Jim Skeevers don't always confine his object lessons to
the firemen. Sometimes he works one off on other
engineers, the foreman, the master mechanic, or the
superintendent, and he has been known to illustrate a
point to the fourth vice-president.
One of Skeevers' object lessons converted an intolerable
nuisance of a roundhouse foreman into a reasonable human
being, and, if there is anything in the doctrine of
perdition, saved the souls of a lot of men who were
before prone to blaspheme every time they talked to the
hereinbefore mentioned foreman.
This foreman was one of those restful mortals who make
you feel satisfied with your lot, when you kick about
cylinder packing that blows, valves that leak, or rods
that pound, by telling you how much worse some other
fellow's is - this helps yours so.
He was one of the kind that sneer at everything the
engineers do on the road in an emergency, and tell what
they ought to have done.
The kind that kick about giving orders for the little
engine supplies as if they had to pay for 'em.
The kind that scratch off all the work put on the book
if they do a little of it.
The kind who believe in "good enough" jobs.
The kind who are always wanting to get out on the road
to run - and have never done any running, or firing,
Skeevers laid for Davidson for over a year, and finally
got him. Davidson had been wanting to ride over the road
with Skeevers the first Sunday that he went out in the
morning. So he got him alone last Sunday. Skeevers was
marked up for an extra freight at 8.40.
Skeevers' engine had been double-crewed all summer, on
account of World's Fair business, and running repairs
were cut down half on account of the engine being out
most of the time, and another half on account of the
reduction of shop force and a 10-per-cent. encourager for
shopmen to do as little as possible.
Skeevers don't kick much, as a rule, but when he
reported "Right check ground in and cylinder packing down
on the right side," trip before last, he felt sure the
engine couldn't do her work much longer without it; but
when Davidson told him he "ort to hear Jim Bishop's
engine blow," and that "Baldy Bates' fireman got out on
the running board with a pail of water and the coal pick
every time he shut off the injector," Skeevers said that
he hadn't noticed it, and perhaps the "6i8" was all
right, after all, but she needed washing out awful bad,
Davidson laughed. "Lord," said he, "Dave Keller's had
the '96' on the express for four months without washing.
Dave is a good man with an ingin, you know," he added
parenthetically, "machinist runner, too; he doesn't shut
off on the road at all, jest run her on froth - soda
Skeevers was glad he was going to get that extra Sunday
morning. It would surely be empty coal cars - about two
more than the engine ought to have. He knew the road
would be crowded with trains - there's no God on a
He knew Davidson would go out with him - and Skeevers
Skeevers called on the train dispatcher who would be on
duty the next day, talked a few minutes, and - they
Skeevers hunted up Billy Woods, his conductor; they had
a cigar, chatted a few minutes, then, well - they laughed
Davidson came down the next morning smiling - going to
have a holiday. Skeevers got around later, got into his
over-clothes and commenced to oil around; Billy Woods
came by and gave them both a cigar, remarking to Skeevers
that they were going to be four loads short of a full
train (they had three too many), and that the "618" would
just play with the train - sure to have a nice easy trip.
Pete Doyle had a cushion on his seat for the foreman,
and let him have the window all to himself and be right
in his way - Pete knew it wouldn't last all the trip or
he'd have kicked lustily, and who could blame him?
As Skeevers dropped a little 13-cent oil on the
well-worn bearings of his engine, Davidson followed him
around, and Skeevers "jollied" him a little.
"Been runnin' you pretty hard lately, ain't they,
"Well, yes, tolerable; but then, you know, we get paid
for it; I got in fifty-one days last month."
"Fifty-one, four times fifty-one, by George, that's
$204! The old man only gets $150."
"Yes, but he's just a master mechanic, you know," said
Skeevers in a pitying voice, which made Davidson's $90 a
month seem measly and small. "Pete gets almost as much as
that. I've often wondered why you didn't go out runnin' -
a man like you 'ort to be makin' decent pay - the idea of
being tied down to a roundhouse is hard lines. Running is
pleasanter, better paid and less responsibility, and,
knowin' as much about engines as you do, you 'ort to get
a great reputation on the road. Some of these ducks don't
know no more about an engine than I do about preaching."
Skeevers knew he tickled the governor in the right place
"Well, I shu'd say so. Why, Giles come in last night
with the piston blocked wrong and the" -
"Here's your orders, Skeevers," said the conductor, and
holding one, read: Run to Junction City extra. Trains 21
and 107 are abandoned. Don't pass Hope without orders.
You may use fifty minutes on the time of No.8, Cole
conductor. Meet light engine, Smiles', east at Preston.
Skeevers and Davidson swung up into the cab, and, after
comparing time with the conductor, the "618" commenced to
cough and wheeze getting the train started. The packing
in the right-hand cylinder roared lustily and, though
Skeevers was used to it, he cocked his ear and pretended
to listen - Davidson listened, too.
"When did you clean her nozzles, Skeevers?"
