on the locomtive and get ol' Dan here to spot it under the tower. Then you could be out fussing over the bearing Jim while I'm filling the boiler with water.”

“Ok mister.” Dan replied, “Now what about time to get that tea kettle hot enough to move? And fuel?”

“Well, hot bearings need time to cool don't they?”

“Hey genius, if we claim that we have a hot bearing there, they'll make us leave it there, or somewhere nearby which is north of where we want to leave it, ain't it?” Mack added suddenly.

“Yeah, I didn't think about that.” Gary uttered as he thought quietly to himself. “Well look fellas, you just leave the water and coal to me. I'll go tonight and get that engine ready one way or another.”

 

Gary didn't have much of a family. His Aunt lived over in Prarie Hill and he would go sometimes on his days off to see her. But sometimes he just hung out after work at the roundhouse talking with the night crew. Tonight would be one of those nights. He left the bar and eased himself down to the roundhouse for some chit-chat.

“Hiya, Gary!” Charlie Chambers called from the top of a new diesel. “Whatcha up too?”

“Oh nothin' much.” Gary chimed. “Just out for a night stroll and thought I'd stop on in and see how things was making out with these new fangled diesels.”

“Just fine Gary. These things is so easy to fix even my momma could work on them...if she had the muscles that is!” Charlie chuckled.

“Yeah, but I still hate them myself.” Gary chortled back. “They ain't got no class, they ain't got no character, they ain't got no spirit!”

“Whadda ya wanna locomotive with spirit for?!” Charlie asked incredulously. “All you need them to do is pull stuff down the tracks. So what if they ain't got class! It's about power and money. These equals more power for less money and the company is out to make money. I say good riddance to those tea kettles!”

“Charlie!” The night forman hollered out over the din of work going on in the shop

“YEAH!!” Charlie yelled back.

“Go out there and get one of them old Mikes going. The northbound 38 has some trouble with it's engine and needs a replacement.”

“Yeah Boss!” Charlie loudly acknowledged. He began to hop down to take care of firing up one of the old Mikados in the yard when Gary saw an opportunity.

“Hey Charlie, don't get down. I'll take care of it for ya.” Gary said.

“It'll take awhile, Gary. You know them old tea kettles don't just fire right up like these new diesels.”

“I know, but I'm ok with that. Might be one of my last chances to do it, ya know? I'll even stock her up for ya!”

“Well in that case brother you can have at it! I got enough work to do here as it is.” Charlie replied and turned back to finish whatever he was doing.

Gary had lucked out better than he'd thought. He was hoping that one of the other steam locomotives already fired up would need attention, or that a train with a loco coming in would. Instead he now had the time he needed to get hooked up to the Pacific they were saving and take it to get filled up before morning.

Gary strolled out into the dark, quiet yard and made his way to the other side where they kept the reserve engines. He picked the locomotive at the end of the line closest to where the Pacific was. All he would need to do is back up from here to the lead track for the yard, about a half mile back, and then switch over to the track where the Pacific was sitting. Then he could creep forward with almost no throttle and quietly couple up to the big 4-6-2. After that, nobody would notice the sound of a steam engine working in the yard since somebody was getting a steam engine ready to go out.

He swung up into the cab of the last mike, number 732 and reached in the tool box for what he would need to get the ol engine going. An old grease stained rag, a couple small wooden logs, a can of oil, and a box of matches. First thing he did was to let the oil soak into the wood and the rag. Next he tossed the two logs into the middle of the firebox and then lit the oil soaked rag and tossed it in on top of them. Both logs caught immediately and began to burn brightly. Gary picked up a nearby shovel and heaped lumps of coal into the firebox. After about an hour, the old locomotive began to creak and groan as the water inside the boiler became steam. He opened the firebox door to see that the entire floor of the firebox was covered by burning coal. Cracking the blower open slightly, Gary pulled the hot air from the firebox through the boiler tubes heating the water faster. Then he shoveled more coal in to keep the floor hot.

