excursion4_masthead.jpg - 116679 Bytes

South Park Bogie
by Gilbert A. Lathrop.

It had taken a lot of convincing the master mechanic in Como that young Albert Falvy knew enough about railroads, and the engines that ran on them, to be sent out on the Breckenridge as her fireman. Even after the MM reluctantly agreed to let him "try her a whirl over Alpine Pass," there was still the obstacle of Mike Mulrady to be surmounted. Mike was engineer on the Breckenridge.

"Not only that," the MM told Al, "Mike practically owns that damned Mason Bogie. She's his whole life."

The year was 1886 and Colorado narrow gages were in their glory.

But Al Falvy reckoned he'd have no trouble keeping Mike's bogie hot. He'd recently fired engines on the Union Pacific up around Laramie. Before that, he'd served a hitch on the Sante Fe in Kansas.

A good thing this Denver, South Park and Pacific narrow gage was short of firemen, Al was thinking as he walked across to the sandstone roundhouse. The newly built town of Como was almost at timberline, 9775 feet above sea level. No trees softened the harshness of the landscape. The gully below town was torn to a rubble of boulders by gold dredging operations.

Como was 88 miles west of Denver. The DSP&P branched here, one line going to Leadville via Boreas and Fremont Passes. This branch was known as the "High Line." The other penetrated to the Western Slope via Alpine Pass and was known as the Gunnison Branch. Al's first trip would take him to Gunnison on the 3-car daily passenger train. Gunnison was 113 miles from Como, 201 miles from Denver.

The MM had told Al the Breckenridge would make the long drag over Alpine Pass with her three coaches without a helper. .Inside the roundhouse he located the Mason Bogie and began looking her over. The standard gage lines were getting away from the gaily decorated locomotives these days; but from the looks of this little mill the narrow gages were still going all out on ornateness. In gold leaf on the side of the vestibuled cab was the number 15. Al decided he was going to like this cab. When the engine crew got inside and closed the doors they were in a tight, comfortable room, protected from all kinds of weather. The name Breckenridge was lettered on the side of the tender in gold leaf. Al figured she weighed between eighteen and twenty tons complete.

Engine and tender were built on a single frame, three pairs of wheels carrying the weight of the tender. Running gear consisted of three pairs of drivers and a single pair of pony truck wheels. The center drivers were "blind," following the practice on all crooked railroads. Blind meant they had no flanges. A diamond stack, square oil headlight, the customary bell, sand and steam domes surmounted her straight-topped boiler. Gleaming brass bands encased her blue Russia iron jacket. Gold stars were scattered over sand and steam domes. Tires were red enamel and spokes were striped with crimson and gold. Beneath her shiny jacket was wooden lagging.

Al was eyeing the reverse mechanism which went over the boiler between smoke stack and bell and connected with a Walschaert valve gear, when a red-whiskered, red-haired rail wearing an iron hat and smoking a black clay pipe rounded the tender. He carried a long shiny oiler in his right hand, a sizeable chunk of cotton waste in his left.

"I'm Al Falvy, called to fire this engine," he said to the other. "I take it you're Mike Mulrady?"

"That I am," agreed the whiskered one. "D'ya know anything about firin' ;" "I've shoveled coal into UP, Kansas Pacific and Santa Fe engines," grinned Al.

"Damned boomer," snorted the other. "I'm Mike Mulrady. If we wasn't short of fireboys I'd not take ye out. Not wantin' to put me good-friend, the Master Mechanic up against it, I'll put up with ye fer one trip."

Al swallowed the hot retort that rose to his lips. He recognized the type: a regular old woman around his engine. He'd humor him until they got back from Gunnison. "I came down an hour early," he said. "That'll give me time to shine up the jacket and the runnin' gear."

He didn't wait for a reply, but pulled himself into the cab and stored his coat and valise in the tank locker. A quick search rewarded him with a sizable chunk of cotton waste and a piece of sperm oil candle some former fireman had probably stolen from a baggage car. He began polishing the copper and brass trim with the sperm oil.

Long before leaving time Al had the Breckenridge cleaned and polished to his satisfaction. Even Mike seemed impressed when he swiped his forefinger on the back side of the right main rod and found it still clean. But he merely grunted and climbed into the cab.

From the east Al heard a shrill whistle. He went outside the roundhouse. A freight train was puffing in from Denver. He counted 35 mixed coal and boxcars, little vans weighing around seven tons empty, each capable of carrying a load of ten tons. They were held together by link-and-pin couplings. A diminutive 4 wheeled caboose brought up the rear. Two diamond- stack Moguls hauled the string.

Al lined the turntable and Mike eased the Bogie from her stall. When she was spotted Mike dropped off and helped shove the table around. Then Mike nursed the Breckenridge down the spur leading to the main and halted to await the arrival of westbound Number 1.

From his side of the cab Al looked across at the town. Como was a bustling little railroad and ranching center. A dozen teams of horses hitched to buggies and wagons were lined up behind the depot. The platform was crowded with men, women and children. The 6-car passenger train rattled into town pulled by two bogies. Four of the coaches were jammed with passengers. The other two were for baggage, mail and express. Half of the train would proceed from Como to Leadville; the other half to Gunnison.

