The Cincinnati, Lebanon, and Northern
Cincinnati, July 4, 1939
The morning paper was ablaze with patriotism. If it was true that the best Fourth of July speaker was the one who was pie-eyed, it seemed also that the best editorials for the occasion had been composed by men who seldom strayed far from the sauce.
Marie-Claude Serrault glanced through the paper, but quickly gave it up as a bad job. During this time, she was aware of a number of gunpowder explosions in the vicinity. Hans, she knew, had some firecrackers, but it seemed unlikely that he could be responsible for all the detonations whose sounds ricocheted around the neighborhood. Finally, stepping out front, she observed several parties of boys of varying size carrying suspicious-looking tubes and packages, most of them red.
It was natural for her to compare the present celebration, particularly the part played by boys, with European patriotic occasions. In both cases, there was the discharge of explosives. It seemed that boys, regardless of country or culture, had a fascination with explosions which far exceeded that of any other part of the population. Did they go to war so willingly, she wondered, just to have a chance to blow things up?
Apart from that common element, there were many differences. This celebration was distinctly free-form. These boys, often with home-made explosives, fired as they saw fit. Unlike the Hitler Youth, who fired on command and chanted in unison, there were here scattered cries in a variety of accents. Some of these, particularly the more shrill ones, emanated originally from the hills of Kentucky and Tennessee.
Compared to the Nazis, these boys were hardly more than a rabble. Moreover, where the Nazi youth had been trained to seem as aggressive and threatening as possible, the little party of boys making its way home from Ault Park to the slums of Eastern Avenue looked as if they might spend the rest of the day peacefully fishing and swimming in the river.
Yet, unlike the French or German youth, many of these boys came from a culture where everyone had a rifle within easy reach. It was normal, not only to shoot strangers blundering into the wrong patch of woods, but to shoot each other over seemingly minor affronts to honor. The shouts of these boys, often plaintive and quaint, might easily invite comical imitation. But, when it came down to it, the habit of random violence might stand them in better stead than the discipline of the Nazis. Marie-Claude certainly hoped so. From what she was reading, the confrontation would occur soon.
Since it was a beautifully cool morning, with a good chance of rain later, Marie-Claude took a stroll through the garden, and then down the lane to the street. That street, Vineyard Place, was really only a somewhat larger lane with intense garishly colored foliage perforated by driveways leading to large houses. It emerged on Tusculum Avenue, a steep winding street which led down to the flood plain bordering the Ohio River. It also connected, in quite short order, one of the wealthiest parts of the city with one of the poorest.
Lying at the bottom, Eastern Avenue was a subtle blending of pastel colors. The street itself was baked a light cream while the trolleys that traversed it, originally gray and yellow, barely contrasted with the street. Most of the houses, made of red brick, were now various shades of rose, and even pink. There was a drug store with a pale blue front and a barber shop, its pole barely visible. The barber shop was at the center of the sluggish activity of the street, with men coming in and out, and some just standing outside.
When Marie-Claude got back to the house, she found Charlotte, who had just returned from Germany the previous night, coming down the stairs. Pushing back her hair, as golden and luxuriant as ever, she greeted Marie-Claude somewhat sleepily and asked if she had seen Klaus.
"He and Scrutt were just leaving when I got up. He said he'd be back for lunch."
"I guess he's already gone back to work on the Cincinnati, Lebanon, and Northern. It was nice to have a respite in Germany."
"We've kept the Silverton Marching and Chowder Society happy, but we've had continual problems with shippers."
"So I heard last night. I suppose it's poetic justice. We had such an easy time wrecking that German locomotive works, and now, when we're trying to improve a railway, we get resistance."
"How badly off is the Heissen works now?"
"In a month or two they'll be completely re-tooled to build defective locomotives in quantity. We've also appointed a number of fools to key positions and created as much internal dissension as anyone could want."
"How about that works manager you wrote me about whose name I've forgotten? Didn't he object?"
"Franz Kaler. He's retired in Switzerland now. We could never decide whether he caught on or not. But he made tracks for Zurich fast enough. It was after he left that we made the really ridiculous personnel appointments. We made a perfect buffoon of a young engineer from the steel works our own works manager. He has a beautiful wife who has good standing with the Nazis, and she may be able to keep him from being fired even after they realize how hopeless he is."
Marie-Claude next asked after Harold Vendermeer. She had met him only briefly, but remembered him vividly.