"Got a funny sound in one; guess the tip is loose on the
"Nozzles be damned," said Pete Doyle, "thot's one ave
the jobs Skeevers has asked youse for the doin' these
many times; avery turn ave her wheels means a shovelful
of coal for mesel' to sling. I never heard cylinder
packin' blow the equil ave thot."
"That ain't her packin', is it Skeevers?"
"Yes, but that's nothing - you ort to hear it blow on
Jim Bishop's engine!"
Then he whistled for a road crossing to keep Davidson
They were not ten miles from home when they had to stop
for a hot pin on the left side.
"Maybe you've got her keyed too tight," suggested
"No, it's the main rod, and it pounds itself hot."
They looked at it, and, sure enough, it was awful loose
on the pin. Davidson offered to file it right there, and
promised to do it in ten minutes. Skeevers led him on,
looked at his watch, and said if it could be done in
fifteen minutes it would be all right.
They had to cool the pin and strap, then take it down.
Skeevers had a file, but no tools except the regulation
set, and they had trouble in getting the strap off the
rod, and more trouble to get the back half of the brass
out. Then there was no place to hold it, and nothing to
square the brasses by or with. Davidson had his store
clothes greasy by this time, and was in a good sweat,
hard at work, when the conductor came up and wanted to
know why in the blankety-blank they didn't overhaul the
engines in the shop, looked anxiously at his watch,
ordered the head brakeman to run and flag No.2 (which
wasn't due for an hour), and made a howl in general.
When the main rod was up again they had not time to make
the next town for No.2, so they backed up and headed in.
When they got to the next telegraph station there was a
fierce message about the hour and forty minutes' delay.
Skeevers wrote a bland explanatory message, and the
reply came over the wire that whoever caused that delay
would hear from me on Monday. This was signed by the
superintendent, and it made Davidson very ill at ease.
The next twenty-eight miles was level or slightly down
grade, and Skeevers seduced Davidson over to his side,
and finally got him on his seat and hold of the throttle.
This was all very nice for half an hour, and Davidson was
getting a little confidence in himself.
Skeevers went over on Pete's side and sat down, and in
going had hooked the cab door behind the new runner.
The "618" commenced to work water, and Skeevers remarked
that she was full and the injector had better be shut
Davidson shut it off. The check stuck up, there was a
growl, and in just one second the boiler of the "6i8"
commenced to blow off through the overflow of that
injector, and the new engineer was trying to get out of
the side window. Skeevers was there and stopped him.
"It's the check stuck up," he yelled; "go out on the
running board and pound it. I'll hand you a pail of
Davidson got a shower bath getting by that overflow, for
he didn't think to shut it and let her blow into the tank
- he'd thought of that in the shop.
When he was half way out to the check Pete pulled the
whistle open, and he came back in a hurry and shut the
throttle. Then Skeevers opened it as he handed out a pail
of water. Davidson dodged back again, thinking it had
worked open. Finally he hammered and cooled the check
into taking his seat.
Davidson was wringing the water out of his vest and
swearing, when Skeevers made it all right - he told him
about Baldy Bates' engine, and how her check stuck.
Davidson made up his mind to get back on the fireman's
side. But when he looked around for Skeevers, he was back
on the first box car, with his legs hanging over the side
talking to the brakeman, and Davidson had to "keep her
Pete watched his chance, and when Davidson whistled he
started the left-hand injector - it was level and easy
for the next two hours' run, and Davidson never thought
of the injector again.
Presently Skeevers came over, and the first thing he
asked was if the check stuck up again.
"No; ain't used it."
"How's your water?"
Davidson's face was ashy white in an instant, and his
hand trembled as he reached for the lower gauge-cock; it
reddened when he found water.
"Haven't you put any water in her for the last two
"Not a drop - she don't use much, does she?"
"Misther Skeevers," said Pete, "it's mesel youse can
thank for the wather. The boss av the roundhouse is hell
on runnin' engines as is standin' still - if Pate Doyle
hadn't put on his squirt, youse wud a had the mud ring
melted aginst now."
Davidson tried the gauge-cocks every two minutes the
rest of the day.
When they stopped at Slocum for water, Skeevers found
use for the soft hammer, and asked Pete for it.
Pete looked all through the box and reported a drouth of
"Oh! it's there. I saw Davidson get it to pound that
"In coorse, ye did, sorr, and he left it on the runnin'
boord and it's jiggled off entoirely."
"And it's lost."
"Gone till the divil, and it's himsel' as stud up on his
hoind legs and cursed me, Pate Doyle, for bein' thot
kerless as to drap aff the lasht one. He sed he'd never
give you nor me another saft hammer so long as the Lord
left him wind to breed wid."
Davidson couldn't help hearing; but he laughed and said
he'd give Pete an order for a new one.
Skeevers gave Davidson his orders, made him read them,
and told him to go ahead - he was going back to the
Just as they struck Hope yard, Pete slyly let down the
right tank valve, gave the lazy cock of his injector a
quiet kick, and it broke. He told Davidson that his
injector was "kicking up" and that he'd better start his
own. Davidson tried. The more he tried the more excited
he got. Pete told him to unhook the door, and he would
show him how to start it. This was humiliating. Of
course, it started all right for Pete.
