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.’

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
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