Gossip from the back shop

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In our small town of the good old days, which enjoyed the grand privilege of being on a railroad line, Saturday afternoon usually afforded the best opportunity to stroll down to the depot and take in whatever excitement might be brought by the arrival of the 3:53 passenger train. The railroad designation of No. 46 for this weekday visitor and herald meant nothing to us, of course, since we otherwise regarded it as a time standard by which to check our clocks. Gee, come to think of it, there were no such things as synchronous clocks in those days, and if there had been, the chief down at the power plant would still have had to rely on No. 46 to regulate the speed of his generators to keep the whole town on time.

But on this particular Saturday, I arrived at my vantage point (atop an express cart alongside about where the engine always stopped) just after the little pig brought its two coaches mail and baggage cars, to a halt. The engineers called these little ten-wheelers 'pigs' because they were regarded as much ravenous-appetite than their bigger freighting brothers, the 'hogs' and also because of the fact that they were so low-built, they quite resembled a pig when running down the high iron. The fireboxes on these little fellows was slung in between the rear two pair of drivers, which required that the wagon top sheet be sharply curved inwards to meet the side sheets which gave support to the long narrow grate section squeezed in between the rims of the wheels.

Einar Peterson happened to be the 'Eagle Eye' that afternoon, and as he dropped down from the gangway with his long-shouted oiler to grease around a bit during the fifteen-minute stop I had no more than exchanged greetings with him he had lived in our community for several years in the past than up strode his brother, 'Squeaky Pete' who owned one of the two Avery D. U. threshing rigs in our county. Squeaky came by that moniker because of a peculiar affectation in his voice which caused his speech to rail off into a high-pitched childlike tone after a few minutes of steady conversation. But his doctor had come up with a ready prescription which always seemed to provide-the necessary relief, in the form of a half-pint of good 4X which Squeaky always carried in the left hip pocket. So he was commonly known to take a swig now and then on and off the job, even in the church vestibule on Sundays whenever he was able to attend services. Since he was not one to over-indulge in the era of free spirits, folks simply regarded the medicinal aspects.

But just now he began talking to his brother alongside the drivers, and apparently for the first time noticed that several rows of stay bolts in the sharply curved portion of the side sheets were drilled through with small holes such that he could even see the glow of the fire within the box. 'What in for nation are these stays hollowed out for?' he queried of Einar. 'Well,' replied his brother, 'there is lots of tendency to breakage of the bolts due to expansion in this heat area of these curved sheets, so the I.C.C. made the shops adopt the practice of through-drilling these bolts. You can see that the bolts in the adjoining rows are only drilled to a depth of about two inches.'

'How the deuce will that help matters?' exclaimed Squeaky, his voice beginning to taper up to that of a little boy. 'Why, you concern is it!' replied Einar, 'if a bolt breaks you will get a sizzling announcement of it right away.'

'Well, I'll be doggoned,' twittered Squeaky, 'now why can't I have that done to my old Avery? Then-' But-at this point he found it necessary to restore his vocal cord action, and as he reached for his flask and proceeded to take a mouthful of his medicine, he apparently also got some fuzz off the cork in his mouth which caused him to cough very strongly. The good medicine spattered against the hot hollow stays of the little pig and immediately burst into flames from the coals within. The fireman, hanging from the gangway, at first thought that he might have a ruptured boiler on his hands. But Einar became very indignant and his temper arose as he swung his brother away from the engine. 'You, your tonic, and your old peanut roaster! You'll get your fool head blowed off sometime if you am not more careful.' Then he continued to Squeaky, 'The next time you toot at me from the field I'll toot you back the old one-three-two.' *

Poor Squeaky was forced to cancel the remainder of his visit that afternoon, with the parting high-pitched retort, 'By George, I can thresh more oats in one hour with my old girl than you can with that perforated kettle in all your born days!' So the last we saw of Squeaky that day before train departure was his bee-lining it back to get a refill of his prescription, and my old friend Mel at the back shop told me several weeks later that Squeaky was still trying to get him to drill the side stays of the little old undermounted.

 The 'one-three-two' was a rather disparaging series of short toots which some rail engineers used to direct at some fellow trainman who might be out of range of calling 'Old son-of-a-gun.'