Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
2018 1/9 - 2321 1/9: Plow Extras One and Two
Lordston Northern Extra 9608
McPhee and Ballard had the rescue train moving well by now. The going was easier than they had expected, as they ran the two old engines up the tracks to Warsaw. The old 2-6-0 was panting in McPhee's ear as they passed twenty miles per hour on the tracks that Plow Extra One had kept clear for so long.
McPhee was bone tired, and he was letting Ballard do most of the work as he slumped resting against the side of the cab. He was brought back to wakefulness by the sound of a strange voice on the radio: "Spearfish Lake," it called, "this is Plow Extra One..."
"That's Ellsberg," McPhee said. "He sure is loud for him sitting in Warsaw."
Bud's voice continued to pour from the radio in the cab of the 303. "We've got critical ambulance cases on board, so have the ambulances waiting. We'll be in shortly. We're about half a mile east of the 919 crossing."
McPhee's hand shot out to the air valve, and in an instant, he dumped the air with all the strength he had. At the same time, he shoved the throttle out of Ballard's hand.
Back in the 9608, now without radio contact, Stevens wondered for a moment what was going on, but decided that Ralph must want to stop bad; he pulled all the power off the old engine, and with his hand near the reverse lever, stood by to "big-hole" the engine if needed. With it wheels squealing, Plow Extra Two slid to a stop.
While it was still sliding, McPhee yelled into the radio, "We just PASSED 919!"
Up in the darkened cab of the Rock, Bud was startled by the unexpected response to his call, but in an instant he dumped Plow Extra One's air and pulled his own power off as well.
Slowing rapidly, Plow Extra One swung around a little bend. Bud leaned out the cab window to try and see around the plow.
The Chessie's headlight stared back at him.
With a shaking hand, Bud keyed his microphone, trying without too much success to keep his voice level. "Be damned if you didn't, Ralph."
Bud let the Rock creep forward to where the two plows were almost nose to nose. Bud's knees were still weak as he climbed down from the Geep and walked ahead to the waiting switcher. Penny climbed down from the plow, and struggled with him through the snow around the two snowplow blades.
They climbed up into the cab of the switcher. "Hi, Bud," McPhee croaked. "Fancy meeting you here."
The old man's voice was unexpectedly weak and trembling. "You all right, Ralph?" Ballard asked.
"I'll be OK. It's just my chest hurts a little..." the old man said he collaspsed to the floor.
"John..." Bud started to order, but Penny had already started running to get the doctor from Plow Extra One's way car. Bud knelt down in the Chessie's bag. McPhee was still breathing, and his pulse was weak -- but it was there. Maybe Bud wouldn't have to remember what little CPR he had once learned. "Where in hell is that doctor?" he swore, knowing that he couldn't be here yet.
While the doctor was working on McPhee's inert form, the group of railroad men cleard out into the leeward side of the Chessie. "You must be Bud Ellsberg," one of them said. "I'm Gene Ballard, from the D&O."
"Glad to meet you, Gene," Bud replied. "Given a choice, I can think of better circumstances, but I'm glad you got here. Is Harold still runing the 9608?"
"Him and Bill Lee."
"Yeah, he rode over from Lordston on his snowmobile. Met us at Meeker. That old thing wouldn't DARE crap out on him."
"What happened to your switcher."
"Injector went to crap. We left it sitting on a siding at Albany River. Let me tell you, we had one hell of a trip. We had to have the passengers dig us out any number of times, and one time we had to get rescued by a front-end loader. What happened up here."
"We keep going back and forth some way or another," Bud replied, not daring to talk about the subject that he really wanted to talk about. "We left our switcher at Warsaw. We haven't had two engines on the shuttle run at the same time since yesterday."
"How are things in Warsaw?" Ballard asked, like Bud, avoiding the subjects of the near-collision and of Ralph McPhee.
"Still burning like hell," Bud said. "The paper plant and the fertilzer plant's gone, a lot of houses are burning, and the fire's getting too close to the oil company for comfort."
"Here's the doctor," a voice said. Bud bounded up the Chessie's steps to meet the doctor at the door.
"Might have been a heart attack," the doctor told the group of railroad men crowded on the Chessie's cab steps. "There's no way of telling here. He'll probably be all right, but we'd better get him to the hospital as quick as we can. One of the guys we've got back in the caboose can't take much more waiting, either."
"Can he ride there, all right?" Bud asked.
"Better than if we transferred him," the doctor said. "I'll leave one of the EMTs here and ride back in the caboose."
