Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
2017 1/8 - 2138 1/8: Plow Extra One
Betty and Kate were manning the office when Bud's call came. The Albany River fire department had arrived hours before, and while they awaited the next train to Warsaw, they decamped to Rick's Cafe.
Rick usually closed his little hole in the wall late in the afternoon, but without being told by anyone he sensed that tonight, of all nights, there was a real need for him to stay open, and the lights of the restaurant became a beacon illuminating the storm for those to whom the railroad office a hundred yards away had become the magnet of their attention.
Inside that office, Bud's surprise announcement turned the place into an instant mass of ordered chaos; and thus it was that the first word of the evacuation train from Warsaw to reach Rick's came with a call from Kate: "There's going to be five hundred evacuees from Warsaw here in an hour. Have coffee ready for them."
Before Rick could say a word, she had hung up the phone and was dialing another number.
Betty and Kate dialed a lot of numbers in a few minutes. Kate was something of a mover and a shaker in the little community of Spearfish Lake, and she did know a lot of people Bud's faith was well placed.
Realizing that finding that many places for people to stay by herself in that short a time was impossible, Kate did the next best thing: she called several members of the Spearfish Lake Woman's Club, and got each of them to calling around the community, looking for homes where people could take evacuees in, then have those women bring their lists to the railroad office as soon as possible. Arranging transportation to those homes involved a call to Sheriff Upton, telling him to come up with some school buses.
This in itself was probably as tough a chore, since it involved finding ten bus drivers that lived in town, plus someone that could get the keys for the buses and permission to use them, plus someone to plow out the parking lot at the bus barn, but buses would be waiting at the railroad office when the train got in, and the women's club members could guide a busload of people to homes they'd contacted.
Even with Betty helping, at two or three minutes per call it was twenty minutes before the ball was rolling. Arranging for people to meet the train and assist people off was easy; there were all those Albany River firemen over at Ricks to call on, and given a good start Rick could probably produce twenty gallons of coffee or more and get it over to the railroad office. Food was a little harder, since there was no way that Rick would be able to prepare a little snack for five hundred people on so short a notice. Deciding that cold food was about the best that could be done, she called the new manager of the Spearfish Lake Super Market and told him the railroad's pickup would be there in thirty minutes, and to be prepared to load every packaged doughnut and roll in the place into the truck.
By now, people were starting to arrive at the railroad office. There was a fair amount of room for them to stand around, since the office was the former Decatur and Overland passenger and freight station, but it hadn't been this busy in years.
Betty told Kate that Bud ought to be back in range by now, so she called him on the VHF to inform him that they'd be unloading at the station platform.
"Figured that," Bud replied. "We're about half an hour out and coming on strong."
"Bud," she called back. "I just had a thought. Do you have any ambulance or wheelchair cases on the train?"
"Got one ambulance case," the radio squawked. "And, they want the ambulance back. Have Joe Upton call the ambulance directly and see if there's any harm done with a transfer. I really don't want to have to mess around with the switching it would take to unload it. I wouldn't know about any wheelchair or stretcher cases that might be on the buses or in the way car, and there's no way to find out till we get in. I know they left one ambulance down there, so you might have them meet us anyway. How's everything going down there?"
"Going fine," Kate replied, biting her lip. Now was not the time to give Bud hell about the short notice. "Ed just walked in ... just a second ... he says he just rode Walt's snowmobile out to the wye and lined the switches for you so you can come straight in."
There was a crowd of Albany River firemen and Spearfish Lake residents waiting on the office platform a little after seven in the evening when the Milwaukee's headlamp split the night. With air horns sounding, the two engines pulled slowly past the platform, followed by the big plow and the way car. In the station's lights, the ambulance and the school buses loaded on the flatcars looked strange indeed to the welcoming committee that Kate had organized.
Walt halted the train just before the back steps of the way car reached the far end of the platform. Unnoticed by the crowd, Bud told Walt on the VHF that he would be in the office if needed, then quietly got off the Rock and walked through the snow to the back door of the old station. On his way, he noticed the school buses sitting in the parking lot, and a babble of voices told him that the first evacuees were getting off and going inside and yes, were being greeted by hot coffee and doughnuts before they boarded the Spearfish Lake school buses for the short trip to the homes where they would stay. Over the babble, Bud picked out the words, " ... says she hadn't picked a name out for him, but now she wants to call him 'Stormy.'"
That put a smile on Bud's tired face. He went into the office and told the women, "You two did yourselves proud. I told Walt there was nobody else in town but you two that I could depend on to put something like this together with no notice."
Bud's praise stifled most of Kate's well-planned tirade. "You could have given us a little warning," she sniffed.
