Runner's Moon

by Wes Boyd

Part 1: Dog Days


Chapter 1

Some milestones in life, like a graduation or a wedding day, are big and obvious. Others are just as big, but so subtle that the casual passerby isn't likely to notice them.

The biggest milestone in Josh Archer's life, at least as far as he was concerned, came early one June morning as he walked into the Camden and Spearfish Lake Railroad office to tank up his coffee. Out of habit, he glanced at the call board, since he'd been making a lot of runs recently, and the odds were about even that he'd be working on engine maintenance, or out on a run.

The call board was cryptic, but reading the messy green chalkboard was second nature:

B-PIT Walt Chris 401/402 0600
SLCR John Herm 301 0630
K-PIT Josh Danny 601/602 0700
SLLT Bud Roger 301 1800

Josh's eyes stopped when they hit the third run listed. He read it over and over again, scarcely able to dare believe what he was seeing was real. It wasn't the first time that his name had appeared in the "ENG" column; it had been there off and on since the pit runs had started up for the summer two months ago -- but always before, the "BRAKE" column had read "Bud" or "Walt" or, occasionally, "Ed". Bud owned the railroad, at least, along with some investors and the bank, and Walt was his dad, who'd run engines since long before Josh was born, and Ed, while not on the engineer's list at all, was the head diesel maintainer. Though Josh had been officially in charge of the train, there'd always been someone watching over his shoulder.

But Danny Evachevski was a college kid, that only worked in the summer. Josh had gone to school with Danny, been a good friend and fellow football player, but he only had a few months experience as a brakeman, spread over three summers. Now, Bud was turning Josh loose -- and on the SD-38s, no less! The '38s were new this spring, at least, new to the C&SL -- they were fifteen years old, old MoPac units, but were half the age and nearly twice the power of the other engines. Josh couldn't help himself; "Ho-ly Shit!", he said, out loud.

"That you, Josh?" Bud's voice sounded from inside his office.

"Yeah." Josh walked over to the office door, which was open. Inside, Bud sat behind his cluttered desk, a cup of coffee stacked on a stack of papers.

"I take it you just saw the call board."

"Are you sure about this, Bud?" Josh asked. It still didn't seem real.

"Oh, hell, you're ready," Bud said. "Think about it. K-Pit is the easiest run, you've only got two cuts. Danny can handle that. Chris is the greenest brakeman, so he's best with your dad, even though they've got more cuts."

Josh nodded. "Well, yeah, that makes sense," he said. "But why me at all? What happened to Diane and Bruce?"

"You didn't hear? I figured your dad would have told you when he got home."

"Hear what? I didn't see Dad. I went out to work with the dogs, and didn't get home until after he went to bed."

Bud shook his head. "You need to gossip more. Diane's out of it, for the summer, at least, maybe longer. You knew she was pregnant, didn't you?"

"Yeah, sure," Josh said. He'd spent many hours riding engines as a brakeman with the little redheaded woman engineer with the firey disposition. Do your job right, everything went all right, but if you screwed up, she'd all over your ass in an instant.

"The doctor gave her an ultrasound yesterday. She's got twins, and he sent her to bed rest for the next five months, right on the spot. That means Bruce is going to have to pick up for her down in Lordston." Bruce and Diane Page were both qualified railroad engineers, although most agreed that Diane was the better one. Normally, one made the local steam engine run in the summer with the Lordston Northern Scenic Railroad, and then did some switching with the LN's little diesel, while the other made a road run for the C&SL. "He may be able to get in a couple runs a week for us, but the way we've got things set up, he and I will take care of the west way freight." Bud explained. "Maybe we can concentrate things a little and skip that one once in a while. That looks like the summer, unless we can diddle things around a little. We may have to switch you around a little, but figure on doing K-pit at least four days a week; we may try to skip a Wednesday run sometimes."

Josh nodded. "That's a ten hour run, if everything goes right," he said. "That's assuming we don't have to stay in the hole for B-pit too long."

"Yeah, you're looking at some eleven, twelve hour days," Bud agreed."At least you're not going to have to drive up here from Camden every day like John. But, you'll make out. As of today, you're on the engineer roster, not the utility roster. That's about another two and a quarter bucks an hour, plus time and a half over forty. If Ed needs you to work on something, that'll have to be on overtime, too."

Josh let out a long, low whistle. Most weeks, that would mean a couple of hundred bucks extra. Maybe more. "I suppose still slow in the winter, though?" he asked.

