Thursday, February 28, 2008

A Few Quiet Moments with the Boys

I spent a few minutes with a few of the boys today. With it being a
leap year it throws the days off a bit, but one thing is for sure,
for guys like Frank Martin, Lewis Walker, Sydney Jones, John
Parzybok, John Kelley, Joe Pettit, Earl Longcoy and Ben Jarnigan, 98
years ago, this was the their last day on this earth.

I cleaned the moss off the headstone I bought for Benny. It's been
less than a year since it was installed and yet the Western
Washington winter was already making itself known. I did the same
for Sid Jones. Birds had done their deeds on stones of Johnny
Parzybok and "Pattie" Kelley, so I took care of that too.

Strangely, there was a 2005 penny sitting atop Joe Pettit's marker.
Maybe, like me, someone was asking Joe "a penny for your thoughts?"

Lewis was where I guess the times of the day dictated, to the rear of
the rest. His marker proclaims him to be a "Man of God". No one
would argue that. Beyond that, he was a man among men. Even his
boss, James O'Neill would say as much.

Earl Longcoy rests alongside his mother Lucy. Sadly, she carried the
burden of out living her son for another 70 years. With that sadness
was the torment knowing that Earl died trying to free himself from
the grip of the snow. No one knew where he was under that tragic
sheet of white. No one knew he was alive, fighting the ultimate
battle between living and dying. A battle he lost.

I ended up out towards the front of the cemetery, talking things over
with Bill Harrington. The old "Snow King" shares a common marker
with his beloved Lil.

I told all of them about finding the old prankster himself, Bob
Meath. Bobby and Elizabeth are themselves resting in peace in their
home parish of St. Mary's in Hammond, WI. I even told them the tale
of Bobby sneaking into a wake and boosting the coffin out the window.

It is good to go and see the boys every so often. I always come away
with a feeling that I have been given a great responsibility. It is
the task of telling their story; not the railroad's story, not the
lawyer's story, not even the story of the passengers on Train 25.
No, for whatever reason those boys have tapped my shoulder and asked
me to tell their story.

This comes at a good time. I'm doing yet another edit of "Vis
Major", trying to walk that fine line between keeping the story
moving so our attention deficit society will keep reading, and not
once again putting the gags on the voices of men whose story has been
suppressed for far too long.

It is good to remember. It is good to visit the boys.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Pay Dirt!

I hit pay dirt today with an actual hand penned letter sent to me through the US Postal Service. It was in answer to a letter I had word processed, but sent snail mail as well. The letter is from a Mrs. Harriet Meath. Her husband, sadly now passed on was the nephew of a man named John Robert Meath. Robert "Bobby" Meath is one of the main characters in "Vis Major".

In this letter, Mrs. Meath corraborated much of what I knew and some of what I had assumed about "Bobby". Robert, as he was known back in his home country of Wisconsin married late, and he and his wife had no children.

I had some documented evidence that Meath was the instigator of any number of elaborate schemes and pratical jokes the men of Wellington would play on themselves and strangers in town. Mrs. Meath also said that Robert was known in the family as a real prankster. She told me of a time Robert and a few of his friends snuck into a home just prior to a wake and boosted the coffin out the window! According to the family story, he didn't bring the body back until the next morning.

One of the things I worry about when writing historical fiction is to be as accurate as is possible when it comes to bringing real people back to life. This direct connectiion to a main character in my book is indeed a case of hitting pay dirt. But it gets better...

Mrs. Meath has a photo of Robert standing alongside a snow plow. She is not certain of the number but appears to her as 1800. That number does not figure. What I am hoping is the number is actually X-800. If that is the case, that number would date that photo right at the time of the Wellington Slide, within a few years. I now have an identified photo of a main character in the very envirornment of which I am writing. For me, this is exciting news!

So the saga of "Vis Major" continues. This book has taken me down some very interesting paths, ones I doubt I would have ever thought I would travel. All this and it isn't even in print yet.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Digging Out

The Total Mounts
The snow pole at Scenic tells the story: 8 1/2' on the level ground. By Sierra standards that is a good average, but at a mere 2400' above sea level, that is a lot of snow....and the traditonal heavy snowfall month of February is just beginning.

Heavy stroms have whipped in off the Pacific and stalled over the Washington Cascades. Rather than moving thourgh quickly as is often the case, the snow ladden clouds linger for days, dumping a water heavy white blanket on the mountains known as Cascade Cement. It sticks to every surface and has a bad tendency to slide.

Clearing the Line

Initially, a ballast regulator equipped with an oversized nose plow can handle the snow removal chores. Flying down the tracks the little machine sends snow flying from between the rails well off the right-of-way.

But when the banks get too close to the rail and too tall, when the storms are to strong and the snowfall too rapid, the big gun is brought to the front. The snow dozer, powered by two big locomotives and with its large wings can move tons of snow in a matter of minutes. Having been out all night pushing the snow away from the tracks, the dozer is seen here making a final clean-up run west.

Even as the dozer works the mainline, commerce contintues to roll. A empty grain train works up the siding having just passed the plow working around the bend.

While the plow train waits in the distance, an eastbound container train arrives, close on the heels of the grain train.

Clear to procede, the crew carefully guides the large wing around the West Scenic signal mast. Once past, they duscuss plowing over the switch machine located just beyond the plow.

Free of all obsticles, the plow train begins pushing the piles of snow over the bank....

...and is soon nearly swallowed up by the mass of snow.

Keeping "Em Rolling

The line clean, the plow's work done until the next storms blow in, the trains begin to roll in earnest. A wind whip cloud of snow engulfs a container train. Later, under a brightening sky, an eastbound trailer train makes an easy passage over the hill.

Already late, and getting later, the westbound Empire Builder, already nearly 8 hours behind schedule waits at Scenic for a slow to arrive eastbound container train struggling up the grade. Bored, one of the crew members takes a stroll through the winter landscape.

"You're going in for two", the dispatcher tells the crew of the eastbound as it takes the siding. Not wishing to waste a moment, as soon as the last car of the freight is clear, the Builder resumes it's trip to the west.

The mini-drama ends nearly an hour later when the second train, a westbound vehicle train slips downgrade.


....a Petitbone loader works to clear maintenance of way access roads at Scenic.

Even down at Skykomish the snow is piling up around the old depot.

Out in the yard, anythingl that doesn't move on a regular basis, is soon snowed in until the spring thaw.

Digging out the Scenic Sub.....the way this winter has been progressing, the worst might be yet to come.