by Frank H. Spearman
It is a bad grade yet. But before the new work was done on the river
division, Beverly Hill was a terror to trainmen.
On rainy Sundays old switchmen in the Zanesville yards still tell in
their shanties of the night the Blackwood bridge went out and Cameron's
stock-train got away on the hill, with the Denver flyer caught at the
foot like a rat in a trap.
Ben Buckley was only a big boy then, braking on freights; I was
dispatching under Alex Campbell on the West End. Ben was a tall,
loose-jointed fellow, but gentle as a kitten; legs as long as
pinch-bars, yet none too long, running for the Beverly switch that
night. His great chum in those days was Andy Cameron. Andy was the
youngest engineer on the line. The first time I ever saw them together,
Andy, short and chubby as a duck, was dancing around, half dressed, on
the roof of the bath-house, trying to get away from Ben, who had the
fire-hose below, playing on him with a two-inch stream of ice-water.
They were up to some sort of a prank all the time.
* * * * *
June was usually a rush month with us. From the coast we caught the
new crop Japan teas and the fall importations of China silks.
California still sent her fruits, and Colorado was beginning cattle
shipments. From Wyoming came sheep, and from Oregon steers; and all
these not merely in car-loads, but in solid trains. At times we were
swamped. The overland traffic alone was enough to keep us busy; on top
of it came a great movement of grain from Nebraska that summer, and to
crown our troubles a rate war sprang up. Every man, woman, and child
east of the Mississippi appeared to have but one object in lifethat
was to get to California, and to go over our road. The passenger
traffic burdened our resources to the last degree.
I was putting on new men every day then. We start them at braking on
freights; usually they work for years at that before they get a train.
But when a train-dispatcher is short on crews he must have them, and
can only press the best material within reach. Ben Buckley had not been
braking three months when I called him up one day and asked him if he
wanted a train.
Yes, sir, I'd like one first rate. But you know I haven't been
braking very long, Mr. Reed, said he, frankly.
How long have you been in the train service?
I spoke brusquely, though I knew, without even looking at my
service-card just how long it was.
Three months, Mr. Reed.
It was right to a day.
I'll probably have to send you out on 77 this afternoon. I saw him
stiffen like a ramrod. You know we're pretty short, I continued.
But do you know enough to keep your head on your shoulders and your
train on your orders?
Ben laughed a little. I think I do. Will there be two sections
They're loading eighteen cars of stock at Ogalalla; if we get any
hogs off the Beaver there will be two big sections. I shall mark you up
for the first one, anyway, and send you out right behind the flyer. Get
your badge and your punch from Carpenterand whatever you do, Buckley,
don't get rattled.
No, sir; thank you, Mr. Reed.
But his thank you was so pleasant I couldn't altogether ignore it;
I compromised with a cough. Perfect courtesy, even in the hands of the
awkwardest boy that ever wore his trousers short, is a surprisingly
handy thing to disarm gruff people with. Ben was undeniably awkward;
his legs were too long, and his trousers decidedly out of touch with
his feet; but I turned away with the conviction that in spite of his
gawkiness there was something to the boy. That night proved it.
When the flyer pulled in from the West in the afternoon it carried
two extra sleepers. In all, eight Pullmans, and every one of them
loaded to the ventilators. While the train was changing engines and
crews, the excursionists swarmed out of the hot cars to walk up and
down the platform. They were from New York, and had a band with
themas jolly a crowd as we ever hauledand I noticed many boys and
girls sprinkled among the grown folks.
As the heavy train pulled slowly out the band played, the women
waved handkerchiefs, and the boys shouted themselves hoarseit was
like a holiday, everybody seemed so happy. All I hoped, as I saw the
smoke of the engine turn to dust on the horizon, was that I could get
them over my division and their lives safely off my hands. For a week
we had had heavy rains, and the bridges and track gave us worry.
Half an hour after the flyer left, 77, the fast stock-freight, wound
like a great snake around the bluff, after it. Ben Buckley, tall and
straight as a pine, stood on the caboose. It was his first train, and
he looked as if he felt it.
