The Million Dollar Freight Train
by Frank H. Spearman
The Story of a Young Engineer
It was the second month of the strike, and not a pound
of freight had been moved. Things did look smoky on
the West End. The General Superintendent happened to
be with us when the news came. "You can't handle it, boys,"
said he nervously. "What you'd better do is to turn it over
to the Columbian Pacific."
Our contracting freight agent on the Coast at that time
was a fellow so erratic that he was nicknamed "Crazy-horse."
Right in the midst of the strike Crazy-horse wired that he
had secured a big silk shipment for New York. We were
paralyzed. We had no engineers, no firemen, and no motive
power to speak of. The strikers were pounding our men,
wrecking our trains, and giving us the worst of it generally;
that is, when we couldn't give it to them. Why the fellow
displayed his activity at that particular juncture still remains
a mystery. Perhaps he had a grudge against the road; if
so, he took an artful revenge. Everybody on the system with
ordinary railroad sense knew that our struggle was to keep
clear of freight business until we got rid of our strike. Anything
valuable or perishable was especially unwelcome. But
the stuff was docked, and loaded, and consigned in our care
before we knew it. After that, a refusal to carry it would be
like hoisting the white flag; and that is something which
never yet flew over the West End.
"Turn it over to the Columbian," said the General Superintendent;
but the General Superintendent was not looked
up to on our division. He hadn't enough sand. Our head
was a fighter, and he gave tone to every man under him.
"No," he thundered, bringing down his fist. "Not in a
thousand years. We'll move it ourselves. Wire Montgomery
(the General Manager) that we will take care of it.
And wire him to fire Crazy-horse—and to do it right off."
And before the silk was turned over to us Crazy-horse was
looking for another job. It is the only case on record where
a freight hustler was discharged for getting business.
There were twelve carloads; it was insured for $85,000 a
car; you can figure how far the title is wrong, but you never
can estimate the worry the stuff gave us. It looked as big as
twelve million dollars' worth. In fact, one scrub car-link,
with the glory of the West End at heart, had a fight over
the amount with a skeptical hostler. He maintained that
the actual money value was a hundred and twenty millions;
but I give you the figures just as they went over the wire,
and they are right.
What bothered us most was that the strikers had the tip
almost as soon as we had it. Having friends on every road
in the country, they knew as much about our business as we
ourselves. The minute it was announced that we should
move the silk, they were after us. It was a defiance; a last
one. If we could move freight—for we were already moving
passengers after a fashion—the strike might be well accounted
Stewart, the leader of the local contingent, together with
his followers, got after me at once. "You don't show much
sense, Reed," said he. "You fellows here are breaking
your necks to get things moving, and when this strike's over,
if our boys ask for your discharge, they'll get it. This road
can't run without our engineers. We're going to beat you.
If you dare try to move this silk, we'll have your scalp when
it's over. You'll never get your silk to Zanesville, I'll
promise you that. And if you ditch it and make a million-dollar
loss, you'll get let out anyway, my buck."
"I'm here to obey orders, Stewart," said I. What was
the use of more? I felt uncomfortable; but we had determined
to move the silk; there was no more to be said.
When I went over to the round-house and told Neighbor
the decision, he said never a word; but he looked a great
deal. Neighbor's task was to supply the motive power.
All that we had, uncrippled, was in the passenger service,
because passengers should be taken care of first of all. In
order to win a strike, you must have public opinion on
"Nevertheless, Neighbor," said I, after we had talked
awhile, "we must move the silk also."
Neighbor studied; then he roared at his foreman. "Send
Bartholomew Mullen here." He spoke with a decision that
made me think the business was done. I had never happened,
it is true, to hear of Bartholomew Mullen in the department
of motive power; but the impression the name gave
me was of a monstrous fellow, big as Neighbor, or old man
Sankey, or Dad Hamilton. "I'll put Bartholomew ahead
of it," said Neighbor tightly.
I saw a boy walk into the office. "Mr. Garten said you
wanted me, sir," said he, addressing the Master Mechanic.
"I do, Bartholomew," responded Neighbor.
The figure in my mind's eye shrunk in a twinkling. Then
it occurred to me that it must be this boy's father who was
"You have been begging for a chance to take out an engine,
Bartholomew," began Neighbor coldly; and I knew it was on.
"You want to get killed, Bartholomew."
Bartholomew smiled as if the idea was not altogether
"How would you like to go pilot to-morrow for McCurdy?
You to take the 44 and run as first Seventy-eight. McCurdy
will run as second Seventy-eight."
"I know I could run an engine all right," ventured Bartholomew,
as if Neighbor were the only one taking the chances in
giving him an engine. "I know the track from here to Zanesville.
I helped McNeff fire one week."
"Then go home, and go to bed; and be over here at six
o'clock to-morrow morning. And sleep sound, for it may be
your last chance."
