Generations of furs have fought nature and her elements in the Animas River Canyon.
The battles began in earnest almost one hundred and fifty years ago with the rock.
Nature and the San Juan Mountains conspired in their best attempt to keep mechanized
furkind out of the high mountains and deep canyons of southwestern Colorado.
Nature lost. Using not much more than picks, hand drills and sledges, nitro glycerin
and dynamite, the grading crews of the Denver and Rio Grande chiseled a right of way
from the solid rock hundreds of feet above the river on the high line from Durango.
The first few miles north from Durango had been easy. At an elevation of 6500 feet
the Animas River Valley was broad and flat in the south, and the crews had little to
do but raise a roadbed, throw down the ties, and spike down the rail. "Railroading
on a pool table," they called it.
As the railhead advanced towards Rockwood, however, things began to change. Eighteen
miles up the valley, Rockwood was only 800 feet above Durango. Past there the canyon
narrowed, the rock walls grew higher, and the work ceased to be scraping and became
more like hard rock mining as the grade increased. In the 27 miles between Rockwood
and Silverton the rails would climb an additional 1900 feet while twisting and
turning and clinging to the rocky canyon walls. Blasting became commonplace, and in
between the booming explosions the canyon rang with the sound of steel sledges on
paw-held steel drills. Occasionally a shrill locomotive whistle would reverberate in
the canyon. Elsewhere more sledges sang in rhythm as the rail crew drove spikes into
the ties, and everywhere was the sound of furs and their teams, voices raising and
animals responding. Horse-drawn wagons hauled away the debris and hauled in the
tools and supplies from the ever-advancing railhead. Massive numbers of furs toiled
from before dawn until past sunset, finally putting their tools down when it became
too dark to see them. Their camps moved slowly north with the work, and in their
wake the silver rails trailed back down canyon towards civilization.
Set on a thirty six inch gauge, the steel rails reached Silverton in 1882 to tap the
riches of the gold and silver mines in the area. During the construction of the line
more than a few furs fell victim to the blasting, the rockslides, or a misplaced
step on the precipitous grade. Their unmarked graves are still there in the canyon,
silent, forgotten tributes to the nameless and long forgotten furs who built the
line. Many more of them were injured by the same means, and not a few collected a
black eye, a stab wound, or a gunshot wound from the frequent disagreements that
seemed to occur with regularity in the grading camps, usually over cards or whiskey.
Yet the rock was just the beginning. The real battles had yet to begin.
Silverton is at an elevation of over nine thousand feet. From the beginning the
Maintenance of Way furs based there spent much of their time clearing snow and
debris from the right of way. The enemy came each fall, sometimes as early as
September, and the after-effects of snowís invasion could be felt until May. The
repeated freezing and thawing in the canyon walls caused the rock to fracture and
decompose. Avalanches and slides were common, either burying the right of way under
tons of material or causing the roadbed to slide right out from under the rails and
ties, leaving them suspended in mid-air like some sort of strange looking hanging
Crews would set out with picks and shovels on work trains equipped with spreaders,
flangers and wedge plows, and spend an entire day hacking and bucking their way a
mile or two into the canyon. In those days the only way to plow through a drift was
to take a run at it with the wedge plow, literally driving the wedge over and over
into the drift until it gave way and the train could proceed onward. Over and over
the train would impact the ramparts of snow, stall, and retreat to take another run.
After a few iterations the wedge and lead locomotive would be covered with snow and
ice, and the crews would have to pause for a while to chip the ice away from the
running gear and windows of the lead locomotive.
More often than not the snow would still be falling on them as they worked, and they
would have to clear their own way back out again. Back at the depot the tired,
weary, and half-frozen crew furs would stagger off their trains while others
serviced the locomotives. Fresh crews would board the train, and another shift would
go down, clearing another pawful of miles over their eight hour trick. This would go
on for months on end while they struggled to keep the line open.
The advent of the rotary snow plow changed all that, and it became somewhat easier
to maintain the line in a state of readiness. Rotary plows looked like nothing more
than a huge, ducted, multi-bladed propeller attached to the front of a boxy rail
car, and in fact thatís basically what it is. The steam engine aboard the rotary
turned the propeller as the vehicle advanced through the snow. The propeller would
eat into the snow, and the ducting would exhaust the snow in a high arc away from
the roadbed, perpendicular to the rotaryís direction of travel. The snow would fall
back to the ground fifty to one hundred feet away from the grade. A rotary could eat
itís way through a mile of eight foot deep drift in less than an hour, whereas it
might take a crew with the wedge plow train all day to accomplish the same feat.
