Tag Archives: Engineer

Prelude to the Observation Car

“Where’s Timmy?” Donna inquired, sitting in Theodora’s bedroom suite on the train.

Theodora made eye contact with the movie studio liaison; originally Donna was hired to keep her in check but in the meantime, they had become friends and really there was no need, Theodora knew how to walk the walk and talk the talk. “Reba has him in her compartment, he’s playing with his trains. Timmy brought his wind-up engine, freight cars and track in a separate suitcase. I swear he would take the trains to bed with him if I would let him.”

“I’m keen-bean that you brought Reba along, she’s been a big help in minding Timmy while you deal with the press and, I must say, your stardom.”

Theodora laughed at Donna’s slang. “Reba loves him. She doesn’t know if she will ever have children. She and Harvey keep trying, they are spending money they don’t have to visit specialists, no luck. When she minds Timmy, I get a break and she gets to be around a child she always wanted. Luckily, I have the money to be able to hire her, it’s good for both of us.” Theodora took several deep breaths.

“What’s the matter Teddy?” Donna spoke tenderly with concern in her voice.

“It’s Gerald. He isn’t sleeping with me.”

“Yikes! It’s a big compartment, where does he sleep, in the trundle?”

“Hilarious. You know Gerald must be sleeping with Clark. I am only a convenience, to lend the allusion of propriety. I stay with him because there is so much potential in this new movie role.

“But I don’t want Timmy to grow up around these show people, especially now that there are producers who insist actresses audition nude for ‘Boudoir scenes.’ I want him to lead a real man’s life, a spiritual life, with a regular job and then marry the right girl. He loves trains and the railroad. If he wants to be a railroad engineer, then that’s what I want for him.”

“What if he wants to become an artist or a writer? Surely you wouldn’t object.”

“Oh please, not the artistic world, I am learning to hate it.”

“What are you saying? You made a fortune in the movies and the money is good for the both of you, especially Timmy. You’ll be able to afford a great education for him at a private school, which would also get him away from your work.”

“I won’t send him away to boarding school. When this film is done, I’ll take time off  and live with Timmy some place honest and good, maybe farm country. Or get a ranch, a place where I can work outside in the fresh air and get dirty.” Theodora’s large brown eyes filled with tears, “Not the filth of my past.”

“Teddy?” Donna’s eyes opened wide.

“My past is a well-kept secret,” Theodora adjusted her thick, curly, shoulder-length auburn hair. “A year out of high school, Raymond Anderson discovered me and got me into films. Raymond and his wife Louise, took me off the street and gave me a head start. I owe them a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. They were the perfect couple, kind and generous, perfect role models. My secret died with them in the airplane crash a few years ago.”

“Are you sure you want me to know?” Donna asked holding her hand to cover her mouth, as if to keep anyone from hearing.

Theodora dismissed her question with what Donna referred to as the ‘Queen’s wave.’ “Do you know why I picked Theodora as my screen name?”

“Theodora!” Donna exclaimed. “Movie-goers love it and everyone at the studio thinks it’s a great selling point, ‘Theodora, Theodora,’ they say. You are in all the headlines as Theodora, I just thought it was your given name. Come to think of it, you don’t ever use your surname. Why? I only know you as Theodora or now that we are close, as Teddy.”

Adjusting her already correct posture, Theodora explained, “I don’t know my father’s identity. For that matter, I never knew my mother, she died an alcoholic’s death shortly after my birth. I was raised by my aunt, a good woman, but she didn’t know how to care for me. Not her fault, I was trouble from the beginning. I don’t belong here in this world, something went wrong, very wrong. My aunt made up my surname for the birth certificate. The doctor knew something wasn’t right but she told him my father was killed in a construction accident. Davis, yes Davis, forged in deceiving black ink onto my birth records. My given name is Madeline, Madeline Davis, nice isn’t it?”

Theodora lifted her chin, a picture perfect pose. “My uncle used me. He started on me early; my aunt didn’t know. When my uncle found me alone, he would come after me. While he held me down, he whispered that what we did together was real love. But my soul knew differently. I would go to another place; I just left my body to him and entered a dream world where I became a beautiful and loving princess. Then when my periods started, he finally left me alone, but there was no love, never was.”

Donna intentionally kept quiet, listening and watching this 25 year old star revert back to a habit she only did in private, raising her left hand to her beautiful face and using the back of her fingers to brush lightly along her cheek.

“I was troubled all through school,” Theodora said. “A devil on my shoulder made me flirt with all the boys, I couldn’t get enough attention and earned the nickname, `Slutty.’ ‘Hey slutty, whatcha’ doing tonight?’ None of those boys ever stuck around and the good girls ignored me.