It was plain that the Master Mechanic hated to do it;
it was simply sheer necessity. "He's a wiper," mused
Neighbor, as Bartholomew walked springily away. "I took
him in here sweeping two years ago. He ought to be firing
now, but the union held him back; that's why he don't like
them. He knows more about an engine now than half the
lodge. They'd better have let him in," said the Master
Mechanic grimly. "He may be the means of breaking their
backs yet. If I give him an engine and he runs it, I'll never
take him off, union or no union, strike or no strike."
"How old is that boy?" I asked.
"Eighteen; and never a kith or a kin that I know of.
Bartholomew Mullen," mused Neighbor, as the slight figure
moved across the flat, "big name—small boy. Well, Bartholomew,
you'll know something more by to-morrow night
about running an engine, or a whole lot less: that's as it
happens. If he gets killed, it's your fault, Reed."
He meant that I was calling on him for men when he
couldn't supply them.
"I heard once," he went on, "about a fellow named Bartholomew
being mixed up in a massacre. But I take it
he must have been an older man than our Bartholomew—nor
his other name wasn't Mullen, neither. I disremember
just what it was; but it wasn't Mullen."
"Well, don't say I want to get the boy killed, Neighbor,"
I protested. "I've got plenty to answer for. I'm here to
run trains—when there are any to run; that's murder
enough for me. You needn't send Bartholomew out on my
"Give him a slow schedule, and I'll give him orders to
jump early; that's all we can do. If the strikers don't ditch
him, he'll get through somehow."
It stuck in my crop—the idea of putting that boy on a
pilot engine to take all the dangers ahead of that particular
train; but I had a good deal else to think of besides. From
the minute the silk got into the McCloud yards, we posted
double guards around. About twelve o'clock that night
we held a council of war, which ended in our running the
train into the out freight-house. The result was that by morning
we had a new train made up. It consisted of fourteen
refrigerator cars loaded with oranges which had come in
mysteriously the night before. It was announced that the
silk would be held for the present and the oranges rushed
through at once. Bright and early the refrigerator train was
run down to the icehouses, and twenty men were put to work
icing the oranges. At seven o'clock, McCurdy pulled in the
local passenger with engine 105. Our plan was to cancel the
load and run him right out with the oranges. When he got in,
he reported that the 105 had sprung a tire; this threw us out
entirely. There was a hurried conference in the round-house.
"What can you do?" asked the Superintendent in
"There's only one thing I can do. Put Bartholomew
Mullen on it with the 44, and put McCurdy to bed for Number
Two to-night," responded Neighbor.
It was eight o'clock. I looked into the locomotive stalls.
The first—the only—man in sight was Bartholomew
Mullen. He was very busy polishing the 44. He had good
steam on her, and the old tub was wheezing away as if she
had the asthma. The 44 was old; she was homely; she was
rickety; but Bartholomew Mullen wiped her battered nose
as deferentially as if she had been a spick-span, spider-driver,
tail-truck mail-racer. She wasn't much—the 44. But in
those days Bartholomew wasn't much: and the 44 was
"How is she steaming, Bartholomew?" I sang out; he
was right in the middle of her. Looking up, he fingered
his waste modestly and blushed through a dab of crude-petroleum
over his eye. "Hundred and thirty pounds, sir.
She's a terrible free steamer, the old 44. I'm all ready to
run her out."
"Who's marked up to fire for you, Bartholomew?"
Bartholomew Mullen looked at me fraternally. "Neighbor
couldn't give me anybody but a wiper, sir," said Bartholomew,
in a sort of a wouldn't-that-kill-you tone.
The unconscious arrogance of the boy quite knocked me:
so soon had honors changed his point of view. Last night a
despised wiper; at daybreak, an engineer; and his nose
in the air at the idea of taking on a wiper for fireman. And
all so innocent.
"Would you object, Bartholomew," I suggested gently,
"to a train-master for fireman?"
"I don't—think so, sir."
"Thank you; because I am going down to Zanesville this
morning myself, and I thought I'd ride with you. Is it all
"Oh, yes, sir—if Neighbor doesn't care."
I smiled: he didn't know whom Neighbor took orders
from; but he thought, evidently, not from me.
"Then run her down to the oranges, Bartholomew, and
couple on, and we'll order ourselves out. See?"
The 44 looked like a baby-carriage when we got her in
front of the refrigerators. However, after the necessary
preliminaries, we gave a very sporty toot, and pulled out. In
a few minutes we were sailing down the valley.
For fifty miles we bobbed along with our cargo of iced silk
as easy as old shoes; for I need hardly explain that we had
packed the silk into the refrigerators to confuse the strikers.
The great risk was that they would try to ditch us.