A uniformed brakeman wearing a buttonhole bouquet and well curled mustache hurriedly lined a 3-throw stub switch, hauling over the long upright above the banjo shaped stand. He motioned Mike ahead. In a few moments the Breckenridge was coupled to a baggage car and two coaches. The brakeman pulled a bell cord over the top of the tender and connected it to a gong on the cab ceiling. The vacuum brake air hoses were coupled, then the two safety chains.

The conductor came up with the running orders. "We'll get a meet with an eastbound extra at Bath," he told Mike.

The engineer had been muttering to himself ever since his bogie was coupled on the train. Now he exploded. "Is that dispatcher gonna give me a helper out of Schwanders?" he demanded.

"You know darned well he ain't, with only three cars, Mike," the conductor said.

"One of these days this engine ain't gonna he able to pull 'em," raved Mike. "Don't forget I told ya. Another thing; we got a new fireman. He'll probably run out of steam before we get a mile from here."

"I've kept bigger an' better teakettles than this'n hot," grinned Al. He'd already looked at the firebox and the handpicked coal in the tender. The firebox was little larger than that of a good sized cook stove.

Mike turned angrily. "Bigger engines ye may have fired," he roared. "But none better! 'Tis thinkin' this will be your first an' last trip, I am. An' don't forget that!"

Al made no reply. These engineers were all alike. Each figured he owned his engine. Each was positive his was the best locomotive ever to run on rails.

Still muttering to himself Mike pulled two short blasts from his shrill-voiced quill. Carefully he eased his reverse lever toward the front of the quadrant. As though afraid he'd break it off if he pulled too hard on it, he tapped the throttle until steam entered the valve chambers, then hissed from open cylinder cocks. Gunnison bound No. 1 headed into South Park.

Al eased onto the deck and opened the firebox door. A glance told him this engine was perfectly drafted. A white hot fire danced on the grates. He scattered a scoop of coal on it and watched it darken.

"Hey !"

Al straightened to find Mike shaking his head and waving his arms. He moved closer so he could hear the engineer above the throaty mutter of exhausts.

"You've got to fire her light," Mike yelled. "She's like a young lady who wants to keep her figger, an' never eats too much. Feed her a scoop at a time. I'll take care of the water from my side."

Al took Mike's advice. The Breckenridge was on a diet, and burned little more coal than a hopper stove in a sandhouse. A squirrel tail of steam plumed from the safety valve.

On his side Mike was inserting a half notch on the quadrant just ahead of the center so the reverse lever would be held there. The throttle was cracked barely enough to keep the firebox clear of smoke. South Park was almost level; on both sides stretched miles of brilliant green meadow-land freckled by great yellow patches of dandelions. A few log fences were visible and rangy cattle dotted the landscape. At long intervals a sod-roofed log cabin showed human residence. The whole landscape was fragrant with blossoming willow.

At the tiny station of Garos the usual crowd was on hand to greet the westbound passenger train. Al fished out his timecard. They were right on the dot.

The conductor came over with more orders. "We'll meet that east extra at Bath," he told the redheaded hogger.,

"He's had a helper up Trout Creek" grumbled Mike. "Why don't that dispatcher turn him so he can boost us up Alpine?"

The conductor made no reply. He dropped off and headed hack toward the depot. Mike wiped a smudge of oil from the end of his nose and shook his head over the short-sightedness of train dispatchers. Then he whistled off.

Leaving Garos Al noticed that Mike was working his engine harder. She was burning more coal. Between scoops he snatched a quick look at the scenery. Behind them lay South Park, a gigantic panorama of a pine meadow broken by a meandering, willow-bordered stream. East and west meadow-lands were hemmed by towering mountain ranges.

"From here to Bath," Mike called across the cab, "is almost three percent grade. We'll take water at Bath."

"Then Bath is the top of the hill?"

"Yeh. From there we drop down Trout Creek to Schwanders where we head up the west leg of the wye to Buena Vista. After we eat dinner there, we'll back to Schwanders an' after crossin' the D&RG at Nathrop, we start the climb to Alpine Pass."

As their speed decreased Al watched the steam gage more closely. Before long he became convinced that the boiler pressure was dropping. He jerked open his firebox door and turned his scoop upside down so it would lessen the glare. The fire was level, with no humps or hollows. By this time the pressure was down to 130 and still dropping. He felt a quick burst of temper. If this little kettle died on him he'd never live it down. He'd gotten pretty cocky about his ability as a fireman.

"You've fired bigger an' better engines than this'n, huh?" Mike was off his seat, standing over him on the deck. His red whiskers bristled and his blue eyes snapped.

"If you don't want to stop an' blow up steam," Al yelled, "you'd better tell me what's wrong."

"Your fire's dirty," Mike shouted.. "This coal makes a lot of ash. You've got to shake the grates every few miles." He snatched up the shaker, jammed it on the bar and heaved. He climbed on his seat again. "I don't suppose engines had grates where you fired before, huh ?" He poked his head out the window and spat.

By the time the needle on the steam gage started climbing again the station of Bath was just ahead. The east extra was waiting for them, helpers cut loose from the train, ready to run light to Como. Mike spotted for water and dropped off with his long oiler.

The 13-mile drop to Schwanders followed a shallow, crooked canyon, down which babbled a crystal clear, trout filled stream fringed with cottonwood and willow. Al had time now to enjoy the scenery.

After a hearty dinner at the roaring town of Buena Vista they backed their train to Schwanders. Then, throwing the stub wye switch they puffed across the Arkansas River, halting long enough to make sure that no trains approached on the Leadville Branch of the Denver & Rio Grande Railway. Ahead of them was the sky-piercing Continental Divide, and Alpine Pass.

