Low Water Hogan, longtime hog head on the SP&S and somewhat famous for being quite the throttle jockey, leaned out of the window of the big 700 and soaked in sounds of staccato exhaust bouncing off cliffs and hills. He had her workin’ hard with full tonnage on the 1.4% grade out of Philomath. He knew full well that a stretch of 1.7% was coming up as soon as he crossed under the high line bridge. Pop Off McGaffe, Low Water’s favorite fireman, was well aware of what the old girl needed and he had the firing valve full open.
The big S P & S 700, running lite back from Nashville, tip toes out onto the high bridge. This engine is the star of today’s progress report. Thank you George for provide such a fine steed. And thank you to Gene, Larry, Doug, and Lonnie, for helping make this happen.
The endless line of freight cars on the tender hook leaned into the curve behind the engine and tried to hold her back but to no avail. The 8 big drivers dug into the polished steel and kept the whole thing moving. Suddenly Flatwheel Smith, head end brakeman who was hanging out of the gangway watching who knows what, jumped across the deck and grabbed Low Water by the arm. He yelled in the hogger’s ear over the cacophony of big steam sound “Hey, there’s a red flag around the bend!”.
Low Water, knowing full well what stopping on the ruling grade meant, eased off on the throttle and the speed dropped quickly. Pop Off slammed the firing valve almost closed and the stack erupted with clouds of black smoke. Soot rained down on everything. Low Water grabbed the train at about 4 miles an hour so he could stop ½ the distance to any obstruction. Pretty soon they saw it. It was Spiker Mulligan running toward them like a scalded jack rabbit. He grabbed the gangway ladder and jumped into the cab. “Don’t Stop” he yelled. “Keep her at 4 and ease out onto the high bridge”. “My boys found a sun kink in the right rail but we think you can make it across”. “You THINK ” yelled Low Water, “It’s almost a hundred feet down off this thing”. “Yeah, I know,” shouts Mulligan, “but I’m not going to be the guy that has to call a helper out of Philomath for ya”. Low Water nodded acknowledgement and deftly played the throttle and Johnson bar to keep from stalling.
Flatwheel hopped back in the gangway ready to join the birds. Pop Off, eyes bulging, turned around and grabbed the brakeman, jerked him back and pointed down off the engine. Both men latched on to anything steel as the lower loop of the high line passed under the engine and gave way to a yawning chasm of rock and trees. Pop Off got right in Flatwheel’s ear and hollers “it won’t be the fall the kills ya’, it’ll be the sudden stop at the end!” Flatwheel backed up to the center of the cab and breathlessly thanked the fireman.
Mulligan leaned out of the cab as his boys scattered off the tall trestle and he got low on the ladder. Big drivers turned slowly, heavy exhaust churned up the air, black steel glistened in the sunlight and he looked up to give Low Water a slow go ahead signal. The rail mashed against the ties as heavy pilot wheels eased onto the kink. If the big 700 made it all the rest would as well. Everyone in the cab held their breath as they tip toed across the high bridge. Audible sighs of relief filled the cab as the monster engine crossed the deep ravine below and made it to the abutment. The crew gave each other knowing smiles.
This is what mountain railroading is all about. This is what happened after lunch today at CSME. We got a picture of the big 700 as she returned to Philomath on a light engine move. This is not a normal progress report. This is just a short note to let you know that we ran a train from Philomath, thru Blodget and over to Nashville. The wiring we used would make even the finest DCC aficionado blush. George was all smiles as his engine performed flawlessly and 6 grown men almost became emotional.