Copyright© 2010 by Wes Boyd
0615 1/10 - 0757 1/10: C&SL Plow Extra One
LN Extra 9608
D&O Snowplow Extra 3217
In the hours before dawn of that snowfilled morning, two trains arrived in Warsaw from the east. The first was led by six flatcars, carrying school buses loaded with people. It was pushed by an old Baldwin 2-6-0 running backwards, followed by an idling orange and black EMC NW-2 half it's age, and by a blue and white EMD GP-7 that had been encased in snow and ice in its runs up and down the line for two days. The train was trailed by an ugly black snowplow the size of a small house, the ice and snow on it not covering the burn chars that it bore.
A few hundred yards back, the second train followed, pushing an even uglier snowplow, its two matched red and white GP-9s at either end, with two cabooses and four old boxcars sandwiched in between.
The long line of flatcars blocked the crossing at Plant Street. The buses on them began to empty as the snow shovelers detrained and headed for the kettles of hot coffee and hot soup that awaited them.
Bud got down from the Geep, and walked forward to the plow. As he inspected it the best he could in the dark, another figure came up to greet him. "Are you Bud Ellsberg," the figure asked.
"I'm Steve Cziller. I'm in charge of SX-3217."
"Glad to meet you, Steve," Bud said sincerely.
"Hell of a way to have to get here, but we made it. Thanks. Now that we're here, what do you want us to do?"
It was time for Bud to let his feelings of victory go for a bit and get back to business. There was an ambulance run that still needed to be made, and the order of cars in Warsaw was now thoroughly confused. The two of them walked back to the cab of the Rock, where presently John Penny and Tom Bigelow arrived to join them.
It took a few minutes to work out all the details. The Rock and the 9608 would stand by in Warsaw to protect the scram train, and Walt Archer could look after the Rock. One SX-3217 way car and the D&O way car from Plow Extra Two would stay with it.
Bud decided that he would ride along on SX-3217 as it returned to Spearfish Lake on the ambulance run. It would take the little plow, C&SL ambulance/way car and one of its own, along with the Milwaukee, being towed dead, several empty flatcars, and some of the other odd cars that had accumulated in Warsaw. The rotary would be shoved onto a siding and forgotten by now.
Switching everything around took a little while, but Bud was perfectly ready to sip coffee in the dining car with Steve Cziller while Penny supervised all of the shuffling.
Eventually, Frank Matson caught Bud's attention and motioned him outside. "I'm going back to Spearfish Lake and study those survival figures that Betty prepared," Bud told him. "What was it that you wanted to talk to me about a little while ago?"
"This is important, and it's confidential," Matson replied. "It's even more confidential with all of these D&O people around. I got to talking with C.J. Greene, the chief of the Kremmling Fire Department, right after you left the last time."
"So it seems that Greene is also the superintendant for Big Pit. You know the aggregate quarry down there."
"Yeah?" Bud replied, getting more interested.
"So it seems that the D&O just jacked their freight rates sky high a couple weeks ago, and they're already paying a hell of a lot more than we're charging on the traffic from Summit Pit. We've got nothing on paper yet, but we've tentatively agreed to match Summit Pit rates on haulage from Big Pit."
"Glad you haven't got anything on paper," Bud replied. "I was talking to Steve Cziller there for a while. The Kremmling branch is totally unusable. It was only good luck and frozen ground that got them over it at all."
"That's the beautiful part," Matson replied. "Big Pit owns the line down to the switch for the Kremmling branch, and Green thinks that they jacked the rates up on him because they want to abandon the line north of Rochester."
"We've heard that from the D&O down in Decatur before," Bud snorted. "Abandon a customer with a lot of carloadings to cut costs. But we still don't have any money to fix up the branch."
"Oh, but we will," Matson said. "They've agreed to a surcharge on our rates that matches the D&O's new rates, for three years, so we can fix up the line. They want to talk a very long term contract."
"Sounds reasonable," Bud said. "Marks will shit when he finds out, but if they're trying to get rid of a customer, it serves them right. We've done all right on lines they thought were worthless, and we can do it some more. I just want it understood that this whole thing isn't just a ploy to bludgeon the D&O."
"That's the beauty of it," Matson said. "We're talking, short term, the same rates. Green has watched us support this town with everything we have, and that makes him think that he'll get better service in the long run with us."
"I will be damned," Bud said. "I thought we were going to be selling the Burlington, at least. Guess we can't do that, now. All of that business is going to be in the summer, and we're going to busier than hell. The winter is going to be dead, though."
