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Train Delays - Sullivan's Lesson -
How to Cure the Trouble on Freight and Passenger Trains -
The Grief Committee.

Sullivan, the general superintendent, always delighted in rawhiding Massey, and he commenced on Skeevers before that worthy had gotten his seat warm.

The Air Line has been notorious for train delays - freight and varnished cars alike - and Sullivan seemed to take a savage delight in writing and telegraphing the mechanical department, asking what was the matter with this engine or that, and carrying his complaint to the Old Man.

Skeevers made up his mind to give Sullivan an object lesson.

Sullivan told the general manager that he (Sullivan) would spring an object lesson on Skeevers at the first "council of war."

This "council of war," as he was pleased to call it, was a new idea of the general manager's. He had noticed the custom of having all the master mechanics meet, that Skeevers introduced, and proposed that all heads of departments should meet monthly in his office. The first meeting was set for a certain Saturday three weeks away.

Now, the old time-keeper in Skeevers' office owned a pretty daughter, and a clerk in Sullivan's office was young.

He also knew the girl.

Visiting with his prospective "poppa" one evening, he remarked that "His Highness" was working up some new scheme, and proceeded to explain that Sullivan was having a tabulated report gotten up of the passenger-train delays for six months and the cause. As the cause was taken only from the conductors' reports, there was a woeful lot of "low steam," "hot box on engine," "lost time, account of wind," and "bad coal." Both men wondered what he was going to do with it.

The elder man told Skeevers in the morning - and Skeevers knew.

The general manager's car was in for repairs, and Skeevers took the Boyer speed recorder off it, and had it put on Dick Murray's engine, boxed over, and put the key in his pocket. Murray was sent for and told to keep still and saw wood. He was not supposed to know what was in the box; if asked, to say that Mr. Skeevers told him that he was getting ready to indicate the engine - which was true.

Dick Murray's engine is double-crewed, on a local passenger train, over two divisions.

Then Skeevers had some slips printed, with a list of the stations on the road, with room enough between the names to write a line, and sent for every passenger engineer on the division. He also sent a supply of the slips to each division master mechanic, with instructions.

The result was that the evening before the date of the "council of war," Skeevers had a complete record of every delay to a passenger train on the whole road. He knew between what stations time was lost, at what stations, and just how many minutes and seconds could be properly charged up. This information was in the shape of many thumb-marked slips; but Skeevers got his best clerk up to the house that evening, and they tabulated the whole thing, and he had it in his breast pocket when he shook hands all around in the Old Man's office.

"Gentlemen," said the Old Man, opening a box of domestic cigars and placing them on the table, "this is an informal meeting. I desire that each and all of you will talk freely here on everything that has any bearing on the operating of the road. Suggestions are in order. Complaints can be made and remedies will be discussed. If there is any friction between department heads, here is the place to apply the grease. I shall refrain from saying much - suppose I act as judge. If there is any man present who thinks he has a plan for saving a dollar, or improving the service, we will discuss it. Sullivan, here, always has a suggestion; Doris is a kicker; O'Hara's pet grievance is over-worn tires on frogs, and Skeevers' hobby is object lessons. Gentlemen, I'm listening to you."

For about two minutes after the Old Man sat down there was a very embarrassing silence, and then General Superintendent Sullivan arose and pulled out a formidable-looking table, full of figures, red and blue lines and an array of totals.

"Your Honor and Gentlemen of the Jury," began Sullivan, who is a taking kind of fellow, "I hardly expected to assume the role of attorney for the prosecution, but it seems as though that honor should be mine.

"Gentlemen, I ask you what is the one bad thing our road is noted for above another? If we were asked to name it, is there one of you who would venture to dispute me if I declared it was delays to passenger trains? We seem to be more unfortunate in this matter than neighboring roads; the newspapers are pounding us, the general manager making personal inquiries, and delays are getting no better.

"Going into details proves something, and I propose putting before you a mass of statistics, compiled from the official reports in my office, that shows the number, extent and cause of all delays to passenger trains for every day of the past year.

