All characters appearing in this story are mine of my own design.
This story is a work of fiction based upon nothing in particular.
The Durango & Silverton
Narrow Gauge Railroad and the Cumbres & Toltec Scenic Railroad exist in the real world.
Check them out!
Precious Cargo is copyright © The Silver Coyote
She's Keeping Time
Then I found myself a woman
She's the one who keeps me on the line
When I go wrong she's always there beside me
She's keeping time...
"We're going to be late with the kids," he mumbled into her neck. Her hair
covered his face. Her head lay in the crook of his right arm.
"This is worth the delay," she whispered, caressing the fur on his back
gently. Rain drummed softly on the roof of the truck. They had made a nest of
sorts behind the seats, and were laying there in each other's arms, under an
old blanket, catching their breath. Had they still smoked, this would have
been the time to light one up.
Turning his head slightly he spoke a little more clearly. "We should get
going, don't you think?" Sitting up and reaching between the seats in front
of them, he started rooting around looking for various items of clothing
belonging to each of them. It was pitch dark inside and out.
"I guess," she replied lazily, stretching, "but I want more of this... you
haven't heard the last from me." He could hear the smile on her face. She sat
up beside him and kissed him on the mouth. Their arms went around each other,
and another few minutes ticked away.
"C'mon, we've got to get going," she finally said, leaning back from him.
"Our kids will worry. What time is it?"
"Yes dear," he said, and smiled as she swatted him very gently on his cheek.
"I don't know what time it is, I don't know where my watch is, or our phones
either. Here, this is yours, I think," he said, handing her a shirt. "It
smells of you."
"So do you..."
A few minutes later the engine rumbled to life once again. The clock on the
dash indicated it was a little after ten. Settling into his seat, Joe reached
overhead to turn on the map lights in order to find his gloves. "We've got to
call the kids!", Annie said, buttoning her shirt and reaching for her purse.
"My phone should be in here somewhere."
"We may not get any coverage out here. Let's get going, if there's coverage
here it can only get better as we move towards town." Running lights came on,
followed by headlights. In their illumination they could see, across the
level, forested terrain, a highway stretching straight away from them. They
had stopped at the bottom of the first big switchback at Corkscrew Gulch,
below Red Mountain Pass on the south side. This area had once been the
community of Chattanooga, over one hundred years ago, but very little
remained of it now. Their truck was back off the highway some two hundred
feet, beneath some trees. No cars had gone by since they had pulled in here
some time ago.
Splashing through the mud, they attained the highway. A steady rain fell,
wipers on low kept the windshield clear. They were headed downgrade, speed
built with little throttle. Knowing the road well, Joe geared the truck and
kept the speed at forty five, remembering the curves ahead as the highway
turned east for the final few miles down Mineral Creek to Silverton.
"No network." Annie was frustrated and her impatience was building. She
didn't want her kids worrying about them.
"If we can't get phone coverage in Silverton we can try Chris on the radio
and see what happens." Joe offered. "Worst case we can stop and use a pay
"Let's get there," Annie offered. Then she smiled, looking at him. His hat
was missing, and even in the low light of the panel instruments she could see
that his fur was disheveled and his clothes had that "I've been slept in"
appearance. "Where's your hat?" she asked.
"Back there somewhere," he replied, thumb over his shoulder, indicating where
they had just been.
She reached up and turned a cab light on, and turning between the seats
quickly located the hat. Placing it on his head as she turned forward and sat
down, she said "Here. You need this." She turned the light off.
He smiled. "Thanks." The rain fell harder against the windshield.
And so they descended into Silverton, Colorado. Famed as a genuine old west
gold camp, it was the northern terminus of the Durango and Silverton Narrow
Gauge Railroad. Joe remembered well the days when this little three foot
gauge railroad had been the last remains of the Denver & Rio Grande's once
mighty narrow gauge system. Back in the 1880s the D&RG had built south and
west from Denver to the gold and silver fields of Colorado, eventually
pushing a narrow gauge main line all the way to Salt Lake City. This little
pike was almost all that was left of that system, it had been a part of a
narrow gauge line that had run south from Salida to the Colorado - New Mexico
border, and then west to Durango and Silverton. Of the hundreds of miles of
narrow gauge railroad that had been built, this and the Cumbres & Toltec
Scenic were all that remained.
Joe had been a railroad nut all his life. He was intrigued by the technology
of the nineteenth century that helped transform his nation from a seeming
refugee camp of other nation's castoffs into the mightiest, most
industrialized nation of the world. The railroads made this country,
literally, and even now in the twenty first century they were a vital part of
the American infrastructure, moving huge amounts of freight of all
descriptions and millions of paying passengers back and forth across the
continent in incredibly short periods of time.
