Snowplow Extra
Chapter 13

Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd

0824 1/9 - 1107 1/9: Plow Extra One

Of the handful of people standing on the platform of the Camden and Spearfish Lake's office at Spearfish Lake, only John Penny noticed that something was wrong.

The familiar bellowing of the Rock's air horn had brought the people, mostly firefighters, to the platform, but only the brakeman had the experience to judge by ear that the Rock's diesel seemed to be running harder than its speed. As the blue engine took shape among the flying snowflakes, Penny noticed that there was an access door open on the left side. Ed Sloat was sitting in the door, hammer in hand.

The Geep pulled past the platform and stopped with the way car right at the edge of it, next to the waiting ambulances -- the Spearfish Lake ambulance that had stayed behind, and the Lynchburg ambulance that thankfully had to be left behind. While most of the firefighters went to the way car to help the ambulance attendants remove the car's load of injured firemen, Penny ran to the apparently sick GP-7.

As he reached the cab, Ed was telling Bud, "That ought to hold her while we're just sitting here idling."

"What happened?" Penny asked.

"Transition relay's sticking," Sloat replied. "Every time we throttled down, I had to beat on it to get the amperage back under control. Would have burnt the generator out if we hadn't."

Bud spoke up. "Ed, do I remember you saying that we've got a spare relay in stock?"

"We do," Sloat confirmed, "And, it's no big deal to change it. Maybe ten minutes work, but that's not what I'm worried that much about, Bud. I think it's fairly obvious what we're getting shorts in the traction motors, just like we were getting in the Burlington."

"Is the weather sealing on the motors going bad?"

"Probably no worse than ever, I'd have to say without taking a closer look. What I think's most likely is that the sealing on the motors on this unit is just better than that on the Burlington to begin with."

"Well, whatever. We've got to crack off another run just as soon as we can. We didn't leave them much oxygen up there in Warsaw. If they have any more toxic gas poisoning before we can get it there, they're going to have some dead people on their hands. What do you think, Ed? Fix the relay on this thing and risk it for another trip, or maybe take the Burlington, if it's dried out?"

"No need to rush another trip," Penny broke in. "Joe Upton called from the hospital a few minutes ago. They've got less than a day's supply of oxygen left, now, what with the people you brought with you this trip. Ralph left Camden sometime around six hours ago. He managed to come up with quite a bit, but the last word we had from the D&O at Putnam is that they're already in trouble."

That seemed to settle that. They'd just have to do without more oxygen in Warsaw, like it or not. If Plow Extra Two didn't make it to Spearfish Lake before maybe tomorrow morning, then it was going to be tough for Ben Turpin and the Walsenberg firemen. "How bad a trouble are they in?" Bud asked.

"Don't know for sure, and what we heard was quite a while ago, now, right after you left. The D&O didn't know much about it, but they were just north of Moffat somewhere, and they were stuck. That was just the D&O engine and the Chessie. The 9608 hadn't caught up to them yet."

"How about fire departments to go this trip?"

"Only an engine and a tanker from Hoselton," Penny replied.

"Hoselton? That's only ten miles from Warsaw!"

"Yeah," Penny agreed. "But it's on the wrong side of the river. By road, it was closer for them to come here. They had a hell of a time getting here, too. There's only six people, too. We're supposed to call when we leave, and then stop at the Hoselton crossing to pick up anyone that hasn't already snowmobiled to Warsaw."

"They got enough of a mess up there," Sloat said, "That one pumper and one tanker ain't gonna make a dimes worth of difference."

Bud thought about the situation. "The main plant is burning now, John, in case you hadn't heard. They could easily have to use the scram train, and, let's face it, Walt doesn't have enough power left in the Milwaukee to pull it. On the other hand, lives could depend on the oxygen that Ralph's got, too."

"Hell of a decision to have to make," Penny mumbled. "Damned if you do, and damned if you don't. And everything we do, the odds are too damn big that it's the wrong thing."

"One thing for sure," Sloat chimed in. "You can't be sure that the Rock is going to be able to make another trip if that motor shorting gets much worse."

Bud thought some more. What Penny had said was right: any decision had too much riding on it to risk it being a wrong decision. With the information he had available, there wasn't much to make a decision on. About the only course of action that he could see right now would be to take both engines to Warsaw, leave one to help the Milwaukee, and then take the other one and head south on an attempt to rescue Plow Extra Two.

There were a good many things wrong with that, and Bud knew it. First, there was no guarantee that both engines would stay running. Second, whatever engine headed south probably wouldn't be running too well; either way, it trusted the Burlington's reliability too much. Third, one Geep and the big plow might not make that much difference in the drifts that could be expected down by Thunder Lake, and if it got sick or stuck, then that was the end of help for Warsaw. Finally, McPhee might not need help that badly, and the information there was scarce and hours old. Whatever happened, the risks were too great. The only other course available was to wait and see, however unpalatable that was.

"Tell you what," Bud told the other two. "Let's run the Rock into the shed and put the heaters on her. She might dry out quick, since she's obviously not as wet as the Burlington was. Then, we can wait and see what's happening. In, say, four hours, if they look fairly safe in Warsaw, maybe we can take both engines and the big plow and go try to get Ralph."

All of them had caught the virus of action from the desperate struggle in Warsaw. To just sit was almost unacceptable, but neigher Penny nor Sloat could come up with a better idea.

