Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

Busted Axle Road
a novel by
Wes Boyd
Copyright ©1993, ©2001, ©2007, ©2013

Chapter 16

One of the nice things about not having anything to do for the summer was that Josh got to sleep in most mornings. He’d been sawing logs pretty good, taking advantage of not having to get up early on Monday morning. His dreams, predictably, were of Amy – not even a naked Amy, playing volleyball, the vision at the Frosty Freeze, or even the meaty-tasting kiss they’d shared late Saturday night, but of Amy, bent over Mr. Sloat, trying to breathe life into his lungs.

It had been a heck of a first date, under any circumstances.

It had been tough to see Danny drive off in the car with the two girls, but when Danny had brought his car back Sunday morning, he reported that when he got out to the club, he’d found both Dr. Brege and Harry Masterfield had talked to the girls’ parents. "Everybody’s real pleased," Danny said. "The girls’ folks want to meet you some time, and I don’t think we’re going to get any static about going out with them again. It was kind of funny," he went on, "watching both of them trying to keep from getting caught with hamburger on their breath."

With that vision in mind, Sunday afternoon went a little bit better, although it was a short jump to visualizing Amy and Marsha playing volleyball. The afternoon was broken up by several people calling or dropping by mostly to offer congratulations to Josh, and that made things go a little better, too.

The afternoon was waning, and Josh had managed to build up a little interest in a Cubs game on TV when he heard the beeping of a horn outside. "Looks like it’s for you," his father said.

Josh went outside, to discover the Appliance Center pickup parked at the curb, with Danny and the girls in the cab. "Get your swimsuit and get your car," Danny called. "We’re gonna go to the city beach. Meet you back here in a few minutes."

Suddenly, Josh was in motion at the speed of sound. He had his swimsuit on and was heading down the stairs and out to his car, when he discovered Amy on the front porch, talking with his father and mother. "We just don’t know how to thank you and Josh for what you did," Sarah was saying. "We’ve known Ed and Jill for a long time, and we’re just glad you came along when you did."

"Have you heard how he was doing?" Amy asked.

"Bud went down to Camden earlier," Walt replied. "He says they think he’s going to make it."

"That is good news," Amy said, and went on. "Josh, why don’t we get in your car and go down to Danny’s house? It could take them a few minutes."

"Have a good time," Sarah said. "Try not to be too late."

That beat a lecture any day.

Out in the car, Josh asked, "What’s the deal at Danny’s house, anyway?"

"Danny thinks that there’s an old swimsuit of Brandy’s laying around that Marsha could wear," she explained. "You’d be surprised how hard it is to find a swimsuit out at our place."

"I can imagine," Josh said, only too truthfully. "Danny said he thought you guys wouldn’t be too crazy about going to the city beach."

"Well, yeah," Amy explained. "But, we were sitting around, talking about going for a swim, and Danny said it was too bad we had to leave you out of the fun. So, here we are."

"Thanks," Josh said. "It was getting pretty dull. The Cubs were getting their butts whipped, anyway."

They pulled to a stop in front of the Evachevski house. In a minute, Danny and Marsha came out, Marsha wearing a one-piece brown swimsuit obviously a little too small for her; with a high French cut and a low neckline, she was popping out all over. It was clear that she wasn’t used to wearing a swimsuit. Josh and Amy got out of the car, while Danny and Marsha piled into the back. "OK," Danny said. "We’re going over to the city beach for an hour or so, and then we’re going to meet the girl’s folks at the Frosty Freeze at 6:30. After that, I don’t know."

It had been a good hour, with the four of them laughing and playing in the water, throwing a Frisbee around. It proved that Amy had on as close to a string bikini as had ever been seen on the beach at Spearfish Lake, and she drew a lot of attention, which she pretty much ignored. A good deal of the attention was from Josh; though the bikini didn’t leave a lot to the imagination, it did leave a little, and it was hard to not wonder about what might have been, under other circumstances.

It was getting close to 6:30 before they got out of the water and dried off. "Hey, I know it puts you guys out to come into town and do this for me," Josh said, "But I really appreciate it."

The meeting with Mr. and Mrs. Ashtenfelter had gone pretty well, under the circumstances. Josh had tried to be respectful and leave a good impression, and it must have worked, for though the girls went home with their parents, there hadn’t been any objections to the idea of future dates. "That went better than it had any right to," Danny commented as he and Josh went back out to Josh’s car. "Now, with any kind of luck at all, we ought to have a pretty good summer. It’s going to be a little awkward at times, but one thing you learn out at the club is getting used to awkward."

*   *   *

Josh had gotten over his dream about Amy and himself giving Mr. Sloat CPR, and now his dreams were more involved with the vision of Amy at the beach – Marsha, too, to a little degree, but mostly Amy, in that tiny string bikini. Needless to say, they were pleasant dreams, and it was hard to surrender to the reality of his father’s voice: "Hey, sack rat! Get up, you got to go to work!"

Unwilling to lose the vision of Amy in her bikini, Josh protested. "Mr. Evachevski said he wasn’t going to need me today."

"I didn’t say nothing about Mr. Evachevski," Walt said. "You and me are going to have to run the Kremmling turn."

