A Hard Hill To Climb, A Man Who Climbed It, & A 992B With A Dent

| March/April 1989

  • Everett ''High Water'' Rohrer'
    Everett ''High Water'' Rohrer, president an CEO of the Great Western 75 R.R. Co., with his dented 992B.
  • Tracks

  • Sherman water tower
    The underground tank, all that remains of the Sherman water tower. A portion of the wye is at left.

  • Everett ''High Water'' Rohrer'
  • Tracks
  • Sherman water tower

35 Pueblitos Road Belen, New Mexico 87002

It was at the '87 Bird City Show that I met the man, Everett Rohrer. I had just built a fire in the Russell and was waiting for her to warm up as the morning sun was just over the Kansas horizon. He was on the platform of his Nichols and Shepard as I approached. As both my hands were busy rolling a cigarette, I pointed at his watch pocket in the bib of his overalls with my chin and asked, 'Is that a 992B?'

Everett gave me a quizzical glance as he squinted toward me into the rising sun. 'Why, yes it is,' he replied, as he pulled the Hamilton Railroad Watch from its pocket. It glistened in the cool yellow rays as he pointed to the dent in back of the case, and began a tale of a train wreck on Sherman Hill, where the Transcontinental Railroad crosses its greatest obstacle, the Great Divide, over the Rockies.

Heading west out of Cheyenne the roadbed begins rising gently towards the Laramie Mountains. A sign along the nearby interstate explains that the traveler is passing on top of a geological formation of pre-Cambrian granite called the 'Gang Plank', so named because it is an uninterrupted narrow shelf of the solid pink rock inclined toward the west from Cheyenne to the Continental Divide. The first siding along the track is Otto, then Granite Canyon where the steepest portion lies, about seven miles further is the wye at Buford, and five miles beyond is Sherman Summit.

In the early days the railroaders referred to it as the 'Sherman Climb.' This was the stretch of track on the Transcontinental Railroad where they had to work the hardest. I can't think about Sherman Hill without it reminding me of the poem 'I Like To See It Lap The Miles,' by Emily Dickinson' stop to feed itself at tanks; And then, prodigious, step Around a pile of mountains, 'It took more water and more coal to get up this grade than any other section on the line. Helper engines were placed in front of the trains at Cheyenne and removed at the wye at Sherman to return trainless down the hill. A 'wye' is a configuration of track used to turn an engine around facing the opposite direction. By the time a train reached its stop at Sherman, the locomotive tenders were nearly void of water, and coal was low. The water tank gave the necessary drink to continue the journey into Laramie on the other side of the mountains.

Everybody, as well as the engines, needed a break. Some passengers experienced nose bleed from the altitude and most were glad for a chance to stretch their legs, enjoy the view, and take a deep breath of that Rocky Mountain air. Still others found the wind to be too chilly and remained onboard. The stop would be longer than usual, not only because the helpers were removed, but the clinkers in the fire box required breaking up, the fire rebuilt, and the tender filled before the engineer and fireman could slack off a bit from their toil.


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