Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Swattin' Smoulderin' Cinders!

Occasionally, constilations of toxic, black smoke and carnivorous sparks would inundate the cab, the fragrance of scorched overalls and singed whiskers would permeate the atmosphere, and the place would erupt in flailing arms, as folks sang and danced and swatted smouldering cinders!  The survey teams worked diligently to avoid grades in excess of 4%, but were rarely ever successful, and failing brakes were an ever-present concern.  Steam locomotives make real good time when their brakes fail on a hill. That’s about the only time! Most are fitted with cowcatchers, but I don’t recall one ever catching a cow. If ya had the good fortune to be invited into the cab, ya got acquainted with the engineer and the fireman. You could tell which was which; cause the fireman had only smudges of soot, where his eyebrows used to be! My favorites were Zeek & Zak.  One spoke brogue, the other, broken German, and ya rarely caught their drift, unless they were cussing!  Zeek was fastidious!  He kept a wire brush hanging from his belt and a big bucket of stove-black near the firewall.  He kept that whole engine polished up like like Grandmas’ parlor stove!  The petcocks and grease fittings were all made of brass or copper, and he shined ‘em all up till they gleamed like Teddys’ teeth! He was adamant about keeping the fire-door spit-shined velvet black, and every time he got ‘er done, Zak let fly with a chaw of tobaccy.  The projectile expectorate would splash and splatter, a wisp of steam would rise from the stained and affronted surface, the cab would light up with profanity, and Zak would swab his chin and bust up laughing! He antagonized poor Zeek at every turn.  It fell to Zeek to stoke the fire, and that entailed trips to the tender to bring back firewood.  The tender was directly behind and downwind of the engine of course, and that made ol’ Zeek a mighty tempting target!  Zak had sworn a blood oath, to holler, “hot solder” before he spat, and he done his best, but he generally hollered after!  Zeek invariably came back thoroughly disgusted and sleeve-grooming his ears! 

"Obie's Quest"     

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