Fireman on the Ninety-Three

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.



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  1. 4963andypop

    This interchange makes me think of the last conversation you have with a teen, before sending them out to drive on their own. You give them a dozen warnings, but when they come back in one piece, it’s cause for celebration!

Don't just stand there.