The Walnut Hills Grade
Cincinnati, March 6, 1942
The representatives of the New York Central, the Pennsylvania, the Southern, and the L & N, all high-ranking operating men, had gathered to see what would happen. At breakfast at the Sinton Hotel, they were all present when Joe Mansfield of the Central pointed out a picture in the morning paper and exclaimed,
"My God, this isn't Seydlitz' wife is it?"
Charlotte Seydlitz' mysterious death in Florida had made the front page. The assembled gentlemen didn't have to read very far to discover that she had, indeed, been the wife of the railway magnate, Klaus Seydlitz. There was then a confused discussion among the visitors. Was everything going ahead as planned? The L & N representative pointed out that his line over the bridge to Latonia Junction was to be cleared for two hours. They couldn't very well put that off. It was Mansfield again who got up to call Paul Harker. When he came back, he reported,
"The test is still on. It was Seydlitz' wife, but Harker doesn't know much more than is in the paper. He says Seydlitz will be out there."
Someone else said,
"I suppose we'll meet him, then. I wonder if it's better to pretend not to know about it, or try to say something."
Another man replied, gesturing at the paper,
"In circumstances like these I can't imagine what to say."
Mansfield broke in,
"I'll be interested in meeting him just the same. According to Harker, he's known that war was coming for many years, and he predicted exactly what would happen here in Cincinnati. He's been ready with this plan for a long time. But he couldn't sell it to anyone until he got Harker."
As he mentioned Harker, Mansfield made a curious gesture with his hands and face, and the others laughed. One of them replied,
"He hasn't sold me yet. I don't think he'll produce anything more than a hopeless snarl of freight cars from here to Dayton."
When Klaus Seydlitz appeared at the breakfast table, accompanied by Paul Harker, Mansfield was surprised to see and hear how German he was. Dressed rather formally in a dark suit, there was no mark of mourning in his attire. Since he didn't mention the death of his wife, no one else did either. After the introductions had been completed, Seydlitz sat down in a chair that was hastily pulled up for him. He had a map and explained the various positions from which the day's action could be watched. Cars were waiting outside to take each of the visiting gentlemen to the position of his choice.
Hendricks of the L & N chose to go to his own road's junction at Latonia, Kentucky. He would there clock the actual arrival of the trains. Weyrich of the Southern, an old acquaintance of Harker's, would stand at the south entrance of the Walnut Hills tunnel, high above the city. That would put him in the best position to watch the heavy trains as they descended the steepest main line grade in the country.
Alpert of the Pennsylvania would be just north of the north entrance of the tunnel. He would there be in a position to watch the struggle up that other grade to the summit. It was itself two per cent, and it seemed mild only in comparison to the three point four percent south of the tunnel. Even the north grade would have been regarded as prohibitive for main line traffic by most railway men.
Mansfield himself elected a position in the heart of the city, just north of the L & N bridge. He would be on Eggleston Avenue, at the very bottom of the long south grade. Weyrich looked at him in amusement and said,
"You notice I put myself at the top of that grade, not the bottom."
Mansfield smiled back, acknowledging that the man had a point. If the C, L, and N lost control of one of those heavy trains, it would plummet down the grade, picking up speed all the time. Somewhere near the bottom it would surely jump the tracks and send flying freight cars all over Eggleston Avenue. In anticipation of that very possibility, Seydlitz had arranged for the police to close the street and keep all but official observers off it.
Marty Alpert of the Pennsylvania remembered the C, L, and N from the time when it belonged to his road. In fact, he had once surveyed it and recommended that it be closed. The grades effectively eliminated everything but light local freight service and light passenger traffic. There was no money in either. Because of this background, he was now more pessimistic than any of the others. He had put himself at the north end of the tunnel because he didn't really expect them to get even that far.
The driver took him from the hotel up many steep streets and stopped on a back street just above the north tunnel mouth. It was a quarter after ten, and Alpert got out into the bright sunshine. Arranging to be picked up a little after noon, and glad to be off on his own, he quickly clambered down the embankment. While chilly, it was a beautiful morning, and he felt his natural attitude of suspicion weakening. One couldn't wish anyone ill on such a morning, particularly a man who had just lost such an attractive wife. Still, not really expecting anything to come for some time, if ever, he set off down the line toward the Avondale Yard. The walking kept him warm, and he'd have plenty of time to get back.