The rotary was indeed a formidable weapon in the war against the icy grip of winter.
The crews would assemble a train with the steam powered rotary at the fore, followed
by a flanger, a tool car, a crew car, and two or three locomotives for traction and
propulsion. This ensemble would head up canyon from Durango every time the snow
level on the rails exceeded two feet or more in depth, or any time the pilot plows
of the locomotives could no longer push the piles of the white stuff out of the way.
They usually completed their run within eight hours and would turn their train on
the wye just below the depot at Silverton, to stage for the return trip when the
snow piled up again.
Spring bought itís own woes as the snow melted in the high country. Up at fourteen
thousand feet the snow pack could be over forty feet deep. The melting snow would
trickle down slope from under the banks of snow, collecting into small brooks that
trickled across the tundra and into the forests where the brooks collected into
streams, those combining to become rivers. The runoff would roar down into the
various gulches and canyons from above, choking the Animas River Canyon with rock,
mud, timber, and any machinations of furkind that happened to get in the way.
Bridges washed away. Roadbed eroded. Wayside structures and, sometimes, whole
villages disappeared under the water and mud. Pieces of them would be found late in
the spring, miles from where they had originally been located. Maintainers and MofW
furs worked back to back shifts to keep the line open, only to watch in amazement
when a locomotive would roll over as the rails slid out from under it on the water-
Yet they fought on, furs of iron determination with muscles of steel. They never
backed down, they never gave up, and the wheels rolled. Fortunes were made in the
San Juans that support generations of families to this day. The entire district owes
itís very existence to the precious metals that followed those locomotives and their
crews down to Durango. Were it not for those determined furs and their fire -
breathing machines of iron, the San Juans would very likely be devoid of habitation
to this day.
Heavy loads demanded the best motive power. The D&RG made sure the best that the
locomotive builders had to offer were on hand to lift furs up the two and a half
percent grades into the heart of the San Juan Mountains, and to haul out the
uncountable millions of dollars worth of mineral wealth. Ore processing mills with
names like Gladstone, Sunnyside, Pride of the West, Mayflower, and Gold Prince
generated bullion by the ton from mines known as Yankee Girl, Ruby, Old Howard,
Storm King, Big Giant, and Buffalo Boy. The bullion and the furs of means had only
one way to get to Denver, via the rails of the Denver & Rio Grande. Silverton became
the heart of the San Juans. Her life blood was the ores of the mountains. Her
existence and good fortune was made possible by the steam that pumped through the
cylinders of the magnificent locomotives that toiled in the canyon every day of the
year, and by the blood and sweat of the furs that guided those machines safely to
While gold and silver are no longer the bread and butter of the Durango & Silverton,
the descendant of the Denver & Rio Grande, there is now another source of wealth to
be tapped... tourism. Yet somehow, with the upturn in tourist dollars came a
resurgence of freight shipments. It started with a few packages making the trip up
or down canyon in a conductorís grip. Then it grew to enough volume that the
packages began to stack up in the head end car. Eventually the D&S began to cut in a
box car or two on the daily trains up canyon. Finally, when oil prices began to head
for the stratosphere, coal-fired shipment began to look economically viable again,
and the D&S put on a daily mixed train in the schedule, consisting of up to half a
dozen mixed freight cars with the standard passenger car consist. To everyoneís
surprise the daily mixed was profitable almost from the first day of service.
So the fireboxes of the ancient K-28s and K-36s continued to roar, and their drivers
continued to turn, and new crews continued to hire out with the D&S to fire,
operate, and maintain them, their trains, and the right of way they rolled on. Chris
Latrans was a member of the latest generation, one of the latest to inherit the
legacy of mountain railroading the old fashioned way. He had been born at least
fifty years too late for main line steam operation, long after the class one rail
carriers had given up on steam propulsion in favor of the huge diesel-electrics that
now plied their silver rails. He had always been a train nut though, heíd caught the
bug early in life, riding on his daddyís knee when Joe had worked for the Santa Fe.