As a pup and young fur he had studied the technology of the diesel electric
locomotives, and while more efficient by factors than their predecessor the
steam locomotive, they just didn't "feel" the same. A steam locomotive had
been cared for by her crew as a member of the family. Furs thought of them in
terms of a living entity. A crew might have included an engineer and stoker,
several brakers, and a conductor. The conductor had his caboose, his own
office that moved with him from train to train, of which he was as proud as
the engineer was of his locomotive. Furs of iron spent their whole lives
caring for these fire breathing, steam powered machines as though they were
wives or lovers.
But what the diesels lacked in romanticism they more than made up for in raw
power and efficiency. By the early twenty first century a consist of four
modern locomotives could develop over twenty thousand horsepower. They could
develop enough tractive effort to lift a mile and a half long double stacked
container train over the two percent grades of Cajon Pass from Los Angeles on
its way east. A one hundred plus unit train of coal could be moved with
similar head end power up from Denver to the Moffat Tunnel and on to Grand
Junction. A two-unit consist of a similar type of locomotive could handle a
passenger train at an average speed of 95 miles per hour between Los Angeles
and Chicago in forty five hours. A fifty three foot sea going container
leaving Los Angeles could be in Chicago fifty hours later. A two-shift crew
of four could handle each of these trains and their behemoth power without
anything but the assistance of the on board computers and some radio
At one point in his life, Joe had found himself working for the Atchison,
Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway at their Hobart Yard in Los Angeles. He worked
in the radio shop, and his primary function was to keep the voice radio
systems in the locomotives, on track equipment, and maintenance of way
vehicles operational. This job occasionally found him on the decks of various
diesel electrics, monsters of their day. He was proud of his work aboard the
equipment of a company that obviously took great pride in their motive power
fleet. These locomotives comprised the "Super Fleet", new equipment painted
in an historically significant paint scheme called the "war bonnet". Blazing
red paint covered the nose and cab, rounding back and down to line the frame
all the way back to the rear deck at the end of the long hood. The whole of
the long hood was a bright silver, with huge letters in red saying either
"ATSF" or "Santa Fe". The red and silver painted sections were separated by
bands of black and yellow, and a stylized yellow cross with the traditional
"Santa Fe" name in black was emblazoned on the nose. They were angular and
handsome if massive machines, capable of 4400 horsepower each and 75 miles
per hour top speed.
As a requirement of his work Joe had become well acquainted with the dispatch
operations of the AT&SF. After a few months all the jargon on the radio
started to make sense. "Track and Time" became something he worked with
regularly as he installed and maintained the radio packages and electronic
interfaces trackside that allowed the company to substitute a few radios for
miles and miles of code wire. Occasionally he would have an opportunity to go
with crews out on the line, working while they were under way. Or he might
find himself on top of a locomotive, replacing an antenna while it sat idling
on a spur track in a yard somewhere. Some days he would spend his entire
shift at the diesel service facility, moving as the equipment moved to fix
whatever was broken. Other times, when work was light, he might be up in the
yard with the goat crews, making up or breaking up trains in the COFC/TOFC
facility, just riding along with them. In this way, without actually being in
the Operations Department, he became well acquainted with the right and
proper way to run a railroad and operate the locomotives and equipment.
While he had moved on from the job with the AT&SF, he kept alive the flame in
his heart for the art and lore of railroading, and would almost always stop
whatever he was doing to watch a train go by. For this reason he was at first
dumbfounded, and then absolutely tickled by the news that his then eighteen
year old son had managed to nail a job as a stoker on one of the ancient,
narrow gauge K-36 steam locomotives that ran over the Durango and Silverton.
Whenever they got together it was all they seemed to want to talk about. Joe
was looking forward to a cab ride on one of those K-36s some day soon.
The steam powered trains here in Colorado were all tourist related passenger
trains now. No freight traffic of significance occurred. Four or five trains
ran daily in season between Durango and Silverton and back, as they had been
doing since the late 1950s. Shortly after his graduation from high school
their son Chris had arrived and gone through stoker training, and was now an
employee of the company. While the tourist season was drawing to a close,
Chris was hoping to stay on as a "shop rat" in the locomotive service
facilities for the winter, learning more about the locomotives he would be
firing again early next spring. That hadn't been settled yet, hence the
gathering in Durango to see who was going to go where.
Mike had taken a break from college to come up from California with Debbie,
who was a junior in high school. Mike had been staying at home with Debbie in
their parent's absence, and then had brought her for a visit when he came
east. They were already at Chris' small apartment in Durango, as Annie had
confirmed earlier that evening.
The wye at the west end of Silverton loomed in the headlights. It was just
past eleven now, and there were few lights and no cars on the road. There was
a gas station on their side of the road on the wye leading towards Durango.