"Before going into details I will simply quote you the totals, to show to what extent the delayed-train business has reached and the percentage of each known cause of delay.

"I find that of 9,388 passenger-train trips made during the year, 4,931 trains arrived at destination or connecting train points late. If an outsider should declare of us that more than half our trains late We should resent it, but it's a fact, nevertheless.

"Investigating further, I find that there are five legitimate causes of delay, namely:

"Defects of equipment;

"Motive-power failures;

"Hot boxes on trains;

"Operating faults;

"The elements.

"The total delays for the first only amount to the small sum of 3 per cent., which, I think you will all agree with me in saying, reflects great credit on our general manager" - and the taffyer bowed low to the judge.

"Operating failures - delays in dispatching, etc. - 5 per cent. The elements - wind, snows, wash-outs, etc. 9 per cent. Hot boxes on trains, 14 per cent. Motive-power failures, 69 per cent.

"Gentlemen of the Jury: I leave the case in your hands; each of you can now see the amount of total delay and what part of it comes under your jurisdiction.

I think, if it were not for stealing the thunder of my friend Skeevers, I should be strongly tempted to call this an object lesson." And with a smile of triumph, "Himself" sat down, while the train-master and the purchasing agent clapped their hands.

Slowly the Old Man rose to his "pins," looked around the circle, took his cigar out of his mouth, and said:

"Gentlemen, this is the one sore place in my life, and Sullivan has tore the scab off. I think he has done a good thing in compiling this information. It's a basis to work on. In other days I should have abused Massey and threatened to discharge him; but now we have a new head to the offending department, and I shall certainly expect a reform in it-in fact, I believe I shall demand it. But - well, there is one thing more to be done before I get too angry, and that is to hear from Mr. Skeevers. Maybe he's got an object lesson bigger than this one up his sleeve - but, of course, a man who comes prepared for battle is twice armed. Mr. Skeevers, it looks as if the burden of proofs lay with the attorney for the defence, and you seem to be that attorney."

Skeevers stepped over to his overcoat, fished up his package of slips and his balance sheet and laid them on the table.

"If it please the court," he began, gravely: "It seems a good business policy when you bring in your bank book from balancing to produce the vouchers.

"I take exception, your honor, to your allowing the attorney for the prosecution to bring charges against an officer for the shortcomings of his predecessor in office.

"These statistics extend back a year. I claim an alibi for my client, the superintendent of motive power, and stand ready for trial on any charges that may be made against him during his term of office."

"Quite correct," said the judge, with a merry look in his eye, for he knew that Skeevers was loaded.

"Statements based on last year are too far away to be a good basis for instituting reforms, but last month would be of use. The learned counsel for the transportation department states that he has a detailed record there of every day."

"I have," broke in Sullivan.

"Very well," said Skeevers. "Let me ask from what source this information was obtained?"

"From the conductors' reports made at the time."

"If the learned counsel for the other side had lived and worked with conductors as long as I have, he would not so freely take their simple word on so important a matter. Men whose excuse for a delay can be shifted from their own shoulders to some inanimate thing, like a hot box, or a bad coal pile, can hardly be expected to protect the coal or the hot box.

"But generalities prove nothing specific. You can't charge a man with being a thief and send him up without proving a specific case. You have got to point out at least one actual theft. Now, with the permission of the court, I will state that I have some evidence to offer - irrefutable evidence.

"For nearly a month past I have had a Boyer recorder on '7' and '8,' from this end of the road to the other; the sheets are here, and have no interest on earth but to tell the cold, naked truth. Further, I had printed and put into the hands of every passenger engineer on this road a slip like this" - holding one up - "with a list of the stations. These slips are dated, and state number of train and engine, and give the names of crew; and each engineer has marked down at the time and place - not the end of the run - just what time was lost between stations, and at stations, with the cause.

"With this data, your honor, I hope to at least explain some of these delays; and now, going into details, I should like to cross-examine a little, and would ask the last witness and lawyer combined to please state to the court how much late No.8 arrived, say, last Saturday?"