Bud nodded. "Probably have you in a day or two a week, but you can still draw unemployment and play with your dogs."


Josh felt about twelve feet tall when he walked out of the office. He'd been sure that this was going to happen sooner or later, but figured it would be a few years farther off, say, when his Dad retired. But, so soon, just a week over a year since he'd graduated from high school! Then again, though, neither Bruce or Diane had been much older when they'd started running rock trains for the C&SL, and he was more experienced now than they'd been, then. Of course, the rock trains had been a lot smaller, usually single-unit jobs, and the old, small units at that. But, the new barge loader down in Camden had a lot bigger capacity, and that meant more rock to move.

He went out to track two, where the two big engines sat nosed into the piggyback ramp, where they'd been left last night, with nearly a half mile of empties stretched out behind them. On a big railroad, the engines would be given to the engineer by the hostler all ready to roll, but it didn't work that way on the C&SL. Josh gave the engines both a walk-around while he had diesel fuel running into their tanks, and the way they went through diesel, that took a while. Danny showed up as they were filling, carrying his lunchbox, and Josh told him to keep an eye on the fueling while he finished his inspection. They didn't get much time to talk; that could come later.

In a few minutes more, the fueling was complete. Josh helped Danny drag the fuel lines back to the fuel dock, always a messy job and a smelly way to start the day, then they got down to business. "You've made this run before, this year, haven't you? "Josh asked. He hadn't had much time to see Danny since he'd been home from college; their schedules had been too different.

"Yeah, about three times," Danny said. "Now I guess it's going to be permanent."

"Looks that way," Josh said, looking at his watch. "We haven't got much time. I don't know which way the ladder switches are set, but probably not for us, so you'd better throw that before we get rolling. I'll ease you out to the throat switch, you'll have to throw that, too. You'll have to unlock the mainline switch, and throw it back to the main and lock it when we leave."

"I know all that," Danny said.

"Just making sure," Josh said. "I don't want any screwups, today, of all days. Is your radio working?"

"Yeah, I checked it with the office," Danny said.

"Better get hiking. I'll get these things running."

As Danny started up the tracks, Josh realized he must have sounded rather curt and authoritarian to his old friend. As he climbed up to the second of the big six-axle units, he made a mental note to apoligize, but not too much. But damn, it was his ass that was in the sling, now, if something screwed up. He'd always understood that, in a way, when he'd been braking for someone, but now the responsibility was on his shoulders, and he really knew how it felt. Now, in his gut, he realized where his dad was coming from, where Diane had been coming from. Things were going to have to be a little different between himself and Danny, now, and he hoped that Danny could understand that.

Starting the 602 was easy -- these engines were a lot less fussy about starting than the older GP-7s and GP-9s. Before they'd finally turned 302 into a parked parts supply, sometimes it had taken all hands, including Ed, a profane hour to get it running. This one started right up from internals, and Josh stood and watched the gauges for a minute until he was satisfied that everything was working. He stepped out onto the catwalk, and leaned out, to see that Danny was still a long way from the end of the train, then went to the front end and got 601 running. As it warmed up, Josh reached for the radio's microphone, and called, "Keyhole brake from Keyhole lead for radio check." The C&SL had learned years ago, that "K-pit" sounded a little too much like "B-pit" on the radio for comfort, and had modified the radio call sign.

"Five square, Josh," came back over the loudspeaker.

"How you coming?" Josh called back. He glanced at the brake pressure gauge; train air was coming up nicely. He checked the EOT readout; train air was coming up nicely at the back end too.

"Almost up to the first switch," Danny replied.

"Let me know." Josh glanced at his watch. Pretty close, but they should be rolling on time. He settled back in his seat and thought for a minute. By the time they handled the stuff at either end, it was going to be pretty close to twelve hours pay time a day, plus he suspected that he'd get in some engine maintenance time too. The plan had originally been that he'd mainly work at maintenance, with some road crew time to fill in, but it was turning the other way around. Sixty, maybe even seventy hours a week. That was the way the C&SL worked -- busy as hell for eight months, then slow as hell for four. He'd known that when he'd agreed to Bud's offer to send him to diesel maintainer school. At the time, it had seemed like an advantage; he'd have plenty of time off in the winter to work with the team, among other things, but already, he was a little homesick for those three-month summer vacations that had ended so suddenly four summers before. Working that much was going to put even more load on Tiffany; he'd have to talk to her about that, and soon, too.