"I called you as soon as I found out that nobody had thought of doing anything on this end," Bud defended.
"How could anybody be so stupid not think that much through?" she replied sharply, remind Bud of why, deep down inside, he really didn't like his wife.
"Damn lucky anybody thought of it at all. We barely thought of loading these people onto the buses. John came up with that. I get the impression that Fred Linder is the only one that's got any idea of what's really going on up there, and he's trying to be fourteen places at once."
Betty broke into the discussion. "Since you brought all these people with you, I take it that things aren't any better up there."
"No," Bud agreed. "But not much worse, either. They're holding the same line they've held since noon, or at least they were when we left. We brought all thse people with us since the wind is shifting, and all the junk from the fertilizer hoppers was getting too close to the school, where'd they'd taken this crowd. What's the status of the next load?"
"The vehicles are loaded on and tied down. You've got the Albany River fire department and all their stuff," Betty told him. "And you've got four trucks and two jeeps from the National Guard. They're taking some people to set up a field kitchen, guard evacuated areas, and lend a hand where they can. People are all over the place, but most are close by. We've told everyone to come running when they hear the train whistle."
"How many empty flats are we going to have left here?"
"Three. I told the National Guard guy his name's John Pacobel..."
"I know him. I need to talk to him, too."
"I told him to keep it light. Upton says that the Blair fire department is supposed to get here any time, so I told him we'd leave space for it. I also told him that you wouldn't hold up for them unless they called in and were right at the edge of town. Is that all right?"
"That's fine, Betty. You did great. We've still got a little time for Blair to get here, since we've got to get the rest of the Warsaw people unloaded." As he spoke, he noticed the train pulling slowly forward, presumably to get more bus flats to the loading platform. "Then, we've got some switching to do to get the next load ready, so those flats can stay right up at the ramp until we're all set to go."
"Glad you think we did all right," Betty told him. "Anything else we can do for you?"
"Ummmmmmm ... did Rick's stay open?"
"Yes, he's had a crowd of firefighters there all night. The coffee is courtesy of him," Kate told her husband.
"Great, have somebody go down there and bring some kind of food for Walt and John and Frank and me, and a thermos of coffee for each of us. See if you can get Upton on the horn and get us an ETA for Blair. I've got to go out and talk to Walt and Ed."
Cliff Sprague was about half mad, but that was normal. "You could have sent one of your plows out to help us in."
Linder tried to not get upset with Sprague, for he was too happy to see him: Sprague was the chief of the Walsenberg Volunteer Fire Department. With only an ailing village snowplow to support him, Sprague had led a six-hour struggle over forty-five miles of crooked forest roads to bring help from the east to Warsaw.
"Cliff, if you'd have given us a call, we'd have sent one. We've only had the county plows for an hour, since the train brought them up with Harry Masterfield's bunch. Our village plow couldn't break trail in this stuff, and the driver is too dumb to break wind and chew gum at the same time."
This got Sprague even angrier. In an extremely curt tone, he asked, "What's the situation?"
Linder told the newcomer about the fires in the paper storage warehouse and in the pulp yard, and warned him to have his men wear masks downwind of the burning fertilizer cars. Then, he got down to specifics: "I want to put you and your people on the warehouse fire. God knows why it hasn't burnt through yet. My people have been on that since this morning, and the situation is stable for the moment. When that thing burns through, we want to try and protect the plant downwind more than we want to get after the fire in the shed."
"Jesus," Sprague swore. "Fifty miles through this shit to fight a toilet paper fire."
Linder had a pretty good idea of what was eating Sprague. The Walsenberg chief was the kind of person that thought he had to have charge of everything, every time. He'd been the second chief there an hour and a half quicker he might have been able to complain Linder into doing everything his way. Now, he was third in line, following a less abrasive but equally forceful Harry Masterfield, neither of whom liked the other one a bit. If Wally Borck from Hoselton wanted to make an issue of it and Wally wouldn't then he was fourth in line. "Tough, Cliff," Linder thought. "You're going to have to do it my way, this time."
Linder got back on his snowmobile. It would be hard, but he'd have to be nice to Sprague if he was going to get any cooperation at all out of Walsenberg. There was another thing to remember: not to trust Sprague any farther than he could throw a fit.
Bud's first stop was at the engine shed, where he could hear the muffled noises of Sloat's cursing from down under the Burlington somewhere.
Sloat had been a real find for Bud when the railroad was first getting under way. With the old equipment, he needed someone who could take care of it, and it had been difficult to find an experienced railroad diesel maintainer. They had struggled along with part-time help for months, and Bud had been bitching about it over a beer at the Legion to a friend, George Webb, who ran the local weekly newspaper.
