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The Phantom Engine
By P. H. Sidney
Have You Ever Thought of the Harrowing Happenings and Lonely Vigils of the Tower Signalmen, Who Guard the Passing Trains and Human Lives. These Two Narratives, "The Phantom Engine" and "The Celestial Wireless," Will Glimpse for You the Inner Life of These Men, in the Still Watches of the Night. The Author, a Railroad Man, Writes Out of His Own Experience.—The Editor.
N the old days before there were any Federal nine-hour laws, Interstate Commerce Commissions and relief men," said Signalman Jones to his friend, Bill the locomotive engineer, "we signalmen often worked twenty-four, thirty-six, and seventy-two hours at a stretch."
"Yes, I know," replied Bill. "I have often stayed at the throttle fifty hours myself."
"Those were the times," said Jones, "that after being on duty long hours without rest, that we often 'saw things.' I remember working a seventy-two hour stretch at 'WG' Tower fifteen years ago. The last eight hours were the hardest I ever put in. I was so tired and nervous I couldn't have slept if I had had the opportunity.
"About three o'clock in the morning on the last lap of that long 'trick,' something rang in on the track circuit. It was a short ring, and I concluded it must be an engine running light, but what engine? I had listened to the 'OS,' and knew just what was moving on the division at the time, and ihere was no 'light engine' among the extras that were being reported. Furthermore the nearest thing to me at that time was an extra freight at Berkshire, forty miles away.
"It might have been something that I did not happen to hear reported, I thought, so I set the route for main line. In a few minutes an engine came in sight, and whistled as it passed the
distant signal. The whistle had the strangest and most beautiful sound I ever heard. I leaned far out the window as the engine approached the tower. I wanted to be sure and catch the number of the engine that had such a beautiful, musical whistle. As the engine approached the tower the bell rang, and what a wonderful bell it was; it sounded as though it was made of silver, and it was tinkling clearly and musically as the engine drew near the tower. I tried to catch the number, but it was obliterated. In the dull morning light I saw 'she' was one of the small old style engines, and just about fit for the scrap heap. The paint had worn off, and the top of ''her' diamond stack had rusted away. Her exhaust sounded as though all the packing had been blown out of the valves, 'she' was moving slow and working 'one side.' This is funny, I thought. Are they sending that old scrap heap to the shop to be made over into a shifter.
"Just then I caught a glimpse of the engineer, his hand was on the throttle, and he was looking out of the side cab window facing the tower. I could see he was an old white-haired man. His head was bare, and his face was deadly pale, the coat he wore was as white as snow. He waved a white gloved hand at me, then the engine disappeared. 'She' disappeared as though swallowed by the earth. The engine was moving slowly as 'she' passed the tower, and it is straight track for a mile to the west, as you well know."
Bill nodded his assent, and Jones continued:
"I can swear that engine disappeared less than fifty feet from the tower. I did not dare to report that strange engine to the train dispatcher, he might think I had been asleep and dreaming. I was as wide awake then as I am now. I thought, perhaps, if it was a real engine, and I didn't 'OS' it, the dispatcher would call for a report of it, and I would be safe to give it to him then. Consequently I made a note of the time, in this old diary. See there it is now. 'Phantom Engine departed west, 3:02, A. M.'"
"That," said Bill, "was old Uncle Eddie Eastman, who went over the bank in a washout near 'WG' about forty years ago. The engine and twelve freight cars rolled down the bank, and uncle Eddie, two brakemen and the firemen, were buried in the
mud under the engine, and suffocated, I presume, or they may have been killed outright. I came down here with the wrecker, and they were dead when we lifted the engine, and picked up their bodies. They say every little while the old man gets restless, and digs his old engine out of the scrap heap and takes a run over the road. His engine was the old Number One, and 'she' had the old style bell and whistle, that's why they sounded so strange and musical. They don't make any such bells and whistles these days," said Bill rather sadly.
"Now isn't that strange," exclaimed Jones. "I was reading an account of that wreck in an old newspaper clipping I found in the locker, the day before I had this strange experience."
"That accounts for it," said Bill. "It came out of your sub-conscious mind. The human mind is certainly a strange instrument."
THE CELESTIAL WIRELESS
IGNALMAN JONES, like most telegraphers, was interested in wireless telegraphy. He built a receiving set, which he put up in the tower; and when not busy he amused himself by listening to messages that were being transmitted between ships at sea and the stations along the coast.
