UNION CITY, INDIANA
There was that J-l at the head-end of a long string of hoppers that reached far out of town, waiting for the westbound block signal of the Union City tower, which my eye caught sight of as I bounced over the double PRR - NYC crossing on the main street of town. Always a lover of that greatest of all man-made machines, the steam locomotive, I never failed to size up the motive power that happened to be waiting or working in the yards around the old hometown.
As I proceeded eastward toward Greenville, the hunch struck me - what if the engineer of that mighty J-l happens to be your friend McCorkle? But I squelched the hunch and kept driving. But the hunch wouldn't release its grip from me. It struck me again, only to be ignored and put out of my mind. The third time it haunted me again, before I had even left the environs of the town, but this time the hunch had its way.
'Why not turn around and take a chance?' thought I to myself. 'It'll take only a few minutes to find out. Besides I have my beat-up old press camera and my dilapidated tape recorder with me in case my hunch is correct and, if not, I'll soon be on my way again.' In fact, I wanted to prove that all hunches were just figments of the imagination and possibly poor digestion!
In a moment I was parking by the 'main' where the giant J-l was panting quietly, like a huge beast of burden - its big air-pumps throbbing a life-line of atmospheric oxygen through the long rubber hoses clear from the mighty locomotive back to the caboose somewhere out around the curve east of town. As I strode toward the engine, members of the head-end crew, noting my white shirt and press camera (and thinking I was a railroad official) all stood up at attention.
'At ease men,' I said. 'I'm not an official. Could anybody tell me if my friend, D. B. McCorkle, might be up in the cab of that engine?'
'Yeah - he's right up there,' they chorussed in reply, pointing up to the cab which towered like a second story above us. And, sure enough, out of that 'second story' window peered the bespectacled man in engineer's garb for whom I was looking. My hunch had not deceived me.
'Get up in the cab,' he yelled over the seething, hissing noise of the monster of which he was the master.
'You're Mr. McCorkle. You remember we met at the National Threshers last summer at Montpelier,' I yelled back so that D. B. could hear me above the din of the five-thousand horsepower ready to surge forward at the touch of his throttle-hand.
'Yes - make yourself at home,' shouted Dan (as if a fellow could feel at home in the cab of a locomotive about to high-ball out of town!).
'Like to take your picture at that throttle,' yelled I, focussing my blunderbuss from the opposite side of the cab while McCorkle struck the classic engineer's pose which was the way he always appeared in his locomotive at all times anyhow.
Slipping the cover back over my exposed film, and flipping the film-holder over to the other side, I walked over to McCorkle and shouted another order, 'If you've got time, I'd like to get a picture of you standing alongside the valve gear and side-rods.'
'We've got time,' replied Dan, following me down the cab steps and striding up longside the mighty iron beast. 'I'm waiting on Number Eleven to clear the crossing before I pull out.'
No need to pose Dan McCorkle beside that throbbing J-l. For he seemed to welcome the chance to look over the Baker Valve Gear, the huge connecting-rods and side-rods, the gleaming cylinders, and glance at the journals of his mighty steed - like all good engineers did anytime they walked by an engine. Everything about his mighty 2-10-4 pleased Dan McCorkle - for Dan was always the impeccable locomotive engineer and saw to it that things were in order before he ever pulled a throttle at the railroad roundhouse, prior to heading out on his run.
I looked at the man - engineer Dan McCorkle - a tall, gaunt figure towering over his fellow men, but standing beside a 500-ton, 5,000 horsepower Pennsylvania J-l he was but the merest pigmy standing beside a huge African bull pachyderm. My eye glanced down along the mighty, reciprocating machinery that coupled the power from the huge steam cylinders to all ten of the monstrous drivers, thence my vision swept the length of that ninety-hopper train, knowing that Dan's hand would soon set it all in motion with quadrant and throttle.
'If you 11 be here a few minutes, I might have time to hook up my recorder over at the tower and get a recording,' shouted I to Dan.
'It'll be a few minutes yet before Number Eleven goes through,' he reminded me. And off I shot with my old camera dangling, back to the car, across the multiple tracks of the Union City cross-over to the brick, interlocking tower opposite where I found an electric plug, thanks to the help of the operator who had been watching.
Preoccupied as I was with the trappings and placement of my tape recorder, Number Eleven must have slipped by unnoticed, for McCorkle was already sanding the rails just as I had warmed up and was ready to go. There were the five long, steady blasts calling in the rear brakeman, then the two short blasts signifying the train would begin moving.