They were sailing right through the little town, when,
all at once, the emergency went on (from the rear), and
as Davidson pulled his head out of the front sash he
looked back, and the conductor, Skeevers and both
brakemen were flopping their wings like windmills.
"Are ye tryin' to kill everybody, ye crazy loon?" yelled
the front brakeman.
"Gimme a red flag, quick, Pete."
Skeevers came over on a run, and pushing poor Davidson
out of the way, backed the engine inside of the switch
"What's up, for God's sake?" asked Davidson.
"Up? Why didn't you read them orders: "Don't pass Hope
without orders?" It's a sure discharge for going by a 'do
not,' besides we might a had a collision."
Davidson got over on Pete's side, and Skeevers had to
run her in, and they got along all right.
At the end of the road they got supper, and Skeevers
proposed a walk around town before they went to bed; but
the caller came for them before they could get away, and
at nine o'clock the "618" was hooked onto a row of
freight cars up in the big yard.
Skeevers got Davidson on his side to "learn him the
yard," and with all the switch lights and switch engines
dodging out and in, and the signals from three crews, the
whistling and answering whistles, Davidson was a little
muddled. Maybe Skeevers made some extra moves, got some
extra signals, and did some extra whistling, but it all
served to mystify Mr. Davidson and to increase his
respect for the engineer who understood it all and was so
cool about it.
That night, going down, Davidson learned that he
couldn't handle automatic air nearly so well on an engine
and a grade as he could in the roundhouse.
He learned how pleasant it was to put the reverse lever
down in the corner, and skin the knuckles in doing it.
He learned how much it helped to keep one awake by
putting a red hot steam-pipe just under the
throttle-lever - just where the wrist will touch it if
the arm is allowed to sink a sixty-fourth.
It rained, and he learned something about handling a big
train in bad weather on both sides of a hill.
Skeevers illustrated in several ways, without saying so,
that it is impossible for an engineer to do much "keeping
up" of his engine on the road and handle his train on
Davidson was nervous about fires along the track until
passed; he got excited over some horses that got on the
track and got hit.
He learned what it was to "hustle" and be "hustled" by
every man with authority to send a message.
He learned what it was to stay on a freight engine for
twenty-four hours without rest, and without a lunch pail.
Skeevers longed to make it thirty-six, and then tell him
that Swifty Wilson once ran fifty-four hours without rest
- always sprung on a man who kicked about doubling the
At Junction City Skeevers went into the office for
orders, and asked Davidson to "make a switch" for him.
The crew got him into a cut-off with forty red lights in
sight, all of them made signals at once, both ponies
whistled at him, the check stuck up, and he burnt his
hand all at once - and backed off a switch to boot.
He was down with his lantern looking at his "luck," all
the switchmen were cursing the air blue, and the "618"
was blowing off wildly when the conductor came down with
an order for him to run engine "618" into the terminal,
as Skeevers was wanted to run Carlton's engine west;
Carlton was sick.
Davidson's heart was faint when he thought of the
eighteen miles of down hill ahead of him, and that pesky
automatic that he knew so well how to tell others to use,
but could not seem to show the how very successfully;
besides that the "618" was off the track.
He was more at home getting her on than running her. He
looked her over carefully and yelled up to Pete to bring
"We ha'nt got no blockin'."
"Well, get out the jacks."
"They've all been took off, sorr."
"Say, neighbor," said the conductor, "do you think we've
got time to raise this engine up on jacks. She's blockin'
the main line. Git up there, Pete, and when I say 'when'
give her the tit."
He ran around the engine, threw in a couple of links
here and there, a piece of wood or so and - said the
Pete pulled her open; there was a great fuss and wiggle
and slip and shake - but she got on all 0.K.
"That's the way to do business - on the road," said the
They got home at last. Davidson sent word to the
roundhouse that he wasn't able to come down, and went to
bed, but he asked that the "618" lay in and have work
already reported done.
The next day as Skeevers was packing the throttle a
helper, working on the rods, struck Davidson for a job of
"You're a fool, young feller," said Davidson, "why don't
you finish your trade?"
"The firemen make more money than most of the machinists
do. I've worked three years at it now, and that ought to
help me about gettin' promoted."
"Well, they earn it. Why, confound it, man, they don't
eat regular, nor sleep any to mention; and as for your
machinist experience helpin' you, why, it ain't worth a
damn. They ain't supposed to repair engines on the road,
and any fireman on the division can give me points about
fixing up a breakdown. Running an engine is a separate
trade, sir, a separate business. An engineer don't know
much about putting in springs and facing valves; but
don't think he don't know nothin'. There's just as much
difference between the machinist trade and engine-running
as there is between diamond-cutting and sausage-stuffing.
Why, I wouldn't run the best engine this company's got
for fifty dollars a day. It takes a different kind of a
man from me, or you either. You go on and line them
guides, and thank the Lord you ain't gettin' four dollars
a day on an engine, and earning twelve."