"Keyhole lead, switch is thrown. Ready when you are," Danny's voice sounded on the loudspeaker.

Josh beeped the air horns to announce that the train was going to be moving, then put his hand on the throttle. Almost instinctively, he looked over his shoulder, to make sure that Bud or his dad wasn't standing there watching, and any remaining doubts about the reality hit him. Still, it was with an excitement bordering on awe that he opened the throttle slightly. With 5,000 horsepower, and a train full of empties, it wouldn't take much. The train began to slowly creep backwards, and Josh looked at his watch. 0700, right on the nose. He took a look back down the train, to see Danny hurrying ahead, to throw the yard switch. A few seconds later, he could see the green flag, even before he heard Danny's report that the switch was thrown. He saw Danny get up onto the step on the last car, and added a notch to the throttle to hurry things along. As the engines stepped up their pace, Josh glanced over at the office, and noticed Bud standing there, watching. It was clear that Bud was taking a big step in sending the kids out with the biggest train the C&SL ran, and he had a right to be worried about it, Josh knew. Well, he'd do his damndest to not screw up, and do his best to see that Danny didn't, either. He waved at Bud, who waved back.

It made sense, Josh thought. Even though K-Pit may have been the biggest train, it was also the easiest. It only had to be switched a couple of times, and simple ones at that; it wasn't limited by weight, but by the length of the #2 track, the longest one here in the Spearfish Lake yard, so even with a much longer train they weren't working every ounce of power, like the GP-9s had to do on B-Pit.

By the time he'd reached the yard switch, he knew the tail had to be reaching the throat switch. "How we coming?" he radioed Danny.

"Couple hundred yards, yet."

There was a bush alongside the tracks that Josh knew he wanted to stop beside. He cut the throttle, and touched the engine brakes slightly, letting the train slow to a stop nicely short of the bush. The yard crew at the barge loader was supposed to make up the train with the same length each day, but there was the one time early this year when they'd added an extra six cars. Thank God it had been Roger braking, instead of him, and Bud at the throttle. They'd had a hell of a mess getting three cars back on the tracks. As the train came to a stop, Josh radioed, "OK, how far?"

"About fifty yards," Danny reported.

"Do it," Josh replied. If it had been his dad running the engine, the tail would have been more like twenty yards from the switch, but Josh would rather have Danny walk an extra thirty yards, rather than risk running the last car five yards too far. As he waited, he checked the gauges again; everything was fine.

"Keyhole lead, the throat switch is thrown, and I'm on," Danny reported.

Again, Josh beeped the horn and blipped the power of the big SD-38s, and set it to creeping again. It wasn't far to the next switch, but it was quicker to have the brakeman ride the step on the last car out to it. He now knew the train was the right length; his target to stop this time was a busted fence post a little farther up, and he cut this one a little tighter. "About thirty yards, and I'm off," Danny reported again.

Josh went over the gauges one more time. Train air was looking good from the EOT, the little idiot box at the far end of the train that monitored it there and continually radioed readings to the cab of the 601. Everything else was normal. In a few more seconds, Danny radioed again, "Keyhole lead, the switch to the main is thrown, and the track is clear."

One more time, Josh set the train to moving. He couldn't see the switchstand, since the curve of the train blocked it for him, but he knew from the passing scenery how far he had to go. Finally, he could see the switch, with Danny standing next to it. He cut the power at about the right spot, and let the head end drift backward out onto the main. As the train stopped, he transitioned forward, and when he'd seen Danny lock the switch and stand up to start toward the train, he fed the two engines a notch of throttle. The train wasn't moving very fast when Danny reached for the grabiron and swung up onto the front step of the lead engine.

Josh opened the throttle wider, and radioed, "Spearfish Lake, Keyhole is eastbound on the main at 0707."

"Roger that," Bud replied from the base station radio. "Take it easy and have a good trip, Josh."

Even though the train was long, it was empty, and it didn't take long to get it up to speed; Josh had it running at schedule speed by the time he blew for the Lakeshore Drive crossing just short of the state road overpass. Danny settled into the fireman's seat. "Hey, sorry to sound like Diane, back there," Josh said. "But, you don't know how different it is to be in her shoes."

"A little nervous?" Danny asked.

"Yeah, I guess," Josh admitted. "Look, we've been buddies for a long time, but we've got to be all business when we do this. I'm not going to give you a big lecture, but there's no room for screwing around when we're operating."

