Along the Finke
Copyright© 2010 by Pedant
It took about ten minutes to walk to the police station and see the Inspector -- who was actually there. He was willing to give Charlie a copy of the note with a pretty purple stamp and a scribbled signature. Charlie folded it and put it in his shirt pocket. Reynolds asked Charlie whether he'd thought about claiming the property that Vincent had in Adelaide.
"Ayup, Let the state keep it. I sure don't have time to fool with it; maybe something good will come of it."
The inspector nodded his head and shook Charlie's hand, then mine and Weena's. When Reynolds reached for my hand, I asked, "By chance, could you take us to the train yards?"
"No problem. I've got to get on the road, anyway," the Inspector said. And did. Weena rode in front, giving the poor bloke a good view, Charlie and I sat in the rear. We thanked him, but he said it had been his pleasure and drove off, leaving us among the flies near the "Office."
"You are a tease," I said. She just laughed.
"Okay. Charlie, we're gonna have to make some decisions. First of all, the Great Southern operates the Ghan, southbound twice a week, they'll hook freight cars on for a fee. FreightLink runs freight-only trains. Of course, we could try the 'toy, ' but I'd not recommend it. So when we get into the office, we need to find out what they can offer."
"Yah. Remember when we were here Stuart said that there was a new toy. A switch engine, I guess."
"How come you know about railroads?" asked Weena.
"When I was a boy, I had a wonderful book. A Pictorial History of Australian Railways. I think it was a present for my tenth. I must've read it a dozen times. I learned all sorts of stuff. Sydney Railway Company, was Australia's first, in 1848. It connected Sydney to Bathurst inland and to Goulburn, about halfway to where Canberra is now.
"Adelaide-Darwin railway is north-south. Original construction was by South Australian Railways as a 3 ft. 6 in. narrow gauge railway. They started it in 1878, from Port Augusta. They started from Darwin heading south in 1883. It was called Palmerston then, it only became Darwin in 1911. The North Australia Railway got to Larrimah in 1929. Same year, the narrow gauge finally got to Alice Springs. There was about 800 klicks, 500 miles with no railroad.
"They closed the northern line in 1976. They started rebuilding near Port Augusta before that, but the new line from Tarcoola to Alice, is about 150 klicks west of the existing track, this time they used standard gauge. It opened in 1980. They're supposed to open the whole new line to Darwin in 2001 but the first Ghan went from Adelaide to Tarcoola only a few years ago."
"Thank you, professor."
"I actually have a point. If we're going to use it, the Ghan leaves Alice for Adelaide Thursdays and Sundays. If we're going to get a freight, we should aim to leave on Friday morning or Monday morning. My guess is we'd be best guided by that bloke we spoke to the other day. Monday's the day after tomorrow"
"Ayup," said Charlie.
"You've been very quiet Charlie. Are you okay?"
"Yeah. There's a lot to think about. An' I jes' don' know enough. On most of this, I'm happy to go along with Gordy an' you. You ain't stepped in it yet. An' I'm grateful. Let's see what the feller that works here's got to say."
So we went inside.
Stuart was sitting at his desk, looking at some papers and scratching his head. "G'day, folks."
"Mornin'," I responded. Weena sat down with a smile on the one chair. Charlie nodded. "Charlie here's now got the papers from the bank and Reynolds. So we can make plans for moving that herd to the south."
"Yep. So I was wondering what you could tell us about FreightLink."
"Funny. That's the stuff I was just lookin' at. They've got a train comin' from Palmerston to Alice Springs tomorrow. They're bringin' in food in reefer cars an' will just uncouple them on the siding. They were askin' about loads goin' south or back towards Darwin. They could load the cattle early on Monday and be "wherever" that afternoon. You know where they're goin' yet?"
Charlie asked if he could phone and Stuart just moved it across the desk. Charlie fished out his piece of paper and asked me to get the number. I did, but handed him the phone.
"Hello, Maddy? This is Charlie. Yeah, I figgered you don't get too many guys like me callin' you. Ayup. Anyways, we're in Stuart's office ... Yep, I'll let you talk to him in a minute. But, would Monday be okay? Sure. I'm lookin' forward to meetin' you, too. Here's Stuart." And he handed the phone to him.
"G'day. Oh, Maddy! I didn't know who he was callin'. Yeah. Three o' them, a lot o' cows with big horns, an' the three o' them. Oh. Okay. Yep. No problem. Okay. Bye." And Scott hung up. "She says she'll meet the freight with a crew on Monday – I'll tell the blokes to stop at the siding south of the Finke bridge, that river's bin dry for near a year. But there was a flash flood last year, and there's bin rain in the MacDonnells. That might be comin' down."
"The MacDonnells are off west, right?" I asked.
"Yep... 'bout 150 kilometres. Water collects from the creeks and goes into the Hugh, the Palmer and the Finke and ends up in the Macumba into Lake Eyre. But it c'n come down with a rush an' a roar an' it brings wood an' trees an' anything that gets in the way. That's why the Finke Bridge is the biggest in Australia."
"Okay," I said. "Now what do we need to do? What do you need to do? And what does Charlie need to pay and to whom?"
Weena snorted, "Whom?"
"Waal, first thing, I need to phone the Palmerston yards. They'll tell me what the freight job'll cost, too. I c'n work out the fodder, water and yard cost here. Them boys can help you get the cattle onto the cars. They know how the gates and ramps work. Do 'em some good to git up early fer once. Maddy'll take care of whatcha need down south. She's a good'un."
"Okay. We'll clear out and talk to the boys while you phone and figger." And we went outside.
The three "boys" were sitting watching the cattle. They looked like they hadn't moved in nearly 48 hours. One of them looked up. "G'day, capt'n," he said. "Wan' more tucker?"
"Tucker?" asked Charlie.
"Food," said Weena.
"Ayup. C'n you get me more like the other day?"
"Sure thing, capt'n." And he was off. We weren't going very fast, but he was back by the time we got to the pen where the bulls were. The big one saw us, snorted and pawed the ground a bit.