Yet the current offerings from General Electric and Electro-Motive Division didnít
much interest him. From the moment he had first seen one back in the late twentieth
century, Chris had known in his heart that he would some day work as an engineer or
stoker on one of those fabulous pieces of steam-powered history. Everything he had
learned, everything he had done, had led to the day he had introduced himself to
Rudy Gallegos in the Durango roundhouse two years ago.
He had worked for six months that first summer as a brakefur, getting to know the
line and the furs he was working with. He spent his off hours in his Jeep CJ-7
either exploring the high country of the San Juans or poking along the right of way,
getting to know the D&S like his own front yard. That first winter Rudy had
approached him with the idea of working as a stoker on the yard switcher and as a
mechanic during the winter months. Chris had jumped at the chance. That following
spring he was assigned to the third daily, the mixed local, as a stoker. He had
worked various trains in that capacity ever since. This was his first winter on the
line as a stoker, and he was relishing the crisp, frigid air and the wonder of the
San Juans in winter time. He also immensely enjoyed the companionship of his
The ancient K-28 chuffed slowly downgrade below Cascade, the engineer keeping a
little throttle on to push his train through the snow and ice collecting on the
rails. Engine number 478 was nearing her ninetieth birthday. The 2-8-2, an American
Locomotive Company product builder's number 64981, was built in 1923. She was in
fine mechanical shape and the crew was skilled in her operation. Ahead of them,
their short train nosed into the snowstorm. As they backed slowly down the line the
crew car came first, followed by the now empty flat car. The flatís load, the front
end loader, was now in the Animas River at the site of the latest slide, just below
Cascade. Following the flat came the side dump gondola with a few tons of large
boulders, then the power car with itís generators. Finally, between the power car
and the locomotiveís tender, was the tool car.
A large feline brakefur stood on the downgrade platform of the crew car, keeping a
sharp eye out for obstructions as his train inched slowly into the gloom of the
gathering snow storm. An electric lantern, battery powered, sat on the platform next
to his feet.
"478, come ahead slow, Russ," John Briscol called to his engineer on his paw-held radio.
They were backing down to the wye below Cascade. Zach and Mark and the 480 had gone
before them to clear the way, but even though only four or five minutes separated
them, snow was gathering on the rail head as the 478 pushed south.
Russ Taylor peered apprehensively past his locomotive's tender into the gray-white
nothingness ahead. The husky could barely see the other end of his own train.
Chris was hunched on his box seat on the left hand side of the cab, leaning far out
of his window, looking past the tender downgrade as well. They were using the steam
in their boiler for little more than maintaining air pressure in the brake line and
driving the electric generator, gravity did most of the work in propelling them.
Occasionally Russ would give a small application of throttle to overcome a small
drift or break some ice, otherwise they were basically coasting. Accordingly, Chrisí job was fairly light. He had stoked the firebox well just before departure, and at
this rate would not have to add more coal for at least another five or ten minutes.
Nonetheless, like the good stoker he was, he stole an occasional glance at his steam
pressure gauge and the water glass, and also checked the air pressure gauges, just
to be sure.
Russ worked the cold, dead cigar butt nervously in his mouth. He didnít like the
storm and the reduced visibility. Sure, heíd operated in snowfall before, but not
like this. This felt... different.
The 478 hissed contentedly as she rolled them along at three miles per hour, her air
compressors chunking briefly in counterpoint to the whine of the steam-powered
electric generator. The fire roared comfortingly in her firebox.
Russ had just turned his head towards his stoker across the cab to comment on the
seeming deathly silence and calm of the nature around them when a panicked voice
hollered from their radio speakers.
"Big hole! Big Hole! Work train is on the ground! Big Hole!" Big Hole is
railroad lexicon for emergency stop. It refers to the action of going to zero
pressure on the train brakes air pipe, thus applying maximum braking effort.
In a purely reflex action Russí right paw darted for the twin brake valves, one for
the locomotive and the other for the train, while his left paw closed the throttle.
While he was doing this Chris hopped to the deck and reached above Russí head for
the whistle cord, commencing a series of short, repetitive blasts on the steam
whistle. It was the classic, ageless railroad distress signal.
478ís drivers slipped and slid on the wet rail, and their speed did not seem to
"Russ!" John Briscolís voice betrayed genuine fear. "Weíre on the ground, Russ! The
flat is rolling over! Big Hole ! Big Hole!!"