"One thing, Bud," Penny said. "Let's get the Burlington buttoned up and running before we pull the Rock in to work on it. That way, if Walt calls for help, we'll have at least one engine running."

"Good idea," Bud agreed. "How long is it going to take to get the Burlington ready to go?"

Half an hour, maybe longer," Sloat replied. "When we put the access covers back on, I want to try and seal them up a little better."

Bud yawned, "Give me a call when you're ready to get the Burlington out. I'll be over at the office. Maybe while the Rock's on the heaters, I can get a couple of hours sleep."

Tired as he was, Bud basically had coffee on his mind when he walked into the office, but he didn't make it to the coffee pot: as he opened the door, he heard Betty saying, "He just walked in. Hang on a minute."

Betty pointed the phone at Bud, saying, "Les Marks."

"Get me some coffee, will you, Betty?" he said, reaching for the phone and saying into it, "Hi, Les. You got any news for me?"

"I heard about your guys taking the 9608 with them," he said. "Boy, when you need power, you'll take anything you can get, won't you?"

"Heard anything from them?"

"No," Marks admitted. "I think they must have gotten on the move again, but that's just a guess, since we can't raise them on the repeater. They could have gotten out of range."

"Well, let's hope so. Any other news?

"Last we heard about the other train, over on the Rochester Branch, they were at Coldwater, and that's about halfway to Warsaw. They'd been stopped by some problems with their plow, but they were on the move again."

"What do you hear about the Kremmling branch?"

"I just got off the phone with Decatur. We had to have a big conference call. They say they'll let us make an attempt at the branch, with a couple of restrictions."

"And what might those be?" Bud asked, too tired to be indirect.

"Well," Marks took a deep breath and began, "What it comes down to is that the line has been embargoed for quite a while. They've been trying to get permission to tear it up. Decatur feels that if we run something over it, it'll blow the abandonment petition. So, I asked them, 'How about if the D&SL acquires the track, assuming responsibility for its maintenance and for equipment damage on it?' That went over all right, naturally, but they wanted a ton of money for it."

"Doesn't surprise me," Bud said. The D&O had wanted a hell of a lot of money for the track that became the C&SL, and only the use of political blunt instruments by the state transportation department on the C&SL's behalf had gotten the price down to reasonable levels.

"Me either," Marks admitted. "I told them that you could get a directed service order a lot cheaper, so now all they want for the track is a token amount, say, ten thousand dollars."

"Let me think about that for a moment, Les."

Bud indeed thought, as he sipped on the coffee Betty had set in front of him. That would solve the power problem for now, and would also solve the developing problem with the Camden bridge. He had pretty well expected that he would have to fix the track himself it came to trackage rights around the bridge, since the D&O could be expected to drag their heels like mad over fixing it -- but at least, he could bill the D&O for part of the expense.

For right now, today, there was some risk of damage to the engines from the D&O but Bud believed that the possibility of that on the frozen ballast would be limited, if the crew was careful -- but that was just a guess.

Ten thousand dollars may have been a token sum for the D&O, but it surely wasn't for the C&SL. The thing of it was that ten thousand dollars was a lot to pay for one relief train. If Bud was going to spend that kind of money, he had to see something for it; he had to be gambling that fixing the bridge was going to take a while. After all, there was no traffic being generated on the branch, and any shipments from the north end of the C&SL that he sent down the branch were going to bring less money than if they were sent down the existing tracks, although he could charge more for servicing the north side of Camden -- not a lot more, though, as that could drive away business.

And, the plant was on fire in Warsaw. Would it get rebuilt? Hard to say. The only thing was, there was still a lot of pulp wood around Warsaw, and Jerusalem Paper had plants elsewhere. There might be some traffic there.

And, damn it, he needed that power! Bud had a fair idea of what the tracks south of Spearfish Lake were like, and the more he thought about it, the less he could make himself believe that Plow Extra Two was going to make it through. An attempt through Kremmling would keep all the eggs out of one basket.

All that couldn't have taken Bud over half a minute, but a lot of it he had churned over in the cab of the Rock over the past few hours. "Same deal on operating costs as we're doing on the other run?" he asked the D&O Division Superintendent. If that relief train got through and he could pay bargain rates for its use, it would almost cover the cost of the tracks by itself.

"Right. You put in the fuel, and I'll figure some way to pay the crews."

"All right," Bud told him. "You've got a deal. There's no way I can get a letter of intent to you right now, but I'll sign one, notarize it, and drop it in the mail in the next few minutes, with the stipulation that final arrangements have yet to be negotiated."

"Good enough," Marks said. "Under normal circumstances, I'd want that letter in hand, but I guess we can't do that right now. But, hell, you and I have agreed on this. We can let the paperwork go until later. We're not going to try to cheat each other."

"If that's good enough for you, it's good enough for me," Bud agreed.

After a couple more pleasantries, Bud hung up the phone and turned to Betty. "Get with our insurance company right away, and get them to set up a binder for equipment and liability coverage on our new Kremmling Branch."

"You bought it?" Betty asked.

"Cheaper than suing the D&O over the bridge," Bud said, finishing his coffee. "I'm going back out to the engine shed, and help the guys shuttle the engines around."

Bud was so tired that he wasn't much help in buttoning the Burlington up. Once inside the engine shed, he sat down on the running board of the engine and fell asleep almost immediately. Penny and Sloat laid him out on the running board, threw their coats over him, and went back to their work on the green GP-7.

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