“History class was my lifeline and where I first learned about ‘Theodora and Justinian,’ lovers on a grand scale. After class, I would go to the library and look up everything I could find about them. She was a stagehand who ascended first to the stage and then as a courtesan, known as ‘the dregs of the army.’ The original Theodora had unbounded sexual energy, then unaccountably, she changed and settled into a modest house near the emperor’s palace and made her living spinning wool. Justinian saw her, she was very beautiful, young and intelligent, he fell in love with her. He used all his royal powers to have her become his wife and had her crowned, `Augusta.’ They shared Imperial power; I wanted to be her, so I took her given name.”

“Oh, bananas Teddy! I won’t say doodly-squat but it’s difficult to keep a juicy secret in Hollywood.”

It was as if Theodora never heard her. “After high school I did menial labor at a hotel in Los Angeles,” she continued. “I took on paying men, married men, almost every night. They knew if they revealed my secret I would get even, I had too much on them, all the dirty little secrets, the petty jealousies.

“Then, I had three men in the same night, all of them together with me in the same room. They said they were starting a new kind of film industry – Adult Art Film’s. I would become a star. The movies would be sensual and artistically done. I bought into their idea and that night was to be an audition. Instead, they filmed as they raped and beat me, took my money and left me there alone, crying in my own blood.

“That’s when I changed, instantly overnight, a divine intervention; I was not going back to that old life. By then I was 18 and had worked my way up at the hotel, and Raymond encouraged me to audition for a part in a movie he was producing, a musical. He needed a wholesome looking girl, I was good at it. Raymond offered me more parts, then as if in a dream, I became Theodora, Theodora the movie star.”

However, when she was 20, Theodora had a brief relapse and got pregnant; Raymond and his wife Louise gave her an ultimatum: amend her ways or the studio would drop her. “One last chance at respectability. I grew up instantly knowing I could never forgive myself if I let them down again.”

Theodora confronted the man she suspected was Timmy’s father, to no avail. “Raymond and Louise made sure the sensationalism of my being an unwed mother didn’t get out of hand with the tabloids. Funny, in a way it was good for my career, other women in the same situations wanted to know more about me and began to flock to the movies that I had roles in.”

Hoopin’ and hollerin’ sounds drifted in from the nearby parlor, “I don’t want Timmy to find out about my past. I have got to find a way of protecting him.”

“Teddy, do you have a plan? How will you break with Gerald? It’ll be all over the newspapers.”

“I don’t care, neither will Gerald, he’ll be glad to be rid of me, I’m just excess baggage now. After the last film, he made a great deal of money and this one looks like it will be even bigger. He wants to take his money and move overseas, he says European’s will be more understanding of his lifestyle.”

Donna shifted gears and told Theodora that following shooting the remainder of their current musical in Chicago, the studio and the railroad were going to film a commercial about the advantage of train travel across the country versus the airlines. ‘The Modern World of Train Travel,’ would feature one of the new diesel engines on the `Super Chief` as it departs for Los Angeles. “The studio wants to feature you and Timmy as well as an engineer.”

“I wonder,” Theodora smiled, “maybe the same engineer Timmy and I saw a few months ago in Lamy?”

“Uh, oh Teddy, do I see a gleam in your eye?”

“I have a soft spot for fatherly men,” Theodora leaned forward. “And Donna, when I looked into the cab of that engine in Lamy, I could have sworn I saw a real angel. Timmy too because he said, ‘Mommy, an angel just winked at me!’ I think it was a sign.”

“Time to head for the observation car and get lunch,” Donna shook her head, motioning towards the door. “I’ll check on Timmy and Reba, you go ahead and find a place for us. At least you can have some time to dream, watch the miles go by and hope for a better destination.”

`Bucky?`

The Engineer

I caught sight of Angel as she stepped out of the doorway of the crew shack. She was immaculately attired in her very clean, newly pressed overalls. She had on a red engineers cap emblazoned with yellow polka-dots, but on closer inspection, were actually embroidered little yellow hearts. Her red bandanna loosely hung around her neck and over the bib of her overalls. Freshly shined brown work boots finished off her ensemble.

She headed straight down the side of the roadbed which, leading down from the coaling facilities, was always dirty with unburned coal and clinkers left from hurriedly cleaned fire boxes. There were also large puddles of oil and standing water from the overflow of the tenders when they were carelessly filled. It amazed me she was able to stay so clean – Jiminy Cricket! she fired a steam locomotive – but she did, and now I knew the secret: Angel levitated over all of the mess, without stepping in any of it because, after all, she is an angel.

This would be our last trip together in this locomotive 3751. Soon I would be in command of one of the brand-new diesel ‘E’ units, which would be on the front end of all the ATSF Super Chief passenger trains. I was blessed to have her as my fireman through the years of steam, now she would join me operating the new wave of railroading.

