THE rain chased itself straight down the shatterproof plate-glass windows of the streamlined train. The Chicago passengers and porters with the luggage hurried along the red carpet under the canopies to each car entrance. A half minute to eight. ‘All aboard!’ Along the smooth steel length of the train the steps folded up as the doors were shut — except for the observation car, where the conductor stood to see that everything was in the clear before pushing the signal button to the engineer’s gong. Eight o’clock! The last door shut, its steps folded, and the train slid out.
All lights ahead were green. With a wide-open throttle the streamlined train roared out of Chicago, and the speedometer touched ninety before the yard limits disappeared. The Service Man noticed that the rain, which had flowed vertically down the windows, then diagonally, now flew in streaks parallel to the flying train. The passengers relaxed in seats designed by an expert on curves most comfortable to the twentiethcentury spine. The radio sang and sang. A uniformed hostess-nurse came smiling down the corridor to put everyone at ease, followed by the steward, who would take orders for your dinner — to be served at your seat or in the buffet. On the rear window of the observation car a mist began to gather — the drop in temperature caused by the vacuum created at high speed was frosting the glass.
So time passes in the passengers’ section of the train. In the power car the engineer operates controls arranged like those in a steam engine. And behind the engineer there occasionally rides a Service Man, the instructor and representative of the train builder. Such is the writer.
The engineers are men long in the service — men who operated steam locomotives on good runs ten years before the Service Man was born. ‘Open’er up, John!’ ‘Open ’er up, Walt!’ yelled the Service Man day after day. ‘Get the acceleration out of her. This train accelerates! After you get up to speed you can slack off.’
‘Exhilarate her’ was the way John, Walt, Old Man MacKenzie, Sour-Puss Johnson, Stub-Nose Smith and others put it, as they reached for the new fast schedule.
At first they wanted to slow down for curves. ‘Passengers’ coffee’ll be half ’n half — half’n the saucer, half ’n the lap,’ grumbled Old Man MacKenzie. But instead of dropping down to forty for curves the Service Man made them hold top speed; he demonstrated that the centre of gravity of the streamlined train had been lowered, causing the train to ride solidly dozen to the already banked curves.
The public interest in every streamlined train was, and is, overwhelming. Thousands of people appeared at stations where the trains were opened for inspection. Thousands lined the tracks and cheered the new trains on their first runs, and to this day, as the trains pass, people will stop, stare after them, and respond to the same thrill.
The Service Man has overheard a million comments. Down the aisles trooped the sight-seers, and what seemed to impress them most was that they (in person) had been on the train. People would shout to each other on leaving, ‘I been through it!’
In one city the characteristic exclamation would be ‘ My, my! ’ In another, ‘Unh, ungh!’ And in a third, ‘Boy, ain’t she ready!’ ‘Oh, how ready she is!’ At one station, as the multitude filed by a made-up berth, more than half of them called out, ‘There’s a little hammock Hambone could n’t get in!’ (referring, of course, to a comic strip in their morning paper). At an exhibition in Tennessee a loud, dubious voice from the crowd remarked, ‘Funniest durn train I ever see — all jinted like a snake.’
To the railroad crew and the Service Man a streamlined train on a regular schedule soon becomes No. 777 or 778, but to a Vice President or a General Manager the newness never wears off. The lighting on a picture in the solarium, the clarity of the mirror in the Ladies’ Room in Car C, the minute tinkling of the curtain rings in a stateroom, become matters of almost transcending importance. (Maintaining the train schedule is, of course, only routine.) Spectacles long to remember were a group of Directors commenting on the way the toilets flushed and the way a toilet should flush; a Very Great Railroad Man moving from the sunny side of the car and back again to determine if the air conditioning was perfect; two Vice Presidents investigating the water coolers — each dabbling his fingers under the faucet thoughtfully, then hurrying to the water cooler in the next car, wiping his fingers on a clean handkerchief, and calling in the honeyed tones used only in addressing each other, ‘I think, Alfred, the water in Car A and Car B was a little warmer than in Car C.’ ‘Yes, R. B. That’s just the way it felt to me.’
On the front of the streamlined trains, in one form or another, are three or four raised metal streamlines, called anticlimbers. In the winter, broad wings are bolted to the anti-climbers, and when the trains hit snow the wings throw it to either side so that it will not curtain the vision of the engineer. Anti-climbers are the equivalent of a cowcatcher; when an animal is hit, instead of its sliding up the front of the train these streamlines deflect it.
A diesel train running two or three times as far as a steam engine every day is bound to have two or three times as many animal accidents. You have to allow a certain distance for stopping a train speeding above seventy miles an hour, and by the time an engineer sees a cow or a calf or a horse turn and walk on the track it is too late. The engineer shuts the throttle and applies the brake, but the animal has already been hit. A cow or a horse will dent the train pilot, and what you see as you sit in the cab, watching, is the cow or the horse taking off through the air — slow motion for a split second, tail over head — and then a smear on the front of the train. You wire ahead to have a hose ready at the next station.