"He was well on his way to becoming a Nazi. But he changed."
Charlotte fidgeted somewhat with her robe and spilled a little coffee as she poured it. Looking up, she asked,
"You did want coffee, didn't you?"
"Yes. But what about Harold?"
"That was a rather difficult episode. In the end I was able to convince him that the Nazis were enemies."
Charlotte and Marie-Claude both laughed, and Charlotte added,
"Anyway, once he turned, we were afraid that he'd overdo it. He designed a huge locomotive that has everything wrong with it. Even the axles will break after a few thousand miles. Fortunately, we'd driven so many competent people out of the company that there wasn't much of anyone left to blow the whistle on all this. The great thing about Germans is that they follow orders. You, in effect, order a company to self- destruct, and it does."
Marie-Claude nodded and asked,
"Didn't Harold's wife become a Nazi?"
"She still is. She doesn't know about any of this. Harold's going to have to drag her away screaming when it's time for him to leave. Or perhaps leave her. That might be a blessing in disguise."
As it was still a little before lunch, Charlotte suggested iced tea in the garden.
"I still hear a few explosions here and there, but children probably won't crawl up and light firecrackers under our chairs."
"I think American boys might easily be capable of that, but I'll risk it if you will."
It wasn't long before Klaus joined them, full of local railways news. Charlotte asked him,
"Why not give the local people all the services they want until the crisis arrives?"
"It's not so easy to switch operations suddenly in the middle of a crisis. There are some difficult operations we must practice, and we can't do it on a line clogged with local traffic."
Klaus then explained,
"The running of long trains of empty tank cars at the fastest possible speed will require very skillful work on the part of the train crews, the dispatchers, and many others. And, of course, there are the grades right in the city here. The one from the Walnut Hills tunnel down to the city is three point two per cent, the steepest main line grade in America."
"I didn't realize we had the record. Isn't there that famous one on the Union Pacific?"
"Sherman Hill. It's just under two per cent. It's a long grade, but ours is by no means short. Ours is relatively unkown because it's on a minor railway and no one has ever attempted it with heavy tonnage. Unlike the UP, we'll only have to take heavy trains down it. But there's still the considerable danger of losing control of a train."
"How can you lose control of a train if the brakes are working?"
"On a grade such as that there would be a certain critical speed beyond which the tendency to accelerate would surpass the braking power. Brakes aren't designed for such a situation. The train would presumably accelerate to a great speed, at which point it would jump the tracks. Empty tank cars only weigh half what the loaded ones do, but it would be extremely unfortunate to have them flying into buildings and rocketting across the downtown streets."
"Do you know what that critical speed is?"
"No. And it also depends on the weight of the train. The C, L, and N, even with very light trains of six or eight cars, has had a number of runaways which crashed across Court St. And that despite the fact that they've always been aware of the danger and played very safe. We can't do that and still handle the anticipated tonnage. We'll have to conduct some experiments in the middle of the night when no one's around."
"Well, anyhow, you can concentrate all your energies on that."
"I do have to go back to Germany for the trials of Harold's big engine."
"I thought you could just let him do that."
"He'll need help with Reinhardt, and maybe even Hitler again. It'll only take a week or two."
"What if the engine fails?"
"It won't. It'll be a superb engine. But it'll differ from the plans it was supposedly built to in a number of important respects. After the tests, this prototype will be rebuilt, and a number of the parts will simply disappear. The production engines will then actually be built to the plans, and will be a very different matter."
"What's the prototype like?"
"It's a modified Challenger with all the rods and running gear built here at the Lima works. They look like the ones called for in the plans, but, as with the other engines, the alloys and wieghts are different. Soon after the tests they'll be melted down so that no one can compare them with the corresponding parts on the production engines."
"It won't be terribly long before the Germans catch on to some of this."
Charlotte got up and led the way into the house for lunch. She spoke back over her shoulder to Marie-Claude,
"I'm worried about Klaus' going over. If the fiasco breaks while he's there, the Nazis could be very ugly."
Klaus broke in,
"Harold's much more at risk. I hope Janice doesn't cause a scene. She may want to stay."
"Tell her first that you're taking them to Paris, and that she can have all the clothes she wants. Then, when you get her there, you and Harold can make her come home."
"Yes. We'll leave when the prototype is safely out of the way. The production
process will then be irreversible."