"Maybe not." Matson lowered his voice even more. "I don't know much about this yet. You know that Jerusalem Paper was going to shut the plant down, anyway, mainly because it was old and worn out. Now that they don't have it, they have insurance money, a trained work force, and support from the local bank, meaning me. They've also been offered an even better break on freight rates for increased traffic. Marshall thinks that there's a chance -- a long shot, but a chance -- that they might build a modern, high-capacity plant here."
"Double damned," Bud said. "I'll kick those thoughts around quietly while I'm going over Betty's stuff."
"Try to make it back here this afternoon," Matson replied. "Marshall has a teleconference set up for this morning. We might know more later."
"Will do," Bud said, "If the trains run right."
Bud could see from the state of the switching that SX-3217 was getting about ready to leave. He'd promised to ride in the cab of the 3217 to show Cziller and Bartenslager and Anson the route to Spearfish Lake and explain its limitations. As he walked toward the waiting GP-9, he found a couple of men struggling to unload a snowmobile from one of the bus flatcars.
The two men proved to be Cziller and Bill Lee. "What's going on?" Bud asked.
"His daughter got hurt helping us get up here," the D&O man replied. "She was a big help, too. Now, he's going to ride down the Kremmling branch to Coldwater, where she's in the hospital."
"That's dumb," Bud said. "Leave that thing on there until we get to Spearfish Lake. Then you can ride right down the state road to Coldwater. It's a hell of a lot shorter, and if you run into trouble, there are houses along the way."
"All right," Lee said. "But we've still got to get it off of here. This car is staying here."
The three of them struggled with the heavy snowmobile. Lee had ridden it from Lordston to Meeker to catch up with his old Baldwin. If he hadn't made that ride, there was a good chance that neither Plow Extra Two or SX-3217 would have gotten through at all. In a few minutes, they had the snowmobile loaded on a flat car headed for Spearfish Lake.
"Bill, I know you're worried," Cziller said. "If you want to take your mind off of things, there'll be a poker game going on in the way car."
Lee smiled. "I haven't been in a good poker game in a long time."
As Lee climbed up into the D&O way car, Cziller told Bud, "That poker game has been going on since we started. It had something like eighty-four bucks in it when it started, and that eighty-four bucks has been in most of the pockets on this train. That's the first new money that it'll have seen."
"You got some serious poker players there," Bud replied, knowing that he'd be straining to keep a poker face of his own for the next few hours.
The two of them walked toward the cab of the 3217, which was idling softly in the predawn darkness with snow blowing all around it. They passed the Milwaukee, sitting dead and cold. "We're taking our mechanics, too," Cziller told Bud. "Maybe they can help get something from your dead line in Spearfish Lake working."
The two of them climbed into the waiting GP-9. Jim Bartenslager was standing there. "Bud," Steve said, "I'd like you to meet one of the finest young throttle hands I've seen in a long time."
"Pleased to meet you," the engineer said. "Steve, are we about ready to go?"
"Guess so," Cziller said. "Check with Bigelow and Penny; they'll know."
Moments later, SX-3217 was heading down the tracks toward Spearfish Lake. The snow blowing across the tracks in a dead crosswind was lighted in a soft, predawn light.
Bud and Steve fell to talking about the past couple of days, and were totally engrossed in storytelling when Bartenslager looked back over his shoulder and piped up: "Jesus, would you look at that! That may be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."
Steve Cziller and Bud Ellsberg stood up, and each of them looked out of a different cab window of the 3217.
Back behind the train, red and layered and swollen, but looking like it meant it, the sun was coming up.
The storm was over.
Epilogue: 1430 8/17: Plow Extra One
The pine trees off to the south of the tracks shimmered in the heat waves of the August afternoon. There was an impressive amount of skin and sweat in the crowd surrounding the unique but appropriate speaker's platform, for most of the population of Warsaw and a lot of firefighters and other interested people from other towns had come to this ceremony.
Bruce Marshall was speaking: "It's no secret now that the fire was a blessing of sorts to the people of Warsaw, for the destruction of the old plant, which had outlived its usefulness, cleared the way for Jerusalem Paper Products to construct this new, high-capacity plant here, which we have come to dedicate today. A good many people were responsible for its construction, and it's almost impossible to name them all, but..."
Marshall wasn't a very good public speaker, and Bud's mind wandered back to those days a year and a half before when the paper plant had been a lost cause.