The Service Man remembers one night in the cab of a train cruising well above seventy-five miles an hour. A thunderstorm was in progress, and the engineer and the Service Man were staring into the torrent of rain when a sudden flash of lightning showed five horned cattle on the track not ten feet ahead. The sound was like thunderbolts as we hit them. The front end of the power car rose a little off the rails and banged down with a jolt that jarred the teeth and spines of the men in it. Outside the thunder rolled and crashed — and the train kept on without a moment lost. But afterwards the boilermaker and his helper had to do four days’ work on the steel pilot between trips.
In certain states which have no fencing laws it is believed that the Animal Claims Departments of the railroads settle their yearly business for a sum about equal to the interest on the investment that would be required for fencing the right of way. Occasionally, however, the Animal Claims Department objects to passing out the ten or fifteen dollars expected by some owner of a prize animal destroyed by a locomotive. The Service Man remembers one such instance — it was in the South — when the carcass of a horse was found with a rope tied around its neck and the other end of the rope made fast in a double knot to a railroad tie!
Investigators say that there are many more animal accidents in the evening than by day. The animals graze and lie in the shade all day. But when darkness falls the mosquitoes rise viciously from the grass. So the cattle head for the railroad tracks and stand on the rock ballast — where there are fewer mosquitoes to attack their bellies.
In crossing the enormous King Ranch in Texas it has proved better for the trains not to blow the whistle or ring the bell, since this, authorities believe, frightens or transfixes the cattle into immobility. So the train comes on and on, the rails hum and sing, the earth shakes a little and a little more, the noises get louder and louder, and at the last possible moment the cattle generally step off the track, throw up their tails, kick out their hind legs, and gallop away.
Buzzards are another serious menace in the South. Up to a certain morning we in the power car had felt secure at the highest speeds behind the heaviest obtainable thickness of shatterproof glass. But on that day a buzzard swung across in front of the train and the whole centre section of the window blew in. Millions of pieces of glass flew over the cab, and on the engine-room floor lay a stunned buzzard. While the train sped on and air roared in through the empty windowspace, the buzzard turned his neck, looked at us, and vomited. We pushed him off at the next stop not much the worse for wear.
Thereafter still heavier shatterproof glass was ordered for the front windows. Where an animal had been hit you knew the buzzards would gather. Far ahead you could see the black flock, sitting on the rails. As the train approached, fifty, seventy-five, a hundred or more of the heavy birds would run, rise, circle, and wheel, slowly flapping back and forth across the track. The engineer would slow the train down, and that part of the day’s schedule would be ruined. Then the new glass arrived. After one bird hit it, it was so badly cracked that the wind blew it out on the following trip. So now trains for Southern operation are provided with buzzard bars across the front windows. But the bars are arranged so that you would think they were decorative streamlines— unless you knew.
Even the headlight must be provided with extra-thickness glass for high-speed trains. One of the Chicago streamliners came in with a smashed headlight, and the boys say there was a trout in it. The theory was that an eagle carrying the fish struck the headlight, and the trout got stranded. The Service Man did not see the trout, but he believes the story.
Only once in the 135,000-mile run of the first streamlined train my company built was there a train-automobile accident. The Service Man was in the cab at the time. It happened like a moving picture: you were sitting back watching and could do nothing — absolutely nothing — to interfere. An old man drove round a corner in his rattletrap, and, while seven or eight school children shouted and waved at him to stop, he turned on to the crossing directly in front of the hurtling train. The brake shoes smoked and shrieked as the train came to a stop, and we ran back to find the old man on his feet and the kids brushing him off.
‘What railroad does that-air train belong to?’ he yelled at us. ‘Eleven hundred dollar I had in that car. Bought her in ’24, I did, and I got the bill of sale to home. I’m going to sue you fellows!’
The car was no more. Few fragments could be found even a hundred feet away. When the train struck, the car had disintegrated as completely as the one-hoss shay and dropped the old man back in the dirt road. Whether he sued or not, it cost the railroad almost eleven hundred dollars to repair the front end of the train.
As a matter of fact, 70 per cent of train-automobile accidents are caused by automobiles driving into the sides of trains.
The streamlined trains have been made the safest equipment ever constructed. Vertical headlights with automatic flashing devices warn motorists miles before the front headlight can be seen. New types of horns, operated by air instead of steam, have been devised, which carry distinctive sounds farther and with more penetrating power than ever before. The bell is rung rapidly by air power. Every engineer is provided with a ‘Dead Man’ pedal. Should he die, faint, fall asleep, or become forgetful, his foot eases off the pedal — and the train brakes are automatically applied, the diesel power is shut off and the engines slowed down, a red light shows up in front of him and the fireman, a whistle blows in the cab, and the gauge board registers every one of these changes.
But the greatest step in safety has been the new high-speed brakes, electrically actuated, that apply the brakes on every car in the train at the same instant — no longer is there the jerking as each car in a train bangs into its neighbor. A remarkable device called the Decelakron permits much higher brake pressure to be used and automatically brings the train to a stop without a jerk and without depending upon the skill of the engineer — who, even at his best, occasionally jarred the passengers on steam trains.
Less than a decade has passed and people no longer ask the Service Man if the diesel engine and the streamlined trains will be a success. Throughout our machine-minded country, people know that the high-speed diesel era has begun.