The 21 miles from Schwanders to St. Elmo was a grade of better than 2 3/4 percent. The Breckenridge whipped her short train around the heavy curves at a rattling good pace. Al was enjoying the ride, now that he'd learned how to take care of his fire. They bounced over the cast-iron rails which were laid on hand hewn, red spruce crossties. They rolled on the uneven track of the tangents.

"Leavin' St. Elmo the grade gets heavier," Mike told his fireman. "An' when we pass the red light in the middle of Alpine Tunnel, we'll he 11,596 feet above sea level. That's the highest railroad pass in North America. The tunnel was completed only four years ago, an' I ran the first engine through it."

The Alpine station of St. Elmo clung to the steep mountain side at 10,041 feet above sea level. Spur tracks, a siding, and a handful of unpainted, newly built houses was on either side of the tracks. The whole scene was one of utter desolation, unbroken hy trees. Only the hardiest of timberline shrubs grew in sheltered crevices of the granite slide rock.

At the station of Hancock west of St. Elmo, they met eastbound No. 2, with two coaches and one baggage car. Engine 107, a trim lined Brooks Mogul let her train drop down the pass, holding it to a safe speed with Westinghouse air brakes. Al noted that the day coach was full of women and children, while the smoking car was equally well patronized. Capacity of each coach was 36 persons, each was 35 feet long and 7 feet wide with a 10-foot ceiling.

"Notice any difference in your breathin' ?" Mike asked abruptly.

Al shook his head.

"Plenty of women faint from the altitude up here," declared the engineer. "Our pumps have to work about twice as hard to keep up full pressure.'

"I've heard winter time up here is worse than the North Pole," grinned Al. "That's right," agreed Mike soberly.

He reached forward and pumped at his sander lever as the Breckenridge lost her footing on a sharper curve. "Winters are hell."

Al scattered coal over his fire and closed the door. "Then what keeps you workin' here?" he asked. "All over the country railroads are screaming for engineers. You could pick your climate, and your job."

Mike pondered this while he pulled at his clay pine. Finally he shrugged. "What keeps me workin' here," he said slowly "I don't know. But I guess it's because I like it."

The engine rolled with each labored exhaust; as though she too were feeling the altitude.

"Better let your fire burn down so it don't make too much smoke," Mike shouted across the cab. "We go into the tunnel t'other side of the next curve."

The sweeping pilot rounded the next bend and Al saw the black entrance to the bore. It was faced with hand hewn sandstone, the date of completion, 1882, carved deeply in the cap. Turbulent, crystal clear creeks flowed on both sides of the track.

"The hole is about eighteen hundred feet long," Mike explained. "It's timbered with California redwood. We climb to the center, where a red lantern burns all the time. After that we drop down the western slope."

Bright daylight was blanked out by pitch darkness as the Breckenridge blasted into Alpine Tunnel. The musty air quickly gave way to the acrid, throat smarting fumes of coal smoke. It wouldn't take a man long to suffocate if he was stuck in here, Al was thinking.

It seemed hours before Al saw the tiny, ruby glow of the lantern which marked the exact center of the bore. As they passed it their speed increased. Mike abruptly closed his throttle so only the metallic sound of wheels clicking over cast-iron rails could be heard.

When they emerged from the west end of the tunnel the afternoon sun blinded Al and he closed his eyes. When he was able to open them once more they were rolling past a turntable on the right side. About a thousand feet beyond he saw the station of Alpine. A hand hewn granite roundhouse sat to the left of the main. Near this was the beginning of a granite hotel. The depot and a long lodging house sat on the right side of the track. On a siding was a coal and ore train. It had taken four engines to haul this up the west side of the pass.

Mike halted his train opposite the depot and got down to oil around the running gear. The Breckenridge panted laboriously from her hard climb. Al saw the engineer surreptitiously pat the main rod as he moved past it.

To the west the main line fell off into a hazy void, with range after range of pine and spruce clad mountains. The air was clean and heady, so a fellow wanted to gulp great breaths of it into his lungs.

Their speed was a steady twenty miles per hour as Mike let the train drop down the pass. As they clattered past the Palisades Al marveled at the labor which had gone into the building of this piece of railroad. Great blocks of hewn granite extended upward over a hundred feet, forming a retaining \vall to hold the bench on which the track \vas laid.

Below the Palisades they rounded Woodstock Loop. "This is where the town of Woodstock was cleaned out hy a snow slide two years ago," informed Mike. "Killed everybody except the woman who ran the section house."

The path of the slide was plain clown the steep mountainside. Everything in its way had been cleaned off. Where it had piled up on the floor of the valley was a rubble of smashed timbers and broken trees.

Nineteen miles from Alpine Pass Mike halted No. 1 at the depot in Pitkin, at the end of the heavy grade. A depot, roundhouse, water tank and coal chute huddled alongside the main. A crowd was on hand to greet the train. A horse hitched to a two-wheeled cart waited to haul the mail to the Post Office.

Sprawling Gunnison was the end of their run. Mike halted his train before the diminutive sandstone depot. When everybody had unloaded he backed the three coaches to a track near the roundhouse.

"Us South Park men stay at the Mullin House," Mike told his fireman. "A few of the Rio Grande boys stay there too."

