By Gandy Dancer
“Daaaggnnaaaabbbiiiiiit. That durn steam pipe broke.” A white wall of steam engulfed the men. “Turn that spocket handle to the left, will ya, Manes?” The steam stopped, leaving both men damp. Caskey threw his spanner down at the old locomotive’s floor. It bounced back and hit him in the shin. “DAAAAGNABBBIITT MANES, DAGNABBIT. I GOTTA SAIL ON THAT SHIP.”
“Caskey, you old throwback. Stop yer bellyachin. The monster storm of the century is sweeping down from Canada and we’re stuck here on the outskirts of Superior with a broken pipe on the modulator. We’ll freeze to death if we don’t get it fixed. Yer an engineer. You can fix anything. Know any place in Wisconsin that has a spare steam pipe?” Manes scratched his nose then grinned wickedly. “And you get seasick, Caskey. Puking, green-at-the-gills sick, you old train dog. Don’t forget about that.”
Caskey rubbed his shin through his trousers. A spot of blood marked the impact. “Ouch. No I don’t, Manes. It’s November 9, 1975 and Momma and I are celebrating our 40th anniversary tomorrow. Old Cap’ Mick said I can hitch a ride home to Detroit with him. We served together in the Pacific. I just gotta get to the dock before they sail. I got three hours. If I can put up with you here in the box of this engine I can put up with some little waves.”
Manes laughed and threw a gnawed chicken bone at his engineer, who ducked and hit his head on the wall.
“Dagnabbit. Manes, one of these days…Hey, you seen that ore carrying freighter? Biggest durn ship I’ve ever seen, even bigger than the Missouri I served on in the big one.” He frowned. “Say, I recollect the iron piping in the mail car suspension looks a lot like the broken steam pipe. It’s not brass and probably won’t hold full pressure, but if we cut it the right size and get your old threader to match up and fit, maybe it’ll work. I’ll toss a shovel of coal into the firebox, you put the engine on standby, and let’s go check it out. Sure beats freezing to death.”
Both men scrambled from the locomotive. Caskey slipped then caught himself on the last rung. “DAGNABBIT.”
The men made short work of stripping the pipe from the mail car, threading and installing the repair.
“We got an hour to get to the train yard and I gotta get a ride to the docks. Cap’n Mick don’t wait for nobody. Fire up the steam and build pressure up real slow like.”
The locomotive started moving and soon the train was on its way but the men arrived at the docks too late. Caskey’s eyes were wet. “Dagnabbit. I’ll have to call Momma with the news…”
“Don’t feel bad, Caskey. You gave it a good try. The mail car pipe was genius. You old timers really know how to run a railroad. What was the name of that boat?”
“The Edmund Fitzgerald.”