Alpert first noticed that the original double-track line through the tunnel had been re-laid as a single line. Since the portal was curved, a large locomotive could now be accommodated through the tunnel. He had thought of doing that when he made his survey, but had rejected the idea. A large engine pulling even a moderate train up either grade would only be able to crawl through the tunnel. At that speed, the great volumes of steam and smoke given off would literally asphyxiate the crew. He wondered how the new owners would handle that problem.
Short of the tunnel, the second track was connected to the continuous one. As he walked down the grade, Alpert noticed that both tracks now had heavy rail, new ties, and fresh ballast. The C, L, and N had never known such treatment in its long sojourn under Pennsy management.
Alpert passed a number of industries with disused sidings, and crossed a bridge over a creek. He paused there to check his map. From the low point at Idlewild there was a steep grade 2000 feet long up to the small Avondale Yard. It was almost flat for 1500 feet. There was then a 3000 foot grade up to the tunnel. He had walked down to the point where this last grade began in earnest.
There had been a number of steam whistles coming through the clear air from all directions, but there was now one series of blasts that seemed closer and clearer. If it was the C, L, and N train, it had made quite good time.
Alpert crossed back over the bridge and saw smoke above the trees on the other side, moving toward him faster than he would have expected. The engineer was making good use of the flat stretch through the yard, even though the heavy train would be strung out down the grade behind him. The engine, blasting steam and smoke, moved into sight around the bend as the earth trembled. Even a man as experienced as Alpert was somewhat moved by the sight. The engine was a big 2-10-2, much heavier than anything he had ever expected to see on the line. It was now at the bridge, charging the long second grade.
Alpert ran up the left hand track, trying to keep pace with the engine, but it soon left him behind. However, even as he slowed to a walk, he could see that the cars were passing him gradually more slowly as the train lost momentum. There must be at least one engine pushing on the other end, but even that didn't guarantee success.
After a while, Alpert, by trotting along, was able to catch up to the engine, its heavy exhausts bouncing off the sides of the buildings. The grade was such that it took a noticeable effort even to go up it on foot.
The road engine would by now have lost the battle, but the pushers were moving it at a fast walking pace. More accurately, the road engine was now pulling only, perhaps, the first two dozen cars. After that, couplers would be, not stretched apart, but jammed together as the cars were pushed up the grade.
The question now was whether the pushers, too, would lose momentum. In that case, the road engine would find itself pulling more and more cars, and would be brought to a halt. Alpert figured that the pusher engines would reach the flat ground of the Avondale Yard at just about the time that the road engine reached the tunnel. That might give them just the extra power that would be needed.
When they were a few football fields from the tunnel mouth, it was obvious that the train would make it. The pace hadn't slowed, and might even be picking up a little. A moment later, Alpert was suddenly aware of the cessation of the exhausts from the engine just in front of him. The engineer had closed the throttle, and the fireman was banking his fire to reduce smoke. They were going to be pushed through the tunnel. That was a solution Alpert hadn't thought of. Even so, he thought his recommendation had been sound. The present procedure involved a degree of locomotive use that couldn't be justified in terms of the probable freight revenues.
As the cars rolled into the tunnel, Alpert trotted back to see what was on the other end. Before long, he could feel the earth move again. There were, as he had expected, two engines. The nature of those engines explained the failure of the train to lose momentum past a certain point. Somehow, the C, L, and N had gotten hold of two of the Norfolk and Western's latest Y class 2-8-8-2 mallets. He could even see where the letters had been painted out on the tenders. With very small driving wheels, they were slow, almost too slow for road use. But there was no engine in the world that could push as hard on a grade. Alpert called to the fireman of the second engine, asking if they were going through the tunnel. The latter called back laconically,
"Yeah. Want a ride?"
Alpert, by running, could have caught up and hopped on board. He was curious to see what would happen on the other side. But he then remembered that the tunnel would be full of the smoke of three big engines. Even with banked fires, there would be enough to make it an agonizing experience.
Mr. Clyde Weyrich's driver let him off on the McMillan Street bridge, with instructions to go down a staircase just off the sidewalk. There was a rather spectacular view of the city and river from the top of the stairs. At the bottom, he found the south tunnel portal with a very large locomotive standing a short distance away. Weyrich wasn't terribly pleased to see Klaus Seydlitz rush up.