"I'll go along with you," decided Al. He'd been reviewing his trip over Alpine Pass on this three-foot gage railroad. It had taken guts and optimism to build a line through the rugged country he'd seen today. It was hard to believe such a venture would pay its way. Yet he'd heard this as well as its rival line, the D&RG were both paying handsome dividends.

As though reading his mind, Mike told him : "There's ninety cars of ore a day shipped from Leadville to Denver. We get thirty of 'em. The Rio Grande gets the rest."

At the Mullin House, a two-story frame structure, Al cleaned himself up at the wash bowl, with water from the pitcher in his room. When he came downstairs a dozen rails were seated around a long table waiting for their supper. AI picked out a place facing the kitchen.

When the rosy cheeked, flame haired girl appeared with a loaded platter of steaming food, Al forgot his hunger. Something about her hit him right between the eyes. She felt his gaze and looked toward him, blushing.

"Rose," boomed Mike jovially, "meet my fireman, Al Falvy. Al, meet Rose Morris."

"Glad to meet you, Miss Morris, or is it Mrs.?" said Al.

"It's still Miss. And everybody calls me Rose."

"Looks like romance is a-hatchin' " , said one of the Rio Grande heads and everybody but Rose and Al guffawed.

When supper was over all of them but Al went into the lobby. Al helped Rose clear off the table. Later, he dried the dishes for her.

"I'll be back in Gunnison day-after tomorrow evening," Al promised Rose before he left for the roundhouse the next morning.

"I'll be looking for you," she told him.

The Breckenridge was lined out to the main with her three cars and backed to the depot to wait for the arrival of the Baldwin mixed train. Several coal mines there furnished a big share of the revenue for the Gunnison Branch of the DSP&P.

To the fireman everything swam in a rosy glow this morning. He watched a 30-car coal train rattle in from Baldwin. A horny handed brakeman lifted the pin from the link near the center of the string and gave a go-ahead signal. Then he pulled himself to the deadwood on the end of the car to ride in comfort.

Mike had crawled out of the wrong side of bed. His whiskered face wore a scowl of ill humor. He hadn't spoken to his fireman since getting on the engine.

When the passengers, mail and express were loaded the conductor waved a highball and Mike whistled off. The bogie nosed out of town, cascading red hot cinders over both sides of the right-of-way.

Al was congratulating himself on another tank of hand-picked coal. But this time it was from Baldwin ; a light, quick burning lignite. The little train rambled alongside the meandering Tomichi River, crossed and recrossed it on short wooden trestles. They were about five miles east of town. A couple of miles back Al had put in what he figured was plenty of coal to supply the bogie for several miles. Mike was working a very light throttle. Now the fireman was day-dreaming on his side of the cab.

An explosive oath from Mike jerked Al back to his surroundings. The engineer was shaking a fist toward another little narrow gage train that laid down a smoke screen across the valley.

"That's Rio Grande Number 2 !" Mike bellowed. "Dick Chin wants to race us again, him an' his rock-away. He'll learn he can't outrun my bogie. I beat him every time He get together."

Al quickly crossed the deck. Rapidly gaining on them was a trim Mogul, brass bell mounted on top of her sand dome, her short boiler swaying from side to side. Chains extended from tender to cab to keep the fireboy from being pitched off on the curves. Al knew the other engineer was challenging them hy the series of white puffs of steam coming from the whistle. Six cracker box coaches trailed the Mogul.

With a derisive gleam in his eyes Mike grabbed his short throttle. Al stooped and jerked open his firebox door. What he saw caused his heart to drop into his shoes. The grates were almost bare. Not over a dozen red coals danced on them. He looked at the steam gage. The needle was sagging toward 120!

"Hold everything, Mike," Al shouted before the engineer could jerk open his throttle. "I've lost my fire."

While he shoveled coal Mike looked over his shoulder. Yellow smoke began oozing from the diamond stack to trail the coach roofs behind. Mike spoke no word as he grunted back on his seat. Across the Tomichi from them sailed the Rio Grande Mogul, both members of her crew on the left side. One of them had the thumbs of both hands in his ears, waggling his fingers derisively. The other had one thumb against his nose, the other on his little finger, all fingers waving. Then the Mogul was gone, leaving the bogie ignominously struggling to keep her wheels turning with a scant hundred pounds of steam.

The rear markers of the rival train were gone around a curve before Mike fixed his fireman with angry eyes. "You've made your first an' last trip on this railroad !" he blazed. Al didn't argue. He knew that Mike was in supreme command of his engine, and everything connected with it. In Como he had only to tell the MM: "Don't mark Al Falvy up with me another trip." That's all it would take.

His promise to Rose to see her day after tomorrow was void. He'd certainly messed uh this job on the narrow gage. Of course, he hadn't figured on working here over a trip or two; that is until last night. After riding those big 45 and 50 ton engines on the standard-gage Kansas and Pacific, the Union Pacific, Santa Fe, spading coal into these little South Park locomotives was like working on a make believe pike. Even a bunch of boys could keep this streak of rust running.

In this way Al tried to console himself as he watched the steam pressure work back to maximum while they rolled into Parlin, 12 miles east of Gunnison where the South Park branched up Quartz Creek, away from the route followed hy the Rio Grande.

All this time Mike Mulrady sat on his side of the bogie like a stone image, his black clay pipe clamped tightly between his teeth, the bowl cold. At Ohio City while Al filled the tender Mike spattered oil on his running gear. Along here the crystal clear stream was a trout filled, brawling mill-race with sweet smelling willows arching overhead.

