wagons reached the Burlington Station at Canal Street, with
horses in a lather. Meanwhile, the others had dashed through Sherman
Fifth Avenue to the Wells Street station of the Chicago & North
This latter was the longer journey by some five minutes, but the
vans made compensating gain in backing right up to a platform near the
train, while the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy pouches had to slide
chute, then handled on trucks. This whole operation of transfer was
accomplished in half an hour, more or less (as the mail was heavy or
was a thing to remember, like some giant football game, the way those
quickhanded men sent the pouches flying out of the vans and into the
dragging and away.
Now began the effort of steam and brain and skill of the hand. Now the trains started. Perhaps some distant eye far above can watch them speed to the West, two fire spots creeping through the darkness in pursuit of the setting stars, one might fancy. Side‑byside they go, with slight divergence, the Burlington keeping a little more southward. Side‑by‑side they crossed the Mississippi and then came together as the sun was rising and paused on the Missouri's banks, this stretch over. Both trains covered the 500 miles in about 10 hours, including stops, slowdowns and delays of every kind, which meant that both attained a velocity at times of 80, 90 or 100 mph. Though some claimed as much as 120 mph for short distances, this cannot be verified, since no instrument has yet been devised that will make reliable record of these great bursts.
The North Western route was 10 miles shorter than the Burlington (489.9 against 500.2 miles). On the other hand, the North Western flyer left Chicago at 10 o'clock, while the Burlington train left at 9:30. By schedule time the two reached Omaha at about 8 o'clock in the morning (the North Western at 8:15, the Burlington at 7:55), and no man could say that one was better or faster than the other. Yet this was true, that both did more than has ever been done by any other train in the world running daily.
It was a fine thing to know the men who drive the engines on these trains; just to see them was something, and to make them talk (if you could do it) was better business than interviewing most celebrities you had heard about.
To this end I set out one evening early in January for the great roundhouse of the North Western road that lay on the outskirts of Chicago. A strange place, surely, this was one who approached it unprepared, a place where yellow eyes glare out of deep shadows, where fire dragons rushed at you with crunching and snortings, where the air hissed and roared. It might have been some demon menagerie, there in the darkness.
To this place of fears and pitfalls I came an hour or so before starting time, and here I found Dan White, one of the North Western crackerjacks, giving the last careful touches to locomotive 908 before the night's hard run. In almost our first words my heart was won by something White said. I had mentioned Frank Bullard of the Burlington road, a rival by all rights, and immediately this bluff, broad‑shouldered man exclaimed: 'Ah, he's a fine fellow, Bullard is, and he knows how to run an engine.'
White would fight Bullard at the throttle to any finish, but would speak only good words of him.
'Tell me,' I said, 'about the great run you made the other night.' From a dozen lips I had heard of White's tremendous dash from Chicago to Clinton, Iowa.
'Oh, it wasn't much. We had to make the time up, and we did it. Didn't we, Fred?'
This to the fireman, who nodded in silent assent, but said nothing.
'You made a record, didn't you?'
'Well, we went 138 miles in 143 minutes. That included three stops and two slowdowns. I don't know as anybody has beat that much. '
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