In the evening I got reports of heavy rains east of us, and after 77
reported out of Turner Junction and pulled over the divide towards
Beverly, it was storming hard all along the line. By the time they
reached the hill Ben had his men out setting brakestough work on that
kind of a night; but when the big engine struck the bluff the heavy
train was well in hand, and it rolled down the long grade as gently as
Ben was none too careful, for half-way down the hill they exploded
torpedoes. Through the driving storm the tail-lights of the flyer were
presently seen. As they pulled carefully ahead, Ben made his way
through the mud and rain to the head end and found the passenger-train
stalled. Just before them was Blackwood Creek, bank full, and the
bridge swinging over the swollen stream like a grape-vine.
At the foot of Beverly Hill there is a sidinga long siding, once
used as a sort of cut-off to the upper Zanesville yards. This side
track parallels the main track for half a mile, and on this siding Ben,
as soon as he saw the situation, drew in with his train so that it lay
beside the passenger-train and left the main line clear behind. It then
became his duty to guard the track to the rear, where the second
section of the stock-train would soon be due.
It was pouring rain and as dark as a pocket. He started his hind-end
brakeman back on the run with red lights and torpedoes to warn the
second section well up the hill. Then walking across from his caboose,
he got under the lee of the hind Pullman sleeper to watch for the
The storm increased in violence. It was not the rain driving in
torrents, not the lightning blazing, nor the deafening crashes of
thunder, that worried him, but the windit blew a gale. In the blare
of the lightning he could see the oaks which crowned the bluffs whip
like willows in the storm. It swept quartering down the Beverly cut as
if it would tear the ties from under the steel. Suddenly he saw, far up
in the black sky, a star blazing; it was the headlight of Second
A whistle cut the wind; then another. It was the signal for brakes;
the second section was coming down the steep grade. He wondered how far
back his man had got with the bombs. Even as he wondered he saw a
yellow flash below the headlight; it was the first torpedo. The second
section was already well down the top of the hill. Could they hold it
to the bottom?
Like an answer came shorter and sharper the whistle for brakes. Ben
thought he knew who was on that engine; thought he knew that
whistlefor engineers whistle as differently as they talk. He still
hoped and believedknowing who was on the enginethat the brakes
would hold the heavy load; but he feared
A man running up in the rain passed him. Ben shouted and held up his
lantern; it was his head brakeman.
Who's pulling Second Seventy-Seven? he cried.
How many air cars has he got?
Six or eight, shouted Ben. It's the wind, Daleythe wind. Andy
can hold her if anybody can. But the wind; did you ever see such a
Even while he spoke the cry for brakes came a third time on the
A frightened Pullman porter opened the rear door of the sleeper.
Five hundred people lay in the excursion train, unconscious of this
avalanche rolling down upon them.
The conductor of the flyer ran up to Ben in a panic.
Buckley, they'll telescope us.
Can you pull ahead any?
The bridge is out.
Get out your passengers, said Ben's brakeman.
There's no time, cried the passenger conductor, wildly, running
off. He was panic-stricken. The porter tried to speak. He took hold of
the brakeman's arm, but his voice died in his throat; fear paralyzed
him. Down the wind came Cameron's whistle clamoring now in alarm. It
meant the worst, and Ben knew it. The stock-train was running away.
There were plenty of things to do if there was only time; but there
was hardly time to think. The passenger crew were running about like
men distracted, trying to get the sleeping travellers out. Ben knew
they could not possibly reach a tenth of them. In the thought of what
it meant, an inspiration came like a flash.
He seized his brakeman by the shoulder. For two weeks the man
carried the marks of his hand.
Daley! he cried, in a voice like a pistol crack, get those two
stockmen out of our caboose. Quick, man! I'm going to throw Cameron
into the cattle.
It was a chancesingle, desperate, but yet a chancethe only
chance that offered to save the helpless passengers in his charge.
If he could reach the siding switch ahead of the runaway train, he
could throw the deadly catapult on the siding and into his own train,
and so save the unconscious travellers. Before the words were out of
his mouth he started up the track at topmost speed.