Sullivan ran his finger along a line on his chart, and then followed down a red line. Skeevers stretched a long recorder sheet across the table and sorted out a slip.

"Twenty-one minutes," said Sullivan.

"What caused this delay, according to your information?"

Again Sullivan consulted his chart, and looked up a bundle of reports in a file.

"Lost seven minutes at Holdin, cleaning fire and taking water; twelve minutes at Carey's, hot box on train; eight minutes at Midland crossing, brakes stuck - twenty-seven in all; made up six."

"If it please the court," said Skeevers, "I should like to call attention to the fact that seven minutes' delay at Holdin is a remarkable record for celerity. No through train - no matter how light or fast - ever stopped at Holdin and got away in less than six minutes, and ten is a fair average. The cause of this is three-fold, and I will leave it to you whether or no any of them should be charged to the motive-power department. In the first place, no train can pass there without water; the tank is located in the yard, making it necessary to make a special stop for it. This takes three to five minutes. This delay to every train should be charged to bad equipment; water plugs should be placed at the station, so that trains in either direction could take water at the station stop. In the second place, it is a register station. In the third place, it is a big town, and there is lots of baggage and express to unload. In the fourth place, there is no cinder pit going west, making fire-cleaning hard. In the fifth place, the head of our operating department seems to understand nothing of the cause and necessity for all this time at Holdin, and makes out his time-card with leaving time only. Between Taylor's and Meadows, a suburb of Holdin, going west, a distance of 10 3/10 miles, the time of express trains is a little over 28 miles per hour; it's down hill on straight track - have to kill time daily - there is no dead time at Holdin, and the time from there to Parkland, west, on a grade of 64 feet per mile, is 30 1/2 miles per hour. This delay to every train is directly chargeable to bad equipment at station and want of judgment in making time-card. Good judgment in the latter could be made to remedy the fault of the other, in a large measure.

"Now, then, to proceed. The other side report a delay of twelve minutes at Carey's - a little town of fifty inhabitants - cause, hot box on train. Gentlemen, the speed recorder says that this train stood at Carey's sixteen minutes, and the engineer's slip says: 'Sixteen minutes at Carey's; conductor went over to store and bought two sacks of potatoes and a tub of butter; had them carried over to the baggage car, and asked me to make up the time, as they were for Mr. Sullivan.' Evidently, the report of 'hot box' is a plain lie. This can be charged in the liar column, or against the operating department, or the culinary department, or any place it may please the court - except against the fellow who made up some of the time."

The Old Man looked so hard at Sullivar that his cigar went out.

"'Eight minutes at Midland crossing, brakes stuck.' Your honor, the honest recorder says that the stop at Midland crossing occupied only a fraction of a minute - just a full stop and no more. I would ask the court who lies - the Boyer or the conductor?"

"The conductor!" said the Old Man.

"Yet," continued Skeevers, "here is a nine-minute stop half a mile west of the crossing. Let us see what the engineer says," and he picked up one of the thumb-marked slips:

"'Conductor pulled on brake to put off tramp; didn't know enough to close closet valve (kind without spring); had to bleed off brakes.'

"This should be charged to faults of operating. Probably it would be a good thing to send for the Westinghouse instruction car, or the fool-killer.

"Now," continued Skeevers, calmly, "take our Atlantic express - makes the fastest time, the most connections, and loses the most time. Will the judge please mention any date, and we will compare data?"

"Try the 13th."

"That's unlucky," said Sullivan. "But let's see; 13th. 'Arrived six minutes late; engine not steaming.'"

Skeevers hunted up his slip.

"'Lost six minutes on running time. Cause - Picked up officers' car 101 at Holdin, making eleven, six sleepers; left Holdin three minutes late; lost three on hill.'

"Here is another case of operating," said Skeevers. "The general superintendent stops our most important train, already too heavy, to put on' his private car, to come 47 miles on the heaviest grade we have; when, by waiting sixteen minutes, he could have come in on the Granger local, a three-car train, arriving home only thirty minutes behind the express. Will you charge that to engine failures?"

The judge bit the end off his cigar, made a memorandum in his note-book, but didn't say anything.