When another hour had passed Gary had enough steam built up to move the locomotive. He hopped down and ran back to the switches he would need to throw in order to get out. The 732 was parked on track three and the big pacific was over on the other side of the yard on track ten. Getting there would be the easy part. Getting the pacific stocked and ready to roll without anyone noticing would be much harder. Thankfully the yard seemed pretty deserted.

Gary hurried through the yard flipping the switches he would need to get there and then made his way back to 732. He hoisted himself back into the cab and took a seat in the engineers position. Grabbing the whistle cord, he blew three short whistles to warn everyone that he was backing up and then cracked the throttle open slightly. With a loud “WHOOSH” from the stack the old mikado engine began to creep backwards. She slowly rolled out onto the lead track for the yard, and Gary jumped down to realign the switch and head to track ten. Clambering back into the cab he threw the reverser into the forward position and opened the throttle slightly. With a two whistles from the cord he pulled forward toward the already aligned switch at track 10.

Creeping into the switch he approached the big Pacific and very quietly coupled onto the rear. He leapt down from the cab again and quickly attached the air hoses before scrambling back into the cab. Releasing the brakes, he drug the old Pacific from her resting place out onto the lead. With another loud whoosh from the stack he moved the big Pacific and 732 back along the lead track towards the coaling and water towers and positioned the Pacific underneath the two to go first. He scaled to the top of the tender on the Pacific and opened up the coal chute to fill the bottom of the tender floor with enough coal to steam the locomotive later that day. Then he opened the water tank and filled the tender up.

Happy with his progress Gary climbed down from the tender and started back to the 732. As he crawled his way back up into the cab he heard the crunch of somebody stepping onto the gravel behind him and stopped dead in his tracks. He didn't want to turn around. He already knew who was there. It was the night foreman. He probably came to see why Charlie wasn't out here doing his job, and who was. But he had to turn around. He had to explain what he was doing coaling and watering an engine that was supposed to be heading for the scrappers tommorrow. Doing his best to come up with a plausible lie, he turned around to find the night watchmen staring up at him instead.

“Whatch doing Gary?” Old Jebediah asked.

Gary was stuck. Old Jeb had been the nightwatchman of this yard since he stopped the Samuels Boys from wrecking the Katy Flyer south of Forreston, Texas back in 1902. They had intended on robbing the RPO car after the accident and Jeb had been in the right place at the right time to stop them. A washed up lush at the time, he had been camping under a low hanging Sycamore tree nearby when he witnessed the Samuel Boys sabotage the Katy's mainline bridge. He snuck out from his hiding place and ran quickly up the main line to the depot in Forreston and had the station agent flag the train to a stop. As a reward, the railroad gave him a job as nightwatchman over the Bellmead yard. A job that he'd kept well into his eighties. Sober forever after that fateful night, he was a shrewd man who kept an eye on everything that moved in the yard. And it was supposed to be his night off. Lying to Jeb wouldn't work so Gary took the only way out he could think of.

“Well Jeb, I'm stealing this here locomotive. Well, we're stealing this here locomotive, Mack, Dan Watson, Jack Parsons, Jim Lanney, and myself.” Gary waited for a response.

Old Jeb reached into the front pocket of his shirt and pulled out a packet of chewing tobacco. He waded up a bit and shoved it into his right cheek.

“I sure do miss these old steamers being out on the road. Nothing like the bark of one of these tea kettles as it roars past doin' eighty per.” He mauled over his tobacco for a few minutes before turning around and walking away.

“Jeb?” Gary called after him.

“I didn't see nuthin'!” He yelled back.

Gary watched as Old Jeb walked away. That wasn't quite the reaction he was expecting, but it would do. He turned back into the cab of the old Mikado and eased the engine forward to fill it's tender. When he was done he put the big Pacific back in it's spot, and brought the 732 around to the outbound ready track. He strolled back into the engine shop to find Charlie.

“Hey Charlie. I got that Mikado all coaled up and ready to roll.”

