Snowplow Extra
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd

1339 1/8 - 1613 1/8: Plow Extra One

By the time that Bud blew the Burlington's whistle for the County Road 919 crossing just outside Spearfish Lake, the engine wasn't contributing much to the train's progress. Though the diesel itself was running, the amperage gauges were resting down toward their pegs.

Bud was glum. "Looks like this thing's down for the count," he told Penny.

"The Burlington strikes again," the brakeman agreed.

"Yeah, just when we really need it, too." The engineer shook his head and reached for the VHF, calling the office. "Is Ed there yet?" he asked.

"He got here right after you called the last time," Betty replied, "So I had him plow out the piggyback ramp."

"Find him and get him right down to the engine shed. 104 is pretty sick. Tell him to bring along his magic wand."

"It's going to be a while before you get into the engine shed," she told him. "Walt's still switching around trying to get the way car out, and he's got Track One blocked up."

This was more bad news for Bud. Walt should have been done switching by now; he'd hoped to have the consist loaded for the return to Warsaw. If Walt hadn't finished switching, then the loading couldn't be done, either.

"OK, Betty," Bud replied into his microphone, then continued, "Walt, how are you coming along with that?"

"One more cut will get the way car out," was the reply from the switch engine. "You don't want any of the repair cars, do you?"

"Not this trip. We'll hold up on the north wye till you get the stuff off two."

"If you're really in a hurry," Walt replied, "Why don't you hold on till I get the way car onto Three? Then you can help me take all of the stuff off of One and put it back on Two. Then I can put the Way car on two so we can hang it on the end of the load for Warsaw."

"The way car doesn't have to go on the end," Bud protested, then asked, "How's the loading going?"

"Pretty slow. We're still unloading. I only got the last of the flats up to the dock a few minutes ago. Had to move them in three cuts, and it took a while.

This was a real shock to Bud. He had assumed that things would be pretty well ready to go, and they were nowhere near that stage. Apparently there was a real mess to straighten out. He thought for a moment, then got back on the VHF: "Betty, did Upton find enough stuff to fill 17 flats?"

"I doubt it," she replied. "But he's right here. Give me a minute to see what we do have to go."

The sheriff had been lounging near the coffeepot, and he began to run the list though his mind as he heard the exchange. He replied to Betty's glance, "Let's see ... we've got both the rural and the city pumper..."

"How long are they?" Betty broke in.

"About 40 or 45 feet." As the sheriff spoke, Betty took notes. Two tankers, about 35 feet long, two ambulances, the rescue van and grass buggy, all at about 25 feet; a 40 foot cherry picker from the power company, a 20 foot power company van, and two county plows, at least 30 feet if not more. "Oh, yeah," he added, "They've got a four-wheel drive pickup from the fire department loaded with spare clothes and heavy clothing and sleeping bags and stuff like that. They're planning on staying a while."

"We've got sixty-foot flats mostly," Betty said to herself, shuffling figures around while she tried to ignor Bud talking with Walt on the radio.

"Walt, who's getting the chains off the trailers on those flats?"

"Tefke's been working on them."

"You anywhere near him?" Bud called from the cab of the Burlington, by now parked on the north wye.

"Pretty close, if he hasn't moved," Walt replied after a moment. "I'm just backing out with the way car now. I'll be going right by him."

"Stop when you get near him and get his attention. How many cars do you think he's got empty now?"

"Don't know for sure. Maybe ten. Let's see, he's got to be around here somewhere. Be back in a minute." Walt left the cab to try and yell at the section gang foreman, who was busy unchaining truck trailers in the blowing snow. The howling wind blew away the sound of the engineer's voice; a blast from the Milwaukee's air horn got his attention, though.

While Tefke floundered through the snow to the switcher, Bud called the office once again. "Betty, got any idea of how many flats we're going to need?"

"I think we can do it with nine flats, Bud, if we mix the load right. The fire department has two pumpers and the power company has a cherry picker truck that are too long to mix with anything else on those flats. The rest of the load we can work around somehow on the other six flats. We should leave some space for Albany River, if they show up before you leave. You want the details on that loading?"

"Not just now, Betty." Bud marshalled his thoughts before he went on. "I'll get back to you on that in a minute. Two questions for Upton. Is all that stuff ready to load, and does he have any idea when Albany River might get here?"

Betty looked at the sheriff, who replied, "Enough to get started. The fire department guys are still getting personal gear together for a long stay. Albany River didn't get started until the county got a plow out to them, so there's no telling. I'll call and see if I can find out where they are."

The accountant nodded and spoke into the microphone, "Most of the load is ready and waiting, at least the people from Spearfish Lake. Upton's getting a reading on Albany River."