One day Jones had a very strange experience; and after that time he never touched any part of a wireless set. He disconnected his plant and stored it away. Jones told the story of his experience to his friend Bill, the engineer, as follows:
"At the time I learned telegraphy, one of my school mates who was about my own age became interested. The consequence was he took up the profession and became a telegrapher. We worked together on the lower end of the road, until I was transferred to the tower service up here in the hills, while he remained down near the city;
working as a ticket agent and telegrapher at one of the suburban stations. We visited back and forth and corresponded regularly.
"Jack, (that's my friend's name), became interested in wireless. He studied at evening schools in the city and fitted himself for the position of constructor of wireless plants. After completing his studies he entered the employ of one of the wireless companies. Jack constructed wireless stations at points along the Atlantic coast. Finally the company sent him to the Far East to take charge of the construction of some very powerful stations. He wrote me some very interesting letters from the far-away places. I often thought as I read his letters: Suppose Jack should contract one of those Eastern fevers, what would become of him in those strange far-off lands? Then the thought came to me: Jack is a Mason, they are to be found everywhere, and he will be cared for in case he is sick or in distress. I felt more comfortable after that."
"You're right; they'll take care of him," replied Bill. "I've met Masons among the savage tribes in Africa, in Afghanistan, and other out-of-the-way places. I travelled some in my younger days."
"I remember feeling particularly blue one night," continued Jones, "and I thought I would listen to the wireless a while to see if it would cheer me up. I picked up all sorts of messages from ships within radius. It is five hundred miles from here to the coast, and I could easily pick up messages from that distance. I heard one of the new battleships communicating in code to the Boston Navy Yard. It was just before Germany declared war. I often wondered what that message meant. As I listened, this Biblical quotation came to my mind: "There will be wars and rumors of wars.'
"After listening to the ships a while," said Jones, "I 'tuned' my instruments and picked up some nearby amateurs. While listening to their idle chatter I thought to myself, what poor senders they are; most of them sound as though they were using their foot to send with. Finally everything was quiet and I decided to close my station. When suddenly in clear, sharp Morse came the signal 'SY' (my personal sign). It came so suddenly I didn't have time to wonder
who might be signalling. And mentally I answered the signal. I say mentally because I did not have any sending apparatus connected to my station. It was only a receiving set. Then came this strange message, and sent by one whose 'sending' I recognized:
"'Calcutta, India, Aug. 7, 1914. "'To 'SY,'
"'After several days of suffering with one of these terrible Eastern fevers, I passed away shortly after noon yesterday. The fever has left me and my sufferings are over. I am happy now. All messages from this Celestial World where I have been brought are transmitted by telepathy. There is no need of any mechanism here. Every one is happy and no one suffers. Here and only here, does the real Brotherhood of Man exist. Goodbye with love to you and everybody else on earth.
SIGNALMAN JONES' QUICK MOVE
MT was on the day of his fifth anniversary in the railroad service and on the day that the signalman at "WG" Tower began working eight-hour shifts instead of twelve. Jones had been assigned to the last "trick," which began at 11 P. M. and ended at 7 A. M.
It was a windy, snowy night, and at 11:05 P. M. Jones set the route fcr
Train No. 27, to cross from the Conway Branch to the outward main line. Number 27 made the customary stop at Bellville Station and approached the tower slowly. The rules of the road were that "trains crossing over at junction points should do so under full control." In obedience to this rule Bill Perry, the engineer of No. 27, had his train under control as the train approached the "home signal" of "WG" Tower. Just about that ti'ne an extra freight train on the main line reported to Jones.
On account of the route being set for No. 27 to "cross over," it was necessary for Jones to hold the extra freight at the main line signal until No. 27 had cleared, as these two routes conflicted. About the time the freight train approached the main line signal a sudden gust of wind blew the snow against the tower windows and Jones was unable to see what was going on outside. When the atmosphere cleared a few seconds later Jones noticed the extra freight was nearing the main line signal at a rather rapid rate.
"I wonder if they intend to stop?" he said half aloud. "If they slide by there's liable to be a smash-up." This was before the days of air brakes on freight trains, and the freight train crew were all out on top of the cars setting hand brakes to assist the engineer in stopping the train. Unfortunately it was down grade from the main line signal to the tower and the rails were wet and slippery from the snow.
The engineer of the freight train realized the brakes were not holding and the wheels were "skidding," and said, "She's getting away from us."
"What will we do?" yelled the fireman from the opposite side of the cab as he slid down from his seat and prepared to jump.