“Bout time! I was just getting ready to come find out what was taking you so long.”

“I ran into a bit of trouble with that switch on track 4. Somebody left it open and it got stuck closing back on the lead. I had to fiddle with it a bit.”

“Oh, yeah. I meant ta oil that this evening. I'll just go do that now. You be here when I get back?”

“Nah.” Gary replied. “I'm getting pretty low. Think I'll go hit the hay.”

“Alright, see ya round Gary.” And Charlie dissapeared into the night carrying an oil can.

Gary followed close behind him.

 

The next morning broke to a rain soaked rail yard. A squall line had moved in early in the morning and left the yard a veritable minefield of large puddles and muddy bogs. But the big Pacific shone brightly in the dull morning light. Over on the other side of the yard the hostler was busy making up Dan Watson's train for the day. Dan on the other hand was in the office talking to the yard foreman and getting his papers for the train that morning. He was also getting the information for hauling the Pacific out of the yard.

“After you grab the crummy, I want you to back up to that old hunk of metal on track ten and haul it outta here. I'm tired of looking at it.”

“You want it tucked in behind the crummy?” Dan asked.

“Yeah. That way if it has any more issues you can drop it off on somewhere and we can torch it on the spot!”

Dan flinched at the sudden coldness from the foreman and swiftly walked out without saying a word. He skirted large puddles as he made his way from the yard office over to the road power he'd been assigned. Three F-units to power a sixty-seven car train. He found Jim the conductor and Jack the brakeman waiting in the cab for him.

“What'd he say?” asked Jack.

“We're supposed to tuck that old loco in behind the crummy so's we can unload it if we need to. He don't know he just set us up for success. Where's Gary?”

“He's lurking round here somewheres. He was just here too.” Jim replied.

“Did he say if he was able to get that engine ready for her last run?” Dan asked.

“He said she's all loaded up with what he figures he'll need to make a go of it. He didn't want to load up to much for fear he'd get caught.”

“I guess that's good of him to do so. Now listen, I've been thinking about a signal to give y'all sos you know when to cut that engine loose, see. There's this crossing just bufore that siding and I'm gonna give my usual crossing signal. But this time I'll hold extra long on the cord and then give two shorts right after that. You follow?”

“Extra long on the crossing and then two shorts. Got it.”

“Good. You boys ready?”

“Sure thing Dan.” Jim replied. “We'll go stoke the stove in the caboose and get her ready to go. By the way, who'd you get ta run as your fireman today?”

“I pulled that new kid, Thomas Thompson.”

“Little Tommy Thompson?! But that kids as jumpy as a jackrabbit! And a damned stickler of the rule book to boot! You'll never be able to hide what we're doing from that kid!” Jim groaned.

“Don't you worry none Jim ol' boy. I got me a little plan to keep him busy while we're a moving along.” Dan said with a wink.

Jim and Jack just eyed each other ominously and climbed down from the cab.

As they exited one side, in from the other side came Tommy Thompson with a mean scowl on his face. “I told them I didn't want to get stuck with no old timer like yourself. All you do is jaw 'bout how good the old days was.”

“You can always turn down tha run, Tommy.” Dan replied mattter of factly.

“What? And sit at home while someone else makes the money and looks good to the foreman? No sir. I'm a staying right here and take my licks. Cause one of these days I'll be in your seat, and you'll be out! And if I has anything to do with it, it'll be sooner rather than later.”

“Is that so? We'll mister smartass, if you're willin' to take yer licks then here.” Dan threw a rag at him and a bottle of polish. “Back in my day young fella we took pride in our equipment. I ain't too fond of these here dieseasals, but I damn sure ain't gonna run a dirty one. So get to cleaning.”

“I ain't cleaning this here engine by myself!” Thomas complained.