"What about No.3, yesterday?" asked Sullivan.

"What does your conductor say?"

"Eighteen minutes; engine not steaming."

Again Skeevers hunted up a slip and read: " 'Arrived eighteen minutes late; lost four minutes on Hardscrabble Hill on account of leaky flues and bad coal; fifteen minutes at Coolredge, waiting for two freights to saw by - two fifty-car trains east ordered to meet double-header west; siding wouldn't hold; down trains couldn't back up.' I dislike very much to say anything to show that the coal-dust and snow now furnished, and called 'fuel,' is not bad - for it is - but here is a case of fool dispatching. Coolredge holds twenty-one cars; a twenty-eight-car double-header is ordered there, against two fifty-car sections on down grade, for a meeting and passing point for No.3. Time could have been saved by letting No.3 meet the up freight at Downs and passing both sections there, or of holding the two extras at the junction for the up freight - they were ore or company coal loads. Will you charge this 'all to failures of motive power?"

The old man made another note.

"'What about No. 9'S engine, last Monday?" asked Mr. Sullivan.

"That was a failure of the motive power - a main crank pin broke. Some of Mr. Shaver's special brand of steel - cost the company a cent and an eighth less than the steel I ordered, but this one accident cost more than all the new crank pins put in in ten years - and besides, we haven't settled with Robert's widow yet."

The judge made another note.

"Your honor," said Skeevers, bowing, "I leave this specific case in the hands of the Court and jury. I confess that I find in these slips, made out by my orders, many delays for causes directly chargeable to the motive-power department. I should like to call your attention to one important point Mr. Sullivan has entirely overlooked, and that is the fact that we have not had a hot box on a passenger-engine truck, tank or on any coaches in the past three weeks. I have put good lead-lined brasses under them all. When I get the mail and express cars fixed, we will be pretty free from that, if decent oil is furnished. Mr. Shaver's patent cheap brasses may do for freight cars that are too old for service, but we don't want 'em to run. I am after our men about hot boxes.

"There is a world of trouble ahead for us on account of bad material put into boilers, but we will have to shoulder that.

"Delays to passenger trains on this road is a scandal, and the whole truth is not told, even in papers that are agin' us; and I, for one, shall labor to reduce them - not to see how much I can make someone else reduce them. I am going after every cause of delay in my department and hunt it down, and I hope all the others will do the same. I shall suggest that the simple word of men at the end of trips shall not be asked about delays. Conductors will lie, and I have known engineers to handle the truth carelessly. Why not provide our engines with recorders? The record sheet tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and will compel others interested to tell the truth with it; and what we want is the truth.

"Mr. Sullivan is right in taking the matter up; his evidence is hearsay evidence, but it's the kind he has been used to. If we start to stop these delays on his information table, we start wrong. We want to give the medicine only to the sick men.

"With recorders on the engines, we can find the truth; then we can treat every missed connection and late train as an accident, and call for a report as such, and find the real cause of delay; then we can put the plaster on the sore place. I venture to say the motive power will have to bear its share, but it won't be lonesome.

"If everyone of us tries, he can do something to make it easier to get the trains through on time. Let's break up this Air Line habit of being everlastingly late. Suppose there is no precedent for coming in on time, day in and day out - let's make a precedent. Skeevers sat down and the Old Man got up, amid a profound silence.

"Gentlemen," said the general manager, "I second Mr. Skeevers' motion. Let's every one of us tackle his part of this problem and show some results at our next meeting. Mr. Shaver, order enough recorders for all our engines - no, let's see, as many as Skeevers wants. If at any time within a year it's proven in one of these experience meetings that all our passetiger trains have been on time for a month, I'll buy every mother's son of ye a suit of clothes; and if it ever gets so near millennium that all trains are on time for a month, I'll make it a house and lot, and drop dead into the bargain, and leave the job to Sullivan or Skeevers. Say! by George! how would it do to offer a prize to the engineer that brings his train in on time for thirty consecutive days?"

"Suppose you make it - unless delayed by causes beyond his control," said Skeevers.

