"Go ahead!" your conductor signals with his right hand, raising and lowering it vertically. "All right! " your engineer responds by blowing two short blasts on his steam or air whistle.
Now you, the passenger, are in flight; and of that flight, these are some of the facts:
"Tickets, please!" cries the conductor; if you have left your commutation-ticket at home, give your name and address and, nine times in ten, you will have no further trouble. At any rate, you will not be put off, for the rule is: "Better carry a deadhead occasionally than put him off the train by force."
Your conductor is presumed to be a man of tact. He must adjust quarrels without losing his own temper; if you are taken ill on the train he is supposed to telegraph ahead for a physician if you ask him to. He may wear four or five gold lace or cloth stripes on his sleeve, like a Spanish major-general. This means that he has been twenty or twenty-five years with the railroad company, each stripe representing five years of service. When he gets six, if he is over sixty-five years old, he may be retired with a pension from the company - he has served for thirty years or more. Meantime his average wage is three dollars and seventeen cents a day.
Your conductor wears on his coat-lapel or cap the insignia of the road - a kind of railroad heraldry. On the Pennsylvania Road, for example, the symbol is a red keystone, indicative of the nickname of the State. On the Louisville and Nashville the insignia is "L. & N.," in white letters on a red background crossed with black bars. The Western and Atlantic has the same sort of badge, and on the bars, up to a few years ago, were the first notes of the song, "Hold the Fort," - the message sent by Sherman when he was marching from Atlanta to Chattanooga.
Steel Armor for the Cars.
Are you riding in a day-coach? It cost in the neighborhood of ten thousand dollars and weighs about sixty thousand pounds - though there are coaches in use that weigh no more than forty thousand. To your eye, the coach seems all wood. Hidden in that wooden shell, however, is a shell of steel three-quarters of an inch thick and reaching to the top of the car. Every car on a first-class road is thus reenforced with steel. Moreover, the angles of the corners and the doors are protected by steel strips, some of them an inch thick. Of steel, too, are the car's girders.
You are riding, then, in a fortified, half-armored vehicle. To adjust that vehicle on its "trucks" and over its springs, marvels of the steel-workers' art, called for thc nicest calculation when your car was constructed.
The cord that runs through the car over your head is attached to the locomotive whistle - not to the bell, as in the old days when passengers spoke correctly of the "bell cord." Under no circumstances may you pull that cord. It is exclusively for the use of the conductor or trainmen in signaling the engineer.
The passenger who pulls it renders himself liable to fine and imprisonment, just as if he had experimented with the "emergency" brake, that sacred contrivance which means safety for passengers when operated by a trainman, and five hundred dollars fine and a year in prison when handled by any one else.
Strange Byways of the Law.
Your exact rights as a railroad passenger are difficult to define, for the law moves in mysterious ways when applied to railroads. If you slip on ice on the station platform, you can recover damages for your injuries. But if you walk on the track and are killed by a train, your heirs who bring suit against the road may be asked the famous question of a British judge:
"Is there anything to show that the train ran over the man, rather than that the man ran against the train?"
If, in trying to board a train when it is in motion, you are injured, or if you get off that train before it stops and are hurt, you cannot recover a penny damages. If you leave your baggage in care of a porter and then go forth to play billiards and return to find your baggage lost, the company is not liable; but if you entrust your baggage to a porter while you go to purchase your ticket, and the baggage is then lost, the company must make good.
To put your bag or parcel on a seat in a train, hoping thereby to retain that seat while you do errands in the station, does not entitle you to that seat. Any passenger may remove your bag or parcel and take the seat, because the company does not contract to give you any one particular seat, but merely a seat.
Rails and a Running Drink.
But now, as you rush along, count, watch in hand, the clicks as the train rolls from one rail onto the next. If you count 176 clicks in a minute, you are going at the rate of sixty miles an hour. For there are 176 rails in a mile, each rail being thirty feet long.
These rails are six inches high. The standard weight is 100 pounds to a yard, and they are almost invariably of steel - for of the grand total of 297,073 miles of tracks of all kinds in the country, only 11,090 have iron rails. The remainder are equipped with Bessemer steel, the metal which supplanted the steel-headed rail (steel top and wrought iron base), which was too expensive for general use.
Between the rails, especially if you travel in the East, there is probably a water-trough, or track tank, about every thirty miles, for your engine must drink while it runs. So, slowing down, it secures sufficient water by dropping into the tank a scoop, or funnel, into which the water rushes and is forced by the motion of the train into the tender tanks.
The long troughs are fed from neighboring sources by pumps. Is it winter? If so, the water is kept from freezing by jets of steam forced in under the surface from pipes along the tank's side, the steam being generated in the adjacent pump-house.
There are four or five of these tanks in each railroad division, and thus is secured the one thousand eight hundred gallons of water which are evaporated in the ordinary locomotive in each division. A division is from one hundred and fifty to two hundred miles long. For example, there are three between New York and Buffalo - from New York to Albany; from there to Syracuse; and from there to Buffalo.