Industry was booming in these Colorado Rockies. Gold, silver, lead and zinc ores were being blasted from rich veins. Mountain-sides were being denuded of their pine and spruce timber. Towns were mushrooming on almost every level spot:

At Pitkin, where the real climb to Alpine Pass began, half a dozen engines rested near the roundhouse. Mike unloaded and crossed to begin talking to a stout, heavy set fellow who looked like another engineer. While the pair were engaged in conversation Al saw another man hurry from the depot and approach the Breckenridge. This man pulled himself into the cab and barked at Al: "I'm the roundhouse foreman here. The Master Mechanic in Como just wired for you to trade places with one of our helper firemen named Newman. Newman's wife is very sick in Como and he's got to get home to her."

"Then he'll take my place on this engine from here to Como ?" asked Al moving toward the box on the tender in which were his coat and valise.

"That's right. You'll fire for Andy Stomberg on engine 56. Andy's called to help a coal extra for 10:45 a.m."

A feeling of relief swept over Al and he nodded his head. With him firing for another hogger it would do Mike Mulrady little good to turn him in to the MM in Como. And even if Mike did turn him in it would be a few days before a new fireman could be sent over the pass to relieve him.

A worried-looking young fellow climbed into the cab and held out his right hand. "I'm Newman, the fellow you're tradin' off with," he introduced. "I want to thank you."

Al laughed. "Think nothin' of it," he said and climbed off with his valise. The roundhouse foreman followed. "I'll take you over to your engine," he said, leading the way. They halted alongside a Baldwin Consolidation and Al looked her over. The 56 was larger than the Breckenridge, weighing almost 28 tons complete. What made her look massive was her Congdon smokestack. This was a cross between a diamond and a balloon. Al knew the inventor of it; had worked for him on the UP: Master Mechanic Congdon.

Both inside pairs of driving wheels were blind. Heavy iron rods were bent around the oak pilot. These were supposed to knock rocks off the track. Each end of the wooden pilot beam sported an ornate brass flag holder. The oil headlight was about half as large as the smoke box and her number, 56, was on a round plate on the front of the box.

A heavy set, round faced, blonde man with a straggly mustache was just closing the front end when Al and the foreman halted below him.

"Andy," called the foreman, "this is the feller who's gonna fire for you in Newman's place."

Bright blue eyes looked Al over and a grimy right hand was extended. "I'm Al Falvy," said the fireman.

"Yeh," said Andy, and his lips smiled. "I was just talkin' to Mike Mulrady. He told me about how ya let your fire go out so Dick Chin's Mogul beat him in a race below Parlin."

Al turned red. He was still trying to figure out a good alibi when Andy burst into guffaws. "I'd a give my right arm to see that Irishman when he lost that race," he declared.

"He was mad as a hornet," said Al, and went on: "It was my fault. I got to daydreamin' an' plumb forgot about my fire."

"Mike'll turn you in as quick as he gets to Como," Andy assured as he turned back to tightening the lug bolts on the front end.

Al moved toward the cab, stopping to look at the crosshead water pump on the right side. A quick inspection told him Fireman Newman had taken enough pride in the 56 to keep her brass and copper trim and her blue jacket shining like a new ten-dollar gold piece. He climbed into the cab. The inside was inlaid with various hardwoods, varnished to a high gloss, The boiler extended through the cab separating engineer and fireman.

Andy shoved into his side. "Newman figured this engine is burnin' too much coal," he called over to Al. "I moved the petticoat pipe to cut down the draft."

Al nodded and dropped into the gangway to spread his fire over the grates. Shortly after he finished he saw a smudge of black smoke between the mountains to the west and a little later the coal extra rattled into town, dragged by two sister engines to the 56.

The 56 was cut into the center of the string while another Consolidation brought up the rear ahead of the 4wheeled caboose. Four 28-ton engines would lift 20 cars of coal to Alpine Pass.

Promptly at 11 a.m. the coal extra moved out of Pitkin, four Congdon stacks laying down a smoke and steam barrage which hung heavily between the surrounding forests of lodge pole and quaking aspen. They were ambling through the sag in the park about a mile above Pitkin when Al shoved into the cab behind Andy Stomberg. "There's still something wrong with the draft," he advised.

Andy got to his feet, kicking the rod holding his hinged seat from beneath. "I'll take a squint at your fire," he said and stepped into the gangway. A quick inspection and he straightened up. "I gave her too much," he said angrily. "I'll favor you all I can between here an' Woodstock tank. Do the best ya can."

Al watched the little hogger cut down the feed on the water pump and ease off on the throttle. Then he bent to his task again. Every time he straightened from putting in a fire Al heard Andy trying his gage cocks. Every time Andy tried them the water level in the boiler was a little lower.

By the time they could see Woodstock tank with its flat roof ahead the water level was down. to a bare flutter in the bottom gage cock. Al had been through this before and knew what was coming when Andy yelled to him:

"I'll spot by a mark alongside the track. You set the tender brake, then grab my long oiler and jump off an' oil the rails on both sides. I'll have to pump her while you fill the tender."