“You damn sure will do it or I'll just march myself in that yard office and tell that foreman yer disobeying a direct order from your superior! Got it?!” Dan was in Thomas's face now standing nose to nose with him and he could see the fear in his eyes. But Tommy wasn't about to relent with out a comment. He huffed back in Dan's face for a second before stepping to the back wall of the cab to start polishing.

“I want the engine room polished first!” Dan stated.

“But it's loud in there!”

“Then stuff some cotton in yer ears.”

Tommy mumbled something about Dan being an old coot and stepped towards the engine room door.

“After we get switched on to our train, Tommy.” Dan uttered suddenly.

Tommy stopped dead in his tracks and threw the polish bottle and rag to the floor. He scoured at Dan before climbing down to align the switch for the yard lead.

 

 

In thirty minutes or so they had the train made up for the day, the caboose tacked on the rear and were in the process of backing onto the Pacific. Dan could barely see Jack out there giving him hand signals as he backed up, but he felt the slack come out of the train as he coupled into the locomotive. He waited a few minutes and then heard the air signal to stretch the connection. He did so, and then waited another few minutes before getting the signal to proceed from Jim back in the caboose. He crept the train up to the mainline switch and stopped to check his papers. He was due to follow the 552 local freight out of the yard as soon as it passed by. After a few minutes he could see the headlight of the southbound freight as it approached the yard limits and slowed. Soon it rumbled by and when it had cleared Tommy Thompson jumped down to align the switch for the main. Dan whistled off and the train began to inch out of the yard.

 

Back in the cupola of the caboose, Jim and Jack were watching as the train moved slowly over the switch and out onto the mainline. They kept an eye on every car as it crossed the switch and then turned to watch as the Pacific roll over with no issues. A few minutes later, the train begin to pick up speed. Dan brought it up to about 30 miles an hour and held it steady.

“Did you see Gary before we left?” Jim asked.

“No I didn't. I'm not even sure if he was on the train when we left. But I seem to remember him saying that he was gonna hide in the tender until we got far enough out that nobody would see him working in the cab.” Jack replied.

“Well, I guess we'll know soon enough.” Jim said as he turned around and eyed the big Pacific rocking along behind them.

 

Gary had in fact made it aboard the train and was already hard at work trying to get the fire lit in the big Pacific. The problem was that the draft that was pulling through the boiler from the locomotive moving kept putting out his fire. And he'd just about burned up the last of his rags too. He knew he was gonna have some trouble, but he didn't figure it would be this bad. He lit another rag and let burn for a minute or so before he tossed it in the firebox on top of the oil soaked logs. But the draft in the box caught it and it landed over near a dark corner and fizzled out.

“Son of a bitch!” he yelled out in aggrevation. And he was down to just two rags left. This time though he decided that he'd had enough. He was gonna get that fire going if it killed him. So he grabbed the rags, the can of oil and the matches and he tossed them into the firebox. Then he squirmed his wiry frame through the door and knelt down over the logs. He soaked both rags this time with oil and then lit one. It burned brightly in the drafty firebox and he watched as the whole rag caught. Finally he brought it down to touch the logs and let the fire on the rag lick at the oil covering them. Then he dropped the rag on top, grabbed his oil can and ran for the smoke box door. He quickly shimmeied through the opening and out onto the cab floor before spinning around to see that the rag had gone out.

“SHIT!!” He screamed and tossed his things back in the firebox. He knew he was getting close to not making steam in time. He had to hurry. At the same time he wondered what was going on up in the cab of the locomotive.

 

Dan was having his own issues. Tommy Thompson had just flat refused to polish anymore of the engine room. He said he had a splitting headache from the diesel fumes and the noise. Even with cotton in his ears. And to top it off, he'd practically gotten sick right on the floor of the cab. So Dan had no choice but to let him sit up front with his head hanging out the window getting some fresh air. And it didn't look like he was going nowhere either. That sure would make it hard to drop off the locomotive here in a bit when they reached the switch. But all he could think to do was to notch out the throttle, and increase the speed enough that they might get there in time to let the engine loose early and before Tommy felt well enough to look up and see what was going on. Then he began to wonder whether or not Gary and the guys had that old locomotive ready to go.