The angry wind staggered him. It blew out his lantern, but he flung
it away, for he could throw the switch in the dark. A sharp gust tore
half his rain-coat from his back; ripping off the rest, he ran on. When
the wind took his breath he turned his back and fought for another.
Blinding sheets of rain poured on him; water streaming down the track
caught his feet; a slivered tie tripped him, and, falling headlong, the
sharp ballast cut his wrists and knees like broken glass. In desperate
haste he dashed ahead again; the headlight loomed before him like a
mountain of flame. There was light enough now through the sheets of
rain that swept down on him, and there ahead, the train almost on it,
was the switch.
Could he make it?
A cry from the sleeping children rose in his heart. Another breath,
an instant floundering, a slipping leap, and he had it. He pushed the
key into the lock, threw the switch and snapped it, and, to make deadly
sure, braced himself against the target-rod. Then he looked.
No whistling now; it was past that. He knew the fireman would have
jumped. Cameron too? No, not Andy, not if the pit yawned in front of
He saw streams of fire flying from many wheelshe felt the glare of
a dazzling lightand with a rattling crash the ponies shot into the
switch. The bar in his hands rattled as if it would jump from the
socket, and, lurching frightfully, the monster took the siding. A flare
of lightning lit the cab as it shot past, and he saw Cameron leaning
from the cab window, with face of stone, his eyes riveted on the
gigantic drivers that threw a sheet of fire from the sanded rails.
Jump! screamed Ben, useless as he knew it was. What voice could
live in that hell of noise? What man escape from that cab now?
One, two, three, four cars pounded over the split rails in half as
many seconds. Ben, running dizzily for life to the right, heard above
the roar of the storm and screech of the sliding wheels a ripping,
tearing crash, the harsh scrape of escaping steam, the hoarse cries of
the wounded cattle. And through the dreadful dark and the fury of the
babel the wind howled in a gale and the heavens poured a flood.
Trembling from excitement and exhaustion, Ben staggered down the
main track. A man with a lantern ran against him; it was the brakeman
who had been back with the torpedoes; he was crying hysterically.
They stumbled over a body. Seizing the lantern, Ben turned the
prostrate man over and wiped the mud from his face. Then he held the
lantern close, and gave a great cry. It was Andy Cameronunconscious,
true, but soon very much alive, and no worse than badly bruised. How
the good God who watches over plucky engineers had thrown him out from
the horrible wreckage only He knew. But there Andy lay; and with a
lighter heart Ben headed a wrecking crew to begin the task of searching
for any who might by fatal chance have been caught in the crash.
And while the trainmen of the freights worked at the wreck the
passenger-train was backed slowlyso slowly and so smoothlyup over
the switch and past, over the hill and past, and so to Turner Junction,
and around by Oxford to Zanesville.
When the sun rose the earth glowed in the freshness of its June
shower-bath. The flyer, now many miles from Beverly Hill, was speeding
in towards Omaha, and mothers waking their little ones in the berths
told them how close death had passed while they slept. The little girls
did not quite understand it, though they tried very hard, and were very
grateful to That Man, whom they never saw and whom they would never
see. But the little boysnever mind the little boysthey understood
it, to the youngest urchin on the train, and fifty times their papas
had to tell them how far Ben ran and how fast to save their lives. And
one little boyI wish I knew his namewent with his papa to the
depot-master at Omaha when the flyer stopped, and gave him his toy
watch, and asked him please to give it to That Man who had saved his
mamma's life by running so far in the rain, and please to tell him how
much obliged he wasif he would be so kind.
So the little toy watch came to our superintendent, and so to me;
and I, sitting at Cameron's bedside, talking the wreck over with Ben,
gave it to him; and the big fellow looked as pleased as if it had been
a jewelled chronometer; indeed, that was the only medal Ben got.
The truth is we had no gold medals to distribute out on the West End
in those days. We gave Ben the best we had, and that was a passenger
run. But he is a great fellow among the railroad men. And on stormy
nights switchmen in the Zanesville yards, smoking in their shanties,
still tell of that night, that storm, and how Ben Buckley threw Second
Seventy-Seven at the foot of Beverly Hill.