Halted at the tank Andy tensely waited until Al finished oiling the rails. Then he opened the throttle. The 36-inch drivers began to spin on the oily rails, the crosshead working the water pump and forcing water into the boiler. By the time the tender was filled to its 1200-gallon capacity Andy had two solid gages of water pumped into the boiler. He closed the throttle, jerked half a dozen times on his sander lever and whistled off. After they pulled ahead so the rear engine could take water Andy opened the front end and adjusted the petticoat again. Then the entire train was dropped back so the two head engines could fill up.

From there to Alpine Station west of the tunnel, Al had no more trouble. The 56 steamed like a house afire. The whole crew crossed to the boarding house and seated themselves to a bountiful 25-cent banquet served up by Mrs. Killey, the section foreman's buxom wife.

The helper engines were not cut out of the train until they were at Hancock, the station the other side of Alpine Tunnel. And as was quite usual, every man of the crew was' almost suffocated by the gas and smoke before they rolled into bright sunlight on the east side of the bore.

When the helpers were turned, Andy headed the parade back to Pitkin. He rattled up the short grade to the tunnel, as though trying to set some kind of a speed record. But after they passed the red light in the center of the glory hole he simply took off the reins. They shot out of the west end like a projectile out of a big gun. Al had frozen on his seat and was hanging on with both hands when Andy's round face bobbed up on the other side of the boiler.

"We didn't do much comin' up the hill," he yelled, "but we'll give 'er hell goin' down." He skidded to a halt at Alpine Station, rushed into the depot to register and was back in the cab in seconds.

The 56 tore away from the station with both of the other helpers blasting him out of the way. Al decided these heads played some kind of a game as they raced down the mountain. But he didn't get any joy out of it. The whole trip to Pitkin found him sweating on his side, wondering if the engine would take the next curve: if Andy would he able to get her halted when they hit the bottom of the hill. It was with relief that he hit the cinders and headed toward the depot to wire Rose that he'd been pulled off the Breckenridge in Pitkin and would see her in the next day or two.

Al was surprised when he was called for the 56 the next morning. If Mike Mulrady had turned him in the MM must be so short of men he was forced to ignore Mike's complaint until a few more hands could be hired. Al stowed a hearty breakfast under his belt and hurried down to clean up his engine a good hour before the time he was called for. He found Andy already there, setting up the main rod wedges.

Four Consolidations lifted another 20 cars of coal to Alpine Station. But instead of being ordered to turn at Hancock, they were instructed to proceed to Schwanders where they would help a train of empties up the east side of the pass.

As on the day before, the minute they were cut loose from their train at Hancock, Andy took off like Old Nick in person was blowing down the back of his neck. Al was getting a little used to Andy's speeding by now. Still, he was genuinely relieved when they finally hit the wye at Schwanders and got the 56 turned around.

It was mid-afternoon when the 56 was finally cut off the train of empties at Alpine Station and given orders to run ahead of them to Pitkin. Andy climbed into his side of the cab with the usual devil-may-care gleam in his eyes. He whistled off and began working steam. When the Consolidation was running as fast as she would turn a wheel, Andy closed his throttle and leaned back against the closed door of the cab, his left hand grasping the water brake valve.

The 56 heeled to the first curve below Alpine and Al felt the wheels lift from the outside rail, then thump back on. She righted herself with every flange screaming. The drawbar between engine and tender clashed and the wedge groaned. Coal in the tender avalanched clown and filled the air of the cab with coal dust.

They shot past the palisades, rounded the hairpin curve at old Woodstock and started down the winding stretch through the thick lodge pole and aspen forest below. Al figured they were running close to forty miles an hour when it happened. The 56 smacked against a right hand curve and started around it, hut changed her mind. With a bone jotting lurch she shot off the track and headed straight toward the timber.

Andy had been steadying her with his water brake. Now he horsed over the reverse lever and opened the throttle. The 56 bucked and reared against momentum. She bowled over a ten-inch thick pine tree like it was a match stick, uprooted a couple of aspens, skidded along side ways until she was almost halted, then gently turned to her left side.

Al had been tossed around the cab like a rag doll in a washing machine. His one thought was to get out. But his chance didn't come until just before the engine turned over. He jumped from his window, landed on his feet and staggered into a tree hard enough to knock all the wind front his body. He turned just in time to see Andy crawl out of the cab on his side, apparently unhurt.

Andy saw him about the same time. "We got to stop that extra that's followin' us," he shouted, scrambling back toward the torn up track. Al was right behind him. The pair reached a spot plenty far enough from the scene of the wreck to easily halt the approaching train in sufficient time.

After everybody inspected the wrecked engine and marvelled that either man of her crew had come out alive, it was decided to back a following helper to Alpine so the superintendent could be told about the derailment. Al and Andy rode on the pilot of this engine, where they'd be out of the way.

On the was, Andy told Al: "I got to fix up a good story about how I turned the 56 over." Al nodded agreement. He'd been wondering what kind of cock-and-bull story they might invent. Finally Andy grinned and said: "Goin' up the hill this a.m. we must have knocked a rail joint out of line. Comin' down the hill this p.m. we hit it before we could get stopped."

"I couldn't have done better myself ", chuckled Al.

It was evening before an engine pulling a couple of tool and hunk cars from Como halted at Alpine Pass. This crew had picked up all the section men en "route so a small army accompanied it. Among them was the MM who immediately hunted up Andy.

The little hogger told a convincing story and the MM nodded agreement in the end. Al had stayed clear of the official. If Mike had turned him in, he didn't want to remind the MM of the fact.

