Endeavour’s Fall #5:Two Trains Leave The Station…Dec 11, 2016
Law 1 Corollary 6: If bodies, any how moved among themselves, are urged in the direction of parallel lines by equal accelerative forces, they will all continue to move among themselves, after the same manner as if they had been urged by no such forces.
-Lord Isaac Newton, PBUH
The Deacon often assigns his older students a mathematical problem in which a hypothetical train leaves the station at a certain time and speed. The train is followed a specific time later by a second train traveling at a greater speed. The question calls for a student to find how long it takes for the faster train to catch the slower. With chalk and slate and a basic formula, it was a simple problem that Sam could figure quickly.
Unfortunately, the same problem in real life was not so simple to solve. Sam did not know how fast the engines could go, nor how quickly they could reach top speed. He also did not know how much he could trust this engine on the twisting rails down to Albany. Now that Sam was in the middle of the problem, he doubted his formula was any good at all.
Every once in a while the bright white headlamps of the train behind him flickered past onto the canyon walls. If Sam had not been so worried, he might have wondered how quickly the light from the headlamp behind was reaching him, and how that might be affected by the relative speed of each train. Given the circumstances, though, Sam’s thoughts were elsewhere.
Maybe he didn’t need to reach the city. These tracks crossed a number of rivers. Perhaps he could bail out into one and lose his pursuers that way.
Looking out into the night, Sam could not think of anything he would like to do less than jump in a cold river. He had never been a strong swimmer to begin with. The weight of his leg might pull him under.
So a river would not be a good option. Sam tried to think of anything that could help him put some distance between him and his pursuers. The bright white lights of the 4-4-0 grew closer, shining directly at him from time to time.
Sam had traveled this line several times with his family recently. Sam couldn’t remember the time when he was sick. There was the time they returned down the line to pick up Sam’s leg when it got delivered from England.
There was also the time, just last spring, when the whole family steamed down to collect mushrooms off one of the side lines. They took a wrong turn after leaving the train, got lost, and ended up camping overnight, hoping not to be discovered and arrested for poaching.
That was it! Any of the switches that branched off the main line would work. The switch last summer had been an old solid metal lever, about as high as his chin. It had no sign or signal on it. The switch pull was rusty and rarely used, and Tom and Al both had to lean on the switch to move it.
Sam did not have anyone here to help, and he did not have much time.
Sam closed the throttle. The engine puffed as if in reply. The black 4-4-0 was now only a turn or two behind him, but he could not afford to miss his target. He grabbed the long, metal-tipped fireman’s poker that rested on the firebox, and a handful of thin chain. The chain was heavy, but long enough for his purposes.
The sides of the coal car were smooth with no footholds or rails, so Sam stepped across the small gap and atop the loose pile of coal to make his way towards the rear. As he reached the top of the pile, the harsh blue-white light of the 4-4-0’s headlamps struck Sam directly in the face.
Sam was blinded. He tried to block out the roaring wind and the blinding lights and the black twisted branches rushing past. Finally, he just looked down and focused on his next step. He reached ahead of himself with the long poker and prodded the loose coal to make sure the coal wouldn’t shift underfoot. Then he leaned on the poker for balance as he stepped gingerly forward. Then he repeated the process. Then again.
After what felt like hours, Sam saw that he would reach the rear of the coal car with his next step. With a gasp of relief he leaned down and grabbed onto the solid metal edge.
The 4-4-0 was very near. It looked like the Star Chamber men were climbing to the front of the locomotive. They would reach him soon.
Sam climbed down onto the rear coupling of the coal car. The ledge was just wide enough for a single engineer to work on, but no more. Tracks raced underneath.
Sam carefully looped the chain through the coupling, as far to the other side of the car as he could reach. He hooked an arm through the ladder behind him. Then he doubled the chain over into a loop and pinned two of the links through the sharp end of the long fireman’s poker.
Sam looked up again. The 4-4-0 was right on him. Reverend Dimsdale brandished a mail hook and shouted from the front of the engine. His words blew away in the black wind.
Sam leaned out around the side of the coal car. The bright lights on the 4-4-0 illuminated the surrounding trees in sudden intense flashes. He waited as Dimsdale drew closer and closer. There. A switch.
Sam pulled the poker and chain out and held it as far as he could from the side of the coal car. He wished he could have made a larger loop, but the chain was already fully doubled. It was very heavy. Sam leaned back against the dead weight.
The extended chain bobbed up and down on the edge of Sam’s control. He watched the switch approach and draped the chain a bit lower. When it caught the top of the switch, Sam dropped it.
He couldn’t do it. Perhaps the switch was rusted shut. Perhaps the trains were too quick. Perhaps the end of the chain dropped too fast.
The chain ripped Sam’s poker out of his hands and threw it to the tracks. The 4-4-0 immediately crushed it into splinters. Sam nearly followed the poker. He hung by one tired arm on the rear ladder. He pulled himself slowly up to watch the Academy men approach.
The front of the 4-4-0 was well past the switch when the chain caught behind Sam. Maybe the chain itself derailed the locomotive. Sam couldn’t tell.
Sam just saw a blur of motion and sparks and heard screeching metal as the switch tore from the ground. Sam held his breath for a long second.
Ponderously the rear car of the Star Chamber train pulled to the side. The locomotive, still nearing Sam, suddenly tipped violently and crashed to its side. The train mowed down everything between the two lines and dug into the railroad ties right behind Sam.
Sam shielded his eyes as splinters and stones bombarded him for the second time in a day.
© J. O. Evans 2016. All Rights Reserved.