There was a loud whoosh of escaping air as Russ dumped the train brake air in
emergency, applying as much brake as possible. The train continued to slide.
"Whatís happening?" Zachís panicked voice called on the radio from the cab of the
480 ahead, sounding as if from a great distance.
Chris grabbed his radio. "John, were sliding!"
Russ left paw grabbed the sander valve next and yanked it full open, admitting sand
to the rail head before each set of drivers. He felt the drivers gain traction, and
the 478 suddenly slowed.
"Zach! Mark! Work train is derail!" Chris called again.
On the deck of the K-36 the tiger and the bear exchanged worried looks as Zach
closed the 480ís throttle and applied gentle braking effort. Having only the
momentum of a caboose behind them and a heavier locomotive to help with traction,
the 480 decelerated smartly.
Behind them the 478 ground to a stop. Russ hopped off his seat.
"Where are you going?" Chris asked the husky as he jumped off his own seat.
Russ gave him an Are you kidding? look and spat his cold cigar butt to the
deck in preparation of verbalizing that thought..
Chris smiled patiently and put a paw on his friendís shoulder. "Look," he started.
"Weíve got plenty of steam and fire. Why donít I go up and see whatís happening, and
you stay here just in case she decides to slip out from under us?" It was almost a
Russ nodded slowly. He didnít like not being at the scene of trouble, especially
when it involved his own train, but what Chris said was smart. One of them should
stay on deck to make sure the 478 stayed put. It wouldnít do to have the train start
sliding down grade with neither of the crew on the deck of the locomotive.
"OK," Russ sighed, staring for a moment into his younger friend's eyes. "Keep your
radio handy and tell me whatís going on."
Chris holstered his paw-held radio as he nodded, turning. Grabbing a pawrail as he
stepped into the gangway, he jumped to the roadbed below. As Russ watched from the
stokerís gangway, the coyote-fox hybrid trotted down the right of way towards the
front of their train, into the gloom of the storm.
Russ heard two short whistle blasts in the distance, and knew that Zach was
reversing the 480 to come up and help. He smiled in spite of himself. He loved this
job, even when the shit hit the fan.
# # #
Annie was worried. Joe had paced back and forth in front of her for almost fifteen
minutes, saying not a word. Then he had suddenly turned and, still without a word to
her, headed for the stairs, disappearing down them to the main level of their home.
Presently he had returned with two shot glasses and proceeded to open the Jack
Daniels, pouring each of the glasses full of bourbon. Handing one of the glasses to
the fox he silently sat down next to her, minding both their tails in the process.
As she stared at him he turned to her. They studied each otherís eyes for a moment.
"Joe, are you alright?"
The big coyote's ears wilted slightly as he sighed yet again, nodding slowly as the
sour look on his muzzle slowly dissipated. He held his shot glass up to her.
"Those sons of bitches," he growled, barely loud enough for her to hear. "They
havenít seen the last of Joe Latrans." He tossed off the drink quickly, his eyes
squinting as the bourbon headed towards his stomach.
Annie sipped at her drink very slowly as she watched Joe refill his glass. His face
would have been a mask of cold detachment to anyone else, but she well knew the
coyote she was looking at. Joeís pride had been deeply wounded. SCWD had taken away
his ability to provide for his family, however temporarily that might be, and that
was about the worst thing any fur or any institution could do to Joe. She knew his
heart, knew that she and their children and their welfare were the most important
things in the world to him.
Again he held his glass out between them, staring her in the eye. His blue eyes were
suddenly alive with emotion, the grayness of a few moments ago had disappeared. He
smiled slightly for her.
"Annie, Iím sorry Iím not handling this well. Tomorrow I will start looking for
another job." Again the bourbon disappeared quickly, followed by a bit of a grunt
and the squinting eyes. "Right now I just need to re-group a bit."
She laid a paw on his shoulder, and then after a moment gently slid it across his
shoulder to the base of his neck and began to knead the muscles there slowly. He
placed the shot glass carefully on an end table and then leaned back into her paw,
his eyes closing.
They sat in silence for several minutes as her paw worked itís magic on him. As she
wrought the tension out of his neck muscles she quietly put her glass down on an
opposite end table. Using the now free paw she placed one on each shoulder and
continued to work his taught muscles. The tension left him after a while, and his
mind began to relax and reconsider the dayís events.