With the oil headlight of the engine pulling the extra illuminating the scene the section men soon threw in a "shoofly" around the 56. When this was completed the train proceeded on to Gunnison so the wrecking outfit could pick up the wrecked engine. A "dead man" was set above the track. This consisted of half a dozen crossties chained together and buried in a pit several feet deep. Attached to the ties was a block and tackle. One end of this was chained to the 56, the other end fastened to the coupling on the pilot of the engine pulling the tool cars.

Dawn was just breaking in the east when the 56 was finally pulled back on the rails and coupled to her tender again. Save for a couple of broken pipes and a twisted cab, the engine was little the worse for her recent mishap. The MM decided that her engine crew assisted by the carpenter could repair her in Gunnison.

Neither man gave a thought to working without pay while the engine was out of service. It was one of the rules of the company that the crew assigned an engine was responsible for her mechanical condition at all times. When she was able to pull cars and thereby earn revenue, they drew wages. When she was broken down and unable to earn revenue their wages stopped, but not their responsibility for her mechanical condition. Al remembered one time on the Kansas & Pacific when he lost almost two months' wages while his engine was undergoing a general overhauling. And he'd spent twelve hours of every day helping the machinists and boilermakers work on her.

This time the engine crew was lucky. Only three days were required to put the 56 back in running shape. Not only that, but Al spent most of the time at the Mullin House with Rose. Andy knew he owed the fireman a debt of gratitude because of his dummying up about the real cause of the wreck. That was his way of paying him.

They were called to doublehead a coal and timber train the day the 56 was put back into service. During the time they had spent in Gunnison, Al had made several discoveries. One of them was that he wanted to settle clown here on this roaring narrow gage railroad. It offered excitement, adventure, romance. Another thing, Rose had promised to marry him if he didn't lose his job over being turned in by Mike Mulrady. Because it was almost a week since Mike had made his threat and nothing had been heard from the MM, Al had about decided the Irish hogger had dropped the whole thing.

They headed east from Gunnison with ominous thunder clouds hanging against the western mountains. The clouds followed them as they rattled up the Tomichi, and were still threatening when they pulled into Pitkin.

By the time the train labored around Woodstock Loop lightning was dancing across the Continental Divide and its thunder sounded like the booming of artillery.

When they met westbound No. 1 at Hancock, rain was pouring down in torrents. Mike Mulrady was pulling the passenger train today. He ignored Al's friendly wave as he passed. The helpers were turned at Hancock to follow No. 1 down the pass to Pitkin. Rain still poured from a lead colored sky.

They pulled into Pitkin ten minutes behind the passenger. The rain seemed to be about over since it was only falling intermittently. Al watched No. 1 whistle off and rattle down the grade, the bogie whipping her short train to a smart clip in almost nothing.

They had put the 56 in the roundhouse and walked across to the depot when a series of sharp whistles from the west halted them. No. 1 was backing slowly toward Pitkin.

"Mike must have run into trouble", said Andy.

They waited on the platform until the train halted at the depot. Then Andy called to the brakeman who was riding the rear platform: "What went wrong?"

"A wash-in filled the second cut this side of Ohio City," said the brakeman. The conductor hurried into the depot to wire the superintendent for instructions. Finally it was decided to run the Baldwin Branch crew to the wash-in and transfer the passengers and mail. When this was done the passenger crew would tie up in Pitkin.

Along with several other South Park heads, Al was sitting in the boarding house that evening when Mike and his crew came in after making their transfer. Mike was in another one of his bad humors. He scowled at Al, then barked : "Are you still workin' here?"

"I wouldn't be hangin' around if I wasn't," Al said quietly.

"Ya won't be long," promised Mike. "Meanin' you turned me in to the MM like ya said ya would, after all, huh?"

"You're dom right I did. The MM promised to pull ya out of service the minute he gets a man to relieve ya," said Mike. ,

Without a word Al stepped up to Mike and grabbed the end of his nose between thumb and forefinger. He twisted it until Mike howled with pain and his eyes streamed tears. As he released the nose and stepped back he said : "I tried to get along with you, Mike, even when everybody told me it was impossible. An' I didn't deliberately, let my fire go out on the Breckenridge the other day. I got to daydreamin'. If I hadn't been traded off in Pitkin, I'd have tried to get you to overlook it." He hesitated a moment.

"Anybody except an ornery old buzzard woulda skipped it," he went on. "Nobody was hurt ; no trains delayed and the next time ya tangled with Dick Chin ya coulda beat him again."

Mike rubbed at his nose in silence. Al's sudden anger cooled as quickly as it had flamed. He felt like a chump and was tempted to apologize, but realized the futility of it.

The gang began leaving the room to turn in. Upstairs Al found Andy waiting for him in the hallway. "If there was anything I could do for you," the little hogger said, "I'd go all out."

"Much obliged, Andy," said Al. "But there's nothin'."

During the night Al was awakened by the sullen, rolling thunder of rain on the roof. By morning the sky had cleared and a hot, bright sun made rain diamonds on the grass and leaves.

Al was eating breakfast when the roundhouse foreman came into the dining-room. .He motioned to Al and led the way into the hall. "I've, got a message about you; Falvy," he began.

Al said . nothing. He had a good idea what the message was about. "It's from the MM in Como," the foreman resumed.

"That's what I figured," said Al.

"Andy tells me you're a damned good man," said the foreman. "But you know how some of these engineers are."

