Bells & Whistles—5/22/20
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A dawning sun silhouetted the massive form of the freight train. Loaded with fuel, water, and sand for traction, the lead locomotive weighed in at 410,000 pounds—slightly less than a 747 jumbo jet. Even as it idled, conductor Robert Mohr could feel the diesel power rumble through the ground. If you like traveling by train, you’ll definitely want to look into these 15 of the most luxurious train rides around the world.
Mohr, 49, ran his eye along the 96 cars behind him and, for a moment, recalled why he’d always wanted to be a conductor. To him, there was beauty in the oversized machinery, and in having control over such tremendous power.
It was 7 a.m. on May 12, 1998. Mohr had already scanned a dispatch listing hazardous materials aboard the train. “We’ve got some gas with us,” he’d reported to his engineer, Rod Lindley, in the cab.
The presence of liquid propane gas would mean taking extra precaution when braking the 6,200-ton train. With explosive gas on board, a derailment would be disastrous. The rest of the cargo was mainly new automobiles, car parts, and coal.
After a final external inspection, Mohr jumped aboard. Slowly the train pulled out of the Decatur, Illinois, depot. They were headed east, into a sun that promised a beautiful day for their 172-mile run to Peru, Indiana. These are the most scenic train rides across America.
At around noon that day, Tila Marshall prepared to tackle some yard work. The 34-year-old single mother of four had planned to brighten up the front of her Lafayette, Indiana, home with flowers. It was a beautiful day for it, she thought, gazing past the houses across the street. Some 50 yards away, just visible through tall, swaying grass, railroad tracks glistened in the sun.
Marshall began working in a patch of soil. Sitting next to her, cheerfully running her hands through dirt, was her 19-month-old daughter, Emily. For a while, she kept turning to check on Emily, who played close at hand. Eventually, though, Marshall’s absorption in her work became total.
Comfortable inside the engine cab, Robert Mohr smiled as Rod Lindley switched on his side-board heater. The engineer was preparing lunch the way he often did—by using the heater as a stove. “Pork chops,” said Lindley with pride, carefully positioning a lump wrapped in tin foil. “Smoked them myself.”
Mohr and Lindley had 50 years of railroading experience between them, and they had a lot in common. Both had a passion for hunting and fishing, and both liked to swap stories of the outdoors.
Even more, they enjoyed talking about their families. As the radio crackled with dispatcher information, they’d laugh over the trials of raising kids.
Mohr and Lindley approached Lafayette at about 1:45 p.m. and slowed the train to the 25-m.p.h. speed limit. Lindley activated his flashing lights and warning bell. The two had been through the city hundreds of times, but they grew extra cautious rounding the first curve. Ahead, over just three miles of track, lay no fewer than 24 street crossings.
As the train came out of the curve, Lindley noticed a small tannish dot on the right rail about 150 yards ahead. He thought it might be a dog. Although it was against the rules to do so in Lafayette, he began lightly tapping his horn. “Come on, puppy, move,” he urged.
The toots of a train whistle startled Marshall from her garden reverie. That’s odd, she thought. They don’t usually blow the whistle through town.
She glanced over to check her daughter, and her heart skipped. Emily was nowhere in sight.
While Lindley worked the controls, Mohr stood alongside, staring ahead at whatever was lying on the rail. It wasn’t unusual for such objects to turn out to be a bunch of rags or other debris. Far less common were real emergencies, although Mohr had experienced a few accidents in his 23 years with the railroad.
Now, as the train approached within 100 yards of the object on the rail, Mohr looked intently. Then shock coursed through him.
“My God!” he yelled as a tiny face turned toward him. “It’s a baby!”
Tila Marshall dashed around to the rear of her house. She knew that Emily loved to play a game with her 11-year-old brother: the girl would run to the back yard while Zachary raced through the house to intercept her, causing squeals of delight. Marshall called out, “Emily! Emily, honey, are you back here?”
This article first appeared on www.rd.com
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