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
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
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
‘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
‘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
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.