By J. K. Gurner
Railroad men always had good stories to tell. And very few could beat my brother, Bruce Gurner, when it came to great tales from the rails. Here are two examples from his collection:
Who Moved the John
Many years ago when passenger business was at it’s peak, all the local passenger trains stopped at every little depot on the line. All the old engineers of that day had a spot alongside the track that they used as a guide as to where to stop their train so the conductor could unload and load his passengers and freight. Archie Smith, one of the more famous of the old passenger engineers, had his spots and he stood by them religiously.
On one occasion when Archie was running north on passenger train #24, he pulled into the depot at Lamar. He stopped his train right on his usual spot, a little outhouse in the backyard of the section foreman’s house. He used this spot trip after trip as other engineers had before him and the stop was always pleasing to the conductor.
Then one day the in-evitable happened. Mr. Smith spotted at Lamar as always, but as soon as the train had stopped, the conductor blew the communication whistle for Archie to pull ahead. Smith sat proudly on his seat in the cab of that little steam engine looking straight ahead and refusing to move.
The conductor blew him ahead again, but still no movement out of engineer. After the third whistle and still no movement, the conductor – himself a man of pride and sagacity – launched himself toward the engine. “I said to move ahead, Archie. Are you deft?” asked the conductor.
“I spotted my mark with five cars. There it is right out there in the yard,” replied engineer Smith arrogantly, nodding toward the little facility.
“Yea you have, old friend,” replied the conductor, “But what you don’t know is that they moved your sacred mark to a new hole and you have spotted me a car short. Now move that #&%$ steam pot a car length ahead.”
The move was made and the unloading began.
It Won’t Pack
Back in 1941 as the war was about to start, rail business was booming and many young fireman were hired to handle the new business. Among the amusing stories about these youngsters was one that showed how a fellow might have problem with a simple operation like taking water on a steam engine.
It seems that at a certain water tank stop the regular fireman had sent his student back to take water. The boy had filled the tank with water and in the process of moving the spout around to clear the engine, he fell into the water tank.
About the time the boy had gotten his head and shoulder above the water and was climbing out of the water tank, the engineer looked back and saw what had happened. He shouted, “Come on son and let’s get moving. That tank is full and ain’t no way you can tromp it down.”