COLUMN: All Aboard
“Well gee, there for a minute I had her running pretty good!”
On the Pennsylvania Railroad - This area railroad writer simply ran out of time to write another story on the Pennsylvania Railroad for this week, so a trip through the archives of railroad writing excellence came up with this story, which took place on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
The Pennsylvania Railroad, for many years, was the second largest railroad company in the United States (the Santa Fe was the largest, while my favorite, the New York Central Railroad was third), and its slogan was “The Standard Railroad of the World.”
The Pennsy (as it was also referred to), other claims to fame were its world famous engineering feat; the Horseshoe Curve, New York City’s Pennsylvania Station (torn down 1962-65), Washington DC Union Station, and the company’s signature passenger train, the Broadway Limited. I think, considering everything, that we need a good laugh, so here is a true tale told by the crew at the incident.
Our funny tale takes place in the later 1940s or early 50s on a double track branch line of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. It seems that a mail and express train was rolling down the tracks at a good clip of about 60 mph.
The train entered a very long sweeping curve, with a highway grade crossing at beginning of the next tangent. The public highway was a rural one with little traffic.
From afar, as the speeding express thundered on, a fairly large pickup truck sitting squarely on the tracks came into view from the locomotive. Of course, there was an immediate change in the whistle application from the standard two longs, one short and one more long (__ __ - __) in whistle code parlance, to the — succession of quick sharp blasts - R.R. parlance for - get the h--- off the tracks!
The change in whistling and no doubt engine cab “language” (not to be repeated at the family Sunday dinner), was to no avail; next on the crew’s agenda was to throw the train brake system into emergency, shut off the throttle, more of that “never-at-the-dinner table rapid talking,” grit your teeth, and hit the locomotive floor.
The brakes took hold, the train did not buckle, and then the dreaded crash was heard. However, as told by the crew, the crash was only a big thud, as coupler on the front of the onrushing locomotive pierced the side of the truck.
By some sort of a miracle, the front coupler of the locomotive and the height of the grade crossing all lined up perfectly, so that the impaled in the truck locomotive coupler instantly lifted the truck off the road and rails, and thereby carrying the unlucky-turned lucky truck and driver thereof down the tracks, elevated through the air on the front of the train!
After a mile or more down the line from the crossing, when the express train finally ground to a halt, the engineer and firefighters bailed out and ran to the head of the locomotive, not knowing what to expect!
The front couple of the locomotive happened to be in the “up” position and everything else was just picture perfect for this railroad story to have a funny ending: the speed of the train, and the integrity of the truck – along with the condition of the truck driver, who apparently was really out on a liquid lunch! It was theorized that the “well in the bag” driver had stopped for the crossing (long before the train was in sight), then stalled – rolled onto the tracks and then … fell asleep at the wheel without rolling off the tracks.
When the engine crew opened the truck cab door, there was the inebriated truck driver, trying to start his rig and mumbling as only as a person in his condition could: “Well, gee, there for a minute, I had it running pretty good and then she stalled again!” So ends and ends well our adventure on the Pennsylvania Railroad.
Carl Trainor is a lifelong resident of Boonville and has been riding trains since he was age 4.
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