"Stick!" cried the engineer, as he gave a yank at the throttle, and reaching up for the whistle he blew two long blasts, the "off brakes" signal. The intention of the engineer was to increase the speed of his train and pass the tower before No. 27 "took the cross-overs." If he could do this it would save a wreck and the only damage would be a few broken switch points. Otherwise he would strike No. 27 "amidships" and probably kill and injure many of the passengers on that train. The freight
crew quickly realized what the engineer hoped to do, and they began running over the train letting off the brakes they had set to increase the speed of their train.
"There's only one chance in a thousand we can make it," yelled Fred Baker, the conductor as he flew over the train as fast as his short fat legs would carry him.
"If we 'cross their bow' and not hit them amidships even though they nose us behind the engine there won't be any one hurt," replied Frank Nelson, the middle brakeman, who had been a sailor, as he raced over the train, his long legs enabling him to cover the length of a box car in three strides.
Just about that time the water glass in the cab of No. 27's engine burst, and the cab was soon filled with steam, consequently neither Bill Perry nor his fireman could see the approaching freight train, or they would have stopped and allowed the freight to pass.
"Wide Awake Jones" heard the extra freight whistle "off brakes," and he realized it meant danger. Glancing at the position of both trains, and taking in the situation in an instant, he sprang for the levers and with a few mighty throws, he succeeded in diverting the route of No. 27 to the "long passing siding," just as the extra freight train rushed madly by.
In the meantime Bill Perry had succeeded in getting his water glass shut off, and when the cab was clear of steam, he found his train moving down the "long passing siding" instead of "across the road." "What in the devil are we doing here?" cried Bill to the fireman as he stopped the train.
Just then Jones signalled No. 27 to "back up" and with only a few moments delay they were on their way again. The passengers on that train never knew how near death they were on that cold winter's night.
Poison Jim Chinaman
By Owen Clarke Treleaven
MO a devotee of the Western yarn, the Old Timer is apt to prove disappointing; he has no beard nor top boots, and he figures the time of day by a watch, instead of the number of drinks, and shades of Bret Harte, he doesn't drink.
In the old livery stables which once sheltered the four and Concord coach the print of which the S. P. used in advertising the newly established line, now stands at intervals the big machines, that have succeeded the Old Timers first stage line from Sargent to Hollister.
There I met the Old Timer Leagan and he was pleased to meet me and yes—he'd be able to spare me some time and tell me something of the country.
"Well say," he said, "I was goin' down to see Jim, our famous old Chinaman down here, p'raps yuh'd like to go along, huh?
"I hafta go anyway and I can show yuh tjhe old buildin's that was used as a retreat by the young fellers learnin' to be priests; they'd go down there durin' retreat when they couldn't talk yuh know and rest and pray; les crank the ole flivver and go." So we did, we cranked and went.
Arriving at the Chinaman's ranch and stopping at the familiar tin mail box, we wentl through a wooden turnstile and up to the usual shack and lean-to that does duty on a ranch of that sort as home, harness shop, store room, and whatever else may be deemed essential in the Oriental conception of comfort.
Any pleasant thoughts I may have had concerning our prospective visit were quickly dispelled by our reception. In answer to the Old Timer's
loud "yuh home Jim?" the door was slowly opened wide, to be quickly closed again as Jim recognized in me, a stranger, that is nearly closed, for I became aware of a scrutiny that bid fair to be embarrassing, when he spoke in a cracked faded old voice: "H'lo Mist' Leagan."
"How're yuh today, Jim. I come down to see if yuh wanted anythin' over to Hollister. The boy's goin' with the stage and I thought might's well see if yuh wanted anythin'."
So he opened the door wider, never taking his eyes from me—the intruder, and I saw a picturesquely typical Chinaman of the old school dazzling in contrast amid the squalor of the surroundings with the sheer richness of his attire, his brocaded silk over jacket with the gilded buttons so necessary to the ensemble, and the under coats faintly in evidence in a fairy web of blue and white silk.
On a ranch, at that time encased in sticky mud by the rains, to see creaseless blue broadcloth trousers and white socks in the soft shippers of China, caused one to wonder anew at the Oriental vanity that makes for the poetry of the life of the unfathomable Chinese.
Back of him was a cook stove and several pots simmering and giving out the pungent smell of teas and herbs, that combine with the long stemmed little pipe and its choking odor in giving one that lasting impression of the Chinese at home. "Oh, sick, Mist' Leagan, too sick." "What's the matter Jim, ketch cold I'll bet, huh?"
"Yeh, ketchum cold, Mist' Leagan, sick thlee, fouah day, hot, too hot you sabe, yeh ketchum cold."