Presently he felt her warm breath in his ear as she whispered "I love you."
He opened his eyes and looked into hers once again. Her muzzle was very close to
"Iím not worried, Joe," she said in that quiet, throaty growl of hers that was an
almost- purr. "Youíre a smart fur, a good fur, a value to any organization. Youíll
find work, and soon, too." Her left paw moved slowly, languidly up the back of his
neck, her fingers spreading as her claws moved into his hair. She gently turned his
muzzle fully towards her.
Her eyes drilled into his soul. Joe felt the intensity of her gaze upon him as her
claws massaged the back of his head gently.
"Your value," she told him quietly, "is not dependent on who employs you, or why."
Her muzzle drifted closer to his as she lowered her voice to a whisper. "Youíre
worth much more than any job..." A tiny smile crossed her muzzle as Annieís lips met
Their kiss was one of love, not passion, yet it lasted for a while. As it progressed
the fox wrapped her arms around her husband as she scooted into his lap, and the
coyote responded in kind by enfolding her in his arms. Tails expressed muted joy. In
that brief period of time much of Joeís remaining anger dissipated, and when Annie
finally broke their embrace and wiggled a bit to snuggle into his shoulder and chest
he felt much better.
They sat together, just holding each other quietly, for several minutes. No words
were spoken, none were needed. Yet after a while the foxís curiosity got the better
of her. She tilted her head back a bit and murmured into Joeís ear.
"Who was that on the phone?"
Joe inhaled and paused, then exhaled slowly. It was a classic cleansing breath,
although heíd never heard the expression. "You mean earlier?"
The fox nodded, her tail flicking a bit.
"Don." He looked carefully at Annie, a hint of a malicious grin on his muzzle. "He
wanted to explain himself."
"What?" Annie asked incredulously.
Joe nodded. "When Don called me in from the field today," he began, "there was a
goon from HR there with him. Don wouldnít say anything about why I was being
terminated. When I pressed for an explanation he deferred to the HR goon, who
basically said ĎWe donít have to tell youí."
Annieís eyebrows arched in defiance. "They canít do that!" she exclaimed
righteously. "The law says..."
"Hold on," Joe interrupted her, placing a finger gently on the end of her open
muzzle. "Remember who weíre dealing with here." Annie stopped in mid-sentence.
Joe leaned back a bit to get more comfortable, and he draped his arm over the back
of the sofa. Annie leaned into the crook of his arm, using it as a backrest as he
began his explanation. "Hereís how it works. Most of this you already know. I was
employed by the Interstate Police Force. They in turn contracted me back to SCWD to
allow me to maintain the appearance of being an SCWD employee. I was paid by SCWD,
but they paid me with dollars paid them by the IPF. In this way I was kept in a sort
of deep cover. I was cool with it when it started because IPF hardly ever called me,
and when they did it was for some little tag-along type operation that never
amounted to anything more than babysitting someone." Joe stopped, and Annie nodded
for him to continue.
"SCWD liked it because I was still on paw doing my job, but I was no longer an
expense. They were well paid by the IPF to allow me to maintain my status, and they
continued to get good work from me. They had the best of both worlds: a good worker
who, far from being a source of overhead, was actually earning dollars for the
company while he worked!" Joe tapped his chest with a finger. "I liked it because I
was able to keep working my normal job. I was still holding on to the hope that I
would actually be a part-time security hack for SCWD while doing my regular job."
Annie didnít get it. "Then... what happened?" she asked. "If it was so lucrative for
them, whyíd you get fired?"
Joe flinched involuntarily at the question. "Over time the IPF became more demanding
of my time. I was spending more and more time away from SCWD on calls for them. The
deal stopped being lucrative because SCWD was having to bring in other furs to cover
for me in my absence. The expenses began to rack up."
"Thatís not your fault!" Annie protested.
Joeís ears wilted a bit. "I know, honey. Hereís what you donít know, what I didnít
know until today. The bottom line is that the bean counters downtown finally got to
that breakover point where they figured that I had once again become an expense, and
now they werenít getting much for their investment. Don called to shed light on
this, and to tell me that SCWDís legal beagles had been involved. Apparently they
found and exploited a loophole in the contract with IPF that allowed them to dump
Annie shook her head. Presently she smiled for him and said "What the Hell, itís
Joe grinned. "Thatís sort of how I figured it."
