As I sit pondering my thoughts before the lighted Yuletide tree, shining so resplendant in the telegrapher's bay-window of my simulated flag-stop depot, I suddenly become aware that Christmas is upon us and the Old Year will soon bow out to make room for the New.
I wait here in the silence, peering out into the December night's darkness, as if expecting any minute the old sounder will begin to clatter, announcing the next train's arrival from the dispatcher's office many miles down the line. Yet the sounder remains silent an ominous reminder that no train will be passing this way. And I remain alone with my memories of the great days when steam ruled the high iron that knit every city, village and town into one mighty network of rail transportation. Instead of the multicolored semiphor lights that once beckoned their safety signals to the onrushing steam locomotives, there is but this tiny Christmas tree with its red and green, amber and blue bulbs-the very same colors that meant stop, or go, or proceed with caution to each wheel that ever turned on an American railroad and still does.
There was that New Year's Eve, when I was returning from my brother's in Richmond, Indiana, and the New York Central tracks paralleled the highway between Winchester and Union City.
'There goes Steve and the midnight eastbound passenger,' I said to myself, as I pushed the accelerator down on my old '36 Chevy to try and keep pace (which I couldn't). 'If I can only make it to Union City before he pulls out, I'll run up and wish him a Happy New Year.'
Sure enough, Steve had beat me to the hometown depot where the mail and baggage had already been set off and loaded as well as the arriving and departing passengers exchanged seats before the lighted windows of the big, standard steel coaches.
Parking my old Chevy as fast as I could, without respect to its location, I ran up to the locomotive cab and yelled, 'Happy New Year, Steve!'
To which, replied Steve from his right-hand cab window, 'Come up here in the cab.'
Scrambling up into the steaming cab of the big, hissing New York Central Standard Pacific, I heard Steve shout over pounding air-pumps, the deafening roar of pop-off valve and banging of firebox door, 'Are you going to ride with us to the end of the division?'
'Are you kidding? It's against the law,' I shouted back.
'Not if you duck whenever we pass by a depot,' yelled Steve.
'But I parked my car right in front of that lumberyard door,' shouted I in reply.
'Tomorrow's New Years they won't be using that lumberyard door' answered Steve.
Suddenly I thought of two pounds of expensive smoked Salmon which I also had in my old car. But a second thought hit me'What's two pounds of smoked Salmon compared to my only chance of getting to ride in the cab of a steam locomotive?'
'Okay I'll ride along,' said I.
'Sit over there by the fireman,' shouted Steve, just as he whistled for the high-ball and yanked on the throttle.
For the first time in my life I heard the heavy banging of the firebox draft as the mighty, six-foot drivers bit into the rail and the train began moving. Fireman Ebert drew a tincup of cool water from a faucet that protruded out of the tender tank, which he offered me as if to quench my thirst and calm my nerves on my new venture. Heretofore I had always thought of railroaders as being 'bottle-fed' when it came to liquids. But this night of nights and it being New Years besides the only 'spirits' that passed human lips in the cab of this mighty steam-belching locomotive, racing to its destiny from out the Old Year and into the New, was two-parts of Hydrogen to one part of Oxygen the same refreshing aqueous humor, straight from the tender tank that wet the high-stepping old girl's whistle and kept her big drivers straight on the rails. And I, being a teetotaller, was mighty glad riding the Old Year out and the New Year in, swaying in that roaring cab with the non-alcoholic Steve at the throttle. (Thanks to 'Rule-G').
Past the sleeping little elevator village of Elroy we roared, the Depot at Versailles, Ohio, was merely a flash as we clattered by Steve shouting to me to 'duck low' as we did in case the 'night op' might happen to be looking out his telegrapher's bay-window, though no human eye could have focused fast enough to have seen this stranger with the white shirt and necktie in the cab.
Every few minutes, fireman Ebert yanked on the air, opening the firebox door to examine the fuel combustion between its gaping jaws, then slammed it shut, rendering us blinded for a few seconds in the enveloping darkness that followed.
'We'll put you up in the railroad 'Y', said Elbert, 'after we get some-thing to eat.'
'What I'll they say with me being dressed in a white shirt and tie?' asked I.
'We'll tell 'em you're a student brakeman,' replied he, thinking that one up in a hurry. 'Going out on your first trip to learn the road.'
'Come over here,' shouted Steve from the right hand side of the swaying cab, motioning for me to grab onto something solid before I ventured to take a step on the rocking, vibrating deck that at any instant could throw me in either direction out across the ballast and into the night of nowhere.
Taking my seat directly behind the engineer, I could see the telegraph poles and signals coming toward our cab window and passing us like staves in a picket fence. The hand on the locomotive speedometer crept up to eighty, then eighty-five and on to ninety. We were passing over roadbed once called 'the racetrack' by old-time engineers who often 'let 'em out' to test their speed, prior to the speed recorders.
'Want a blow the whistle?' asked Steve, moving up enough for me to grab the cord.
Like a little boy, I yanked on the cord and blew the only steam locomotive whistle that I ever tooted as we raced through that dark night and into the New Year. Suddenly the big locomotive began swaying wildly as she headed into a wide curve, lurching this way and that, then finally settling back onto the rails. Looking out the right-side window of that lurching cab, I noticed lighted farm houses far down below us and I pondered how, night after night, those people had slept safe in their beds, as the big locomotives swung wide and swayed, then settled back on the rails with only two-inch flanges keeping hundreds of tons of steel from crashing down the embankment and into their bedrooms.