 

Jim and Jack were busy watching the Pacific intently. They had figured out where Dan meant to drop that engine off at while in conversation a little bit ago and they were getting worried. The train had been moving for the last hour or so and they still hadn't seen a wiff of smoke coming from the stack. And now to make matters worse, Dan seemed to be picking up speed.

“We should've seen something by now.” Jim said intently.

“I know.” Jack replied with a concerned look in his eyes.

“Whadda ya think is taking him so long.”

“I dunno. Maybe he didn't make it.”

“If he didn't make it then one of us is gonna have to go back there and try to get her goin'”

Jack looked over at Jim and said, “I don't know how to fire no locomotive, Jim.”

“Well I guess that means I'm gonna do it.” Jim said as he slid out of his seat and down the ladder to the floor of the caboose.

“You sure about this Jim?” Jack asked him from his perch in the cupola. “It's sure gonna be dangerous to climb out alongside that tea kettle and back to the cab. You sure you wanna take the chance?”

“I ain't got no choice.”

“But it ain't worth yer life Jim!” Jack said as he clammered down from his seat.

“We done come too far to fail now Jack. I got to.” Jim said with authority. He looked at Jack with wisdom in his eyes and just said, “Wish me luck.”

Jack didn't say anything as he watched Jim head for the back door.

 

Gary was nearing the end of his ability to light a fire. He had burned through his last rag and had nearly reached the end of the matchbook he had. Now on his stomach facing the oil soaked logs, he was trying to light matches in the windy firebox, and he could feel the train increasing in speed. He had to work fast. The fourth match to last. He struck it across the flint pad and watched it glow in the dark space around him. He quickly put it down to the logs and prayed that the flame would leap to the black ooze now running down the side. But again he watched the match burn out before it could catch. His heart sank deeper into the pit of his stomach. He grabbed the third match left, and again struck it across the flint pad. It lit, but just as he began to lower it a breeze came in through the air intake holes on the side of the firebox and blew it out. Gary could almost cry.

Just two matches left. He tore the second to last match off the pack and lowered it to the flint pad. He closed his eyes, and as a tear began to roll down his cheek from the pressure of the situation, he whispered under his breath, “Please God, PLEASE, let this one catch. I'll never ask for another favor as long as I live Lord if you'll just please let me get this fire started.”

He drew the second to last match across the flint pad and watched as it caught. The small flame shimmered brilliantly in the dark firebox as he slowly lowered it to the oil soaked logs. He touched the lit match to black ooze and watched with triumph as the flame lept from the match to the black oil. In an instant the fire broke open and shot from one corner of the oil to the other.

Gary practically floated to his feet as he grabbed the oil can and made a beeline for the firebox door before it filled with smoke. He shot through the opening and out onto the cab floor landing at Jim's feet.

All Jim could do was laugh hysterically at the sight of Gary, soot covered, flying through the hole in the boiler.

Gary jumped to his feet as quick as he could and yelled, “Well just don't stand there Jim, start shoveling!!” And with that he grabbed one of the scoops he'd brought on board and began to load coal into the firebox. Jim was right behind him doing what he could to help. After about five minutes of shoveling they had the floor of the firebox covered with coal, and it was beginning to burn nicely. And with the draft caused by the locomotive moving down the tracks, the heat from the fire was already beginning to build pressure in the boiler.

After another ten minutes Gary stopped fiddling with the controls to see that he had enough pressure to turn on the atomizer and blower. Soon the pressure began to rise quickly.

“Ok Jim, I got her hot. Now what?”

“Dan said he would lay in on a crossing signal but would hold down extra long on the last and then give two shorts. That's our signal to cut this here engine loose. By the time you get her stopped you should see or be on top of the switch.”

“Sounds swell. Did he happen to say just where this here switch is?”

“No, but me and Jack done figured it out. It's that old track just passed Miller's crossing at mile post 322.”

