Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: HOT (08/10/17)
- TITLE: Fire Up
By Bonnie Bowden
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Johnny stood beneath the train’s cab window and yelled, “You Clarence Hopson? I was told I’m going to be your fireman today.”
The engineer turned and looked down at Johnny.
Without an instant of hesitation, Clarence said, “Get up here right now and get the steam head up so I can get this train out on time.”
Johnny shook his head from side to side and climbed into the cab.
Clarence turned around and began giving orders. “You’ll do as I say when I say it. Do you understand?”
“Yes sir” Johnny sputtered as he stepped on the pedal that opened the clam doors to check on the fire.
After a few minutes, Clarence looked at the steam gauge, tapped it with his finger and sternly said, “Four scoops, let’s get this beautiful woman ready to move out.”
Johnny’s hands, sweating in leather gloves, quickly opened the firebox and tossed in four shovels full of coal. The flames licked their lips like a lion that had never been fed.
“Here we go,” Clarence said. He pulled back the throttle lever and the 130-ton locomotive began to chug forward, great clouds of smoke puffing from its stack.
“I don’t know why they sent a boy to do a man’s work, but I’m going to show you how to fire a steamer. Just watch and learn and we should get along just fine. This old lady runs on heat. Nothing else matters. Heat! Remember that son. Nothing works on here if you don’t have heat.”
Johnny sent a silent prayer to heaven. Lord if you get me through this, I promise I’ll go back to church.
“Give me a couple of shovels” Clarence barked as the train picked up a bit of speed. Johnny jumped and continued to follow the engineer’s commands. Sometimes it was one shovel, sometimes it was three. Johnny tried to figure the pattern but couldn’t sort out the operator’s reasoning.
As Clarence looked forward, he shouted, “No more gabbing. You almost made me miss my signal.”
As they eased the locomotive onto the side track, Johnny leaned against the cab’s surface and wiped some of the grime off of his forehead with his sleeve. He watched as Clarence applied the brakes and eased the train to a stop. Clarence’s engineering cap was no longer spotless, but covered in the same soot as his facial hair and overalls.
“We’ll be moving again as soon as we hook up another freight car.” So give me five scoops and get back to work.”
As Johnny began to concentrate on his work, he began to establish a rhythm. He heard the pings of the boiler sheeting expanding with the added heat and pressure and the whoosh as the roaring fire sucked air into the firebox each time he stepped on the door opener.
With the fire going strong, Clarence’s gentle hand kept the locomotive pounding the rails as only someone with experience knows how to do.
Out of the corner of his eye, Johnny spotted a fallen tree across the rails, straight ahead. “Stop! There’s danger on the tracks.”
Clarence pulled the brake lever hard. With its brakes screeching and sparks flying from its wheels, Clarence stopped just in the nick of time.
The men worked for several hours to remove the tree branches from the area, but they both knew they needed to finish the job they had started.
“Fire her up.”
“Can you feel it breathing?” Hopson said, “I need it to be a living, breathing thing again.”
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