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The men who do this gain an amazing facility, and as the cars rush past, jot down numbers and initials as unconcernedly as though they had all the time in the world at their disposal. Allan had observed this more than once, and had often wondered how it was possible for a man to write down accurately the number of a car which had flashed past so rapidly that he himself was not able to distinguish it. Allan knew him well, for many an evening had he spent in the little shanty, where conductors and brakemen assembled, listening to tales of the road—tales grave and gay, of comedy and tragedy—yes, even of ghosts!

If I stopped to tell a tenth of them, this book would never be. The person Allan had next to find was the master-mechanic, whose office was a square, one-storied building behind the great shops which closed in the lower end of the yards. Such small complaints as leaking valves and broken springs and castings may be repaired in the roundhouse, as the family medicine-chest avails for minor ailments; but for more serious injuries the engines must be taken to the experts in the long shop, and placed on one of the operating-tables there, and taken apart and put together and made fit for service again.

In the long-shop, four or five engines are always jacked up undergoing repairs; each of them has a special gang of men attached to it, under a foreman whose sole business it is to see that that engine gets back into active service in the shortest possible time. To the inexperienced eye, the shop was a perfect maze of machinery. Great cranes ran overhead, with chains and claws dangling; shafting whirred and belts rattled; along the walls were workbenches, variously equipped; at the farther end were a number of drills, and beyond them a great grindstone which whirred and whirred and threw out a shower of sparks incessantly, under the guidance of its presiding genius, a little, gray-haired man, whose duty it was to sharpen all the tools brought to him.

There was a constant stream of men to and from the grindstone, which, in consequence, was a sort of centre for all the gossip of the shops. Once the grindstone had burst, and had carried the little man with it through the side of the shop, riding a great fragment much as Prince Feroze-shah rode his enchanted horse; and though there was no peg which he could turn to assure a safe landing, he did land safely, and next day superintended the installation of a new stone, from which the sparks were soon flying as merrily as ever.

And even if the visitor was not confused by this tangle of machinery, he was sure to be confounded by the noise, toward which every man in the shop contributed his quota. The noise! Chains clanked, drills squeaked, but over and above it all was the banging and hammering of the riveters, and, as a sort of undertone, the clangour from the boiler-shop, connected with the long-shop by an open arch.

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The work of the riveters never paused nor slackened, and the onlooker was struck with wonder and amazement that a human being could endure ten hours of such labour! Allan, closing behind him the little door by which he had entered, looked around for the tall form of the master-mechanic. But that official was nowhere in sight, so the boy walked slowly on, glancing to right and left between the engines, anxious not to miss him.

At last, near the farthest engine, he thought that he perceived him, and drew near. As he did so, he saw that an important operation was going forward.

Episode 38 Transcript

A boiler was being lowered to its place on its frame. A gang of men were guiding it into position, as the overhead crane slowly lowered it, manipulated by a lever in the hands of a young fellow whose eyes were glued upon the signalling hand which the foreman raised to him. The men drew a deep breath of relief, and stood erect, hands on hips, straightening the strained muscles of their backs.

There was something marvellous in the ease and certainty with which the crane had handled the great weight, responsive to the pressure of a finger, and Allan ran his eyes admiringly along the heavy chains, up to the massive and perfectly balanced arm—. Then his heart gave a sudden leap of terror. He sprang forward toward the young fellow who stood leaning against the lever. The next instant there was a resounding crash, which echoed above the din of the shop like a cannon-shot above the rattle of musketry, and a great block smashed the standing-board beside the lever to pieces.

It was lucky I happened to be looking at it. The other men rushed up, stared, exclaimed, and began to devise explanations of how the accident had occurred. No one could tell certainly, but it was pretty generally agreed that the sudden rebound from the strain, as the boiler fell into place, had in some way loosened the block, thrown it away from its tackle, and hurled it to the floor below. But neither Allan nor his companion paid much attention to these explanations. A sudden comradeship, born in the first glance they exchanged, had arisen between them; a mutual feeling that they would like to know each other—a prevision of friendship.

And to hero-worship there is now added a lively sense of gratitude, since you arrived just in time to save me from being converted into a grease-spot. But there—the rest will keep for another time. Where do you live? Allan did not wait to hear it, but, conscious that the errand was taking longer than it should, hurried on to deliver the other letters. He spent the next half-hour in sorting the mail which had accumulated there. The trainmaster was busy dictating letters to his stenographer, wading through the mass of correspondence before him with a rapidity born of long experience.

Allan never ceased to be astonished at the vast quantity of mail which poured in and out of the office—letters upon every conceivable subject connected with the operation of the road—reports of all sorts, inquiries, complaints, requisitions—all of which had to be carefully attended to if the business of the road was to move smoothly.

There was no end to it.