There was a brief silence as the two canids regarded each other. Finally Annie
looked down a bit and murmured "One more question?"
She looked up. "What does Ďriffedí mean?"
Joeís expression lost a bit of itís humor. Itís from ĎR-I-Fí, which stands for
Ďreduction in forceí. Itís a politically correct expression meaning Ďfiredí these
Annie nodded, quiet for a few more moments.
"What are you going to do?"
Joe considered for a bit while scratching behind an ear briefly. Returning his paw
to her lap he said "Well, for starters I figured Iíd call Bill over at the Santa Fe
in the morning and see whatís shaking over there. Iíll call Paul too, see whatís
going on at the Union Pacific as well."
Annie looked vaguely apprehensive. "What about the IPF?"
Joeís grin took on evil overtones as he reached with his free paw for the empty shot
glass on the end table.
"Do you really want to know what I think about the IPF?"
Annie smiled coyly as she shook her head, and then grinned.
"Want to know what I think?" she asked, glancing casually at the shot glass in her
Joe sat back, looking at her. "What?"
The fox's smile turned fully upon the coyote. "I think itís early afternoon. I think
that Debbie wonít be home for at least a couple of hours. I think that Mojaveís
downstairs, probably sleeping."
Joeís expression was vacant. "So?"
The fox giggled as she placed her open paw gently on the side of his muzzle. What
started out to be a gentle, playful slap ended as a caress.
The coyote was briefly confused until Annie jumped up off his lap and stood up,
turning to smile slyly at him. As her expression changed, passing through seductive
and feral to outright predation, the light bulb in Joeís head began to glow and his
tail began to wag slowly. He grinned back. Annieís bushy tail responded in kind as
the fingertips of her right paw toyed with a button on her blouse.
The empty shot glass went back on the end table.
# # #
To a railroader, a frog is not an amphibious creature. A frog is a large "V"-shaped
steel device used by railroaders to re-rail errant wheels or entire wheel sets
(called "trucks") of railroad cars. If the car is upright and the wheels are near
the rails, and a locomotive can push or pull the derailed car, then the frog,
assisted perhaps by plenty of furry muscle power and some verbalizing, can guide the
wheels up to and back onto the rail.
Three such devices, some ten foot steel pry bars, and about ninety minutes of effort
and vocalizing got the work trainís crew car back on the rails. All paws able to do
so had fallen out to assist in the endeavor, and it had taken their combined efforts
and the able power of the 480 to get the job done. Zach turned out to have a
masterís touch at the throttle of his steed, applying just the right amount of power
at exactly the right time as called for. Mark had effectively radioed instructions
to his engineer while the rest of the furs muscled pry bars and positioned the
frogs. It took four attempts, and tempers frayed as each attempt failed, yet as the
afternoon wore on the crew car and itís injured furs were finally coupled to the
caboose behind the 480. The air hoses were connected, a quick air check was done,
and the train was readied to for departure.
All paws gathered in the crew car for a meeting.
"Now what?" Zach asked, rubbing his paws together close to the oil stove in the
corner of the coach.
No one spoke up. Chris looked around at the tired faces staring at him, stopping at
John Briscol. The big feline shrugged slightly.
"Well," Chris said hesitantly. "We really need to get Eddie and Gary and Jim to the
hospital in Durango as soon as possible." Jimís paw had been mangled in the slide
somehow, even he wasnít sure how. Gary and Eddie were both now unconscious, Gary
from concussion and Eddie from loss of blood. The furs had done what they could to
patch them up with what they had, but the marmot who had been on the front end
loader would almost certainly die within 24 hours if he didn't get to a hospital.
Chris was uncomfortable with the way many of them were looking to him for guidance.
He was the youngest fur of the lot, and had the least seniority on the line. His
gaze shifted from his friend to meet that of his conductor. Carl nodded to him in a
not altogether friendly manner, and then the lynx redirected his attentions to the
crew of the 480. "We ought to send them down the line with your train. Those that
can, maybe they can stay behind and help John and Russ and Chris and I try and re-
rail this flat car so we can get out of here."
The flat car was perpendicular to the right of way, between the 478ís work train and
the line down to Durango. Fortunately the trucks were still attached to their
bolsters. If the crew could keep them there as they rolled the car upright, re-railing the car shouldn't be too difficult.