"What?" Josh said, rolling over. He’d brought up the idea of getting a summer job at the railroad with his dad months ago, but had been shot down; insurance said he had to be eighteen.

"Bud ain’t too happy about it," Josh’s father said. "But he figures he owes you. He says a diesel maintainer back to work in three months is better than a diesel maintainer dead, so he got a rider on the insurance for you and your buddy. Now, we’re short a brakeman, so you’re it."

"Give me a couple minutes to get dressed."

"Don’t be all day," Walt smiled. "The trip down shouldn’t be too bad. We got a half a dozen empties to take to Warsaw, and then a cut of boxes from there. But we’re going to have a full load of aggregate on the way back, and with only one motor, we’re going to have our hands full getting back for supper."

"Only one diesel?" Josh asked, pulling his pants on. He hadn’t grown up in his family without learning some of the ins and outs of railroading, especially as it applied to the Camden and Spearfish Lake Railroad.

"Yeah," Walt said. "Ed had the generator tore down on the 103. Now Bud and your buddy and Bill Lee from down to Lordston are going to try and put it back together again."

Half an hour later, with a quick sandwich in him and another couple in a lunch bucket, Josh watched as Walt throttled up ‘The Rock,’ the blue former Rock Island GP-7 that the Camden and Spearfish Lake had owned since its founding. Though considerably older than Josh, it was still the premiere power the railroad had. Though the Rock had earned a certain degree of reverence over its role in the Warsaw fire a few years before, it was still a working diesel, and today, it would have to work hard.

"OK, Josh," Walt explained. "Most of what you’re going to have to do today is just throw switches. We don’t have a lot to do with couplings and uncouplings, but I’ll help you out with what we do till you get the hang of it. The big hassle is going to be at Warsaw. We have to go in the hole there till the rock train out of Summit gets past, so we’ll have plenty of time."

It wasn’t the first time that Josh had ridden out to Warsaw, or even down to Kremmling with his father, but it was the first time he was going as a railroader. Even so, things were fairly familiar, and the cut of cars to go to Warsaw was already set up, so there were few hassles getting out of the yard. As they were heading out the yard lead to the wye, Walt handed his son a harness with a battery radio attached to it, not unlike the portable the EMTs had carried, but operating on a different frequency. As Josh strapped on the harness, Walt picked up a pair of binoculars to check the first of the wye switches. "How about that," he said. "It’s set for us. The switch to the main better not be, though."

A further check with the binoculars a couple of minutes later showed that the switch to the main indeed had to be thrown. It was normally left that way, since the heavy rock trains passed right through Spearfish Lake on their way down to the barge loader at Camden. "OK," Walt said, idling the engine and letting the train slow, "You know what to do. Get down, throw the switch, and I’ll pull forward. Call me when the tail’s through, throw the switch back, and call me. I’ll be nice to you today, and back the head end up to you. By the way, we’re ‘Slicker 41’ today."

Josh had seen it done a hundred times before, even sort of helped a few, but this was different; it was exciting to be the one actually doing it. As the Rock slowly crept by the switch, he stepped off of the running board. His father saw that he was down all right, and burped the power a little to roll the short train of empties through the switch. In only a few minutes, the last car was through the switch. Josh threw the weighted ground throw over, and called on the radio, "Slicker 41, clear of the switch." The train halted, and slowly backed up. "Slicker 41, about three cars," he radioed helpfully. There was no response, but the train stopped with the steps right by him. His father had been running engines for a long time.

Josh climbed back up into the cab, even as his father was opening the throttle. He peeled off the radio harness; there would be no more need for it until they reached Warsaw, which would take almost two hours. "No problem," Josh reported.

"Just remember one thing," Walt said, as the speed built up and Josh settled in the fireman’s seat. "Be damn careful, whatever you do. There’s a hell of a lot of weight moving here, even on a light train like this."

With the train light, Walt had it up to speed before very long. For several reasons, the main one being track conditions, twenty-five miles per hour was about as fast as he could go, and it didn’t seem very fast to Josh. They’d get there, he thought, as his father opened a thermos and poured himself a cup of coffee.

They fell to talking, starting about railroading, but soon switched over to football. Josh wondered how much the job would interfere with football practices. It wasn’t going to be a fulltime job, he knew, but it had a tendency to fall at odd hours. Mostly, Josh just sat back and watched the countryside roll past. After a ways, Walt blew the Rock’s horn for the state road crossing. "Day like this, it’s nice to be a railroader," Walt commented. "Problem is, you don’t get many days like this. Seems like every time you got to take a train out, it’s raining, or blowing, or darker than the inside of a cow, or snow all over everywhere."

"I don’t know," Josh said. "I think I could learn to like it." It probably wasn’t going to happen, he knew; college would take him off in a different direction. Still, if he didn’t screw up, this probably would be a solid summer job that would last him for years.

Slicker 41 was getting away from the state road, now, following rails through a forest of mostly scrub pine. One time, Walt had to lay on the whistle, to try and scare a couple of deer off the tracks; fortunately, they got out of the way in time. A few minutes later, he blew the whistle again, two longs, a short, and a long, for the County Road 919 crossing.