"Oh, that would be too expensive."

"Well, outside of the motive-power department?"

"I'm afraid if you was the lawyer, Skeevers, that they'd rob the treasury and I'd have to fire Sullivan. You'd prove that the shadow of his car made the track greasy and that" -

His office boy brought the Old Man a message.

"What's this, what's this?" Putting on his "specs," he read aloud:

"'Engineers' Grievance Committee of the System respectfully ask that you name a day next week, preferably Tuesday or Wednesday, when they can meet you to talk over a matter of mutual interest.'

"'Grievance Committee.' Holy Moses! and me having to go East to-night. Say, this beats the devil. Say, Sullivan - no; you better 'tend to the conductors. Skeevers, what do these men want? I don't care what they want, they can't have it.

'Grievance Committee.' Say, Skeevers, you see these men and settle with them. I can't bear to rawhide with 'em; they get me crazy. What do you suppose they want, anyway?"

"Same old thing - overtime, hostlers at terminals, and so forth."

"Well, Skeevers, you see 'em; but be firm with 'em, Skeevers. Say I was called East, see? Say the finances of the road won't" -

"But, Mr. Wider, why not go to the root of the matter and settle it? They have seen you three times in a year, and you have been 'called' East twice; why not settle it?"

"That's the talk, Skeevers; 'settle it;' give 'em to understand that we can't afford to pay overtime. Why, Sullivan figured it up and it's a fortune, Skeevers, a fortune - and they are so demned unreasonable. But you can do it, Skeevers; give 'em one of your object lessons and show 'em - but how can you satisfy 'em? that's the point."

"If you leave it to me, I'll satisfy them, and save the company paying overtime to amount to 1 per cent. of the engineers' pay-roll."

"Say, Skeevers, do you want my job? No? Well, whisper; how will you do it?"

"Give 'em the overtime they ask!"

"The dev - ! Say, but you said no."

"Then I'd stop the cause of overtime, and - presto, change! - there you are."

"Well, explain; I suppose it's another object lesson."

"Mr. Wider, there is not an engineer or fireman on this road that wants to earn a cent laying on sidings; but they do want pay when they are obliged to lay there. Pay them; then get after the causes of delays; stop this 'kid' train dispatching, and get some railroad men there. Stop this mahogany-desk train rating, and make your train-masters use a little sense and consult the weather a little in rating train-loads. Kill off some of these yardmasters who block yards so that trains can't get in. Lay off a few roadmasters who allow section men to take up rails on the time of regular trains. Stop this everlasting flagging of work trains against regulars. Hunt the heads of departments and bear down on those who produce no results, and in a few months you will have the trains coming in before the first hour of delay, which belongs to the company, is up. The men need rest, we want them to get over the road; nothing on a railroad earns a cent except the car-wheels - and then only when in motion. Move 'em!"

"Skeevers, I'll stay and see the boys myself - but you be there. You don't happen to have a twin brother just like yourself? No? I thought not; cusses like you come only one in a box - and there ain't but one box."

The assembled men felt rather out of the conversation, and commenced to look at their watches and coats. The Old Man noticed this and dismissed them.

"Gentlemen of the jury," said he: "You couldn't have found any other verdict. You are all guilty! Go home and think, think hard, and don't dare to think what anyone else might or ought to do. Just think what you can do to relieve the situation, and one month from to-day meet me here and let me know just what you have done - not what you are going to do, but net! Good-night!"

As the Old Man and the vice-president went down the stairs, the general manager asked: "What do you think of my man, Skeevers?"

"Appears to know what he's talking about; wouldn't be surprised if he was a rough diamond."

Rough diamond!' Why, sir, he's a regular diadem; yes, sir, a diadem, with Koorinoors and crown jewels and pearls and cut-glass and cats-eyes and whiskers on it. Why, sir, if I had a Skeevers at the head of every department of this road, I'd lay down four tracks of eighty-pound silver on rosewood ties inside of ten year! Yes, sir; and I'd equip it with nickel-plated '999's,' and I'd - well, say, I'd eat all the freight the Midland got to carry!"

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