"Weíll do that," an ocelot with a Texas twang said. Jackson was the conductor of the
480 train. He motioned with a spotted paw towards his crew. "Weíll take care of the
boys." Zach and Mark nodded along with the two brake furs from their train, mumbling
Bill, the foreman of the Maintenance of Way crew from the 478 train, spoke up. "Any
of you furs want to head back to Durango with the injured, thatís cool. No foul. But
weíve got a Hell of a lot of work in front of us before we can get the 478 down the
line. Iíd appreciate whatever help we can get."
Nobody moved. It was silent in the crew car save for the quiet sound of the oil
stove burners. As the seconds ticked by a notion took Chris, as it had earlier.
"Lord," he said aloud, "Help us deliver these furs safely to their families." He
paused, and suddenly he thought of his father. The coyote-fox hybrid grinned. "And
get the rest of us the Hell out of this canyon," he finished. "Amen."
"Amen," Mark said, looking out of the corner of his eyes at the canine. "I guess
thatís it. Címon, Zach, weíve got a train to get moving." The tiger and the black
bear buttoned up their coats and pulled on gloves, heading for the platform of the
crew car. A blast of cold wind and a few flakes of snow announced their departure.
Their brake furs and conductor stood waiting.
"What about it boys? Whoís with the 478?" Bill asked.
Every fur standing that wasnít part of the 480ís crew moved to bundle up for the
weather and started to head for the door at the other end of the coach, the door
facing upgrade, towards the derailed flat car. Chris nodded to Russ, smiling.
Ten minutes later the 480 whistled off and began her descent downgrade towards
Durango with the injured MofW furs. Before the crew car was out of sight in the
snowfall the rest of the MofW team and the 478ís crew were attacking the flat car
with chains, frogs, prybars, and an enormous amount of vocabulary. By the time the
480 was out of range of the paw-held radios, the 478 crew was ready for their first
attempt at realigning the flat car with the rails. Heavy chain connected the
boulder-laden gondola, the closest car of the work train still on the rails, with
the upgrade end of the flat car. Carl motioned for the MofW team to back away while
bringing his radio to his muzzle.
"Conductor to the 478, take in your slack and tension the chain."
Air exhausted from the lines in the train as the brakes were released, and the furs
on the ground could hear steam hissing from the locomotive on the uphill end of the
train. Russ carefully took out the slack in his short train while Carl watched. When
the chains went taught Carl radioed "Youíve got tension, Russ."
The furs on the ground heard the chuffing noise from the locomotive deepen a bit as
Russ opened the throttle. Each of them backed away a bit more. Most of them were
aware of what a dangerous weapon a chain under tension could become when it broke.
The flat car groaned and inched sideways.
Chris was leaning out his window, looking downgrade for signals from the crew on the
ground, while Russ watched the grade ahead and worked the throttle of the 478.
Suddenly the deck below them jumped, and the chuffing exhaust speed increased
dramatically. The drivers were slipping!
"Damn it!" Russ grumbled as he retarded the throttle, only to begin to open it
again. After a few moments the deck below them jumped again as the drivers spun on
the wet rail.
Russ sighed as he glanced at Chris. "I sure as Hell wish I had a damned cigar..." he
grumbled as he snapped the throttle closed and made a train brake air reduction.
Chris grinned at him, a note of worry discoloring his expression. "Russ, my friend,
Iíll buy you a box of your favorite cigars as soon as we get back to Durango."
Russ Taylorís expression brightened considerably as he reached for the sander valve
and slowly opened the throttle again. The 478ís exhaust deepened again, and Russ
released the train brakes slowly. The 478 rumbled as she slowly crept upgrade.
"Youíve got it, Russ!" Carlís excited voice came over the radio from downgrade.
"Sheís starting to pull around. Come ahead slow!"