"Good enough," Bud replied. "Be back with you in a minute. Walt, have you caught up with Tefke yet."

"Yeah," Walt replied. "Here he is."

The lean, grizzled section gang foreman took the microphone as Bud began to speak. "Roger, how many flats you got empty?"

"Eleven with the load that's moving now."

Bud thought for a moment, then ordered Tefke to empty one more, then get started loading. They would leave the flatcars that were still full behind, so Tefke's crew could unload them later.

"You're going to want them all unloaded?" Tefke wondered.

"Sure do," Bud replied. "Nine's all we're going to use this trip, unless Albany River shows up, but we might need the rest of them later. We can always reload them if we don't need them. Make sure the stuff we're loading is chained down the best way it can. We don't need it coming loose."

"Will do," the section foreman replied. "Sorry we weren't all done."

"Couldn't be helped. Let me talk to Walt, again." Bud gave Walt some further orders about switching the train around, then called back to the office, wondering if Upton had heard about Albany River yet.

"An hour at least, maybe more," Betty replied. "They had to bring in a plow from out south, and it isn't there yet."

"If they get here before we're ready to go, we'll take them," Bud told her. "Give Upton your list of how to load that stuff. Have him go over to the piggyback ramp and direct traffic. Everything goes on straight ahead, and we'll change ends so they'll go off straight ahead in Warsaw. The only thing is, I want one of the plows to go on first. I don't know if anybody's thought to plow out the piggyback ramp in Warsaw."

"OK, Bud, no problem."

"Uh, Betty, if there's anybody standing around there without something heavy in both hands, have them go over to Rick's. Have them get four burgers with everything, two orders of fries, a milkshake and John, what do you want to drink?"

"Coke.

"And a coke." Plus, there's a thermos in my office. Get it filled with coffee so we can take it on the next run, will you?" He hung up the microphone as Betty replied in the affirmative, then reached for the throttle. "Switch set for us?" he asked John.

"Yeah, I checked. How do you do it, anyway?"

"Do what?"

"How do you throw orders around like that? They were floundering around, wasting time. Then, you come in and it's do this, do that, what's the story on the other thing, and all of a sudden, everything's working."

"Someone had to do it," Bud shrugged. "You yell at bag boys as much as I have and you get used to it."

On the way back from the aborted attempt on County Road 919, Harry Masterfield had told the Spearfish Lake firemen to get personal gear together and expect a stay of several days at Warsaw, and to load all the spare equipment the department owned into the back of Rod Turpin's four wheel drive pickup, which would go to the troubled town on the train with the department.

The fireman had no sooner arrived in Spearfish Lake before Joe McGuiness was busy. The fireman/accountant was just getting started on tax preparation season, and if he was going to be gone for a few days, it was necessary to make special arrangements to keep his business going. His wife would have to look after the office for a few days, but she couldn't handle much of the business, which was new and not well established; he hardly dared turn his back on it for the several days he might be in Warsaw, but still, he felt he had to go.

He called a few clients to put off appointments, and then got down to the business of preparing. Since he was an outdoors person -- that, after all, was the reason he had moved to Spearfish Lake -- his winter sleeping bag and the foam pad to go under it were easy to find. He thought about taking his spare snowmobile suit, but since the pad and sleeping bag were already on his pack frame and other useful winter gear was already in the pack, it just seemed easiest to fasten the snowmobile suit to the outside of the pack with some bungee straps.

He was in a hurry now, for Masterfield had said there would only be an hour or so before the department would be loading onto the train, and that time was almost gone. As ready to go as he could get in that time, he kissed his wife goodbye and loaded himself and his gear onto his snowmobile. At the fire hall a few minutes later, he found other firefighters busy loading spare hose and other gear into the back of Turpin's pickup.

"You got here just in time," the logger told him. "We're just about loaded. We just had a call from the sheriff, and they're about ready for us over there. Lend a hand with the hose."

McGuiniss threw his pack into the pickup, then headed for the hose rack at the back of the fire hall. "They hear anything from Warsaw?" he yelled at Turpin.

"Last I heard they were still up to their asses in it. Walsenberg's trying to get there through the forest, and they're having a hell of a time."

The logger looked around the fire hall and couldn't see any other useful equipment, then counted noses to see how many men were still in the building: seven. "Well, I guess that's about it," he called. "About four of you guys are going to have to ride in back on top of all this stuff. Let's get our butts in gear."

With Track One finally cleared, Bud powered Plow Extra One toward the engine shed. The Burlington's horn sounded; inside, Ed Sloat hit the switch for the overhead door, and Bud ran the engines inside. The submariner-cum-mechanic-cum-brakeman stood ready to close the door, but Bud leaned out of the cab and yelled at him, "Hold the door, we're going out again right away."

