At Ninety Miles an Hour -  Page 3
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By questioning I drew from this modest man some details of his achievement. They did the tightly curved stretch of 17 miles between Franklin Grove and Nelson in 14 minutes, and a part of this, beyond Nachusa, they took at an 80 mph pace. They covered five miles between Clarence and Stanwood in three minutes and a half, and they made two miles beyond Dennison at over 100 mph. As the mail rushed west, word was flashed ahead that a hair‑raising run was being made, and crowds gathered at the stations to cheer and marvel. Lights burned late that night in farmhouses, and at every signal station along the way a group of eager men were waiting.
        'There must have been 500 people on the platform at Dixon, said White, telling the story, 'and they looked to me like a swarm of ants, just a black, wriggling mass, and then they were gone. We came on to a bridge there after a big reverse curve with a down grade, and I guess no one will ever know how fast we were going that night, as we slammed her around one way and then slammed her around the other way. It was every bit of 90 mph. You got all you wanted, didn't you, Fred?'
        The fireman looked up, torch in hand, and remarked in a dry monotone 'Goin' through Dixon I said my prayers, and hung on, stretched out flat. That's what I done.'
        'Fred and I,' continued White, 'both got letters about the run from the superintendent. Here's mine, if you'd like to read it.'
        The pleasure of the two blackened men over this graciousness of the superintendent was a thing to see. For a bit of crumpled paper such as that White showed me I believe they would have taken the Mississippi at a jump, engine, train and all. Superintendent's orders, superintendent's praise ‑‑there was the beginning and end of all things for them.
        It was only a short ride I took this night in the cab of 908, five miles through the yards to the North Western station, where the mail cars were waiting, but I felt the power of the great creature, and thrilled with the throbbing of her brave heart. What splendid courage she has, I thought, as we moved along swiftly among the shadows. How kind she was to us poor, puny men!
        As we lay by the platform waiting for orders, White took me down on the tracks and explained how the switches were operated by compressed air from the towers.
        'Listen!' he said. 'You'll hear it hiss as the rail moves over. Look out for your feet. It would take one of them clean off if the jam caught it. And it's no fun to lose a foot. I tried it. He held up his right foot.'
        'What's the matter with it?' I said.
            'Nothing, only it's half gone. Shoe's stuffed with cotton. Engine driver rolled over it.'
        Then he told how a few years before he had been working under his locomotive when she had suddenly started forward (a cylinder cock not carefully closed), and how he managed to escape, all but his right foot.
        'I was laid up for a good many months, but the company stood by me nobly. That's the way they always treat disabled men, and here I am today as sound as a dollar. Well, goodby, sir.'
        Five minutes later they were off for the West, with various North Western officials waving encouragement.
        White's effort and the strength of 908 would take the train's 250 tons one‑third of the way to
Omaha. Then a second engine and engineer and fireman would do a second stretch, then a third relay would finish the run. Three engines, three engineers, and three firemen ‑‑these were needed by either road for the journey one way.
        The first long ride on one of these splendid locomotives was with the Burlington Flyer, with Number 590 at her head and Frank Bullard at the throttle. It was said that the Baldwin Locomotive Works never turned out a faster engine than this Number 590. The man must be a giant whose head would top her drivers, and for all her 70 tons, there was speed in every line of her. She was a young engine, too, only four years old, and Bullard swears he would back her in the matter of getting over rails to do anything that steel and steam could do. 'She's willing and gentle, sir, and easy running. You'll see in a minute.'


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