The Cat That Held Up A Freight Train

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35 Pueblitos Road, Belen, New Mexico 87002.

A true story by Everett L. Rohrer, retired Union Pacific engineer, 2898 S. Grant Street, Englewood, Colorado 80110. Submitted

The time, about 8 P.M., December 23rd, 1946.

The place: Union Station, Denver, Colorado. Weather was cold and snowing.

My fireman, Jim Brandt and I were on the station platform as train #37, 'The Pony Express', pulled in from Kansas City, Missouri. The engineer and fireman got off and as they left, stated that everything was O. K. Upon the signal from the switchman on my side, I eased the 820 back enough for him to 'pull the pin'. He had already uncoupled the train line steam and on his signal I pulled the engine ahead for at least 15 feet, the required safety distance, when an engine is uncoupled from its train, that is, a passenger train. Since the other crew had another 800 class 4-8-4 engine all ready to couple onto the train, we immediately pulled up out of the way and the dispatcher set us over on another track out of the way of everything. We then climbed down off the engine to inspect it or check it over before the 4 mile trip back to the roundhouse.

As we were looking the engine over, my fireman Jim said he thought he heard a faint sound underneath, like a kitten. Upon closer examination we saw what appeared to be a chunk of ice on a brake beam, between two sets of drivers. Sure enough, it was a small kitten, covered in ice. I had the brakes on, the engine in neutral, but I took two skates or chocks and placed them under one of the drivers. With a coal chisel we crawled under the engine to where this black chunk of ice was. Here was a kitten with its feet clamped over the brake beam, entirely covered with ice except its nose and mouth! By careful chiselling we finally got this little kitten and chunk of ice out from under the engine.

After we got through the interchange, I proceeded to bring the engine back up toward the roundhouse while Jim tried to thaw out this kitten and get the ice off it. He rubbed it, worked with it, next to the boiler head of the engine, and by the time we reached the roundhouse he had its four feet free of ice. We immediately took it into the warm locker room inside the roundhouse, next to the engine dispatcher's office. Jim continued to work on the ice and kept brushing the water off its back with a warm towel. That poor little kitten's body was actually cold all over. It appeared lifeless but Jim continued to rub and massage it and, with the heat of the radiator and warm towel, the little rascal began to move. Believe it or not, it started to get some warmth in its body. Jim placed it in a warm ball of waste where he made a nest and left it next to a radiator while we carried on our job of moving and servicing the steam engines that we were getting ready to go out on the road.

Along toward morning, since we doubled over, this little kitten started to move around in its little, warm nest and when we got ready to leave we turned it over to the day crew. They said they would take good care of it. Already we had given the kitten some warm milk and it had tasted it just a little with its tongue. We knew the day crew would take good care of it. When we came back to work that evening at 5 o'clock that little rascal was on its feet and its little tummy was full of warm milk. It seemed that every single engine crew that came in took a liking to it and it wasn't very long until it was eating and drinking milk like it should.

The day dispatcher, Wallace 'Hooch' F. Houchins put a notice up on his desk and a note on a dish which read, 'This is the kitty for the kitty'. We all started putting our change in that dish for cat food and milk. Would you believe, it was only a matter of days before we had nearly $40.00 in that kitten's kitty! As time went on we had all decided to call this kitten 'Boomer', and it soon had the run of the roundhouse and you can bet it was queen of the roundhouse because everyone out there looked out for it and looked after it.

As it continued to grow, it started catching mice, to the enjoyment of us all. Eventually it was a full-grown mature cat, black as ink, without a white hair on it. One of the men one night saw it catch a large rat by the nap of the neck and kill it without getting bit, and we all thought that was really some feat, and it was. It seemed every time any of the engine crews or roundhouse men came to work the first thing they did was look for Boomer and check her milk dish, for milk and food.

As time went on and about a year or so later Jim and I took the 5020 engine, a 2-10-2, across the turntable and into a stall in the roundhouse. It was about 11 o'clock at night. Suddenly another engineer came tearing over to our engine as I was calling on the whistle for the water men to couple up our water and steam line. This man, 'Cotton' Hokansen appeared very excited. He said he and his fireman had just come in to get the 5013 out of the second stall from our engine and found that Boomer had made a nest out of the big ball of waste which was on the engineers' seat, and there she laid, perfectly at ease, with 5 baby kittens. Cotton said, 'I can't move Boomer and her babies and I won't do it either!' He said, 'We will have to use your 5020'. I told him we would get the roundhouse foreman, Art Finder, and see if we could trade motive power for the Laramie or D.P. After surveying the situation, Art asked me to call the night roundhouse crew over to the 5020 with the whistle. Everyone jumped on the engine to do his job of inspecting, lubricating, checking, looking and going over the engine as his job required. We got the engine back out of the roundhouse about an hour later. After coaling, watering, and sanding the engine, the delay was not much more than an hour, and the 'powers that be' never ever knew the difference. Believe me, that 's what I call team work!

I don't mind telling you I sure enjoyed working with that fine group of men, since we could work together so nicely. We all got a kick out of Cotton, a big Swede about 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing about 265 pounds, a tough and rugged engineer but with a heart of gold!

The next evening at 5 o'clock we all went over to the 5013 which was still sitting in her stall. Cotton very carefully picked up the big ball of warm waste, handed it down out of the engine and we took it over and placed it in a safe corner of the tool room in the roundhouse, and Boomer and her five babies rode over in their nest.

As time went on we began to see kittens and eventually cats all over the roundhouse, and every single worker saw to it that those cats didn't get run over, trampled on or mashed with heavy tools. As these cats grew to adult age and became full grown, it is needless to say the mice and the rats all disappeared from the roundhouse.

Every man out there, including our kind hearted engine dispatcher, 'Hooch' enjoyed seeing those cats roaming around through the roundhouse and I don't have to tell you that they had plenty to eat and as we might say, 'They lived off of the fat of the land.'

As many years have passed, I often think of that fine group of Union Pacific men that I had the privilege and enjoyment of working with.