"We'll have to use the engine," Ballard said. "Is that any problem?"
"Gene, get moving," Bud ordered. "We'll stay clear of you. Let us know when you're off the main. We'll talk later."
Within secodns, Ballard was whistling the 9608 back, while Bud, John, and the doctor struggled back through the snow to Plow Extra One. "Man," Penny said, "When I saw that light, I was opening the cab door and getting ready to jump. I didn't think you'd get her stopped in time."
"Yeah," Bud said, the reality of the situation now coming to him. "I'm just glad I got on the radio when I did. How could I have been so damn stupid to not radio in from Hoselton?"
"I thought about reminding you," John said, "But by the time I thought about it, we were already down in the hole. God, I hope Ralph makes it."
"Me, too," Bud agreed. "He's a tough old bird." John began to climb the ladder to the plow's cab. "I'm going to take it real easy," Bud told him. "Keep an eye out for them. If we get close, let me know."
Once Bud was by himself in the cab of the Rock, he let the shakes get to him for a moment. The feel of the Geep's familiar throttle now seemed almost like touching a snake. He powered up Plow Extra One only by a conscious effort of will.
A mile or more ahead of Plow Extra One, Ballard was pushing the other train for the hospital as hard as he could. As the little train rumbled backward through the night, he heard Ellsberg's voice on the radio: "Betty, is the ambulance there yet?"
"Both of them just pulled up," she replied.
"We're going to have another passenger for them. Ralph just collapsed with chest pains." His voice grew very hard as he said, "We didn't hit, but just by sheer luck."
"Right," she replied flatly. "We had a call from Walt right after you called. There was a mixup. We'd understood from the fire hall in Warsaw that you were still there. Walt caught the error and called us, but by then we heard you two talking."
Fifteen minutes later, Plow Extra Two was parked on track two of the Spearfish Lake Yard. Plow Extra One pulled straight in beside it; McPhee had already been loaded into the ambulance.
Bud stopped, cut off the way car, and pulled ahead to the engine shed while the ambulances went to get Joe McGuinnis and the other injured firemen. In a few minutes, the ambulances were off, following a city snowplow in a blaze of lights, carrying the injured off to the hospital.
By that time, Bud had the Rock inside the engine shed, and was ridding himself of the shakes with thoughts of the good, stiff drink he would have when he didn't have to run an engine somewhere. Ed was smart enough to avoid the obvious subjects. "Still shorting?" he asked.
"Yeah," Bud said. "Not as bad as the Burlington that last trip, but bad."
"Well, that's that," the mechanic said. "We're going to have to cool it with this engine until we can get it dried out good. I've been going through the Burlington's motors, trying to figure out how much damage we caused."
"Be glad the diesel crapped out. If it hadn't, you would have had a hell of a repair bill."
Bud shook his head. "Well, at least now we can let this thing sit for a while. The Chessie and the 9608 don't add up to the power of the Rock, but they can still get up to Warsaw and protect the scram train. How long do you thing we've got to let the Rock sit?"
"Six hours minimum, inside where the wind and blowing snow can't get at it. I know you were going to put tarps down over the sides, but they must not have helped. After six hours, we can have a look at the amperage and make up our minds."
Familiar problems were starting to get Bud settled down. It was just as well, for the door opened, and Harold Stevens, Gene Ballard, Bill Lee and John Penny walked in.
Bud was especially happy to see Lee. The two had much in common, for both of them had similar problems from being short-line railroaders, and they were hardly strangers, anyway. "I never thought I'd be as happy to see you and your old Baldwin," he told Lee. "That now represents maybe half of the working power we've got left."
"I'm just glad we could make it," Lee said. "That was a hell of a trip you sent us on."
"I know. Gene here told me."
"I heard him. You didn't see me in the dark. He didn't tell you enough. You don't know how many times I wished we had that big plow of yours down there. It could have punched through a lot of the drifts that stopped us."
"You made it," Bud replied. "That's what's important. I guess I'd better get you people on up to Warsaw. This thing is down for at least six hours," he said, nodding to the Rock, "And I don't want to leave the Milwaukee alone for that long. The oil company could go at any time."
Now, Ed spoke up. "Before they go, Bud, there's something I'd like them to do."
"I'd like them to go get the 1478 and haul it up here. I've been thinking about what Bill told me, and I've been looking at the Burlington. There's a chance I can get one of them going with parts from the other."
Lee shook his head. "That means injector pump parts, Ed. I could be wrong, but isn't that a factory repair?"