"OK, Diane," Danny smirked.

"Look, that's how it's got to be," Josh said. "If you'd rather, I can ask Bud if we can swap you with Chris in the future."

"You don't have to do that," Danny replied seriously. "If I get out of line, feel free to jump on me."

"I can get along with that, if you can," Josh said, feeling a little of the tension ease.

Danny shook his head. "It does feel sort of strange. I never expected this to happen, back when we went on that first double date with Marsha and Amy."

It had been a date to remember, a real life-changing milestone for Josh, and for Danny, too. Marsha and Amy were the daughters of some old friends of the Evachevski family, with a summer cottage in the area. Danny had never gotten along with Marsha too well, but had gone along with a double date, since Josh wanted to go out with Amy. They were heading down to Albany River to go roller skating, but never got there; a car went off the road in front of them, and when they stopped to check it out, they found that it was driven by Ed Sloat, the C&SL diesel maintainer. He'd had a heart attack, and his wife had been injured in the crash. Josh and Amy had given Ed CPR for what seemed like forever. While Danny tried to staunch Jill Sloat's bleeding, Marsha had taken Josh's car and raced off to call an ambulance. Not only had it saved two lives, it had cemented four kids that had been pretty awkward with each other into a tight group. But the real big change came two mornings later, when Josh's dad had kicked him out of bed and informed him that he wasn't looking for a summer job any longer, he was now a trainee brakeman. Even though Bud had to come up with special insurance for Josh and Danny, still short of 18, he figured he owed the kids big time.

That one incident had led in a direct line to the two of them sitting in the cab of the 601, running K-pit eastward. It was a solid summer job for Danny, one he'd had for several years now, but the railroading bug had really bitten Josh, and Bud knew it. He'd called Josh for work on evenings and weekends all through school, and then given Josh the offer of a lifetime: if he wasn't going to college, Bud would send Josh to diesel maintainer schooling. College had never seemed quite real to Josh; he jumped on the offer. The only downside came when he'd informed Amy, just a year ago, that not only was he not going to join Marsha and Danny and her at Western State down in Athens, he wasn't going to college at all, and from that moment on, she wasn't a part of his life any more. Which was all right, in a way; while he and Amy had had a good time together, somehow it had never seemed like it was going to work out. Their backgrounds were just too different, and they were bound to draw apart, anyway, he could see now.

"So how are they, anyway?" Josh asked. They had been friends, after all.

"Oh, pretty good," Danny said. "I guess you knew that I gave Marsha a ring, just before school got out."

"No, I didn't," Josh said. "You going to do it soon?"

Danny shook his head. "Going to wait till we graduate," he said. "That's only two more years. The big reason I did it is that the girls are off to Europe this summer, and, well, I'm not going to be seeing Marsha till fall."

"No kidding," Josh nodded, mildly curious. "All summer?"

"Yeah, the whole shebang. Some kind of a college thing. Their granddad is picking up the tab, and it was too good to turn down. I'm really going to miss her. I'd have liked to have gone, but I needed the money."

Josh didn't need to ask about that. It was a point of pride with the whole Evachevski family that they didn't ask Jennifer, the oldest Evachevski daughter, for money, though she'd have given it to them. Jennifer could have paid their way through college and bought the whole railroad besides, out of her petty cash fund; in fact, Josh remembered Phil saying one time that she owned a piece of the railroad, anyway, as an investment. Eight platinum records, at last count, and several million-dollar movie deals had something to do with that. Garth's college had come before Jennifer hit the big time; Brandy, the next oldest daughter, had made it through college on a combination of athletic and academic scholarships; Tara, the youngest daughter, had hit the academic scholarships pretty good, too, and held down a series of jobs, and Danny, the youngest, had been recruited for football. That hadn't panned out, but he was a good infielder, and the baseball team was glad they'd picked him up on the rebound; a half ride there, plus his railroad job and loans was getting him through college.

"Well, you'll be stacking it up this summer," Josh said. "I can see lots of time and a half."

"Just as well I'm working," Danny said. "Without Marsha around, there's not a lot else to do. At least, you've got your dogs to play with. You still have `em, don't you?"

"Still have them," Josh said, blowing for the Busted Axle Road crossing. He laid on the horn really hard, sort of in hopes that it would wake Tiffany up. Typical teenager, wanted to sleep till noon. If she wanted to work the dogs any, she'd best be doing it while it was still cool.