I was watching the track as a mouse would a cat, looking
every minute for trouble. We cleared the gumbo cut west of
the Beaver at a pretty good clip, in order to make the grade
on the other side. The bridge there is hidden in summer by
a grove of hackberries. I had just pulled open to cool her a
bit when I noticed how high the back-water was on each side
of the track. Suddenly I felt the fill going soft under the
drivers; felt the 44 wobble and slew. Bartholomew shut
off hard, and threw the air as I sprang to the window. The
peaceful little creek ahead looked as angry as the Platte in
April water, and the bottoms were a lake.
Somewhere up the valley there had been a cloudburst,
for overhead the sun was bright. The Beaver was roaring
over its banks, and the bridge was out. Bartholomew
screamed for brakes: it looked as if we were against
it—and hard. A soft track to stop on; a torrent of storm-water
ahead, and ten hundred thousand dollars' worth of
silk behind, not to mention equipment.
I yelled at Bartholomew, and motioned for him to jump;
my conscience is clear on that point. The 44 was stumbling
along, trying like a drunken man to hang to the rotten track.
"Bartholomew!" I yelled; but he was head out and looking
back at his train while he jerked frantically at the air-lever.
I understood: the air wouldn't work; it never will
on those old tubs when you need it. The sweat pushed out
on me. I was thinking of how much the silk would bring
us after the bath in the Beaver. Bartholomew stuck to his
levers like a man in a signal-tower, but every second brought
us closer to open water. Watching him intent only on saving
his first train—heedless of his life—I was actually ashamed
to jump. While I hesitated he somehow got the brakes
to set; the old 44 bucked like a bronco.
It wasn't too soon. She checked her train nobly at the
last, but I saw nothing could keep her from the drink. I
gave Bartholomew a terrific slap, and again I yelled; then
turning to the gangway, I dropped into the soft mud on my
side: the 44 hung low, and it was easy lighting.
Bartholomew sprang from his seat a second later; but his
blouse caught in the teeth of the quadrant. He stooped
quick as thought, and peeled the thing over his head. Then
he was caught fast by the wristbands, and the ponies of the
44 tipped over the broken abutment. Pull as he would he
couldn't get free. The pilot dipped into the torrent slowly.
But losing her balance, the 44 kicked her heels into the air
like lightning, and shot with a frightened wheeze plump into
the creek, dragging her engineer with her.
The head car stopped on the brink. Running across the
track, I looked for Bartholomew. He wasn't there; I knew
he must have gone down with his engine. Throwing off my
gloves, I dived, just as I stood, close to the tender, which hung
half submerged. I am a good bit of a fish under water, but
no self-respecting fish would be caught in that yellow mud.
I realized, too, the instant I struck the water, that I should
have dived on the upstream side. The current took me
away whirling; when I came up for air, I was fifty feet below
the pier. I scrambled out, feeling it was all up with Bartholomew;
but to my amazement, as I shook my eyes open
the train crew were running forward, and there stood Bartholomew
on the track above me, looking at the refrigerator. When
I got to him, he explained how he was dragged under and had
to tear the sleeve out of his blouse under water to get free.
The surprise is how little fuss men make about such things
when they are busy. It took only five minutes for the conductor
to hunt up a coil of wire and a sounder for me, and
by the time he got forward with it, Bartholomew was half-way
up a telegraph pole to help me cut in on a live wire. Fast as
I could, I rigged a pony, and began calling the McCloud despatcher.
It was rocky sending, but after no end of pounding,
I got him and gave orders for the wrecking gang, and for one
more of Neighbor's rapidly decreasing supply of locomotives.
Bartholomew, sitting on a strip of fence which still rose
above water, looked forlorn. To lose in the Beaver the first
engine he ever handled was tough, and he was evidently
speculating on his chances of ever getting another. If there
weren't tears in his eyes, there was storm-water certainly.
But after the relief engine had pulled what was left of us back
six miles to a siding, I made it my first business to explain to
Neighbor, who was nearly beside himself, that Bartholomew
not only was not at fault, but that by his nerve he had actually
saved the train.
"I'll tell you, Neighbor," I suggested, when we got
straightened around. "Give us the 109 to go ahead as pilot,
and run her around the river division with Foley and the 216."
"What'll you do with Number Six?" growled Neighbor.
Six was the local passenger west.
"Annul it west of McCloud," said I instantly. "We've
got this silk on our hands now, and I'd move it if it tied up
every passenger train on the division. If we can get the stuff
through, it will practically beat the strike. If we fail, it will
beat the company."
By the time we had backed to Newhall Junction, Neighbor
had made up his mind my way. Mullen and I climbed into
the 109, and Foley, with the 216, and none too good a grace,
coupled on to the silk, and flying red signals, we started again
for Zanesville over the river division.