Weyrich had never been very good at dealing with touchy or embarrassing situations, and he actively dreaded the possibility that Seydlitz might mention his bereavement. On the other hand, as Seydlitz talked easily about railway matters, he began to realize that he had nothing to fear on that score. He asked a few questions which Seydlitz answered at length. The train approaching the city would be pushed up the grade by two late-model Y class former N & W mallets now waiting at Idlewild. The mallet standing down the track was an older Y class mallet whose brakes and suspension had been reconditioned. With sixteen drivers, and a large amount of weight on each, it had tremendous braking power. It would therefore be hooked on in front of the road engine to descend the grade.
Weyrich had, at the beginning, been only slightly less pessimistic than Alpert. He didn't know the C, L, and N, but he did know Paul Harker from the Southern. Harker was the most incompetent railway man he had ever known, and should have been fired long before the mess he finally created in Cincinnati. There was also some doubt about anyone who would hire him for a responsible position.
Moreover, as Seydlitz went on in his awful accent, Weyrich realized that he was an amateur. True, he had learned a lot about railways, but it had all been from the outside. Despite his gravity and his ponderous courtesy, he reminded Weyrich of the enthusiasts who sometimes hired special trains to take them to points of railway interest. With Harker and Seydlitz in charge, Weyrich began to wonder if a catastrophe might not be in the making. He asked abruptly,
"Mr. Seydlitz, have you tried taking heavy freights down this grade?"
"My chief operating man, Frank Scrutt, has taken some down successfully."
"Is he here now?"
"He's at the Avondale yard organizing the helpers. I told him that, if he could get the trains up here, I could get them down."
There was a strange light in Seydlitz' eyes. Weyrich knew that men react in funny ways to grief, and he saw what had happened. Seydlitz, in an abnormal state, had given himself the most difficult and demanding job, the one he should have entrusted to a man who had spent his life working on railways. After a little more questioning, he discovered that the train due to arrive was almost twice as heavy as anything that had ever been taken down the grade. Weyrich then spoke plainly.
"Nothing like this has ever been done anywhere. In my opinion, you should take it down extremely slowly and stop every few hundred yards. If it ever gets going more than a very few miles an hour, you'll lose it."
Seydlitz differed politely. Weyrich gathered that, if they took the train down that slowly, they wouldn't be ready for the next one when it arrived. Having fulfilled his responsibility, Weyrich said no more.
Since the tunnel was curved, only murk was visible much beyond the portal. However, sound came through clearly, and they could tell when the train entered the other end. Seydlitz said goodbye quickly, trotted down the line, and hopped up into the mallet's cab. Weyrich hadn't realized that he intended to ride the engine down himself.
The road engine that drifted out of the tunnel was surprisingly large. As soon as it appeared, the mallet released its brakes and started very slowly forward, timing it so that the train would catch up and couple. They were now on the crown of the hill with the train partly on one side and partly on the other. By the time that twenty five cars had passed, Weyrich judged that forward gravity, plus momentum, outweighed the reverse gravity. As if to confirm his judgment, he heard the first tentative application of brakes.
After that, speed picked up quickly. Even before it was half out of the tunnel, the train was going much faster, at least fifteen miles an hour. Much too much, thought Weyrich. The train then started to get out of control. At the end there was the most extraordinary sight he had ever seen. Two huge mallets, brakes screaming, were being dragged along at forty miles an hour, as if they weighed a mere fifty tons each. However, even at almost 300 tons, each only weighed as much as seven loaded freight cars. And there were over 100 cars. Weyrich could hardly bear to watch.
Joe Mansfield and Paul Harker, having plenty of time, had walked from the hotel over to Eggleston Avenue. Mansfield had never seen the C, L, and N before, but he had worked with similar lines in his twenty years on the Central. He saw immediately that much had been done.
The track had originally been laid in the street, as if it were a trolley line. However, it was now raised a couple of feet with proper grading and ballasting. A rather peculiar timber road bridge had been erected to avoid any vehicular or pedestrian crossings at grade level. According to Harker, it was Seydlitz' wife who had rammed the necessary permissions through the city council despite opposition from merchants.
Down toward the river, even more had been done. Although the C, L, and N line pointed right at the L & N bridge over the Ohio, there had been no direct connection with the other railway. Instead, it had been necessary for a C, L, and N train to follow a sharp curved connection left on to the Pennsy, and go up its line a considerable distance. Only then, could it back up to connect with the L & N and cross the river. To avoid this awkward maneuver, a new trestle had been built which crossed over the Pennsy, and then curved right to connect with the bridge viaduct some thirty feet above ground.
