Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
1222 1/9 - 1806 1/9: Decatur and Overland Snowplow Extra 3217
Lordston Northern Extra 451
"Who dealt this shit?" DeTar asked.
Snowplow Extra 3217 made it to Rochester without getting stuck. Cziller had the train park just past the Main Street crossing. While the conductor went back to the poker game, Bartenslager set the brakes on the idling Geeps, then walked with the road foreman back to the way car.
"What now, Steve?" he asked.
"We wait," Cziller replied. "She won't be here with that water pump for a while, yet."
Bartenslager shrugged. "Might as well play some poker, then."
The cab of the derailed Alco lay tilted sideways to the left by perhaps fifteen degrees, but this wasn't enough to hamper Bruce Page. Once upon a time, he had taken a Red Cross first aid course through the railroad, and at the time it had seemed like a crashing bore. Now, the effort he had spent might prove to be of some use.
Diane lay crumpled on her back, where she had been thrown as the Alco hit the ground. The brakeman checked her over quickly. Right off, he noticed that she was bleeding lightly from an abrasion on her head, and a quick look showed that her arm didn't look right. She was obviously in a lot of pain, but she was becoming more lucid. "It's all right, Diane," he said, knowing fully well that things were far from all right. "Where do you hurt?"
"All over," she said. "Did it stall?"
Did what stall? "Where all over, Diane?"
"Head, arm, back, leg. Is the engine running?"
"No," he said, noticing only now that the engine had quit. "I hadn't noticed your leg. Which leg?"
"Drain it," she said quietly.
Drain what? She wasn't making a lot of sense. Finally it came to Page that she had to be talking about the stupid engine. Dumb broad, he thought. "We've got plenty of time for the engine, Diane," he said. "Let's take care of you, first. I want you to lay still. Don't move. I don't know what's wrong with your back, but I don't want to take any chances."
He began to run her hands down her sides, and she squirmed to fight him. "Drain the engine," she said, more clearly now. "Get your hands off me."
His voice was firm as he replied, "Look, I'm not trying to cop a feel. I want to see where else you hurt. I'll get to the engine in a little while." Her struggling stopped as he continued feeling down her side, but she screamed a moment later. "Broken ribs, too."
In a few moments more, he had some idea of what the damage was, and it was considerable. The bleeding from the head wound was minor and would soon cease, even if he did nothing -- but she'd had to have hit something with her head. That, along with the monomania about the engine (or was that normal?) and the poor reaction of her eyes to the light from his cigarette lighter indicated a possible concussion. She had back pains, cause unknown, and that could be serious, indeed. Also, a broken arm, a broken lower leg, broken ribs. There didn't seem to be any major external bleeding, for her snowmobile suit had protected her to some extent, but there could be any amount of bleeding from internal injuries. The girl was definitely in sad shape.
There was but a limited amount that Page could do for her under the circumstances. About all that he would be able to do would be to splint the fractures, try to immobilize her back somehow, and get her to a hospital.
His first thought was to try the radio. There was apparently some power still available from the Alco's battery, so he stood up, keyed the microphone, and called, "SX-3217, this is Extra 451. Emergency."
The radio remained silent. He repeated the call several times, but there was no reply. Within a minute of two, it was obvious that the D&O snowplow train was out of the range of the radio, or perhaps it was behind the hill in Rochester.
"Anybody on this frequency, this is Extra 451. Emergency." He called. He doubted that there was any D&O radio close enough to hear him on the yard frequency, which was the only one the Alco's radio had. If had had been the road frequency, he might have been able to raise one of the repeaters and get a reply from Putnam Yard. Perhaps someone over on the C&SL tracks would hear him, though.
Another minute or two went by, with only silence for his reward. Perhaps there was a railfan down in Coldwater with a scanner; that was his only other hope of getting a message through on the radio. "Anyone listening on this frequency, Extra 451 is derailed about five miles north of Coldwater. We urgently need medical assistance." He repeated this call several times, then hung the mike back up, not expecting a reply. "We'll try SX-3217 again in a few minutes," he told the injured girl. "I'm going to go outside and try to find something for splints and for a backboard. I can drain this thing if it's not too big a job. "Not a big job," she said, almost in a whisper. "See the operators manual in the right locker."
Under normal circumstances, it would have been an easy job to drain the freezable coolant out of the Alco. These were not normal circumstances. The engine sat nose down, leaning to the left in the ditch, and there was a good amount of coolant that wouldn't come out of it the way that it sat. There was a fire axe in with the brakeman's tools in the engine, and working through an access door with it, Page cut all the hoses that he could reach on the left side toward the nose. It'll take them a while to get that fixed, he thought, but that'll drain the engine for sure. It wasn't something that he would have thought about normally, from a first aid standpoint, but if it made Diane rest more easily, it was worth the effort.
Besides, she was going to have to stay calm, for even though Bruce made a desultory look around the engine and plow, he knew he wasn't likely to find what he was going to need.