West Turtle Lake was just before 919, Josh knew; he looked out the side of the cab, trying to make out something of the club, but all he could make out was the roof of Commons in the distance across the lake. Amy was over there somewhere, he thought, wondering what she was doing. Maybe he could finagle her a cab ride up to Warsaw or something, sometime. She might like that.

Walt had a pretty good idea what his son was thinking. "Time was, when I started out braking," he smiled, "these trees wasn’t here, and you could look clear across the lake. Every train that come up here in the summer then had everybody on board looking across the lake with binoculars, but nobody ever saw much of anything."

Josh didn’t say anything; he just looked across the trees, his mind across the lake.

"Kinda like her, don’t you?" Walt said, loud enough that Josh could hear him over the Rock’s diesel.

"It’s not like I’m in love with her or anything, but she is fun," Josh replied.

"Seems like a good kid," Walt agreed, something obviously on his mind, but Josh didn’t ask. The conversation died out in the cab, and both of them watched the pine barrens roll by.

After a ways, the tracks started down a gentle grade, then bent right for the run across the fill through the bottoms of the Spearfish River swamp. When they crossed over the river itself, they saw a couple of canoes heading toward the bridge. Walt blipped the horn at them, and got some waves in response, then throttled up a notch for the climb up out of the swamp.

Eventually they reached Warsaw. It wouldn’t have been any great trouble to switch, except for the fact that it was a facing-point switch, and they had to cut off the cars they were dragging, run around them on the passing track, push them into the plant’s loading dock, then pick up some boxcars filled with toilet paper, drag them out, run around them and hook up again. It went slowly, and Josh was up and down off of the engine several times, with Walt checking the couplings carefully each time. They’d just finished the runaround, and Walt and Josh were getting ready to walk the train, hooking up the air brake lines and checking the couplings, when the radio sounded with a feminine voice: "Slicker 41, Peachpie 18. Are you at Warsaw?"

"We’re in the hole for you, Diane," Walt replied. "I thought Bruce was running today."

"He ran late last night, so everything’s all screwed up," she said. "He’s going to run Creepy 17, unless something changes again. What’s the word on Ed?"

"Gonna make it, last I heard." Walt said. "How far out are you?"

"Just coming across the river."

"We’ll be waitin’," Walt replied. He and Josh climbed down from the Rock and began to walk back along the cars of the train, checking connections. They’d just gotten down to the end of the train when they heard a low thunder in the distance: two GP-9s, working hard, blasting out a lot of noise. A train whistle sounded for a crossing, and then, in a few seconds, another. All of a sudden, Peachpie 18 was upon them, thundering down hard, only a few feet away. Josh could see someone lean out of the cab, long, dark red hair blowing in the wind, and wave a hand at them.

Josh had met Diane Page once or twice over the years, a small, slight woman in her late twenties, with long red hair, cream-colored skin and a reportedly fiery disposition. To look at her, no one would ever imagine her hogging 3600 horsepower in two motors, snaking half a mile or more of loaded limestone hoppers down the tracks, but here those two roaring motors were, on top of them now, the noise of the bellowing engines battering their bodies. With a rush, the engines were gone, followed by the clickity-clack of car after car after car.

As soon as the train had passed, Walt and Josh started to walk back up the tracks to the waiting Rock. "Sometimes, I wonder how Bruce manages her," Walt commented. "She’s been runnin’ engines longer than he has, and she’s got a better touch. Takes a young person to run one of them rock trains." He was silent for a second, then added, "’Course, we’re gonna have about all the rock we want on our way back."

The run to Walsenberg wasn’t too bad, but the trip down to Kremmling took what seemed like forever to Josh. They were limited to ten miles an hour here, even after years of work on the track. At that they had it better than the D&O train that had crept across the track at the height of the Warsaw fire, when the track had been abandoned for years, and many of the ties had rotted away. They left the cars they’d picked up at Warsaw on a siding at Kremmling; they’d be picked up later and taken to Lordston for exchange with either the D&O or North Central; Walt didn’t know, and really didn’t care either. In exchange, they picked up a lot of cars of aggregate – not as big a train as Peachpie 18, but it seemed to Josh like more than they could handle. The Rock had to pull hard to walk them up out of the pit, but things settled down as they headed back across the Kremmling grade to Walsenberg. Josh and Walt ate their lunches as they slowly crossed the grade, and it seemed like the day was winding down when Slicker 41 got back out onto the main at Walsenberg.

The higher speed on the run down to Spearfish Lake made the rest of the trip seem to go quickly, though it was still a long slog. When they came up close to West Turtle Lake, Josh was a little surprised to realize that he hadn’t thought about Amy in a couple hours, but he stared out the cab window, hoping to see some hint of her, or at least of the club.

"Almost home," Walt said. "We’re just gonna stop out on the main, and John’ll run it the rest of the way down to the docks."

"It’ll be good to be home," Josh said. He hadn’t worked very hard, but the noise and the slowly passing scenery had worn him, a little.

"Got any plans for tonight?" Walt asked.

"Not really, unless Danny has worked out something," Josh replied. "It’s kind of up to him, the way things are."

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