I’ve taken the hopes & dreams, and doubts & fears, and triumphs & failures that we all have in common with those hearty souls who’ve preceded us, and created an affable, unpretentious character that young and old alike are likely to relate to on some level. And then I’ve inflicted him with much of my own childhood, debilitating vulnerability, incomprehensible faith, some of our country’s most colorful and gut wrenching history, and a plethora of the ubiquitous maladies that plague us all! And I’ve cast him, nearly naked, into the world. God, consider my motives and forgive me.
The sun was just a sliver of crimson as we reached the top of the hill. We were about a quarter mile from the gaggle of ramshackle frame homes, which meander along the ravine and make up the Irish community. To the west, an impenetrable stand of firs was silhouetted against the lavender dusk, and the sounds of fellowship, fiddles, and Lidge’s concertina, were barely audible from the happy gathering below. In the distance a whippoorwill called, crickets sang, and the air carried the faint scent of hickory smoke, as the little community lit their stoves against the cool night air. Christoph and Laura paused to admire the sunset, and Mariah and I found a seat on a log at a distance sufficient to afford a degree of privacy. We admired the pastels as the sun slipped peacefully away, soaked up the serenity, and reflected on the events of the day. Darkness crept in silently around us and not a word was spoken. Eventually the silence was broken as Mariah shivered, moved ever so slightly closer, and pulled her sweater snugly around her neck. This was my opportunity. I slid over close beside her, wrapped my arms around her and waited for her response. After a moment Mariah reached out hesitantly and awkwardly placed her arm around my waist. My heart raced furiously, and as I listened to her quickened breath, I fought to calm the quickness of my own.
Eventually, noting my hopeful gaze, she glanced up apprehensively, licked her lips expectantly, closed her eyes and eagerly puckered up! This prospect, enticing and long anticipated though it was, had the immediate effect of sucking all the breath from my lungs and simultaneously paralyzing my tongue! Fighting for wind and desperately struggling to moisten my own mouth, I took my queue and pressed my lips to hers. We held that kiss for the longest time; both unwilling to let that moment end, and as our lips parted, we held on passionately in a long, lingering hug. For as long as I live I’ll remember that embrace. Then the twilight faded to velvet black, and our palms caressed as I walked Mariah home. "Obie's Quest"
Seasons are a wondrous thing.As I grew older, time seemed to speed up and I gradually became more observant.As time sailed by, life’s cycles became more apparent.As a young man I tended to envision time as a vast, unlimited resource; time it seemed was an inexhaustible sea.Now in the autumn of my life, each hour is increasingly precious, and I thirst for each minute as it drips away from an alarmingly finite pool. “Obie’s Quest”
Once in a while we got to ride the train! The only things more colorful than the engines themselves were the fellas that manned the throttles and made ‘em go. Lidge and I received only a few opportunities to hop a ride with the fellas in the cab. But those were some mighty memorable opportunities! The old cabs were cramped at best, and sightseers were discouraged. Even under the best of conditions, the engineers were hard-pressed to keep up a good head of steam in the old wood burners, and with pests like Lidge and me onboard, it was almost impossible; we were never content unless we were blowin’ the whistle!
On a couple of occasions we finagled a ride, out to tracks end and back, in the cab of the C. P. Huntington. Named for Mr. Hopkins’ fellow shopkeeper and coconspirator, Collis Potter Huntington, the little engine was a workhorse for the Central Pacific. Chugging along through the Sierra’s aboard the cab of the Huntington was reminiscent of riding an iron-wheeled wheelbarrow down a cobblestone street, only more gut wrenching and exhilaratingly perilous!
The heat off the boiler and firebox was enough to wilt the feathers off a wooden Indian, and you could fry an egg on any surface of the cab! We were hard-pressed to turn around without banging our head on something; and most of the time the cab was full of smoke and cinders, and the floor pitched and rolled till a fella couldn’t find his feet! “God pity the poor sailor, out on a night like this!” We rarely made headway for more than an hour, without needing to stop for something. If she wasn’t low on wood, she was out of water. There were little wood yards scattered all along the way, and anyplace that had access to water, boasted a gigantic barrel-like water tower, at a sufficient height to deliver water to the thirsty boilers. This process was rarely accomplished without soaking your boots and pants, which was mighty invigorating high in the Sierra Nevada’s. Occasionally, constellations 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 shouldering 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 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 firedoor 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”
Equally impressive as the thoroughfare itself, were its remarkable locomotives. Everything about a steam locomotive is awe-inspiring. The low moan of the engine, the earthy smell of burning fuel, hot steel, and well-oiled brass, and the rise and fall of the undulating rails, are an endless source of wonder for me. A swiftly passing locomotive brings to mind a living, breathing creature. To me, a steam locomotive belching smoke and billowing clouds of steam is the living personification of power itself. There’s no other sound in the whole wide world like the sound of a distant train, with its rhythmic rumble and the whistle’s mournful wail. It’s a little like the call of migrating geese as their primordial cries grow faint, and they follow their leader along an ancient path. Obie’s Quest
I apologize for this in advance, and I wouldn’t post it if I did not believe it to be absolutely imperative. My 80 year old mother lives in a small, 100 year old farmhouse, on the side of a rural, gravel road, several miles from town. The location is frequently used as a dumping ground for unwanted pets. Most everyone in our neighborhood has, at one time or another adopted these unwanted animals. We can’t absorb them all. We’ve spent countless hours in an effort to find them homes. We’re rarely successful. Several days ago, a big, fancy truck sped by my mom’s house and paused briefly at the top of the hill. Moments later, five dandy hound pups, black with white markings, and probably several months old, came galloping down the hill, lost, confused, and in search of their people. The pups continued these desperate and futile efforts through the night. The following morning when my mother went to her door, all five puppies met her on her porch, tails wagging and desperate for affection. I’d dearly love to provide this story with a happy ending. I can’t. Being an extremely caring person, but well accustomed to this pathetic routine, Mom saw to it that these loving, trusting, entirely faultless animals were well-fed and loved on, and then they were taken to a facility where my mother paid from her own pocket to have them humanely put down. And then Mom spent the rest of the day in tears. Sadly, this scenario is all too common. If you have pets, please be a responsible to have them spayed or neutered. If you can’t be responsible, you shouldn’t have pets. I’m sorely tempted to conclude this narrative by telling you exactly what I think of anyone who would deliberately dump helpless animals on the doorsteps of others. I’ll spare you those details. Suffice it to say, there is absolutely no excuse for such behavior. S. T. Casebeer
One year ago today, I was spending time each afternoon, sitting at Dad's bedside as he slowly died of cancer. By early November, Dad was gone. When you miss your dad so much that you absolutely can't stand it, do you know what helps?