The profile of the line thus somewhat resembled a roller coaster. There was the long steep grade down to the bottom, where there was a gradual flattening, and then a short but steep recovery grade up and over the bridge. What wasn't so far clear was whether a train that came down the hill could be stopped before reaching the bridge. If not, the descent from the tunnel would have to wait until the bridge was clear, and special signalling to that effect would have to be installed. For the time being, signals were being given at trackside by two men, one at the south portal of the tunnel and the other at the bridge, communicating over a special telephone line.
The original C, L, & N passenger station, now closed, was located a few hundred yards north of the position where Mansfield and Harker were standing, on the other side of the line. It had been converted into engine facilities for the mallets that were to work the grade. They could now see one, waiting in steam, while the other backed laboriously up the hill.
While they waited, Mansfield asked about Seydlitz and his wife. It came as no surprise that Harker regarded Seydlitz with almost religious reverence. Harker talked as if he had literally been drowning when Seydlitz reached down a strong hand to pull him out. It sounded a little exaggerated to Mansfield, but he didn't doubt the other's sincerity.
What was shocking was Harker's open admission that he was glad that Charlotte Seydlitz was dead. It turned out that Harker and his wife had been to dinner at the Seydlitz home a couple of times. Neither he nor his wife had liked Charlotte. In particular, they didn't like the way she treated her husband. A man of that stature, they felt, deserved much better. It was intolerable that his wife should ridicule and humiliate him.
According to Harker, Mrs. Seydlitz had been a bad influence on her husband. Her advice was often silly, and he took it more seriously than one might have wished. As he talked, it was obvious that Harker wished to be taken on as Seydlitz's personal and permanent man of railway affairs.
Mrs. Seydlitz had been, in Harker's eyes, a stumbling block. A typical piece of her silly advice might have been to let Harker establish a liason with the other railways, and then let him go. Or to employ him in a less important position. The end of her influence could only lead to a magnification of Harker's own. It would be a good influence. Harker sighed in relief. He acted as though, through strenuous effort, he had managed to rid Seydlitz of an ungrateful wife.
As Mansfield listened, a thought went through his head. If he should ever do anything to earn the undying gratitude and loyalty of another man, he would try to see to it that the other man was as unlike Paul Harker as possible.
At that moment, a man came running out of the bar down the street. Another of Seydlitz's men, he had been on the telephone, and had news from the top of the hill. The train had come through the tunnel, and was headed down. Not knowing exactly where to look, Mansfield at first saw nothing. He then took up the binoculars that had been provided and zeroed in on a previously located stretch of exposed line. Holding on patiently, he was eventually rewarded with a sight of the lead mallet moving ponderously along with smoke, but no steam at its stack.
The next stretch of visible line was far downhill, near the Baldwin Piano factory. By the time the train reached it, speed had picked up considerably, perhaps to thirty miles an hour or so. While the head of it disappeared, he continued to watch the cars roll by, each moving imperceptibly faster. The mallets at the end were going like crazy, their rods creating only a blur as they went whizzing around the closed course determined by wheels and crank pins.
From there down, the line described a big S-curve, much of it in a walled cut, and most of the rest concealed by buildings. It came into unobstructed view only about a quarter of a mile away, where there was a graceful left curve to bring it to the valley floor. When the lead mallet shot into view, it was headed to Mansfield's left. But it was already heeling to the curve that would sweep it past to his right. He guessed that the speed was around fifty, faster than the mallets were designed to go, but well within the capabilities of the track.
Brakes were screaming as Mansfield had never heard brakes scream. But the train wasn't out of control. As the big engines rushed toward him, still accelerating, Mansfield shouted to Harker over the almost deafening roar. He told Harker that it was risky railroading. It was, of course. There was no question of stopping the train in the event of an emergency. But the risk was certainly justified in view of the seriousness of the national emergency. Mansfield was prepared to so testify in a court of law if it should ever come to that.
It was hard to tell where the train actually stopped, but it looked as if the lead mallet might be half-way over the bridge. In any case, there was no question in Mansfield's mind. If they could do this with a train of that weight, they could bring down a hundred empty tanks with a safety allowance surprising in the circumstances. As the pusher engines were sent back to the Avondale Yard and the train started again, Mansfield accepted Harker's invitation to the bar just down the street. They would have a little while before the arrival of the next train.
