Song of the Lark HTML version

Chapter I.19
It is well for its peace of mind that the traveling public takes railroads so much for
granted. The only men who are incurably nervous about railway travel are the
railroad operatives. A railroad man never forgets that the next run may be his
On a single-track road, like that upon which Ray Kennedy worked, the freight
trains make their way as best they can between passenger trains. Even when
there is such a thing as a freight time-schedule, it is merely a form. Along the one
track dozens of fast and slow trains dash in both directions, kept from collision
only by the brains in the dispatcher's office. If one passenger train is late, the
whole schedule must be revised in an instant; the trains following must be
warned, and those moving toward the belated train must be assigned new
Between the shifts and modifications of the passenger schedule, the freight
trains play a game of their own. They have no right to the track at any given time,
but are supposed to be on it when it is free, and to make the best time they can
between passenger trains. A freight train, on a single-track road, gets anywhere
at all only by stealing bases.
Ray Kennedy had stuck to the freight service, although he had had
opportunities to go into the passenger service at higher pay. He always regarded
railroading as a temporary makeshift, until he "got into something," and he
disliked the passenger service. No brass buttons for him, he said; too much like a
livery. While he was railroading he would wear a jumper, thank you!
The wreck that "caught" Ray was a very commonplace one; nothing thrilling
about it, and it got only six lines in the Denver papers. It happened about
daybreak one morning, only thirty-two miles from home.
At four o'clock in the morning Ray's train had stopped to take water at
Saxony, having just rounded the long curve which lies south of that station. It was
Joe Giddy's business to walk back along the curve about three hundred yards
and put out torpedoes to warn any train which might be coming up from behind--
a freight crew is not notified of trains following, and the brakeman is supposed to
protect his train. Ray was so fussy about the punctilious observance of orders
that almost any brakeman would take a chance once in a while, from natural
When the train stopped for water that morning, Ray was at the desk in his
caboose, making out his report. Giddy took his torpedoes, swung off the rear
platform, and glanced back at the curve. He decided that he would not go back to
flag this time. If anything was coming up behind, he could hear it in plenty of time.
So he ran forward to look after a hot journal that had been bothering him. In a
general way, Giddy's reasoning was sound. If a freight train, or even a passenger
train, had been coming up behind them, he could have heard it in time. But as it