The mechanic pointed at the plow and shook his head over the noise of the idling engines in the enclosed space of the engine shed. Bud brought the two Geeps to a stop, and Sloat ran down the apron toward him while Penny turned to the task of opening the coupling between the two engines and disconnecting the control lines.

Bud shut the Burlington down, leaving the Rock idling, with the plow pointed toward the door. He got out of the cab to meet the mechanic, who asked, "What the hell did you do to the plow?"

To be honest, Bud hadn't even thought about looking at the plow since the attempt to move the hopper cars, but he wasn't anxious to let his overprotective chief mechanic in on that little secret. "Scorched it a bit, didn't we?" he replied in as neutral a tone as he could manage.

"You sure as hell did! What the hell did you guys do, take a blowtorch to it?" The two of them walked up to inspect the damage.

"Damn near," Bud admitted, shaking his head at the sight. "Tried to move some burning hopper cars with it." They reached a point where he could see the front of the big plow. The blade was blackened with smoke, and the paint was scorched here and there. There were spots of scorched paint on the cupola, too, but the wood and glass were intact.

"Wow," Bud said, surveying the damage. "It must have been hotter in there than I thought." He looked back at the blue Rock, which was now smoke-blackened, too. He and Penny HAD been right in the thick of the fire a few hours earlier.

"You sure raised hell with it," Sloat said, disapproving.

"Couldn't be helped."

Sloat was unmollified. "We've got to check it over good before you use it again."

"Don't have the time," Bud protested. "We've got to use it again in a few minutes. We just pulled in here to drop off the Burlington. Don't know if Betty told you, but something electrical crapped out on it."

"Look, Bud, there's no way I can have this engine and plow ready to go right away. If you got that deep into a fire, there's a bunch of things that have got to be checked over."

"Like I said," Bud retorted. "We don't have the time. Tell you what: I have to go over to the office for a few minutes. You and John do the best you can. Check the journal boxes on the plow. Hot as it was, they might have burnt a bit. Check the light on the plow, and then work on anything else you think might need help, but don't take over fifteen or twenty minutes."

"Fifteen or twenty minutes, hell," Sloat snorted in his best CPO-disapproving-of-an-ensign manner. "It'll take us that long to get started."

"Well, get started, then," Bud told him. "I'll fill you in on the Burlington when I get back from the office."

Instead of going directly to the office, Bud strode through the old building to the nearby loading ramp. The loading was finally getting started; one of the county plows was going down the line of emptys under Tefke's guidance. Harry Masterfield was guiding the next rig, an ambulance, up the ramp. With that one starting down the line of cars, Bud went over to talk to him.

It was bitterly cold out in the blowing snow, but they got their conversation in while walking up the line of empty flats, Masterfield all the while giving the driver hand signals to guide him up the narrow flats. "It's going to be a cold, windy ride up there," Bud told the fire chief. "Make sure your people are inside truck cabs or something."

"Will do," Masterfield shouted over the noise of the wind.

"It's gonna be a rough ride, too. I want everybody sitting down where they can hang on to something. If it gets too crowded, there'll be room in the caboose. When you get everything loaded, give me a call somehow or another, and I'll give three blasts on the horn. Then, everybody's got two minutes to get settled, and then we'll get going."

"Sounds good. You're planning on making another run after this one, aren't you?"

"I'm about going to have to if I want to keep the line open."

"Good," the fire chief replied. "I heard Albany River on the radio a couple minutes ago. The plow truck hasn't gotten to them yet, so they can't get here for an hour, at least, probably more. I hate to have you wait that long. They've been waiting long enough for us in Warsaw as it is."

"When you're tied down," Bud agreed, "We'll leave. Don't load the three flats at the ramp, we'll leave them here."

The loading was going about as well as could be expected, and the walk up the line of flatcars had left Bud opposite the office. He got off the flatcars and floundered through the snow on the intervening two tracks to the office, where he headed directly for the coffee pot.

"Betty, this one trip isn't going to do it," he said as he filled his cup, then collapsed into a chair. "Upton and Masterfield are going to want me to keep the line open, and there's no way to do it unless we keep at it. There's going to be more fire departments coming. If they're going for Albany River, then Blair isn't that much further off."

"How long are you going to have to keep it up?"

"Until it's over, or until the storm quits," Bud replied, sipping his coffee. "I'm sure we're going to have to make another run after this one, for Albany River if for nothing else. I wouldn't be surprised if we have to make more after that. This could go on for days. With the wind blowing the way it is, the equipment they've got up there isn't going to get that fire out overnight. I wouldn't be surprised if those hopper cars could keep going for days by themselves, even if they don't let the fire get away from them."

