Ulster & Delaware
Riding on a Locomotive
At a certain railroad station, not over a thousand miles from the "Head of the River," as a train of cars were being arranged for a trip to Rondout and return, a couple of lads from a neighboring town, were very busy watching every movement. As the fast train was about ready to start, the engineer jumped from the engine with a long nosed can in hand to give the machine the last dose of lubricating oil before leaving, one of the boys asked:
"Are you the man that makes the machine go?"
"Yes, my boy," said the engineer.
"Then you make it puff and blow, screech, and whistle, and draw all these large cars?"
"Yes, I do all that - I'm the engineer."
At this, the little fellow intently viewed the engine, then the engineer, who was of small stature, black as a charcoal peddler, clothed in greasy blouse and overalls, and turning to his companion as he walked away, said:
"John, it don't take much of a man for an engineer does it?"
As we accepted George Emmett's invitation on a Thursday morning to take a "shaking up" on the engine with him, we thought of the above incident, but did not tell the story, as we knew the necessary qualifications for a good engineer. He needs to be a good machinist and a philosopher. It is a trade. We scrambled into the cab and took a look at things. Fireman Murphy gave us his box seat, told us to keep our feet of the hot pipes and our hands of things generally, or we might get burned. Everything seemed to be boiling hot -- even the cold water said "sizz!" The steam gauge, and air brake indicator stood before us, and in their rear, the motto "In God We Trust," worked in a card by some fair hand. Some twenty five years ago we joined a secret society that displays the same motto, and if a lodge room is a good place for it, where there is no immediate danger, then on a locomotive there can be no objection to it, as danger is a constant companion. All hands seemed to be looking out for danger, or at least to prevent accidents. The least thing out of order may be the means of sending many souls to eternity. Like a soldier, an engineer has to "Trust in Providence and keep his powder dry!" The train is equipped with the celebrated "Westinghouse Air brake," which enables the engineer to apply the brakes to every wheel in an instant.
Promptly at 8:20 a.m., Conductor Kennedy gave the signal that all was right -- "go ahead." George pulled a lever overhead that made the iron horse "toot! toot!" then moved the throttle tie bar with his left hand, and grabbed the lever to reverse our motion with the right. We felt the muscles, apparently, of this engine contract and more, as if we were astride a horse engaged in moving a heavy load. Steadily our motion increased until we began to get uneasy, and George sang out "hold on, Champ," but we failed to find anything but the bell rope we dare touvh, yet we managed to keep our seat. We fairly flew over a straight track below Mayhams's, and George said we were going over a mile a minute. We though that fast enough. Like the engineer, we watched the track and everything that moved. When we say a man walking ahead of us the thought would occur "Will he get off before we reach him," and we know it would be a great relief to an engineer to have everybody keep off the track when in sight of him.
The responsibility of an engineer is of no trivial nature. Every moment his thoughts must be on his work, his eyes open to see the way clear and an attentive ear to detect the least change in sound or movement of the engine. Every muscle must be ready in case of emergency, and every nerve feels the pulsation of the "thing of life" that he controls. How readily it obeys the slightest touch as we speed along the rails, over bridges, through deep cuts and on high embankments. How shrill the whistle echoes from hill to hill as it announces our approach; how easily the turning of a small valve causes our motion to slacken when near a station, and how relieved the mind when safely landing friends among friend. A few minutes of rest occurs as passengers and baggae are being changed. All is bustle and excitement. The parting kiss is quickly given, the "goodbye" spoken, the bell rings, the train moves, and again we speed on our journey. Thus from station to station we go, day after day and year after year. We do not want to be an engineer of this kind.
At Dean's Corners we recognized an old friend of long ago on the platform. It was that of Alfred E. Gregory, now editor of the "Palisade News," at West Hoboken, New Jersey, formerlyor Prattsville, where our acquaintancewas one of continual sunshine. We were boys together, and had not met face to face in twenty-three years. He had been paying the Beaverkill fishing grounds a visit, and was on the return trip. We concluded to defer a ride over Pine Hill on the engine until some future time, and we together occupied the smoking car, and did some tall visiting before we reached Big Indian, beside the viewing the lofty mounains and enjoying a ride almost among the clouds. It was not long before meeting the westbound mail train, on which we embarked for "home again" -- hastily bidding our friend goodbye, to meet again, sometime in the dim future.
Entering the first car we came to, we found it entirely devoted to express matter and baggage of passengers. we took a seat by the side of Gerry Schoonmake, express manager, and a good gentemanly one at that, and were soon in motion. Just then, Dan U., the conductor, demanded "tickets." We exhibited a pass that had never been used from Superintendent Coykendall, but it was rejected on account of its antiquity -- so we disgorged $1.52 in redemption funds, secured peace and reached home at noon with a good appetite, and feeling much better for a "ride on a locomotive."
Head Back to the Station!