They pulled into the lot, although the station was closed, dark. While Annie
looked to see if they were in a service area for her GSM phone, Joe selected
another channel on one of the radios.
"No network." Annie stared at the phone. "It won't roam either." She looked
up at him with a mixture of fondness and exasperation. "I love you, and I'm
glad we stopped. But what do we do now?"
Referring to anything like a motel or hotel, Joe replied "Well, there's
probably no place here that's still open. We can go up Main Street and see
what's what, but I'd be real surprised if there's anything available around
here. We can sleep in the truck tonight, or keep on movin' on..." He smiled.
"I vote for the truck. You mentioned an unfinished conversation..." His paw
found hers on the center console, their fingers interlaced.
"Try the radio, would you please? I want to let the kids know what we're
doing." Reacting to the comedic startled look on his face, she elaborated "I
mean letting them know where we are and that we'll be arriving in the
morning, horn-dog." He continued to look into her eyes, unmoving, until she
bent down and picked up one of the microphones and held it out to him.
"OK, OK," he said, smiling and squeezing her paw. He took the microphone from
her, stole a quick kiss from her cheek, and turned to see which radio he had
the microphone for. Seeing that it was, in fact, the one he needed (She
knows this stuff! he thought happily), he disabled the scan function and
assured that the radio was tuned to the right frequency. Keying the mic, he
stated his call and then asked for his son Chris's. Hearing a confirmation of
system access, he was assured that his call would reach Durango, but wondered
if Chris was awake. Of his three children, only Chris had any interest in
radio communications. GSM phones were easier and cheaper, the other two
Joe tried several more times over the next ten minutes, and there was no
answer to any of his calls. Both he and Annie were mildly concerned about
this, but more from a courtesy standpoint than that of worrying about their
children's welfare. They didn't want their kids worrying unnecessarily about
them. "Well, Angel, what do you think? Onward and upward?" Joe looked around
out the windows. "It sure looks dead here."
"Yes. Let's go on. They may be trying to call us on the phones. By the way,
Joe reached to a pocket inside his jacket and removed his GSM phone. Flipping
it open, he held it out to her, showing her the illuminated display. It
showed that no calls had been received and that there was no network
available. Folding it up with a single flick of his paw, he returned it to
his pocket, saying not a word.
Annie sat looking at him for a moment. "What are you thinking about?" she
asked, sure she already knew.
"You. Us. Where we are. What I'd rather we were doing. Balancing that against
what we ought to be doing." He looked at her, eyes sparkling in the
instrument lights of the dash. "You are the most important thing in the world
to me. I will do whatever you ask, just say the word."
She smiled at that, part of her thinking he was full of baloney, but another
part, deep within her, knowing he meant every word. And she wanted to spend
some more time with him, but she was also concerned that their kids would be
up even now, worrying about them. As she pondered her decision one of the
radios crackled to life, making it for her. She recognized her son Chris'
voice in the speaker. Relief flooded her mind. Her husband raised the
microphone he had still been holding up to his face, stated his call, and
replied to their son's call.
"Hi son. We're OK, we're at the wye in Silverton. We were delayed on Red
Mountain Pass." Joe unkeyed the mic as Annie, feeling playful now that her
parental concerns were being alleviated, leaned towards him to tickle him
slightly. She whispered "You were boinking, you bad dog!" in his ear and
"There's rain all the way down 550 to here, according to the TV weather,
dad." They could both hear the concern in Chris's voice. "But no snow."
Telemetry indicated Chris had ceased transmitting.
"That's good, thanks, son." Once again Joe unkeyed momentarily and asked his
wife "Move on?" As she nodded, smiling, he keyed up once again, "We're going
to keep on, we ought to be there before two."
"OK dad, be careful."
"Right Chris, see you in a while. We'll leave the radios and the phones on."
Joe signed off with his call sign and hung up the microphone after his son
had done the same.
"We'll finish that... conversation," Annie smiled laciviously, "...some other
time?" She giggled, looking at him from beneath lowered eyelashes.
"You bet," her husband replied happily. She noted the trace of tiredness in
his voice. It had been a long day for them, especially with all their
distractions. She smiled, knowing she was her husband's biggest distraction.
She didn't regret anything, but now was a little concerned about his time
behind the wheel. "Do you want to stretch before we go on?" she asked.
"Nah, let's get going." Gearing up, Joe fed a little throttle and they
rumbled up off the gas station's asphalt back onto the highway. A turn to the
right and the grade commenced, a left hand switchback to the south and they
were on their way, climbing up the shoulder of Sultan Mountain on their way
toward Molas Divide.
To Chapter Ten: Down, Down.
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