"Well, yeah, it is, normally," Sloat replied, "But when I was in the engine room of the Hardhead, we had one crap out on us while we were on simulated war patrol. We rebuilt it, and it lasted out the trip."
"How long did it take," Bud asked the retired submariner.
"Two or three days, but we had to build a lot of the parts," Sloat replied. "I don't think the Burlington's pump is as bad off, and there's a good chance we're looking at mix and match."
"It's worth a try, I guess," Bud said. "But, fix the 1478. I don't want to trust the Burlington any more."
Ballard shook his head. "Those people on our consist have been screwing around on that train for a hell of a long time, and they're starting to get a bit pissed off at the speed we're not making."
"We could do both," Bud said. "We can send the people up there with Bill's engine, and that would take care of the scram train, too."
Lee made noises indicating extreme doubt. "I don't know that you want to risk that, Bud. That thing has held together like I never would have believed, considering what we've put her through. I'm proud of the way she's taken it. But, let's face it, she's too old and senile to be let out by herself on a night like this."
Stevens, who was shaken with worry about his old friend, agreed. "What's more," he went on, "I haven't been on the 303 since the trip started, but I'll tell you this: It's awful fragile for what we've been giving it. If we send the two out together, there's a good chance that one will stick together long enough to get us somewhere. But, we don't want to let either of them out alone."
Bud nodded. He knew Stevens well enough to know that he didn't talk much, but when he said something, it was worth listening to.
"We could still try for Warsaw," Ballard said. "That's what we were doing when we met you."
"Tell you what," Bud replied. "Let's call Warsaw. If they've got a lot of danger of the fire getting to the propane tank, let's get you guys the hell up there. If they're holding their ground, let's send the passengers over to Rick's and make a quick trip to Albany River."
Unlike their pullback from the Jerusalem Paper plant earlier in the day, the collections of fire departments in Warsaw gave up their positions on Plains Street only after the most stubborn resistance. Things seemed to be looking up for Fred Linder, for the wind was getting around even further to the north, making the possibility of the fire jumping across the alley to the buildings fronting Main Street ever more unlikely. If the wind would just settle down and blow out of the north for a while, he'd have the worst of the fire in Warsaw under control.
If the fire jumped Main Street before the wind began to blow out of the north, he'd really have his hands full, since there was nothing to stop houses right across the street from the oil company from burning. If he could hold Main Street, then the fire could only blow onto the already-burning fertilizer plant, and the fire that was there wasn't going anywhere, even if the building melted through.
But, that was far off in the future. Holding the line where they were wasn't going to be any picnic.
Since Dark, Linder had slowly been pulling units off of the fires on Plains Street as their cause became hopeless, and moving them to their new locations. He had seen no sleep for coming up on two days, now, and for the moment, things seemed under control. Once Spearfish Lake had been moved to their new location, Linder rode his snowmobile over and told Masterfield, "You're in charge for a while. I'm going over to the rest train for a bit. If things get out of hand, or if the fire jumps to the west side of Main Street, give me a call."
"When do you want those units still on Plains Street to move to their new locations?" the Spearfish Lake chief asked.
"Albany River can move when they've got what they're working on knocked down, or if the danger on Second Street gets out of hand. Walsenberg can move whenever it gets too hot for them. You and their chiefs be the judge. Whatever happens, give me a call at midnight and we'll see what's happening then."
"Will do," Masterfield said. "Get what rest you can."
"If you people aren't too heavily engaged when I get back," Linder replied, "Why don't you figure on taking a break then."
The Spearfish Lake chief was grateful for the offer; he had no idea how long it had been since he'd last had a rest. However bad he felt, he was sure that Fred Linder had it worse.
The Warsaw Fire Chief rode his snowmobile past the charred heap of rubbish that had been the Jerusalem Paper main plant. Somewhere in his tired mind, he knew that he wouldn't be going back to work there when the fire was over and he'd had a chance to rest up. Since the fire had started, he hadn't had a chance to think farther ahead than that. There probably wasn't much hope of staying in Warsaw after the fire was out, and he felt vaguely that he was presiding over the death of the town, whether it burned to the ground or not. When the fire was out, there'd be time enough to figure out what to do next.
He stumbled into the dining bus and plopped down next to Walt Archer. Archer was worried, and even in his tired state, Linder could tell without asking. "Any word from Spearfish Lake?" the engineer asked.
"Not a thing that I've heard." Linder replied. "If it hasn't been on Plains Street, then I probably haven't heard about it. Did the plow train have troubles?"