The bar and grill was a favorite of the many printers whose shops abounded in the district. However, at eleven in the morning, it was largely empty. Seated with two beers near a window, the men looked out on to Eggleston Avenue and discussed what was to come. Harker remarked that, with one of the three older mallets temporarily out of commission, they had a scheduling problem. Once over the bridge, there was no opportunity on the single track line to detach the lead mallet and send it back. They would be able to do that only at Latonia Junction, some four miles away.
The second old mallet was now backing up the hill for the second train, but the problem was the third train. If they dispatched the second train before the first mallet could get back, both mallets would be across the river when the third train arrived. Since it took them so long to go anywhere, and particularly to back up the long hill, the third train could be delayed half an hour or more. Mansfield asked,
"Why didn't you drop the first mallet off this side of the river?"
"That would have meant dragging the train part way back up hill, so as to let it clear the switch where we were standing. We weren't sure we could do it, even with four engines. And then, with the pushers detached and heading back for the second train, the road engine alone might not have been able to get the train over the bridge."
There was a moment of silence, and then Harker asked,
"How bad do you think it would be if we got the first two trains through on time, but the third was delayed, maybe forty minutes?"
"Not too bad. You'd still have proven that you can do it. But the others might question the tonnage per day that Mr. Seydlitz thinks he can handle."
Harker nodded and replied,
"Probably what they'll do is delay the second train long enough to get the first mallet back from Kentucky to the switch down here."
Harker gestured to the man they could see standing by the switch that led from the main line to the engine terminal. He concluded,
"We'll then have the first mallet sitting in the engine terminal when the next train passes. After it's clear, we'll send the first mallet back up the hill. That way we can hold the delay to ten minutes or so on the second train, and maybe nothing at all on the third one."
"If the third train arrives on time, I don't think anyone will care about the second one."
They were about finished when the man on the telephone came over and told them that the second train was on the north grade leading up to the tunnel. Harker looked at his watch.
"Just about on time. With luck, that first mallet will be on its way back by now."
Mansfield let Harker pay without objecting, and they returned to their original position. The switchman, standing a little above them at track level, had thrown the switch in anticipation of the return of the mallet from Latonia. The terminal track diverged from the other side of the main line, dipped to the street, and then proceeded up to what had been a rather unlikely passenger station, now surrounded with various kinds of equipment for servicing engines.
Although they couldn't see most of the L & N bridge because of a warehouse in the way, they soon saw smoke above it. The mallet, going at its limited maximum speed, came around the curved trestle and headed toward them. Mansfield turned to see their familiar messenger again approach. The man was smiling until he saw the mallet. He then croaked out,
"The train's coming down the hill."
There was still time to stop the mallet and take it back on to the bridge, hopefully out of harm's way. There was, however, no immediate way of communicating with the crew, presumably still including Klaus Seydlitz. They obviously had no idea that the train was heading for them. There were four men present, including the switchman, and the youngest and fittest looked to be the messenger. Mansfield sent him off running down Eggleston Avenue. Paul Harker trotted after him, waving his arms to attract attention.
When they had gone, the switchman quietly asked Mansfield whether the train was really coming down the grade. When Mansfield replied that he understood that it was so, the other said nothing for a moment. He then, without a word, jumped down to the street and started running in the direction of the city center. Mansfield, too surprised to say anything, climbed up to the switch stand and grasped the lever.
While the mallet moved slowly, it still went much faster than a man running. It wasn't long before Mansfield realized that the engine could get to the switch before it could be stopped and reversed out of danger. The messenger might be out of range of his voice, but Harker was halfway between them. Mansfield bellowed,
"Tell them to keep coming as fast as they can."
Harker seemed to have heard, but the messenger was still running. Then, when it seemed almost too late, he stopped and started to wave the mallet onward.
There was no denying that the noise coming down the hillside was the now familiar scream of brakes. It seemed loud, but nothing was yet in sight. In the other direction, the mallet was approaching tender-first and trailing great volumes of smoke and steam. In the circumstances, it was easy to think that it was hardly moving. In fact, it had almost reached the messenger, who might get them to put on a little extra speed.
However, it looked to Mansfield as if Seydlitz, seeing the commotion, had already guessed the situation. If so, the crew would already be getting maximum revolutions out of those damnably small wheels. Unfortunately, the power of steam was nothing compared to the power of gravity.