"I know."

"Mulrady raised all kinds of hell about you lettin' your fire go out," said the foreman.

"The only reason the MM didn't pull you before was he had no man to relieve you. He's finally got one deadheadin' over from Como to replace you."

"What does he want me to do?"

"He says you will deadhead on the train he's ordered to run out of here. Mike's gonna take them tool cars back to Como. He's called for 9 a.m. The MM says to tell you he'll give you a good letter when you turn in your company property."

"So far as a letter is concerned," said Al, `'I won't need one. Railroad jobs are ' a dime a dozen 'everywhere except this neck of the woods. And I'm kinda hopin' to stick around here." Al climbed in the 4-wheeled caboose a few minutes before leaving time. The only other occupant was the conductor. The single brakeman rode the cab of the bogie. Al had only seen Mike at a distance The short train halted at Alpine Station at 10 a.m. Al was tempted to wire Rose about losing his job from here. But there would be plenty of time Como. Chances were slim for other railroad job around these narrow gage lines. He'd already inquired about going to work, on the Rio Grande. But that slim gage pike wasn't hiring

They rattled away from Alpine Station and soon nosed into the snow shed on the west end of the tunnel. Black darkness engulfed them, broken feebly by the orange glow of the headlight on the Breckenridge, and a lamp in the caboose. The rumble of wheels on rails was magnified by their surroundings. Smoke and gas crept around the doors and windows and made breathing uncomfortable. Then the drumming of wheels speed Al knew they'd passed the center of the bore and started the drop down the eastern slope.

Al was jerked from his half dozing by an abrupt slowing down of the outfit followed by a complete stop. The conductor who had been riding the cupola dropped to the floor.

"Wonder what's wrong?" he growled. "We should be able to see daylight at the tunnel mouth. But it's still black as night."

No sound save the steady beat of the 8-inch air pump on the bogie came from ahead. The conductor jerked caboose door. It seemed the sweet air inside was sucked out. The burning lamp suddenly grew dim. Al's head began go spin. His legs felt like jelly. He remembered reading about suffocation in gas filled death holes; how the only sweet air remaining would be found above running water. But did the rest of the crew know this?

Al leaped out the back door to bump into the conductor. That man was hanging limply to the railing around the rear platform. "Quick," said Al, "get off and lay with your face just above the water runnin' on either side of the track. Start crawlin' toward the west."

The conductor was still conscious enough to know what Al was saying. He staggered to the edge of the platform and half fell from it, to splash in the water below. Al was fighting to keep conscious. He almost fell on top of the conductor. The sweeter air above the stream cleared his head. Where was the engine crew ?

Mulrady! Newman! he screamed.

Only the throbbing air pump answered. On hands and knees he started crawling toward the engine.

Mike and his fireman were still in the cab: The brakeman was nowhere in evidence, Mike was unconscious, his left h:uui still clutching the reverse lever. Newman was on the floor of the cab. Al dragged the fireman to the entrance where he eased his limp body to the track side. Quickly he returned to pick up the bulky form of Mike and lower him to the tunnel floor.

By the time Al dropped down beside the other two men Newman 'was regaining consciousness. Al grabbed his arm and shook him. "Start crawlin' up the track, Newman. Understand?"

"I-yeh, I understand," sobbed the fireman. He moved off, dragging himself by His hands and arms. Al grasped Mike under the arm pits and began pulling the big man along the uneven stream bed.

l had dragged the engineer about a hundred feet when he bumped into Newman. "I'm okay now," said the fireman. "I'll help you carry Mike."

It was thirty minutes before the pair saw the red lantern of the center of the tunnel ahead. The air was sweeter here, but the creeping death still followed them.

Near the west entrance to the tunnel they were met by the conductor, his brakeman and a dozen husky section men who had come to help them. Mike was regaining consciousness and they worked over him until he opened his eyes.

The mud slide which had blocked the east entrance to Alpine Tunnel was cleared away shortly after 1 p.m. that day. All the crew members were back on their feet, ready to proceed to Como with their train. Al had spent the time at Mrs. Killey's boarding house.

Mike made a good run down the east side of the pass and across South Park. But it was almost 9 p.m. before they halted at Como. Al knew he'd have to wait until morning to see the MM and pick up his discharge check. So he got off the caboose and crossed to the hotel where he ate a hearty supper and engaged a room for the night.

He found the MM in his office the following morning.

"I'm Al Falvy," the ex-fireman said. "Sit down, Falvy," said the MM affably. Where do you intend going?"

"I'm gonna ride No. 1 to Gunnison and get a job on the Rio Grande."

"You don't like working for the DSP&P?"

"I liked the job fine," admitted .Al. "But I'm the fireman Mulrady turned in.

"Mulrady just left my office," chuckled the MM. "He told me he'd punch me in the nose if I didn't mark you up on the Breckenridge with him this morning. How about it, do you want to stay here ?"

Al got to his feet. "Then I guess I'd better get out to the roundhouse and do some polishin' an' cleanin' up around my engine," he said.


excursion4_return_button.jpg - 10734 Bytes

The Narrow Gauge Circle is written, maintained,and hosted by:
Mark L. Evans
Send Comments to:Mark L. Evans

All original materials, text, and digital images Copyright © 1995-2004 Mark L. Evans. All rights reserved. Imitation is said to be the "sincerest" form of flattery.....Please don't flatter us without permission.