What he needed was a piece of plywood, perhaps two feet by four feet, maybe half an inch thick. There was nothing like that to be found. He needed to tie the girl down to immobilize her back. If it was broken and she were allowed to move around, then she could permanently paralyze herself. Her legs and toes could move now, so that hadn't happened yet, and for that matter, there was no guarantee that she had injured her back that badly -- but there was no guarantee that she hadn't either.
At least he could do something about splinting the arm and leg. That might make her rest more easily. He took the fire axe and wallowed off through the snow to a grove of saplings that he could see through the storm. He cut several of them, which were an inch or more thick, and struggled back toward the stricken engine, which lay off the tracks like a beached whale. Once out of the wind, behind the engine, he stopped for a moment to figure out what to do next.
"Cut the goddamn cards." DeTar was losing now, and he wasn't taking it well. Cziller was getting very tired of the poker game, especially since he hadn't been in it and had no desire to get involved. He sipped at his coffee again and looked at his watch: nearly one. She ought to be getting here with that stupid water pump any time now, and they could get back on the move again.
Maybe they weren't that far away, he thought. There was one way to find out. He went to the way car's radio and checked that it was on the yard frequency. "Extra 451, this is SX-3217," he called.
The radio remained silent. He called again, and was again rewarded with silence. Bigelow looked up from a magazine. "Forget it, Steve," the second shift conductor said. "From here, you probably aren't getting out more than three miles to the south. They've got to be over on the far side of the hill."
Cziller nodded. "Maybe the going was harder than we thought."
Standing there in the lee of the rust-colored engine, the thought struck Bruce Page: he didn't really need a backboard, not just now, anyway. The backboard has two purposes: to immobilize the patient, so that any spinal injuries can be kept from getting worse by the patient's movements, and to support the back while the patient is being moved.
Besides, there was no way that he was going to be able to get a regular backboard under the girl by himself, anyway. Ambulance crews usually used four or more people, he remembered being told. And, even if he had her on a backboard, there was no way he was going to be able to move her. He could immobilize Diane's back with splints, if she could be kept from moving. But, if he did that, it made it imperative that help arrived.
There wasn't going to be that much power left in the battery for the radio. He could put out more calls, but there was no guarantee that he would be heard by anyone. Still, it might help, and as the battery grew colder, it wouldn't be putting out enough power to transmit much longer.
There in the lee of the Alco, a hard decision was being made. If he splinted the girl so that her back was immobile, he should stay with her. But, the only way to be sure that help would arrive would be to go for it. That would mean leaving a hurt, scared girl alone, unable to help herself in any way; not a good idea under any circumstances, but it might prove to be the only thing that could be done.
Perhaps someone had heard the desperate radio call he had made earlier. If so, help would be getting there shortly. Say, an hour or so. It would take him that long to get the girl thoroughly splinted and prepared to be left. If help didn't get there soon, he'd have to walk out through the storm to get it. If he had that in mind, he didn't dare wait much beyond an hour, or daylight would be running out before he got to Coldwater. It was going to be hard enough to find his way down the tracks through the storm when there was light to see by; there was no hope at all of finding his way in the dark, without any light at all.
Those thoughts made the decision for him. If that was the way it was going to be, that was the way it was going to have to be. He picked up the poles from the saplings he had cut earlier and returned to the cab.
It was noticably colder in the cab, and it was hardly warm down on the floor where Diane lay. She was getting uncomfortably chilly, but her first words were, "Did you get it drained?"
"Pretty well," he said. "There were some hoses lower than the drains, with the way this thing is sitting, so I cut them."
"Good," she said. He checked her pulse. It was a little slower; she might be in shock a little. But, her face seemed a little red, and with the possibility of back injuries, he wasn't about to try to turn her around. He sat down on the floor next to her.
"Diane, look. I think you know that there's a good chance that you've broken your back."
"Yes," she said thinly.
"I'm not saying you have, but I don't want to take the chance that you haven't. Understand?"
"All right. Now, what I'm going to have to do is to make sure that you can't move your back and injure it further. It's not going to be the most comfortable thing, but you probably will be in less pain than you're in now."
"Good," she said.
"The thing is, I'm going to have to fix it so you can't move at all, and you're going to have to work to keep from moving."
In the limited space that he had in the slanted cab of the Alco, it took as long as he had expected to get the splints on her, and then some. What he really needed more than the splints themselves was cloth strips to tie them up with. He'd thrown his travel bag into the Alco's cab when they left Coldwater the morning before, and in the bag was a favorite pair of jeans. This would have to be the end of the road for them; a pocket knife converted them into the cloth strips he needed.
He started by tying her legs together, to use one leg as a splint for the other. The same strategy worked for the lower arm she'd broken; the other arm would also serve as a splint, and would keep her from moving her arms -- possibly the worst danger for a back injury. Then, he laid a pole along each side of her body, and tied it as firmly as he could to keep her from rolling or bending. He ran out of pants material early on, and a spare flannel shirt also went into the project.
It wasn't a thing that he did all in one burst, for he wanted to go slowly. In the breaks that he took he continued to try calling SX-3217 or anyone else on the radio until he was sure there wasn't enough power left in the battery to transmit.