The MofW team jumped in with prybars and frogs at the fore. So began the odyssey
that would carry them through sunset in the canyon as the furs on the ground
struggled with and swore at the recalcitrant flat car while the locomotive crew
carefully inched the car back towards alignment with the rails. The temperature
dropped and the wind picked up as the light began to fade, the snowfall threatened
to become a blizzard. Arc lamps and cables were broken out from the tool car, and as
the sunlight disappeared from the canyon the generators on the power car were fired
off. Cables snaked from the power car up to the lamps placed strategically around
the flat car, and the area was batherd in a stark, bluish-white light. It lent an
un-earthly appearance to things as the flat car was re-aligned with the right of
Itís hard as Hell to see what your ground crew is doing when you're staring into
that garish light, looking through heavy snowfall for paw signals. Somehow, with
careful coordination and plenty of lantern signals and radio chatter, the MofW furs
and the crew of the 478 train managed to get the errant flat car back on the rails
by the time the sky above the canyon was completely black. The snowfall let up a bit
as darkness fell, but the wind speed had picked up, sucking the body heat out of all
the furs on the ground in spite of their bulky clothing and jackets.
Chris and Russ yipped in joy when the call finally came from Carl.
"Thatíll do, Russ, thatíll do. Weíre back on the rail."
Down at the flat car Carl hopped up on a ladder rung on the flat car and began
spinning the hand brake wheel. When it was ratcheted down he climbed up on the deck
of the car itself to address his crew. Motioning with his lantern he yelled "Letís
get these chains disconnected and stowed in the tool car! Itís time to go home!" As
half a dozen furs leapt forward to begin the cleanup Carl added, "Let's get these
lamps and cables stowed! Nothing gets left behind!" As he finished this directive he
hopped down to the road grade himself and strode to the nearest lamp to help.
As the MofW crew worked to stow all their gear, Carl called again on the radio to
his locomotive crew while simultaneously sending lantern signals. "Russ! Come ahead
slow, one car length to a joint!"
Carl heard two short blasts on the 478ís whistle by way of confirmation, and the
coupler on the gondola began drifting slowly towards the coupler on the flat car.
"Thirty feet," Carl called on the radio.
John Briscol placed an arc lamp and a hundred foot coil of power cable on the deck
of the tool car. One of the MofW furs, working inside the tool car, nodded his
thanks as he snapped it up to store the equipment in it's proper location within the
car. John grinned quietly at the fur before turning to go off in search of his
Russ closed his throttle and kept a paw on the train brake valve as the 478 glided
at a walking pace down grade.
As John approached the lynx from behind he heard Carl call "Ten feet..."
Russ made a very slight reduction on the train brakes, and a few seconds passed. As
Russ and Chris felt a mild bump they heard Carlís voice. "Thatíll do, Russ. Stand by
for air test." The flat car was now coupled to the rest of their train.
John tapped Carl briefly on the shoulder as he moved past him to step between the
cars and connect the air brake hoses together. There was a rushing sound as the air
from the train's brake line filled the brake pipe on the flat car. While the
pressure was building in the train brake line John climbed up to the brake wheel on
the flat car and spun it to the fully disengaged position.
Receiving a thumbs up from John, Carl called "Air test!" over his radio to Russ.
Russ modulated the train brake valve, watching his air pressure. When it had
decreased to seventy pounds he closed his valve.
"Twenty pounds," Chris called.
"Thatíll do," Carl replied. "Iíll call you when everyoneís aboard."
Carl and John strode rapidly but silently up the line to the power car. It would be
the warmest place for them all to ride in on the way down. The tool car had no
heaters, but the power car had some to keep the generators warm. As he approached
the tool car the MofW crew clustered around him, and Carl began to share his plan
with them. They were all cold, wet, hungry, and worn out as they clambered aboard
the modified box car and shut the sliding door.
In the cab of the 478 Russ looked down at Chris with a smile. As he watched his
friend shovel coal the huskyís tail was wagging with glee, now that the crisis was
"How much money you got on you?"
Chris blinked as he looked up to his engineer. "Why?"
Russ laughed gently. "My cigars cost about sixty dollars a box."
Chris grinned, but his reply was cut short by another radio call from Carl.
"All crew accounted for in the power car, Russ. Letís get the Hell out of this
With a wild grin on his face Russ reached up and grabbed the whistle cord, blowing
two short blasts to signal their reverse movement downgrade. The wye was only a few
hundred yards below them, once they got turned it should be smooth sailing home.
And in fact they had just cleared the wye and were headed locomotive first downgrade
when the next avalanche roared out of a steep ravine just north of Grasshopper
Canyon and derailed the entire train. The rock and snow threw the two leading cars
into the Animas River and rolled the tool and power cars over on their sides. The 478
remained upright, but was lifted up and away from the rails.