“That don't help me none seeing as how I never get out on the main.”

“Well here's yer chance! But only for a split second. Soon as you come to a stop, get her backed on that switch and in that building quick as ya can. We don't want nobody seeing what's going on.”

“Sure thing.” Gary replied.

Jim made his way to the engineers forward door and started to crawl out on the foot plate.

“Oh, one more thing. I'll wave at you like this,” Jim extended his arm fully above his head and waved it up and down. “to let you know that I've cut you loose. At that point yer on yer own.”

Gary nodded an ok and watched Jim walk slowly back along the boiler to the caboose ahead.

 

Up in the cab of the F-unit Dan was getting worried about Tommy. At first he thought it was just Tommy being lazy, but he'd had his head out that window for the last hour.

“Tommy!” He yelled out over the drone of the engines at speed. “You ok?”

Tommy shook his head in acknowledgment and then said, “Hey Dan, there's smoke coming from the stack of that old locomotive.”

Dan paused for a moment unsure about what to say.

“Dan? Did you hear me?” Tommy said with his head still down on the window sill facing towards the rear of the train.

“What was that Tommy?”

“I said there is smoke coming from that Pacific on the back end.”

“That's impossible Tommy. That locomotive don't have no fuel on it or water in it to make it smoke. Must be all them years of soot left behind from running. You know how the railroad started to neglect them engines towards the end.”

“I guess.” Tommy muttered out loud. “But there sure is a lot of it.”

“Just you close yer eyes Tommy boy and take a little nap. Matter of fact get over here on the floor of this engine and sprawl out. I think you'll feel better.

Tommy didn't hesitate to try anything to make his headache go away. He climbed down from his seat and stretched out on the floor of the cab. In just a minute he was passed out asleep.

“Well isn't that a dandy way of getting him outta our way.” thought Dan.

 

“Mile marker 320 just went by Jim.” Jack called out from the cupola.

“Ok. Let's get ready to cut this engine loose.” Jim replied.

They both made their way out onto the back platform of the caboose and took up positions. Jim leaned over and spotted Gary at the controls of the big steam locomotive, keeping an eye on the water level. He could hear the roar of the blower from the stack, and the stacatto of the air pumps as they rocked down the tracks. Gary spotted him and gave him a thumbs up. Hopefully that meant that he had the air brakes on the locomotive cut in so they could shut the cylinder cock. Jim took a chance.

“SHUT OFF THE AIR.” he yelled over the roar of the train.

Jack reached down below the coupler hanging on for dear life and shut the air off. Jim waited to see if he felt any reaction. When he didn't he gave Gary another thumbs up to indicate he was on his own air.

Then he heard the low cry of the diesel horn at the front of the train as it began call for the crossing. He listened to the first two longs, then the short, then the long that followed. But this time it kept going. This was it! Then there were two shorts. Jim raised his arm up in the air and yelled, “CUT HIM LOOSE JACK!! CUT HIM LOOSE!!” And he began to wave his arm up and down frantically. He watched in magnificent awe as the Pacific slowed and came away from the caboose. The air hoses uncoupled and the distance between the two began to grow as Gary applied the brakes and slowed the engine down.

 

“What was that?”, Tommy asked as he lifted his head from the cab floor. The unusual whistle pattern had brought him around.

“What was what?” Dan replied unknowingly.

“That weird whistle pattern.”

“Oh. Couple a dogs on the tracks. I scared em off.”

“Oh.” Tommy said and passed back out again.

 

Jack was just as happy as he could be standing across the platform from Jim. They both had huge smiles across their faces knowing they had done it. They watched the big Pacific slow to a graceful coast as the caboose bounced over the switch to the abandoned siding. Neither of the men could be happier than they were right then.

 

Gary was just ecstatic that his part of the plan had worked. He watched Jim and Jack wave as the caboose glided around a bend and out of sight. The roar of the freight train died away to leave the huffing and puffing of lone steam locomotive as the only sound that broke the stillness of damp morning. It was now up to him to get the big Pacific put away.