"How many now?"

"That's not a real simple question to answer," Josh replied with a smile. "If you're talking to my mother, I don't have any dogs; they're all Mark's. If you ask Mark, I have fourteen, not counting the pups; there's seven of them. But, four of the dogs that Mark and Mike think are mine are actually Tiffany's. I don't know who is fooling who with those, since I think both Mark and Mike know what the deal really is, but nobody admits it. She has three more of her own that her parents do know about."

"The papers made a big deal about her winning it at the age of twelve," Danny said. "I thought it was kind of cool, myself."

"She won it on merit," Josh said. "Not only did she have the best dogs in the field, she trained them right. Those three dogs she scavenged from her dad were his best distance dogs, and she had three of my best dogs from the team I got from Woody. We sort of got our heads together and decided that since I couldn't train like I wanted to, we'd let her run the best dogs while I ran the extras."

Danny nodded. "How'd you do?"

"I did for shit," Josh said. "Not like when I was second, the year before last. I wound up fifth, but that sounds better than it was. I was in school down in LaGrange, and I hardly had time to train. I worked the dogs a bit over Christmas, Tiffany ran them for me a bit, and Phil came out a few times and ran them a bit, but they were nowhere near ready for a Warsaw Run, so we just loafed up there and then loafed our way back. But then, except for Crosstie and Polly and a couple of others, none of them really were Warsaw Run material in the first place."

"You've got some losers, then, I take it?"

Josh nodded. "I've got four dogs that aren't worth the powder to blow them away, and Tiffany has another one. We picked up three of them when it was decided to make the Warsaw Run a seven dog race, the winter before last, and we shouldn't have bothered. Then, we got two more last fall, in hopes of improving on the extras from the year before, and only one of them worked out very well."

"So, you''re feeding some useless mouths, then."

"Damn near, but Tiffany and I don't dare get rid of them, and we may even have to get more duds. I won't go into the politics of the thing, but we may have to start the Warsaw race with ten dogs this year. That's not settled yet, but if that's the case, we're going to have to have them, whether we want them or not, even though they'll only go as far as the 919 checkpoint before they get dropped."

Danny shook his head. "Seems like you're feeding a lot of dogs for one race."

Josh laid on the horn, to try and scare a deer off the tracks. Hitting a deer with a train like this wasn't like hitting a deer with a car, but the blood could be a mess to clean up, and if deer parts got lodged around the traction motors, the smell could drive you out of the cab if you didn't get it cleaned up pretty soon. Besides, deer were pretty, and this one ambled off the tracks as K-Pit came up on it. Danny couldn't heard him say anything over the air horn, anyway, so Josh waited until the deer was in the clear before he replied, "Seems like it to me, too, but we run sprints about every other weekend -- at least, Mark and Mike and Tiffany did, and I did manage a couple, when I could get home from LaGrange. I took the team that Tiffany took to Warsaw, and won the 7-dog state championship, third year in a row, now, but that was sort of a consolation prize. Tiffany won fifteen hundred for the Warsaw Run, and I got a hundred bucks for the 7-dog. But, there's supposed to be a 200-miler in the UP next winter, and they're promising good money. We don't know yet if Tiffany can run it, but we might put together a good team between us and I'll try it, and she can do the Warsaw Run with it."

"You're working together with Tiffany a lot then, I take it?"

"God, yes," Josh replied. "I couldn't hope to have a competitive team without her. I couldn't have started last winter without her. After last winter, we sort of worked out a deal. I shouldn't have to be in school this winter, except for a couple of two-weekers. She's going to concentrate on the summer training, we'll struggle through the fall together somehow, and I'll concentrate on the winter training when she's in school. That may cut down on the hassles at school for her, some."

"I heard there was some trouble over that," Danny said. "What was that all about?"

Josh shook his head. "Nothing much to it. If Kathy Webb could learn to keep her mouth shut about things that don't concern her, it wouldn't have been much trouble at all. The simple version is that Tiffany figured that if she had to waste more than an hour on the bus in the morning and the afternoon, she could take a little bit more time, drive the dogs to school the long way around, and get in some good training time each way. Beats wasting almost three hours a day on the fucking bus, after all. Well, Kathy got all pissed off about how cruel Tiffany was being to the dogs, making them sleep outside on a picket line all day, and it wound up going to the school board. Mike was able to engineer a compromise without having to write an editorial, but he and Mark had to throw together seven doghouses and put them next to the student parking lot. Now they have doghouses to sleep outside of, or on the top of, but hardly ever inside."

