CLEAT TRACKS IN THE SANDS OF TIME

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Bronson, Michigan

Tom Doyle was a good natured, ever grinning Irishman who also sported a mouthful of gold teeth. Although around 35 years of age, he had never married and settled down; but was a railroad 'boomer' and had traveled all over the United States in his pursuit of that profession.

One spring, not many years after the turn of the century, he, having jumped one of his many railroad jobs, came to visit his sister who was married, had a family and lived a mile or so from our farm. It was the month of June and threshing time was in the offing, so my dad was in the shed busy getting his separator ready for the ran when Tom came by for a little chat and, incidentally, to see if he could get a job for the summer. He had had 'oodles' of experience with steam and ray dad knew that he would have long since been a locomotive engineer had he been steady and had just settled down.

My dad had confidence in his ability and needed an engineer so Tom soon started to work. He proved to be a good and trustworthy engineer who knew his business; and he worked until the harvest and threshing season was ebbing to a close. Then Tom said to my dad one day: 'I guess you won't be needing me much longer.' Then he boasted: 'I've fired or braked on about every railroad from Maine to California except this G. R. & I. over here. I guess I'll go over and give er a try.'

Shortly thereafter, Tom took off and soon was embarked on his first run on that line, firing for what he later termed a 'Lazy, fat old Hogger' who expected Tom to do not only the firing but his work too.

The engine was a light, ten wheeler with 24 box cars loaded with wheat behind her stack. Coming in from the north, they approached a small town in Northern Indiana, stopped on the main rail at the yard limits, uncoupled the engine and drove ahead to the depot, a half mile or so down track, to pick up running orders.

As the block was clear, the 'Fat Old Hogger' told Tom: ' Go back up to the train, pick 'er up and bring 'er down, while I go over to that cafe for a sandwich and a cup of coffee.' Tom obeyed, but with rancor in his heart for, having done all the work, he was hungry too.

It was down grade coming in, and Tom applied the sand freely as he pulled the throttle wide open. The conductor was riding the foot-loop of the third car back of the engine, hanging onto the hand-rail with one hand, while frantically waving Tom to slow down with the other. But Tom was giving her the works.

When she approached the depot at double speed he shut off the steam; and he grinned 'till his gold teeth sparkled when he told it a long time later. 'I just took that old brass air lever and 'oozed' it clear around the quadrant into the 'big notch'. Well, sir, when all them wheels on that loaded train set up tight and bit into those sandy rails, the train buckled up with a nasty roar. The sudden impact tore that conductor loose and he made a complete somersault in the air, and then slid his nose for about ten feet through the cinder ballast along the tracks. He skinned his hands and tore the knees out of his breeches.'

Tom said that after that conductor got done chewing up that 'Old Fat Hogger and Me', he just fired from there on to the division headquarters where he signed up for his pay, and that was his experience on the G. R. & I.