The thing Mansfield dreaded most was, not being killed, but having to watch the trains hurtle toward one another. It reminded him of a persistent nightmare he had had as a child, particularly with a fever. He was trapped in a circular mineshaft down which was dropping a huge boulder almost the size of the shaft.
The train, when it finally burst into view, was going even faster than the last one. It was farther away than the mallet, but it was careening and swaying as it rushed on at a much greater speed. Mansfield reacted by turning his back to the onrushing train, with his hand holding the lever in the closed position.
If the mallet got there first, it would be shunted off to the engine terminal, at which point Mansfield would open the switch for the train. If the train got there first, derailing it with a closed switch might slightly reduce the carnage that would follow. If, as seemed most likely, the two engines collided at the switch, it would matter not a whit which way it was thrown.
As the mallet's tender came onward, Mansfield could see Seydlitz hanging from a handrail and looking back toward him. There was an appalling uproar behind him, but Mansfield didn't turn his head an inch. He would soon be able to read his own fate in Seydlitz's face. Indeed, since there was nothing else to do, he waved. Seydlitz waved back. And then the big engine was practically on top of him.
Too busy to look at Seydlitz, Mansfield crouched, both hands on the lever. The tender past, hot steam enveloped him as one set of drivers passed. He fixed his eyes on the big front cylinder with the little pony wheel hidden behind it. Almost scalded, Mansfield heaved as the cylinder, projecting far out, passed inches from his shoulder. Then he was was knocked flat by a shaking of the ground and a tremendous rush of air.
At first, he thought he had been run over. But, then, it occurred to him that a man run over by a train would probably be having no thoughts at all. Upon getting to his feet and jumping down to road level, he watched the freight cars bounce their wheels as they shot over the track joints. That, in itself, wasn't alarming. He had seen it many times. But, still, this train, the near collision apart, had come down the hill awfully fast. It must have been heavier than the first one.
By the time the train stopped, the pusher mallets weren't far from Mansfield. They were quickly uncoupled and, as soon as they started backing up the hill, Seydlitz approached Mansfield with outstretched hand. He was obviously not used to situations which called for him to express gratitude in such measure, and he was a little pink in the face, more for that reason, Mansfield thought, than because of his recent close call. He nevertheless managed it with grace and without entirely dispensing with the conventional formulas of courtesy.
Seydlitz was, naturally, curious as to what had happened to the original switchman. Mansfield hated to have to tell him, but could think of no way of putting it gently. Seydlitz nodded with something like equanimity. He was almost like a military officer who expected the occasional man to run away when the battle began.
Seydlitz then began his apology. It was his fault, he said, that the collision had almost occurred. It was because there was no proper signalling system for the grade. Someone had misunderstood a hand signal or a telephone message, and the train had been sent before the track was clear. Mansfield cut him off,
"I'm sure, Mr. Seydlitz, that you'll soon have it put to rights."
He then, as was his habit, came right to the point.
"I think Weyrich, up on the hill, couldn't possibly have seen what happened. I'm certainly not going to tell anyone."
Seydlitz mopped his brow, apparently in relief at Mansfield's words. His handkerchief came away black. It was odd to see a man dressed in a business suit, but covered with grime, soot, and accumulated coal smoke. Seydlitz seemed hardly aware of the incongruities of his appearance as he again thanked Mansfield.
"I would, of course, appreciate your silence in this matter. I hope I'm not being dishonest. But, even if I am, it's important to show that we can handle the trains. I'm afraid that knowledge of this incident might ..."
Seydlitz never finished his sentence. His mallet was ready to back up the hill for the third train. Mansfield, continuing to act as switchman, stepped to the lever as Seydlitz waved and climbed back aboard.
Ralph Hendricks, of the L & N, was concerned only to verify the arrival of the trains at Latonia Junction. L & N locomotives would there take over and haul the trains south and west.
The junction consisted primarily in the crossing of the two lines originally combined to form the L & N, the Kentucky Central and the Louisville, Cincinnati, and Lexington. In terms of buildings, it comprised only a shack just south of the crossing. Had Hendricks been of a vigorous disposition, he could have paced briskly up and down the cleared space surrounding the diamond crossing and bounded by the curved tracks connecting the lines.
Instead, he conversed happily with his old friend, Maxfield, the L & N's locomotive superintendent in the Cincinnati area. Maxfield had come up from the DeCourcy facilities to keep Hendricks company during his vigil, and the two men, in overcoats, had found that the sun was warm enough to allow them to sit comfortably in a couple of old chairs on the porch of the shack.