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Every train brought a big batch of correspondence, which it was his duty to receive, delivering at the same time to the baggage-master other packets addressed to employees at various points along the road. The road took care of its own mail in this manner, without asking the aid of Uncle Sam, and so escaped a charge for postage which would have made a serious hole in the earnings. As soon as he had received the mail, Allan would hasten up-stairs to his desk to sort it.

Always about him, echoing through the office, rose the clatter of the telegraph instruments. It reminded Allan of nothing so much as a chorus of blackbirds. Often Mr. Schofield would pause in the midst of dictating a letter, open his key and engage in conversation with some one out on the line. And he determined to master the secrets of telegraphy at the earliest possible moment. It was plainly to be seen that that way, and that way only, lay promotion. Big-hearted Jack Welsh had not only given him work, but had offered him a home—and a real home the boy found it.

Allan found her now, waiting for him at the gate, and she escorted him proudly up the path and into the house. He was just leaving the building with the coveted volume under his arm, when somebody clapped him on the shoulder, and he turned to find Jim Anderson at his side.

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Have you got an instrument? Is it very far? The two started up through the yards together, arm in arm. The house was a large brick, which stood very near the track, so near, indeed, that one corner had been cut away to permit the railroad to get by. Condemnation proceedings were begun, the railroad secured the strip of land it wanted, and tore down the corner of the house which stood upon it. Whereupon the owner had walled up the opening and rented what remained of the building to such families as had nerves strong enough to ignore the roar and rumble of the trains, passing so near that they seemed hurling themselves through the very house itself.

Allan knew it well. He had passed it many and many a time while he was working on section. Indeed, it was this old house, when he learned its history, which made him realize for the first time, how young, how very modern the railroad was. Looking at it—at its massive track, its enduring roadway carried on great fills and mighty bridges—it seemed as old, as venerable, as the rugged hills which frowned down upon the valley; it seemed that it must have been there from the dawn of time, that it was the product of a force greater than any now known to man.

And yet, really, it had been in existence scarce half a century.

This leviathan of steel and oak had grown like the beanstalk of Jack the Giant-killer—had spread and spread with incredible rapidity, until it reached, not from earth to heaven, but from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Lakes to the Gulf. It had brought San Francisco as near Boston as was Philadelphia in the days of the post rider. It had bound together into a concrete whole a country so vast that it equals in area the whole of Europe.

And all this in little more than fifty years! Do you suppose he will let us? They crossed a hall, and beside a table in the room beyond, Allan saw a woman seated.

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She was bending over some sewing in her lap, but she looked up at the sound of their entrance, and as the beams of the lamp fell upon her face, Allan saw how it lighted with love and happiness. And his heart gave a sudden throb of misery, for it was with that selfsame light in her eyes that his mother had welcomed him in the old days. I wonder if your mother would think it nothing if some one had saved you for her!

And the woman before him, looking at him with loving, searching eyes, understood. Tom Mickey, chief lineman of the Ohio division of the P. This was due, perhaps, to his mixed ancestry, for his father, a volatile Irishman, had married a phlegmatic German woman, proprietress of a railroad boarding-house, where Mickey found a safe and comfortable haven, with no more arduous work to do than to throw out occasionally some objectionable customer—and Mickey never considered that as work, but as recreation pure and simple.

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  8. It was into this haven that Tom was born; there he grew up, alternating between the chronic high spirits of his father and the chronic low ones of his mother, and being, on the whole, healthy and well-fed and contented. Advancing years had tempered this foolhardiness, but had only served to accentuate the eccentric side of his character. He would be, one day, buoyant as a lark and obliging to an almost preposterous degree, and the next day, ready to snap off the head of anybody who addressed him, and barely civil to his superior officers.

    The road really could not afford to do without him, for Tom Mickey was the best lineman in the middle west. The tangle of wires which were an integral part of the system was to him an open book, to be read at a glance. Was any wire in trouble, he would mount his tricycle, a sort of miniature hand-car, spin out along the track, and in a surprisingly short time the trouble was remedied and the wire in working order. Tom was a jewel—in the rough, it is true, and not without a flaw—but a jewel just the same.

    Luckily he was in one of his buoyant moods when Jim Anderson approached him on the morning following his conversation with Allan. Mickey was just loading up his tricycle with wire and insulators, preparatory to a trip out along the line, when Jim accosted him. He stopped, eying Mickey anxiously, but that worthy went on with his work as though he had not heard.

    He was puffing vigorously at a short clay pipe, and with a certain viciousness that made Jim wonder if he had approached him at the wrong moment, after all. Mickey nodded, and knocking out his pipe against his boot-heel, deliberately filled it again, lighted it, and turned back to his work. Finally the tricycle was loaded and he pushed it out on the main line, ready for his trip. Jim followed him anxiously. He watched Mickey take his seat on the queer-looking machine, spit on his hands and grasp the lever; then he turned away disappointed. That line was not going to be possible, after all. But the lineman cut him short with a curt nod, bent to the lever, and rattled away over the switches, out of the yards.