Section Foreman Always on Duty.
Suddenly your engineer gives one long blast on his whistle-the signal that your train is approaching a station. You are at the end of a division. Here is a roundhouse into which your engine is run to be "rubbed down" and to await the down train of the same class.
The division you have just traversed is in charge of a division superintendent. Under him are several road-masters, who in turn preside over many section foremen in charge of maintenance-of-way gangs at work on the sections of the division. These sections are of various lengths, from four or five miles where traffic is heavy to twenty or thirty or more where it is light, as on the "long hauls" of the Southern Pacific in Texas. Each foreman of a section has his home bordering on the track somewhere within his section, and is, in theory, always on duty.
Now, a new engine is automatically coupled to your train - you are again in flight. You speed over bridges and notice that the steel supports of some of them are being replaced with stone arches. It is not because the steel supports are wearing out, but because stone is safer. Floods may twist steel, but they can rarely budge solid masonry.
The Disappearing "Hot Box."
The car in which you are runs on twelve wheels. These wheels may possibly be made of paper - a few railway-coaches in this country are thus equipped. More probably, however, they have iron "cores" and steel tires, and were made by Krupp in Germany.
They may be smaller than they were a year ago. Usually, after each wheel has run some 75,000 miles, it is taken off the car, put in a lathe and its circumference reduced. This, of course, is to do away with any slight flat or rough faces caused by the wear. And how diminutive these car-wheels look in comparison with the driving-wheels of your locomotive, which are eighty inches in diameter, or a foot higher than the average man!
What the public knows as "hot boxes" used to be a frequent cause of delay in railroad travel. The brass boxes, or "journals" of the train of to-day, however, are covered on their bearing, or friction, surfaces with a coat of composition metal that is not soluble under great heat, and which, therefore, rarely expands - the cause of the friction which creates "hot boxes."
Clean Rails for Quick Time.
If you are in a Pullman, your car cost from $12,000 to $18,000 or even $20,000. And your train is vestibuled, not merely for comfort, but also to lessen resistance to head winds. A vestibule train is a solid wedge, as it were, and thus one obstacle to speed, resistance, is partly overcome.
Your train runs into a fog or mist. It slows up now necessarily, for the rails are coated with a slime that is a hindrance to very high speed. Blowing snow has the same effect. It packs in between the flange and the rail, increasing friction and retarding progress. On the other hand, run into a rain-storm and your train "makes up" time, the reason being that a hard rain washes the rails clean and is, therefore, an aid to speed.
If your train is going from west to east, it is making better time - infinitesimally better, be it said - than if it is going from east to west. For calculators in mathematics-extraordinary say that the west-to-east train has the advantage of the motion of the earth.
Signals You Can Hear.
As you fly over the rail, two explosions in quick succession are heard. Your train has struck two torpedoes, "audible signals," and the engineer slows up. If a third torpedo explodes, the engineer proceeds with extreme caution, for aside from what he reads in the "block" signals he knows that there is danger within a mile. Then the train stops, and five short blasts of the whistle send the flag-man back on the track. This is what has happened: The train in front of yours has stopped for some reason at an unusual place between stations. A train-man hurried back over the tracks for at least three-quarters of a mile and placed a torpedo on the track. Then he continued for another mile and placed two torpedoes on the track.
These were the two that your train struck first and then, a mile farther on, the single torpedo exploded. Now, if the trainman had been signalled to return to his train before yours came along, he would have left his two torpedoes on the track, but would have picked up the one nearest his train. If your train had then struck only the two torpedoes, and not the third, your engineer would have gone on his way, knowing that all was well.
Had all this happened at night, the trainman would, in addition to the torpedoes, have lighted red fuses which burn exactly ten minutes. Then your engineer, coming upon one of these fuses, would have known that a train was ahead of him and would not have proceeded until the first light had burned out.
But now your engineer blows four long blasts on his whistle - the signal calling in the flagman who was "sent back" by your train (all this in addition to the signals of the wondrous block system), and once more you rush on your way.
The Tireless Iron Horse.
During that delay, however, you got off the train and walked forward to look at your locomotive, perchance to gossip with your engineer. This is what you learned:
It is an ordinary engine of the Mastodon type. It weighs as much as two or three day coaches - 120,000 pounds. Engines on the great flyers weigh as much as 175,000 pounds, and some freight locomotives 300,000 pounds. This engine cost about $20,000, more than a fine private car. On the passenger service it is supposed to run an average of 8,500 miles a month. It develops a capacity of over 1,000 horse-power; but there are freight engines of over 2,500 horse-power. Its length is 64 feet without the tender. It could pull this train the 400 miles from New York to Buffalo were it not for its limited coal capacity.
There is no time to re-coal, so a new engine is put on at the end of each division. That is why your train will be pulled by about twenty different locomotives in crossing the continent.
In Maine or Texas or Oregon, on a four-track trunk line or a one-track branch, most of these facts are quite the same.