Spotting the switch directly ahead he brought the engine to halt just past it and jumped down. He threw the switch lever over, setting the track to the siding and bolted back to the engine. The possibility of another freight barreling through in a few minutes was likely, and he not only needed to clear the main so as not to cause an accident, but he also had to get the Pacific out of sight before anyone spotted it.

Scurrying back into the engineers seat Gary checked the sight glass and added water to the boiler, before cracking the throttle open slightly and walking the engine back to clear the switch. He applied the brakes and jumped down to reset the switch. In the distance the low cadence of a train horn warned of an approaching freight and he rushed to finish his task. He flew back to the cab of the locomotive and pulled out on the throttle a little too much. The big drive wheels of the steam engine spun in protest at the sudden addition of power, and then eventually dug in, picking up speed towards the closed doors of the abandoned building at the end of the track. Gary throttled back and applied the brakes, bringing the engine to a slow crawl. Then just as the engine was about to stop, he left the brakes applied and cracked to throttle open to keep her moving just above a snails pace. He hopped down from the cab again and quickly out paced the Pacific to the doors of the building. Getting them open he watched in awe as the engine glided past him and into the darkness beyond.

As the cab passed by, he grabbed the handrails and pulled himself calmly back up onto the footplate of the tender. He placed himself neatly in the engineers seat and guided the big Pacific to a stop towards the back of the building. With the engine parked and safe, he rushed over and shut the doors of the building, pausing with them open a crack to watch the next train go by. Gary then slowly meandered his way back over to the engine and took the time to shut it down.

Turning the blower down, he added cold water to the boiler to drop the pressure, and watched as the needle quivered slowly down the face of the gauge. He checked the floor of the firebox and saw that without the draft of the blower, the coal fire was slowly dying away. When the pressure in the boiler, and the fire in the firebox both reached a point that Gary felt safe enough to walk away, he stepped down from the cab of the engine and stared in silence.

The sound of another approaching train caught his ear and he stepped to the doors again. He cracked them open slightly and watched as a work train glided to a stop just beyond the switch. A track gang shuffled out of the rear crew car and were handed some tools as they passed by the box car just ahead of the caboose. Soon Gary could see that they were in the process of pulling up the switch that lead to the Pacific.

“But with that switch gone we'll never get this locomotive out of here now.” he thought to himself. Then he realized that with the switch gone, the railroad would also never suspect that the engine was in that building when they went looking for it. “We did it.” he uttered under his breath with disbelief. “We did it.”

He made his way back to the locomotive, grabbing an old abandoned chair from a nearby desk as he passed. Placing the chair in the middle of the tracks directly in front of the Pacific he sat down, closed his eyes, and listened to the engine creak and groan as it cooled in the darkness of the building. The sounds slowly died away as the memories of that day faded back into the past from where they came, and a tear left his eye and rolled down his cheek as he remembered that rag tag group of friends from so long ago. When he opened his eyes again to look at his beloved Pacific, sixty-one years of dust had settled on what was once a magnificent locomotive.

“And that Mr. Holland is how we managed to steal a steam locomotive.” he said in a scraggley, time worn voice.

Mr. James Holland, the president of the local railroad museum, stood in awe as he listened to Gary Paige finish his story. “I'm absolutely in shock Mr. Paige. Absolutely in shock.” he finally muttered as he circled the engine in that dreary old building. He finally stopped and stood next to Gary just staring at the locomotive. It was a full ten minutes before he said again, “I'm absolutely in shock. There is only one or two known surviving Katy steam locomotives in the world, and you've just shown me the third, and most desirable of them all. And it's been 'garage kept' since you parked it here. Just incredible!”

Mr. Holland walked around the locomotive again still having trouble believeing what he was seeing. He reached out to touch the cold steel of the side rods as confirmation of the fact that it was really there in front of him.

“And the railroad never found it?”