Foley was always full of mischief. He had a better engine
than ours, and he took great satisfaction the rest of the afternoon
in crowding us. Every mile of the way he was on our
heels. I was throwing the coal, and have reason to remember.
It was after dark when we reached the Beverly Hill, and we
took it at a lively pace. The strikers were not on our minds
then; it was Foley who bothered.
When the long parallel steel lines of the upper yards spread
before us, flashing under the arc lights, we were away above
yard speed. Running a locomotive into one of those big yards
is like shooting a rapid in a canoe. There is a bewildering
maze of tracks, lighted by red and green lamps, which must
be watched the closest to keep out of trouble. The hazards
are multiplied the minute you pass the throat, and a yard
wreck is a dreadful tangle; it makes everybody from road-master
to flagman furious, and not even Bartholomew wanted
to face an inquiry on a yard wreck. On the other hand, he
couldn't afford to be caught by Foley, who was chasing him
out of pure caprice.
I saw the boy holding the throttle at a half and fingering the
air anxiously as we jumped over the frogs; but the roughest
riding on track so far beats the ties as a cushion, that when
the 109 suddenly stuck her paws through an open switch we
bounced against the roof of the cab like footballs. I grabbed
a brace with one hand, and with the other reached instinctively
across to Bartholomew's side to seize the throttle. But as
I tried to shut him off, he jerked it wide open in spite of me,
and turned with lightning in his eye. "No!" he cried, and
his voice rang hard. The 109 took the tremendous shove
at her back, and leaped like a frightened horse. Away we
went across the yard, through the cinders, and over the ties;
my teeth have never been the same since. I don't belong on
an engine, anyway, and since then I have kept off. At the
moment, I was convinced that the strain had been too much,
that Bartholomew was stark crazy. He sat clinging like a
lobster to his levers and bouncing clear to the roof.
But his strategy was dawning on me; in fact, he was pounding
it into me. Even the shock and scare of leaving the track
and tearing up the yard had not driven from Bartholomew's
noddle the most important feature of our situation, which
was, above everything, to keep out of the way of the silk train.
I felt every moment more mortified at my attempt to shut
him off. I had done the trick of the woman who grabs the
reins. It was even better to tear up the yard than to stop for
Foley to smash into and scatter the silk over the coal chutes.
Bartholomew's decision was one of the traits which make the
runner: instant perception coupled to instant resolve. The
ordinary dub thinks what he should have done to avoid
disaster after it is all over; Bartholomew thought before.
On we bumped, across frogs, through switches, over splits,
and into target rods, when—and this is the miracle of it all—the
109 got her forefeet on a split switch, made a contact, and
after a slew or two, like a bogged horse, she swung up sweet
on the rails again, tender and all. Bartholomew shut off with
an under cut that brought us up stuttering, and nailed her
feet with the air right where she stood. We had left the track
and plowed a hundred feet across the yards and jumped on
to another track. It is the only time I ever heard of its happening
anywhere, but I was on the engine with Bartholomew
Mullen when it was done.
Foley choked his train the instant he saw our hind lights
bobbing. We climbed down, and ran back. He had stopped
just where we should have stood if I had shut off.
Bartholomew ran to the switch to examine it. The contact
light (green) still burned like a false beacon; and lucky it
did, for it showed that the switch had been tampered with and
exonerated Bartholomew Mullen completely. The attempt
of the strikers to spill the silk in the yards had only made the
reputation of a new engineer. Thirty minutes later, the
million-dollar train was turned over to the East End to wrestle
with, and we breathed, all of us, a good bit easier.
Bartholomew Mullen, now a passenger runner who ranks
with Kennedy and Jack Moore and Foley and George Sinclair
himself, got a personal letter from the General Manager complimenting
him on his pretty wit; and he was good enough
to say nothing whatever about mine.
We registered that night and went to supper together:
Foley, Jackson, Bartholomew, and I. Afterward we dropped
into the despatcher's office. Something was coming from
McCloud, but the operator to save his life couldn't catch it.
I listened a minute; it was Neighbor. Now, Neighbor isn't
great on despatching trains. He can make himself understood
over the poles, but his sending is like a boy's sawing
wood—sort of uneven. However, though I am not much
on running yards, I claim to be able to take the wildest ball
that ever was thrown along the wire, and the chair was tendered
me at once to catch Neighbor's extraordinary passes at the
McCloud key. They came something like this:
"To Opr. Tell Massacree"—that was the word that stuck
them all, and I could perceive that Neighbor was talking
emphatically. He had apparently forgotten Bartholomew's
last name, and was trying to connect with the one he had
"disremembered" the night before. "Tell Massacree,"
repeated Neighbor, "that he is al-l-l right. Tell hi-m I give
him double mileage for to-day all the way through. And
to-morrow he gets the 109 to keep.—Neighb-b-or."