"Yeah," Danny said. "She was always a pain in the ass when we were in school."

"Still is," Josh said, and blew for the 919 crossing, two shorts, a long, and a short. The SD-38s had K-Pit stepping right along, right on time, Josh noted from his watch. The extra funds that Bud had thrown at track maintenance meant that they could step along quite a bit faster than they could even a couple years ago. It made possible doing a round trip from Spearfish Lake to Kremmling, then back through Spearfish Lake to Camden, then back to Spearfish Lake, all in less than a 12-hour shift. The way the track had been not long before, it would have been a two-day run, but there was too much aggregate to move now. In only a couple minutes, K-Pit was passing West Turtle Lake. For two summers, whenever Josh had passed the lake where Amy and Marsha's family cottage was, it was wondering what Amy was doing, looking forward to their next date. Then, last summer, it had hurt to pass here. Now, he didn't feel anything, which was an improvement. He realized he hadn't said anything since 919, and figured he'd better say something, lest Danny misread his mind.

"The problem with the damn dogs," he started, talking about what was really on his mind besides his work, "Is that they're just not good enough. Between us, Tiffany and I have a few good dogs that'll run with anybody, and more fillers. The first couple of years, that was enough, because we were so far ahead of the competition that it didn't matter. Now, the competition is catching up, and dogs that were marginally acceptable last year just won't cut it any more."

Jesus, Danny thought to himself. Is he going to talk about dogs all summer? Maybe I'd better plan on bringing a book after this. On thinking about it, he decided he'd better not -- he'd tried that with Diane once, and she'd blown a circuit breaker. Guess I'm going to have to learn more about dogs than I really want to know.

"So, you've got to get better dogs, huh?" he said. It was something.

"Yeah, either that, or get out," Josh said. "Well, maybe not get out, but not figure on being in the front of the pack. Mark and Mike have already pretty well agreed they're not going on out to ten dogs. Mark says he can stay running the odd sprint race, or run the Pound Puppies fifty-miler for a trophy, and screw the expense of trying to win money in the 100-miler. Both he and Mike would just as soon take a winter camping trip as race, anyway. I suppose I could do that, and if they want to do it, well, it's fine with me, but I really don't like dinking around with all the halfasses at the back of the pack. I either want to do it right, or not at all. Tiffany wants to win, period. But, it's not easy to do. You have to have good dogs, and good dogs aren't as easy to come by as they were a couple years ago."

"Why's that? There's a lot of dogs around."

"There are a lot of dogs," Josh nodded. "Just not a lot that will serve the purpose. Back two or three years ago, Mark and Mike were the only ones looking for dogs that might prove to be sled dogs, and they could pick over half a dozen dog pounds to come up with one or two good prospects. Now, we've got a dozen or more dog teams around here, and more down in Camden, and any dog with anything that resembles husky in him, and a lot that don't even come close, won't stay in the pound twenty minutes. If the Warsaw race goes to ten dogs, then the competition will only get hotter. And then, you only get a chance in maybe two that the dog is going to work as a sled dog at all, and the chances of that dog developing into a top racer is a hell of a lot less than that. So, I'm not even trying that route, any more. The alternate way to do it is to buy better dogs, but there aren't a lot of them around here. You can pay several hundred bucks for a registered Siberian, and have a hell of a show dog, but most of the Siberians around here have been bred for shows, rather than trail work, and getting a racer out of them is about as bad a deal as going to the pound, except that you invest more money."

Danny shook his head. "It's never simple, is it?"

"It's never simple," Josh said. "The best way around the problem is to breed your way out of it. Breed good race dogs with good race dogs, and in a couple of years, you have more race dogs. We've got a litter now that may be good race dogs in a couple years. I'm not real optimistic, since it was accidental. The mother is a dog I wouldn't have bred if I'd had a choice, although we think Cumulus is the father, and that's pretty good. But, right now, the puppies are a major hassle, with the dogs at Mark's, and Tiffany or I having to go over there to take care of them. And, then, what happens if in a couple years we've decided that all we want to do is screw around with a few dogs, or give up entirely?"

"Yeah, that could be a problem," Danny agreed with a yawn.