Neither Hendricks nor Maxfield had any sense of crisis, probably because they were both locomotive men. The freight yards might be snarled, and the yardmasters and dispatchers might be going crazy, but panic hadn't spread to the engine houses. The L & N had more than its share of U. S. Railroad Administration standard freight engines left over from the last war, and also a large fleet of retired but serviceable engines which were gradually being refurbished. So far, they had met all calls placed on them, and were confident that they could continue to do so.
This confidence was, in fact, quite realistic. When things got bad enough in the yards, it had the effect of strangling inter-city traffic. Hence, the calls for locomotives tended to decrease rather than increase.
That, however, wasn't the only explanation for the lack of anxiety at Latonia Junction. Any observer could have seen that these two men, both rather round in late middle age, were possessed of a placidity which wouldn't easily be disturbed. As befitted railroad men, it wasn't a sentimental or optimistic placidity. As they discussed the illnesses, often terminal, of their friends and acquaintances, there was a feeling of steadiness and a dedication to the proposition that there is nothing new under the sun.
When the first train arrived, both men took a polite interest. The head engine was immediately recognized as a former N & W mallet. As it braked to a stop just short of the junction, Maxfield pointed out that it had new rods with improved bearings and lubrication. The detached mallet rolled on to the connection with the southbound line just before the road engine started the train again and took it over the crossing to the east. Maxfield remarked,
"They're doing that just to clear the route back for the mallet. They'll have to repeat the whole operation to get the road engine off and turn the train over to us."
"They must need the mallet back in Cincinnati in a hurry. Look, isn't that Mr. Seydlitz who just got down from the cab?"
"I've never met him. Read about his wife in the paper, though. Funny business."
Klaus Seydlitz moved quickly over to the observers, who moved rather more slowly to meet him. After he had been introduced to Maxfield, he chatted briefly, and then moved apologetically back to the mallet.
"The track will be clear in a minute, and the engine's needed urgently back in Cincinnati."
Both Maxfield and Hendricks nodded gravely, as if their diagnosis of a serious illness had just been confirmed.
Hendricks actually had his watch out when the smoke of the second train was visible just across the Licking River. He remarked,
"Looks as if they'll be three or four minutes early."
Maxfield acquiesced, rising from his chair and arching his back in a peculiar way. When the lead mallet drifted up to the crossing, Maxfield pointed at it, saying,
"Look at that front cylinder casing. A strip of metal's been torn off it. It looks like a fresh wound."
"They must've gotten too close to that tunnel wall. It's no wonder with those big front cylinders."
Almost the instant that the train stopped, the crews of both the mallet and the road engine were on the ground, arms around each other. Maxfield asked,
"What's wrong with that bunch? Are they all drunk?"
"I gather that the fate of their little railway pretty well rests on this test. And their jobs with it. I guess they're pretty happy about getting here early."
Maxfield grunted and Hendricks paused before continuing,
"Not that it matters worth a damn. This line will never make money with just one-way traffic in empties. Besides, when the other roads get themselves straightened out in a few months, they won't have any business at all. All this will be a waste."
Maxfield, surprisingly, demurred gently.
"Well, I don't know. It might make a certain amount of sense to send loaded cars by one route and return the empties by another."
Hendricks looked at his friend in surprise and replied,
"It might. But I know the railway executives. They'll go back to what they're used to the first chance they get."
Having at least a half hour in hand, the friends decided to cross the line and stroll over to a cigar and candy store Hendricks had spotted on the way down.
Well fortified with Hershey bars, a root beer and a Moxie, Hendricks and Maxfield, decided not to cross the east- west line to their former position on the south side. As Hendricks said,
"That rusty old chair over there was giving me an itchy ass."
They instead turned left and drifted toward the Licking River bridge. This time, on the north side of the line there were not even rusty chairs. Younger men might have seated themselves on a nearby pile of disused ties, but neither Maxfield nor Hendricks made any move toward it. Instead, they moved to a position that gave them a better view of the line across the Licking River. It was possible that, in spite of themselves, they were excited at the prospect of seeing whether the C, L, and N would be able to deliver the last, and most important, of its three trains on time.