"Maybe I can help you out," Webb told him. "Friend of mine from high school just retired from the Navy and moved back home."
"So he's been riding around in the engine rooms of diesel subs since about 1944."
There wasn't a whole lot about railroad engines that had been a mystery to Sloat, and he soon got over that. Now, even the D&O shops occasionally called Spearfish Lake for advice.
"What do you make of this thing?" Bud asked the former chief petty officer.
"Piece of shit, but we already knew that," Sloat told him as he crawled out from underneath the engine. "John was right. The traction motors are wet and shorting out."
"What can we do about it?" Bud replied. "We need this engine."
"Dry it out and hope for the best," was Sloat's advice. "I'm gonna get some kerosene heaters and try to blow some heat into the trucks. Maybe by morning we can use it again. Maybe not."
"Well, do the best you can with it," Bud told him. "We need this thing if you can possibly get it running."
"Better not depend on it," was Sloat's response.
Bud shrugged and headed back out into the storm. The Milwaukee was pulling ahead again, and Bud climbed up into its cab. "Let's see," he thought. "That makes the way car and six buses. We're getting there."
Bud hadn't seen Walt since the train left Warsaw. In the dim light of the cab, Archer looked older and more exhausted than he possibly could have been, flu or no flu. It had been a long day for Walt, and the night would be longer.
"God, I wish Adam were here," Bud told the engineer of the Milwaukee. "That'd give us enough people to at least switch off a bit. We've got to make another run right back up there, and the Burlington isn't ready to go yet."
"I suppose we can, Bud," Walt said bravely. "Sure as hell wish we could take a break, though."
"Can't right now, Walt. Tell you what. You remember Linder wanting us to leave an engine up at Warsaw? If we do, there probably won't be much for us to do with it. I'll leave you there with it, and when I get to the point that I absolutely have to take a break, you can make a run down here and back."
"That would help," Archer coughed.
"Look," Bud added, "I'll have Frank go with you this time. You just set the throttle, and I'll adjust. You rest in the corner of the cab, and I'll give Frank a yell on the VHF and have him wake you up if there's any engine driving to be done."
"Thanks, Bud. That'll help a little."
"Good. Till then, though, you and John have got some switching to do. The two engines and the plow are hooked up right, but we've got the bus load on the wrong end, and we want to take the buses back. We've got to get the fertilizer hoppers off the end of this consist and leave them on two. Also, I want to haul the flats on three in the direction they're going so they can unload straight ahead, like last time."
"That's a bunch of switching," Penny commented.
"It is at that," Bud agreed. "Also, before we go, I want to pull right up to the engine shed and top both engines off to the brim. We may need the fuel if we leave an engine up there. In fact, whether it's you or me or the both of us, I think we ought to top off every time we get down here. If we get stuck somewhere, that buys us a bunch of time to get out before we have to shut down, drain the engines, and walk home."
"It'll also keep us warm while we're waiting," Penny noted.
"Bud," the VHF squawked with Betty's voice. "The guy from the National Guard you wanted to talk to is here."
"I'll be right there," Bud replied into the radio before turning to the men in the Milwaukee. "You guys get hot on the switching. I'll be in the office or the engine shed if you need me."
Now that the Walsenberg Fire Department had arrived to relieve the lone Warsaw pumper and tanker that had stood off the fire at the paper warehouse for so long, Bruce Marshall felt that he could dare take a break. One of the firemen told him that Jim Horton had arranged for coffee and sandwiches at the school, and right about now, that sounded wonderful to the desperately tired plant manager.
It was only when he reached the school that he realized how tired and keyed up he was. He could barely hold a cup of coffee in his hand, and the shaking wasn't shivering from the cold. A second cup of coffee warmed him, and he was a bit relieved to see Fred Linder arrive in the cafeteria. The fire chief brought his own cup of coffee and sat down beside Marshall, saying, "Now, I begin to see what the kids bitch about."
"It's food, and it's here," Marshall replied, Linder's company bringing him under control. "At the moment, I can't be too particular."
"I know what you mean. How are things in the plant?"
"I can't think of anything else that we can do over there," Marshall relied. "If you can think of anything else that we are possibly able to do, I'll see that it gets done. About the only thing I can think of doing right now is worry about it."
"Would it help you if I told you that everybody in town is worrying along with you? You're not alone."
The plant supervisor looked around him. No one sat nearby, but he lowered his voice almost to a whisper and leaned over to the fire chief, saying, "Fred, do you have any idea how this fire started? Could it have been arson?"
