As Ned Newton, fumbling at the controls when he saw the fallen tree across the tracks, had jammed the brakes, the station master at Hammon, at the bottom of this long grade on the Hendrickton & Pas Alos, had stepped out to the blackboard in the barnlike waiting room and scrawled with a bit of chalk:
"No. 28 - Westbound - due 3:38 is is 15 m. late."
The fact, thus given to the general public or to such of it as might be interested, averted what would have been a terrible catastrophe.
The fast express was late. When the babbling voice of the Half Way operator over the telephone warned Hammon of the coming of the runaway electric locomotive, there was time to shift switches at the head of the yard so that, when Number Twenty-eight came roaring in, she was shunted on to a far track and flagged for a stop before she hit the bumper.
Thirty seconds later, from the west, the Hercules 0001 roared down the grade and shot into the cleared west track in a halo of smoke and dust. Speed! No runaway had ever traveled faster and kept the rails. The story of the incident was embalmed in railroad history, and no history is so full of vivid incident as that of the rail.
When the first relay of excited railroad men reached the electric locomotive after it had stopped on the long level, even Ned Newton had pulled himself together and could look out upon the world with some measure of calmness. Tom Swift was making certain notes and draughting a curious little diagram upon a page of his notebook.
"What happened to you, Mr. Swift?" was the demand of the first arrival.
"Oh, my foot slipped," said the young inventor, and they got nothing more out of him than that.
But to Ned, after the crowd had gone, the inventor said:
"Ned, my boy, they used to say that necessity was the mother of invention. Therefore a loaf of bread was considered the maternal parent of the locomotive. I've got one that will beat that."
"Whew!" gasped Ned. "How can you? I haven't got my breath back yet."
"It is peril that is the mother of invention," Tom went on, still jotting down his notes. "Believe me! that jolt gave me a new idea - an important idea. Suppose that operator at Half Way had been out back somewhere, and had not seen or heard us flash by?"
"Well, suppose he had? What's the answer?" sighed Ned.
"Like enough we would have rammed something down here."
"And I hardly understand even now why we didn't do just that," muttered his chum, with a shake of his head.
"Wake up, Ned! It's all over," laughed Tom. "While it was happening I admit I was guessing just as hard as you were about the finish. But - "
"Your recovery is better," grumbled his friend. "I'm scared yet."
"And it might happen again - "
"No - not - ever!" exclaimed Ned. "I shall never touch those controllers again. I'll drive your airscout, or your fastest automobile, or anything like that. But me and this electric locomotive have parted company for good. Yes, sir!"
"All right. It wasn't your fault. It might happen to any motor- engineer. And the very fact that it can happen has given me my idea. I tell you that danger is the mother of invention."
"As far as I am concerned, it can be father and grandparents into the bargain," Ned declared, with a smile.
"Wake up!" cried his friend again. "I have got a dandy idea. I wouldn't have missed that trip for anything
"You are crazy," interrupted Ned. "Suppose we had bumped something?"
"But we didn't bump anything, except my brain tank. An idea bumped it, I tell you. I am going to eliminate any such peril as that here-after."
"You mean you are going to make it impossible for this locomotive ever to slide down such a hill again if the brakes won't work? Humph! Meanwhile I will go out and make the nearest water-fall begin to run upward."
"Don't scoff. I do not mean just what you mean."
"I bet you don't!"
"But although I cannot be sure that a locomotive will never again fall downhill," said Tom patiently, "I'm going to fix it so that warning need not be given by some operator along the line. The engineer must be able to send warning of his accident, both up and down the road."
"Huh? How are you going to do that?" demanded Ned.
"Wireless telephone. I may make some improvements on the present models; but it is practicable. It has been used on submarines and cruisers, and lately its practicability has been proved in the forestry service.
"Every one of these electric locomotives I turn out will be supplied with wireless sets. The expense of making certain telegraph offices along the line into receiving stations will be small. I am going to take that up with Mr. Bartholomew at once. And I am going to fix these brake controls so that nobody need ball them up again."
If, out of such a desperate adventure, Tom could bring to fruition really worthwhile improvements in relation to his invention, Ned acknowledged the value of the incident. Just the same, he had a personal objection to having any part in a similar experience.
He was brave, but he could not forget danger. Tom seemed to throw the effect of that terrible ride off his mind almost instantly. Ned dreamed of it at night!
However, from that time things seemed to go with a rush. Mr. Bartholomew approved of the young inventor's suggestion regarding the use of the wireless telephone as a method of averting a certain quality of danger in the use of the proposed monster locomotive. The railroad man was convinced that Tom's ideas were finally to culminate in success, and he was ready to spend money, much money, in pushing on the work.
It was not long before a private test of the Hercules 0001 up the grade from Hammon to Cliff City showed Mr. Bartholomew that the speed he had required in his contract was attainable. With a drag fully as heavy as any two locomotives had been able to get over the same sector, the new locomotive alone marked a forty- five mile an hour pace.
This attainment was kept quiet; not even the train crew knew what the monster had done when they reached the summit of the mountain. But Mr. Bartholomew, who rode with Tom and Ned in the cab, had held his own watch on the test and compared it every minute with the speedometer.
"I am satisfied that you are going to do more than I had really hoped, Mr. Swift," the railroad president said at the end of the run. "Already you could drive this locomotive at a two-mile-a- minute clip on level rails, I am sure. Keep at it! Nobody will be more delighted than I shall be if you pull down that hundred thousand dollars' bonus."
"That's a fine way to talk, sir," cried Ned, with enthusiasm.
"I mean every word of it, Mr. Newton. The money is his as soon as he makes good."
Both Tom and his financial manager left the president's office in a satisfied state of mind.
"Great news to send home, Tom," remarked Ned, when they were alone.
"Righto, Ned. My father will be glad to hear it."
"And what about Mary?" And Ned poked his chum in the ribs.
"I guess she'll he glad too," Tom replied, his face reddening.
That night Tom sent word to Mary and also a telegram, in code, to his father, saying the prospects were now bright for a quick finish of the task that had brought him West.