First thing the engineer did was grab my arm with his gloved hand, give it a good squeeze. “You sure you up for this, son? That stretch into Shakopee Lakes has a 13% grade, and likely to be drifted up.”
“Don’t you worry.”
“Just remember, I see that gauge drop I won’t be so nice.”
“Don’t worry,” I said again.
That night I worked my shovel fast as I could, jabbed the fire with the clinker rod to break up the dead spots. That guage stayed steady all the way.
“Not bad,” he said, and bought me a cup of coffee.
When I was eight years old, a man named George Williams came to our school with a book he’d written about his father Buddy, Life on a Locomotive. Buddy worked on trains his whole life, first as a fireman shoveling coal into the insatiable mouth of the boiler, then as an engineer on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. This visit from the author sparked in me a desire to write, as well as a deep and abiding love for steam trains. I still have his book on my shelf.