"I talked to Whitehall about it," Linder replied. "My guess is that something electrical screwed up in the warehouse. Clay seems to think it could have started with that door motor that's been giving trouble, and he could be right. But, there's no way for us to tell. Even when we get the fire out in there, there probably won't be any way to tell, ever. When the fire's out, I'll have the fire marshalls from down in Camden go through the place, but there's no guarantee that they'll find anything, either."
"Guess we'll just have to wait and see," Marshall replied, and changed the subject. Perhaps he was getting a little paranoid from all the worry, but he had some suspicions that he wasn't ready to talk about right now.
"John, you heard about the toxic smoke up there in Warsaw, didn't you?" Bud asked the National Guard captain.
"I'd heard. What about it?"
"Did you have your people bring gas masks. They may well be right in the middle of it."
"Didn't think about it. I suppose we ought to get them. Is it all right if we unload one of our trucks to go back over to the armory?"
"Take our pickup," Bud said. Bud had been an enlisted man in the early days of Vietnam, and Pacobel reinforced all his old opinions about officers and horses' asses. "While you're at it, why don't you bring every gas mask Battery D owns? There's a lot of people up there trying to work in that stuff without any lung protection at all. I'd like a few of them to spread around the train crew, too."
Betty broke in. "Joe Upton for you, Bud. He says it's important."
"Good," Bud said, reaching for the phone. "Maybe it's about Blair." Putting the phone to his ear, he said to the National Guard man, "Believe me, John, this is a very important service that the Guard can perform."
"All right," the green-clad man agreed. "I'll send someone."
"Make it quick," Bud said, punching the phone button and saying, "What's up, Joe? Is Blair in town?"
"No, nowhere near it," the sheriff replied. "You might as well leave without them. That's not why I called, anyway. You know, that girl had a hell of a ride on the ambulance on the way down here. She and her kid are all right, but the odds are that we're going to have some injured people coming down here some trip with you, and a ride like that could kill them."
"Putting the ambulance on the flat semed like the quickest thing to do," Bud replied. "But, on the way down here, I kind of suspected that they might have a rough time of it."
"Got any ideas to smooth it out?"
Bud stared at the ceiling for a moment. "Well, the way car doesn't exactly ride like a passenger car, but it might be a bit better. We've got bunks and a heater in there. If you were to get it loaded with medical equipment and what not, we could use it."
"How long have we got?"
"Twenty minutes, half an hour, maybe longer. By the way, they want the ambulance we brought with us back up there."
"I knew that. We'll be there as quick as we can with emergency equipment. Wait for us."
Only when a rare recognizible landmark loomed out of the snowblown night would any of the six Hoselton men have any ideaof where they were. There were no landmarks here, and Clint Borck, the fire chief's son, missed the corner. Where the road turned, he went straight.
The pickups weren't much use in this stuff. A two-foot blade in a six-foot drift is next to useless, but even Clint was surprised how deep into the ditch the pickup got, considering that the ditch was full of snow. The pickup's doors were buried. Clint opened the driver's side window and started to dig with his hands toward the surface, but was soon met by snow shovels coming the other way.
None of the six made much comment as they stood in the lights of the second pickup. They'd been going since noon, it was long after dark, they were less than half the way to Spearfish Lake, and they were tired. They'd had trucks stuck so many times that it wasn't surprising any more, but they hadn't yet stuck one as bad as Clint's Dodge was now.
"I got my doubts," Clint said.
"Better try it," the tanker driver replied. "It's gonna be hell with only one blade."
"Never get it out with just the Ford," Clint replied. "Let's hook up all three trucks."
They got the chains out again. It wasn't the first time they'd had to use all the trailing trucks to get the lead pickup out of a drift, The chains were close at hand, and they were by now all too experienced at using them.
Even with all the wheels pulling, they just spun in place. Clint had really stuck it. They set to work with snow shovels, and before long they had managed to clean out around the pickup a bit.
The second time, the pull went all right, and the pickup managed to lurch back up onto the road. The only problem was that the tanker driver wasn't looking where he was backing, and he managed to stick the tanker into another ditch on the far side of the road.
There wasn't much that could be said. Clint's pickup, which had stalled in the ditch, had to be moved before they could get a pull on the tanker, and with all the snow that had gotten up under the hood, it wasn't really anxious to run. Eventually, they managed to get it to run on maybe five of eight cylinders, and Clint sat in it with his foot flat on the floor while the other five men turned to on the tanker.
The tanker wasn't stuck too bad, but if the Dodge had been able to pull, it would have been welcome. Slowly, reluctantly, the Ford and the pumper managed to yank the tanker back up onto the road.