The Licking wasn't one of the Ohio's larger tributaries, but, in the flat ground, it spread itself sluggishly over a considerable area. Over it was a long narrow trestle carrying the single track from one mud bank to the other. Hendricks looked down at the green water approvingly and asked if it were a good place to fish. His friend allowed that he had fished from the walkway on the bridge once, but without much luck. He then added, seemingly as an unconnected afterthought, that there was a large garbage dump just upstream. Hendricks shrugged,
"Fish are attracted by garbage. I've had some of my best days near dumps."
The conversation about fishing was interrupted when Paul Harker rushed up. All smiles, he informed them that the third train had descended the grade, and was even now crossing the Ohio. This intelligence digested, the three walked slowly back toward Latonia Junction, where an L & N engine was waiting on the southbound line to take over the train.
Hendricks and Maxfield were the sort of men Harker found hard to influence. Neither of them felt responsible for the efficient functioning of an entire railroad, but only for a limited domain, a domain in which there was little change and in which there were no crises. In short, they weren't possessed of hopes, dreams, and fears, the coin in which Harker dealt.
Not only that, both Hendricks and Maxfield were so stolid and comfortable that they were out of reach of humor and charm, at least as provided by Harker. He did know that Hendricks loved gossip. But anything that Harker provided was simply taken without comment, and without anything in return. As it was, Harker followed the older men unsteadily. One lame attempt at conversation after another was received politely, but without rippling the calm surface of temperaments Harker could only guess at. It was like trying to entertain a couple of elderly dairy cows, content to waddle and munch, but interested only in the pasture.
Just before the expected time, smoke billowed up across the Licking River and the black mass of a mallet became visible on the bridge approach. Then, shaking the whole structure and seeming to overfill the narrow space between girders, it came rushing across at something like its full speed. It was, obviously, a final charge in celebration of victory.
Hendricks noted the time, but didn't otherwise seem much impressed. The train slowed as it approached the left curve which merged with the southbound line. Maxfield said,
"That engine also has a damaged casing on the low pressure cylinder."
He then addressed Harker directly,
"What do you do with these mallets, boy, bounce them off the tunnel walls?"
Before Harker could reply, Hendricks broke in,
"That's No. 18, the one that was on the first train. Has that happened since then?"
Maxfield answered him,
"We were looking at the other side of the engine then, Ralph."
Harker, by this time, had found voice.
"There were some obstructing cement piers in the Idlewild Yard, but I'm sure they'll be removed."
The other men didn't seem to be particularly pleased with this explanation, but Hendricks spotted Klaus Seydlitz in the mallet's cab and said,
"Your boss has had a busy morning. He's still aboard the engine. He must be covered with soot by now."
Harker, indicating the car in which he had come, said that they would give Mr. Seydlitz a ride back to Cincinnati. He then trotted off after the locomotives as they came to a stop.
After Harker had disappeared on the other side of the mallet, Hendricks and Maxfield continued to walk toward the car. The former surveyed the scene somewhat balefully.
"I'm getting hungry. I wish the dickens they'd come over so we could get going."
"Probably something happened that they don't want us to know about. They're talking it over."
"Well, they got the trains here on time. That's what counts don't it?"
"Maybe. But the bearings on those mallets may be shot after just a few trips down that long grade. They may not be able to move anything else for a week."
"That's possible, but it's not my worry."
Quite a little time passed, with a certain amount of muttering between the friends, before Harker reappeared. When he did so, he was quite distraught.
"I'm sorry to have been so long. I can't seem to find Mr. Seydlitz. The engine crews said he was there one minute, and then he'd gone. He's just disappeared."
Hendricks, absently rubbing his stomach, replied,
"I suppose he can find his own way back then. Shall we get going?"
"I guess so. But I'm sure Mr. Seydlitz was intending to come back with us. He's such a gentleman, too. He'd surely want to say goodbye."
"He must've been under a lot of pressure, and then the death of his wife like that."
"He carried on as if nothing had happened."
Harker got Hendricks installed in front and Maxfield in the back seat. As he got into the driver's seat, he heard the latter say,
"What happened was this. Seydlitz walked back along the line without anyone noticing. Then, when he got to the bridge, he jumped into the river."
Harker, shocked, found himself expostulating wildly. Hendricks cut him short.
"These Prussians aren't like us. They're cruel and sentimental by turns. A man like that might do anything."
"Seydlitz might've been polite, but he was a desperado."
During the ride back to the city, Maxfield and Hendricks regaled each other with stories of the suicides they had known.