While he worked, Diane didn't say much. Finally, he unrolled the sleeping bag that she had brought along when there had still been thoughts of joining SX-3217 for the duration. As gently as he dared, he rolled her splinted body to one side to move the bag under her a bit, and threw it over her. "That's not very good," he said, "But that's the best that I dare do. How do you feel?"
"Lousy," she said. "How long do I have to stay like this?"
"Until help gets here," he said. "And that's the other thing I have to talk about," he said. "If there isn't any help here soon, I'm going to have to go and get it."
Cziller put the radio microphone up for the hundredth time in the last hour. "Where in hell could they be?" he asked no one in particular.
"Maybe they had trouble," Bigelow suggested.
"Begins to look that way," the road foreman agreed.
"Maybe they couldn't get the engine going at all," Anson suggested. He knew from experience that starting the engine could be a touch and go situation.
"You would think we would have heard about it. But then, Putnam can't reach us from here on the road frequency. There's one way to find out. I'm going over and make some phone calls. Keep trying on the radio, Tom. If you get anything, send someone over to me."
It took Cziller a few minutes to enlist the aid of the Rochester police, but soon he had placed a call to Ken Sawyer, the welder and mechanic down in Lordston, thanking himself that he'd written down his number when he'd talked to Diane earlier.
"They left here, sure," Sawyer said. "I heard them blowing the horn about eleven. I haven't been over there since, but they had the engine going when I dropped the water pump off with them."
They were on their way, then. One of the policemen wondered if they had made it to Coldwater, but a call to the police there revealed that the rust-colored Alco had passed through town, blowing its whistle, perhaps two hours before.
"Damn," Cziller swore. "They must have had trouble north of there, and that hill south of here must be blocking our transmissions."
"Don't know how you'd find out for sure," one of the policemen said.
"I've got a couple of guys on my train that can ride a snowmobile," the road foreman said. "Is there any chance we could borrow a snowmobile here in town? I could have them ride out past the hill and try to contact them on a portable."
"The department has a snowmobile," the older policeman said. "And, I've got one you can take."
Ten minutes later, Spike Hottel and Jim Bartenslager were riding snowmobiles down the tracks to the south. The two cuts past the river were by now almost full of snow, again, but there wasn't an Alco poking out of the drifts. At the top of the long grade, they stopped the snowmobiles, and Bartenslager pulled a brakeman's portable radio from under his coat, and began to call over it into the storm.
His words could be heard in the way car of SX-3217, where Cziller had returned with the policemen. The engineer repeated the call several times, and the continued calling told Cziller all he needed to know. When Bartenslager called down, "Steve, I'm not getting anything," he wasn't passing along new information.
"Ride on south, you guys," Cziller told the two. "You'll be out of touch from here, but stop every couple miles and call them again. When you've burnt off a third of your gas, turn around and come back here. Give us a call as soon as you get back in range."
"What do we do now?" the younger policeman wondered.
"Same thing we've been doing," Cziller said. "We wait."
The policeman frowned. "We could call down to Coldwater and have someone head north, but the gas those guys have got should take them to Coldwater, anyway. It's not that far."
Bartenslater's call over the portable wasn't heard in the cab of the Alco. Probably, the battery was too weak by now with the cold and the strain that Page had put on it.
The afternoon was crawling on, and still Page sat in the cab, putting off what was becoming increasingly inevitable. If he got on his way right now, there was still time left to make Coldwater in daylight. But, that would mean leaving the injured Diane.
"Don't leave me alone like this," she pleaded in a weak voice.
"I don't know what else I can do, Diane," he responded, getting to his feet. "I don't dare screw around here any longer, or it's going to be getting dark. I'll never get through after dark, and I don't think we dare wait all night."
"All right," she said. "Just make sure you come back for me."
Hat, gloves, parka. It would have to do. "I'll be back as soon as I can," he told the girl, laying immobile on the floor of the engine. "Try to sleep, if you can."
"Fat chance," she snorted.
He struck out down the grade. The going wasn't too bad, since the plow had cleared the tracks pretty well earlier. Here and there, the shine of polished steel rail shone through the white of the drifting snow. There wasn't much else to see, in fact, it was hard to see thing. The white of the drifting snow in the air blended with the white of the snow that lay all over the countryside. Here and there, the cut that the plows had made earlier in the day lay almost full of snow, and if he hadn't had the traces of the cut to follow, he would have gotten lost in the storm for sure.
As it was, the going was bad enough. The wind was more or less at his back, and it carried him along and kept his eyes from being filled with snow. Yet, the wind tore at his relatively thin clothes; though he had on jeans and long johns, his legs were so cold that he could barely feel them. In the deepening snow, he wasn't really going very fast, but he plugged along as steadily as he could to the south. Once in a while, he could see a tree or a bush to one side or the other of the tracks, but if there were any houses alongside the tracks where help might be had, he never saw them.
The nearest place that he could expect to find help was on the north edge of Coldwater, where a road crossed the tracks; he remembered a few houses sitting at the crossing, and someone there had to have a working telephone.