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 smoldering cinders! OBIE’S QUEST