Josh could see that he was boring Danny. Well, he was almost boring himself, too. It was all a problem that he'd churned over in his mind, and with Tiffany, and with Mark and Mike, since clear back to the Warsaw Run in early February. Plenty of problems, all interrelated, and no where near settled. No doubt he'd be thinking about it more. Better change the subject before Danny falls asleep on me, he thought. "So what happened on the ball team this spring?" he asked.

"We went 13-10, as if anybody cared," Danny said. "We wound up second in the league, but I don't think anybody in Athens knew about it."

"Why's that?" Josh asked, and set off a long discussion about baseball that bored him even more than the discussion about dogs bored Danny. But then, they might not discuss baseball again, and they almost certianly were going to be discussing dogs. That was going to be the tough part about this summer. Railroading wasn't that bad when you were running a way freight, stopping and switching a lot; it gave you something to think about. Rumbling along like this, at a pretty good speed for the C&SL, but a speed that would give you angry honks and fingers if you tried it on the highway, for hours on end, with little to do but look at the scenery, was bound to get boring after a while. This was going to be a long summer.

They passed through Warsaw without stopping, the only items of interest being Josh's glance at Fred Linder's dog yard -- the dogs were mostly sleeping -- and a girl sunbathing on the west of town. She was no dog; she had on a brief bikini bottom, and no top. Her wave brought a beep of the horn in reply, even though both Josh and Danny had seen better looking bare chests.

Farther to the west at Walsenberg, they swung onto the old Kremmling branch, which was now considered the main line. Josh could remember as a kid taking a cab ride with his dad down the branch, the first year the C&SL had had it. The track had been terrible; there'd been a five-mile-an-hour limit on it then, and a ten-car, single engine limit, too. But years of work, and a long term contract with the aggregate pit at Kremmling and the D&O for transfers had led to a complete overhaul of the line, and it was now the best track on the C&SL. "Dunno if you heard," Josh said. "The D&O finally decided they were going to tear down that bridge there in Camden."

"Hadn't heard that," Danny said.

"Big news to me," Josh said. "It means that I'll have a job here for about as long as I want it." The bridge had jammed open ten years before, so the only way the D&O could service their trackage north of the river in Camden was over the C&SL and this branch. It meant that it was a three-hundred mile trip to run from the north side of town to the south, exchanging cars with the D&O at Lordston, then delivering them back to the D&O for final delivery. But it meant a steady traffic base that would be there for many years.

The wye switch at the Kremmling Pit brought Danny's second burst of work for the day, dropping off the engines as Josh crept the train by, lining the switches at the wye, then riding the tail of the train into the pit, including the brief stop where Josh had to set the engine brakes and get down to re-align the east wye switch for the main line -- a matter of seconds. A little ways farther, and he radioed that the pit switch was set for them, like it was supposed to be, and dropped on the ground to wait for the engines to get up to him. Once they had the empties on the empties track, Danny broke the train right behind the engines, then waited while Josh pulled forward to clear the switch. One more throw of the switch, and Josh backed the SD-38s down to the loaded gons and coupled on. The next part went like it was supposed to: while Josh pumped air into the loaded cars, Danny jopped in the old junker pickup that was left parked at the switch, and drove the length of the train to inspect it. The cars all looked fine; Danny took the EOT from the empties and put it on the end of the loads, then hustled to the front end.

He parked the truck, and climbed back up onto the engines. "Looks good," he reported to Josh. "The only thing is that the gas is getting a little low in the pickup."

"Let's remember to bring a gallon can with us tomorrow," Josh said. "Put much more than that in it, and it tends to disappear. Boy, I can remember when we had to walk the train both ways, and with the longer cuts we're taking out of here, that would take a while." He glanced at the EOT readout; train air was adequate. "OK," he said, reaching for the horn, "Let's get this show on the road."

The SD-38s had plenty of power to walk the loads up out of the pit; Josh could remember some of the agonizing climbs, and doubling of trains, that used to have to be done with the smaller Geeps. Still, with both engines bellowing at full power, it was a noisy trip, and reminded them of just how much power the two six-axle units were putting out. Josh looked back at the train at one place where the track curved a little, and it seemed like a monster compared to the littler trains of not long before.