"Is it that bad?" Betty worried.

"It's that bad. And, it could get worse. If that fire gets to the main plant, they could lose the whole town. They've got damn little to stop it with."

The accountant searched for words, but there wasn't much that could be said about that news.

After a moment of silence, Bud went on, "We've got to have someone here all the time to keep things organized on this end and keep up with what's going on. You've about got to be the one. Will staying here be too much trouble for you? I'll get Kate in here to spell you when nothing much is going on. She won't particularly like it, but she'll do it."

Kate was Bud's wife. There was no real secret that there wasn't much of a marriage going on between the two any more. It was dying, mostly from a mutual lack of interest; only habit and inertia kept the two together.

"That'll help a lot," Betty agreed. "Of course, I'll stay. I haven't got anything to do at home in this weather, anyway."

"Good," Bud replied, and reached for the phone to call his wife.

"Don't tell me you're going to be late again", she complained as soon as she heard his voice.

"Doesn't look like I'll make it home at all tonight. We've got big trouble." Bud took a deep breath and explained what was heppening. "We're going to keep the office open all night, and I want you here to spell Betty."

"Well, I suppose," Kate replied, "But I was going to make a meat loaf tonight."

Bud wanted to tell her what to do with the meat loaf, but thought better of it. "OK, great," he said. "As soon as we get the train loaded, I'll send Roger over with the pickup. Bring the sleeping bags and cots, the camp stove, some canned food, and anything else you can think of that might be useful. This could be a long siege in this weather."

Kate could be snotty -- Bud knew that all too well -- but that didn't affect her ability to cope with problems. Living out of the office for the next few days wouldn't be any trouble, now; that much could be depended upon to go smoothly. He'd hear about it later, of course, but that would be later. He'd worry about later when it came.

Bud put down the phone and turned back to his accountant. "You and Kate are going to have to keep a handle on things," he said. "Feel free to call me if I'm in range if you have questions or problems, but keep things going when they have to."

"I'm not used to running things, Bud," Betty protested. "You usually run everything. But I'll try to get along."

"Can't ask for much better than that." Bud got up, drew another cup of coffee, then went to the office VHF radio and called the Milwaukee. "Walt, did I tell you we're taking you and the 202 with us this trip?" he asked into the microphone.

Walt's voice rasped back from the speaker. "Not in so many words, but I figured as much."

"Would Fred mind going?"

"Naw, Jerusalem Paper owes the bank money sideways. He's been worried about what's going on up there every time he's been in the cab. He can worry better when he's seen what's going on."

One wisecrack deserved another, and felt good to break the tension, besides. "I'll tell him you said that. You didn't really need a mortgage on your house, anyway." That would even them up; now, Bud got serious. "Where you at?"

"On two, right next to where they're loading."

"How are they coming?"

"About half loaded. Roger's got the first couple loads tied down. Fred's out helping him."

"Good enough," Bud replied. "I didn't notice which way the Milwaukee is headed, but we'll want the apron blade pointed westward when we leave. We'll go straight out, so turn it around if you need to."

"It already is," Walt told him. "Look, unless you think you're gonna need me, I'll slide over to the consist and couple up, then get out and help Roger with the tiedowns."

"Shouldn't need you," Bud said into the microphone. "I'm leaving now. If you need me, I'll be around the loading somewhere, or in the engine shed."

Bud hung up the microphone and set down his coffee cup, telling Betty that it would be three to four hours before he could expect to back.

"Take it easy on Walt if you can," she warned him.

"Oh? Anything the matter?"

"He's got the flu so bad he can hardly stand up," she warned. "He's putting on a brave front, but I can see he's not well."

"Boy, I couldn't tell, but, I've only talked to him on the radio." Bud said. "I'll try not to push him." With that, he zipped up his coat and disappeared into the blowing snow.

In spite of the storm with its attending high winds, the Warsaw Fire Department had been able to hold the line so far. It had been a battle much like that on a battlefield of old, where a stubborn defense had managed to hold off an agressive enemy that pressed them hard at the center and both flanks.

At Linder's center, the battle for the hopper cars had been lost with Plow Extra One's failure. Though he wasn't likely to lose more ground there, the toxic gases that poured out of the fertilizer-loaded cars made the battle on either flank that much harder.

One tanker and one desperately-undermanned pumper was keeping the spread of the fire at a standstill in the paper storage warehouse. If the long expected reserves ever arrived from Walsenberg or Spearfish Lake, it might still be possible to win. Shed 1 was a total loss, of course, but a victory would mean keeping the fire out of the warehouses to the south and keeping some vagrant spark or another from setting the main plant afire.

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