“Never. They looked for the locomotive for months before finally giving up. Even hired a private detective from Dallas to come try and find it.” Gary broke into a terribly wet cough that indicated he was having health issues.

“Did they ever ask you where it was, or did they grill the others about it's location? I mean, your friends must have gotten in trouble.”

Gary cleared his throat and said, “Fer what? That railroad never could prove that we'd stolen it. Dan reported settin' it out on a siding nearly twenty miles south a here. He picked one where the locomotive could be 'set out' and not seen from the mainline if it were in fact there. The railroad finally sent a crew down 'bout a month later to fix the bearing issue that Dan reported, but a course they couldn't find it.”

Gary began to cough again and started having trouble breathing. His son Jake, who had been standing in the corner, listening to his Dad's story the whole time brought over a bottle of water, and Gary took a sip. Then he reached into his pocket and took out an inhaler which he took a puff from.

“Dad, tell him what you found out about the switch.”

“Oh, that's right.” Gary cleared his throat as best he could and began again, “I found out from Dan the next mornin' he was the one responsible for having the switch removed. He had leaned on a friend a his in the track department ta have it taken out. Told him that it had gotten rough and he was worried about derailing. And the railroad never looked for the locomotive there 'cause Dan's friend mislabled the work order. Seems he was dyslexic. He marked it for a week prior by accident. Seems everyone else below him didn't want to get in trouble, so they just put down what the boss had. And far as the railroad was concerned, you can't park no locomotive on a siding that didn't have a switch afore the locomotive passed through it, now can ya?”

“Wow. That's some story. So how did you guys manage to keep it hidden here for sixty years without anyone finding it?”

“Well, that was pretty easy. This here building at the time was abandoned, and tha only people that was here on a regular basis was bums that was passing through or us. Mack decided after a few months that he liked the place so much, he'd buy it. He was a bachelor and had enough money ta pay the rent. He lived in the upstairs office until the day he died. He used to rebuild junk cars in the front half of the building.” Gary smiled as he remembered a story he wanted to tell. “This one time, Mack had bought this old Lincoln Zephyr that had been wrecked. The frame of that damn car was so twisted it was a miracle Mack ever got it straightened at all. He tried and tried ta do it with his tractor out front, but no matter how much he pulled on it, it just wouldn't untwist. So when it came time to fire up the Pacific that month, we came in and found the frame chained to the rear coupler of the loco, and the end of the track. Mack wanted us to pull it straight for him. So we went through all the trouble of fireing up the loco, and then I eased out on the throttle as Mack watched. Work liked a charm. Under the power of the locomotive that frame rearranged itself just right. But Mack failed to yell at me in time to stop and that old engine there walked right on and tore that frame clean in two!” Gary laughed a bit before succumbing to another coughing jag.

Mr. Holland waited for this episode to die down before he asked, “So you guys use to fire it up on a regular basis?”

“Oh yeah.” Gary replied. “Once a week at first, but then our lives began to take over. It fell back to once a month at some point, and just stayed there until recently when Jack.....” Gary's voice died away. It was obvious that Jack had passed away recently and it bothered Gary.

After a few moments Gary looked up at Mr. Holland with a tear in his eye and said, “I'm the last one, Mr Holland. The last one. And not fer very much longer. I got lung cancer. And they can't do nuthin for me. Jack and I came in up until about 6 months ago and did our best to fire her up when we could, but it got to be a little to much for me. That's when I brought my son in on the deal.” Gary broke into another coughing jag. After a minute he was able to compose himself enough to continue. “My son urged me to get in contact with you and donate the locomotive.”

“I'm sorry to hear about your cancer, Mr. Paige. If there is anything I can do please let me know.”

“Just give my Pacific a good home Mr. Holland. That's all I ask.”

“I think that can be arranged.” Mr. Holland said, and with that, they turned back to face the locomotive.

 

The End

 

 

 

 

 

 


© Copyright 2017 Michael Sullivan. All rights reserved.

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