They didn't even have all of the train out of the pit before Josh had to stop, so Danny could climb down and set the switches for the run back. Danny stood at the north switch until Josh had the train past, then threw the switch back for the main, locked it, and reported it to the radio to Josh, who backed the head end back down to him where he could climb on. The whole evolution took about half an hour, and was a big chunk of Danny's actual work for the day. He'd have to do something similar at Camden, but it was a little simpler, there, and line a few switches when they tied up for the night at Spearfish Lake, but he was more than halfway done with his actual work for the day.

In a little more than two hours, they were back in Spearfish Lake. About the only item worthy of note on the trip back had come just after the Busted Axle Road crossing, when he'd seen Tiffany, wearing cutoffs and a bikini top, out walking with Bullet, her five pups, and the two older pups he'd gotten from Greg Mears a couple months before. Except for her experience with George, who had turned out to be a damn good sled dog, puppy training was new to them, but both he and Tiffany were enjoying it. It was a lot different than training adult dogs, and he was looking forward to seeing how it turned out. Tiffany had been working from books and instinct with George, but she'd apparently made all the right moves. He'd been promoted to leader in his second winter, and was the class of the field among leaders in the Warsaw Run back in February, proving, if nothing else, that good puppy training could produce good dogs, given adequate material to work with. It was a little hard to tell about Bullet's five pups just yet, but Boxcar and Sidetrack, the two he'd gotten from Greg, were getting big enough to look like they'd be good race dogs in another couple years. He'd beeped the horn at them, and Tiffany waved.

"She's not a little girl any more, is she?" Danny commented.

"No, she's shot up in the last year like something else," Josh agreed. She'd grown several inches, in several dimensions, too. She was already taller than her mother, and didn't appear as if she were going to be quite as rounded as her mother, although the jury was still out on that. It was hard to think of her as a kid, under the new circumstances.

In a few more minutes, they were sitting on the main line just short of the passing track switch, waiting for B-Pit coming back from Camden, where they'd taken their load in the morning, and now was coming back empty. The only passing track on the line long enough for B-Pit was at Spearfish Lake, and their train was even longer, so they had to wait for the meet. Bud had long ago doctored the schedule so that if both trains ran about on time, it would be possible for the both the K-pit and B-pit crews to get off their engines, and head over to the Spearfish Lake Cafe together for lunch. Josh had just set the brakes on K-Pit when B-Pit pulled around the bend, and eased to a stop a fifty yards ahead of them. Josh and Danny climbed down from their train, and a short distance away, he could see his Dad and Chris get down from the other train.

Danny had brought his lunch, but he left it on the train; it would make for a snack for later. The four sat down in the Cafe, at one of the tables along the wall, and the waitress hustled right over; this was a daily thing, and she knew they were in a hurry. Once she had their orders, Walt asked, "So how did it go?"

"No problems," Josh said.

"Kinda fun, isn't it?"

"Sure feels different," he admitted.

"I was going to tell you about that last night," Walt said, "But you didn't get home until God knows when."

"Just as well," Josh replied. "If I'd known this was coming down, I wouldn't have got much sleep."

"It was going to come sooner or later this summer, so that's why we were getting you ready for it." Walt smiled. "We knew Diane wasn't going to be with us all summer, but that doctor yesterday speeded things up a little."

"Is she going to be back next year?"

"Don't know yet," Walt admitted. "I can't believe she's going to want to keep the hours she's been keeping, but with two babies in the house, she may appreciate the peace and quiet. But then, she's a woman, after all, and you never know."

Josh shrugged. "I'm just sort of curious if I'll be back to braking next summer."

"Bud and I talked about it," Walt said. "I didn't look forward to going back to running the rock trains, and Bud doesn't want to be on the regular roster at all; he'd rather fill in, so he can concentrate on the office end. The Lordston turn is the shortest run, and he can switch off with Bruce a little, so that's why he took it. Nothing's settled till it happens, but assuming that you don't screw up, the odds are you'll stay on the engineer roster, even if Diane comes back. Might not get all the overtime next year, though."

That was something to think about. While it could be years before he'd get more than occasional winter calls, the summers could make up for it if he was careful to stash money back for the winter. Josh couldn't think of another kid in his class that had a long-term job that paid anywhere near as well tacked down and in place, so long as he kept his nose clean. It gave him the freedom to make longer-term plans, and that was bound to affect his plans about the dogs. Well, he'd have plenty of time to think about it on the long, slow hours.

"It's going to put a different spin on things," Josh admitted.

"It is indeed," Walt said. "It's gonna cause some trouble with your mother, too, but now's not the time to talk about it."

Forward to Next Chapter >>
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.