Saturday, March 8, 2008

Nuggets From Pay Dirt

When you look at this old photo, pay special attention to the man standing next to the fan of that rotary plow. That man is one of the main characters in my book "Vis Major." That man is Great Northern engineer, John Robert Meath. Next to him is his wife, Elizabeth.

There is a message written on the back of the photo. It simply states:

"This is the picture of the rotary Robert works on. The other picture is where it is working. This was taken one day when we were at Wellington."

Sadly, no date is included, and "the other picture" mentioned is long gone. A little detective work has helped narrow down the date. The overhead wires and the location of the mountain in the background tell me it is definitely "Wellington" (Although was probably renamed "Tye" when the photo was taken). It also indicates the photo was taken on the flat area that was once the "upper yard". This is where most of the railroad buildings were move after the 1910 avalanche. The big headlight a top the plow and the fact it is still numbered X-800 narrows the time frame even more. I believe it was taken between 1911 and 1914.

Wife Elizabeth remains a bit of a mystery at this point. In the 1910 US Census Meath is listed as single and living in a boarding house in Leavenworth. A few years later, along comes this photo of Robert and the very stately Elizabeth, herself a native of Robert's hometown in Wisconsin. Was the old prankster holding out on us, with a sweetheart tucked away in Wisconsin all the while he is railroading out west? Did the trauma caused by the death of so many of his friends in the avalanche give cause for the Robert to seize the moment, go back home and finally marry Miss McCabe?

The mind of the novelist wonders about such things. Rest assured some rewriting will be done as more is learned.

And here is Robert, later in life. It looks as if Elizabeth has been taking good care of him. The curled up eyebrow, the casual look, it all fits. You are looking at a man that was known for his sense of humor, sharp wit and yet never showing any undo emotion. You are looking at one of the very real heroes of the 1910 storm.

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