A more detailed time
line as best I can remember a half a century later. I've also
some snippets of what Telegraphers did during the quite moments on the job.
A few minutes
to midnight on a Tuesday summer moonless foggy evening I was finishing
the last trick of the week as 2nd shift telegrapher/tower man on
the good ole EJ&E Rail Road. My relief had just arrived to take over
the midnight shift. He was a very large unshaven mean looking
fellow, who wore bib overalls, wore no shirt,
had long fat hairy arms that almost touched the ground as he
sauntered about the office. He smoked the biggest vilest
cigars when he wasn't chewing tobacco and spitting at the coal
bucket usually missing it and hitting the coal burring stove
next to it filling the office air with the stench of a
dead skunk on a hot summers day. Late at night he lead a secret life.
In the tower isolated by height from the rest of the world,
between the hours of midnight and sunrise he could be found, if
you caught him at the right moment, hunching over a large brown
paper bag crocheting doilies. It was rumored that he
sold them at the local craft shop under the assumed name of
Mother Goose's Goodies.
He had another
interesting quality, He was insanely strict about starting
and quitting times, to the second that is. Telegraphers and
trainmen were required to carry accurate pocket watches,
accurate to few seconds a month We were required to
compared them daily to
the station clock which was reset remotely through the telegraph
lines every day at noon by the master clock at headquarters.
this night we happened to be on the ground giving a visual
check of an 85 car train going by the tower.
Telegraphers were required to inspect passing
trains for hot boxes, and loose equipment hanging down from the
train. In this case we each had our pocket watches out comparing them
for the trick change.
I was tired and wanted to get
home to bed so when the second hand of my watch hit the
magic time 12 midnight
I started trudging down
the track next to the train on my way home and bed.
It was pitch
black and I had forgotten my lamp. I was cursing that and
preoccupied with troubles going on with my girl friend of the
week. Down the track few hundred feet from me a solution to
all my problem especially future ones was beginning to form.
A single loaded
freight car close to the engine had just jump the track, swerved
sideways, and started rolling down the track being pushed by 60 or more loaded freight cars
going 50 plus mph.. The 60 or more cars began smashing
their way into the
mess, cars began tumbling end over end, rolling,
twisting, throwing tons of freight, dirt,
railroad rails, ties, any thing in its path It just kept piling
and stacking cars on top of each other.
of cars was growing back
toward me at an alarming rate. However all this drama was completely
lost on me I couldn't see a thing it was just too damn
dark, I couldn't hear anything either surrounded by the racket of
the train going by me. I just kept blindly ambling along toward
the chaos and the chaos was smashing its way back towards me.
Them miraculously the whole thing just stopped literally at my feet.
imagination probably wouldn't have grasp the
significations anyways. I hadn't even noticed that train
was slowing until I began to hear the coupling between
cars clicking taking up slack. The breaks began throw sparks
along with a bit of jerky motion going on then
everything just came to a stop.
Suddenly it was dead quiet. The usual ringing and hissing of the
ears from the loud train noise was all that was left and
some of that could be air still escaping from the break system.
I kept walking on. like robot set on a simple mission home to
There seem to be a bit of light up ahead but I couldn't
make out anything. Suddenly I tripped over something less than
knee height falling on one shoulder and face. I thought when I
get back to work let me get at the track crew for leaving stuff
around the road bed . I got up started off again but more carefully. I
stumbled over something else. It felt like chunks ice and or
like cold corpses. It scared the wit's right out of me. I
couldn't recognize a thing it was so dark. I stumble
even deeper into the wreck not knowing that it was a wreck. The
further I went the worse it got. I started to feel my way
back grouping, stumbling back and out of weird world I had
found my self in trying to figure what in hell was going
By this time
The train's conductor was walking up from the caboose carrying
his lantern. He presented a weird site silhouetted against a red signal flare
which had broken out at the rear of the train announcing its
unscheduled stop. The conductor like myself seemed
confused about what all this mess was about. His unspoken
attitude at first was that I must have been the cause of what
ever had happened to his train or what ever these twisted
structures surrounding us were. Certainly I must have fit the
villains part, a wild eyed terrified villain with a bloody nose
from the fall, lurking about in the
shadows of all this destruction.
struck a red flare also and suddenly out of the darkness leaped the
weirdest scene ever. It was like a modernist show
of Impressionistic Sculptures. There was all sorts of almost
recognizable things, everywhere we looked in this
eerie red light from the flare. The sharp red light caused black sharp shadows to
dance about from everything as the conductor moved his flare
about searching through this erie world for anyting
that made sense. Their were vertically oriented railroad cars
acting like 40 foot high out houses, loose railroad wheels
joined by their axels, split timbers, air tanks
twisted pipe lying around . Neither conductor
nor I still seem to really grasped what had happened. was
there a head on collision, where were the fireman and engineer.
It must have taken almost an hour for all the train crew my self
and a few on looker to sort out a " real" picture of the magnitude
of the disaster around us and what had happened.
day the picture was much clearer in the bright sunlight
Looking at the scene before me I felt that there must have been a
100,000 missiles in flight with my name on a modest share
of them yet some how they had ultimately
if it hadn't been for my
grandfathers trusty pocket watch and a grizzly mean ole
doily making bear of a
telegrapher who insisted
that a I stay that extra few second I would have been right
in the middle of the wreck instead of taking pictures of it.
The stench of rotten meat stayed with us for days after the
clean up so I
had a pretty good idea
what the pieces of me would have smelled like
if I had left the
tower a few second earlier
or if the train had crashed 60 seconds sooner right at the
tower I was leaving.
later found out that the cold corpses were sides of beef from
crashed freezer cars.