There simply has been no other mode of travel as impressive as riding the cab of a racing steam locomotive. It is an entirely different dimension than riding in automobiles the smaller details of highway travel become lost as entire farms are shoved past the speeding train, entire woods race by, not just a building or a tree at a time. Something was lost the soul of the railroads when steam left the rails. They said there would be no dirt along the railroads, if only steam was replaced by diesel. But not only has steam been replaced, but so has the railroad passenger transportation service, and all the glory of watching and hearing the syncopation of the steam exhaust, the wail of the whistle and the surge and rush of power that only steam could conjure in the imagination of man and boy. And, instead of making things cleaner, the last times I ever visited any large railroad depots, there was so much oil on the walks and crossings it wasn't safe to be about, for slipping. This, and the closing of so many small-town depots has convinced me that the coming of the diesel locomotive has meant 'D Day'or death to the wonderful sights and sounds that once enthused and enthralled every true-blooded American at the passing of a steam locomotive.
And now that Christmas Day is just past, I must confess I have been a little selfish. I bought myself three old crank phonographs an old Victroia, a large Columbia, and a small Edison which plays the thick Edison disc records. I had been reading some old literature and catalogs, claiming the superiority of the Edison Diamond Disc Phonographs, but I wasn't sure I believed them. For they claimed the Edison Phonograph could perform on the stage and match the live artist, side by side, so perfectly that even musically critical audiences couldn't tell the difference. After I got my little old Edison Disc Phonograph, I realized that their claims were quite true. I have never heard such pure naturalness as this little Edison I just bought. It sounds just like the orchestra or band is right before you, and each and every instrument can be distinguished as truly as if in real life. It puts electrical stereo outfits to shame by comparison. And to think that Thomas Alva Edison did this, without benefit of any electrical microphones or amplifiers which Victor and other manufacturers had to employ later to equal his accomplishment in order to compete in the markets. Victor later called their triumph the Orthophonic Phonograph and record, but they accomplished it only by electrical recording, although the phonograph remained purely acoustical in construction.
While I was cranking and playing band and Christmas music on my old Edison Disc Phonograph, Christmas Eve, my wife said she was enjoying the Christmas tree lights quite as much as I was my old-time recorded music. The thought struck me 'If it wasn't for Thomas Alva Edison, I wouldn't be enjoying the music from this old phonograph, and you wouldn't be enjoying the electric Christmas tree lights, either.'
Thomas Edison is hardly mentioned in the modern classrooms of today. The one man who brought recorded music into the world and electric lights, not to mention his many other great inventions, including moving pictures, from which all modern radio and TV sound and pictures evolved. And yet hardly a school kid is aware of the greatness of the one man who made it all so.
Another Man was born into the world, almost two-thousand years ago, whose birthday we celebrate at this season of the year. He brought music to the soul and made light shine in a darkened world where no light had shone before. His life was devoted to teaching men how to live with each other, thereby establishing the Kingdom of God in men's hearts and in the world. His message was forgiveness of sin for not only the saint, but the hardened sinner as well. He elevated the humble in spirit, gave comfort to the poor and lowly, lifted the burdens of the weary, healed the sick, raised the dead, made the lame walk and the blind to see. Yet He never made a dime for all He did and in the end was crucified for doing it. His only enemies were the overly-pious who walked about with long faces and flowing robes, those who prayed the loudest and longest in the chief seats of the synagogues the hypocrites, as He called them, who dropped the biggest, noisiest coins into the collection plates to make the greatest impression, the very ones who crucified Him. He loved the widow who gave only a mite, the outcast men and women who came to Him for help, He made into loyal and devoted saints. The thief who was crucified on the cross beside Him, upon calling His name during those last agonizing minutes, was the only mortal ushered personally into Paradise with the Savior. 'I say unto you today thou shall e with Me in Paradise.' What a transformation for a life spent in wickedness to be suddenly transformed from the torment of the world's most dreadful hour to a wonderful paradise where all men hope to someday be. 'Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord, shall be saved.' But men don't have to wait for some 'pie in the sky' heaven. For Jesus said, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is right among you and within you.' It's how we live among our fellow men and love our neighbor that makes the difference. The sooner the better and the longer it will last.
But, along with that better life among our fellowmen, we must also be vigilant about our bodies' health. For it also is the temple of God. I would ike to point out again the benefits of taking Wheat Germ (Vitamin-E) which strengthens and rebuilds weakened hearts. This can be bought at many drugstores now. Take a couple of capsules, as outlined on the container, each day. The Wheat Germ has been found to prevent clots that result in heart damage. It has a startling power to actually strengthen and rebuild a weakened heart.
Also, the using of Lecithin (pronounced Less-i-thin) each day a couple spoons at each meal will clear cholesterol from the blood vessels, restore a more normal blood pressure, even help clear the mind of those who've suffered strokes. It is a miracle food. You will like ts downright 'grainy' taste, if you buy the granular form of it. It melts in the mouth, is delicious on many foods, or eaten alone (as I like to do). Wonderful on cereal, or on sandwiches, Tuna Fish, or in gravies. It emulsifies fats, preventing them clogging the circulatory system which is so damaging to the heart, the blood pressure and even the thinking processes.
If you can't buy any of these, or the Sea Salt, at your drug or health store, write to: HOCHSTETLER'S, 251 E. Franklin St., New Holland, PA 17557. (See their ad in Mar.-Apr. GEM.)
Although we appreciate the many inquiries to these columns, neither I nor the staff at the Enola, Pa., office are equipped to take care of any natural food orders. All I do is tell you about them, while the office prints the magazine so you can read about them.
So we are thankful that the HOCH-STETLER'S are going to sell the Sea Salt, and we hope other Natural Foods, from their 251 E. Franklin St., New Holland, Pa. address, zip code, 17557. Everyone take note of their new ad which will be appearing in the March-April issue of GAS ENGINE MAGAZINE.
Happy, Healthy New Year To All, (Despite Taxes).