She came alongside of the cab without looking up to acknowledge me. I saw directly down on her delightful head and shoulders, the same parts of her body I was recently caressing while we lay in bed. She was singing a little tune, oblivious of my presence above her in the cab window.

At the rear of the cab, she turned and mounted the ladder up to the footplate between the cab and the tender. Swinging herself in and around the back wall of the cab, she stepped to my side and holding my head in her gloved hands she sang a little verse, “Whatcha got cookin’ good lookin’?”

“Wow,” I proclaimed. “You could make a hit song out of those lyrics.”

“Maybe I will when you retire in a few years.”

“The Hosteler left us here on the `Ready Track,` they didn’t have the room down near the station. When I got the briefing and manifest, I saw that it’s a really long train this morning. In a few minutes, we’ll have to back down and couple on,” I said staring out the cab window trying to mask my thoughts of the ‘human’ women I wished were in my life.

“Not only long,” she replied. “Heavy too, there are several sleepers, and three baggage cars, not to mention the additional REA cars up front. I hear there’s a film crew from Los Angeles, they are going to film a movie in Chicago, a musical about the old prohibition days. She’s the star.”

“You mean the starlet with the little boy, the one we saw a few months ago? Is she on the train?”

“Yep, in the last car, the vista dome observation with the VIP suite and she’s with that big-time movie producer the tabloids are making all the fuss about.”

“How do you know these things?”

Angel

“I know them, that’s all, I just know things. Her little boy wants to see the engine again, they will probably stop by at Lamy.” I could see the excitement and the confusion in his eyes. He so wanted to see that woman again. I could almost tell he was rising up.

“Well, let’s drift on down then,” he said.

“Okay baby, I’ll get up some steam and straighten out that fire. Doesn’t anyone know how to lay a good fire anymore? By the way you were in pretty good form last night. Do you like that trick I showed you?”

“Oh, be quiet. I can’t think straight after a night like that, I think there is a rule against it – eight hours from body to throttle!”

I raked the fire and started the stoker, so I could throw coal way back into the corners. The pressure came up, I sensed a good healthy fire going.

I saw him turn on the tender backup light and start the bell ringing. He turned and faced backward out the cab window. Releasing the engine brake, he moved the power reverse lever to reverse position. There was a hiss of steam from the mechanism. Without looking he reached behind him and found the throttle; cracking it open slightly we moved slowly, drifting back down the track to the waiting train.

He knew automatically where the rear of the tender was, it was a very big tender. He told me once he counted the railroad ties below the cab as a way of judging the distance. The train supervisor had positioned a man at the head of the REA car where we coupled on and with hand signals, he was able to show how far the couplers of the car and tender were apart.

Slowing the engine to a crawl the inches went by, without the slightest bump the couplers came together and latched solidly into each other. The train supervisor gave the sign to pull ahead and test the security of the connection.

He moved the reverse lever, it was just enough to allow the engine to pull forward and take the slack out of the connection. A sign was given, one of the workmen attached the air hoses from the tender to the train line. With that sign for the brake test, my engineer let air into the train line while carefully taking up the slack in the train.

It was done, all done, we were now one big long train. Other than the crew, no one else would have noticed the ballet that was going on to make us one.

I noticed he took the same care in his lovemaking. Carefully attending to all the little details. It gave me the shivers to see the dance unfold once again, this time with a behemoth passenger train but somehow, all the same, all about caring.

We sat there listening to the hiss of the escaping steam from all the various mechanisms that allowed an engine like this to function as a unit.

I stepped up beside him and cupped my arms around his shoulders.

“Did you see her this weekend? The widow at the Grange Hall?”

“Yes, I went to the Grange for the roast beef dinner, she was there. I sat across from her.”

“And, and then what?” I asked with great anticipation. Never in my dreams would I have believed he would make the first move.

“I said hi,” he replied rather pensively. “Do you think I started the conversation off okay? I mean, I didn’t know what else to say.”

“You did fine, yes, terrific, a very honest way to start a conversation. What did she say?”

“She said, ‘You must be a little lonely with Claire being gone. Why don’t you come over to my place this Sunday at noon? I can bake an apple pie, we can have pie and ice cream. I mean if you’re free and all. I mean, I don’t know what I mean except I would like that.’ Yes, I would like it too and hoped that she wouldn’t see me blushing, I could hardly speak my legs went numb.”

“And then, then what happened?” I asked over and over again.

“Then! Then! Bucky Armbruster busted in and plopped down right beside her and started telling her how much money he made at The Chicago Mercantile Exchange, trading butter futures last week.”

“Ah, oh,” I hope the widow wasn’t going to fall for all that money. I couldn’t help it, I just blurted out, “You mean the Bucky Armbruster, Robert Wayne Buckwalter Armbruster the third? Do you know him? Personally?”

“Cut it out,” he said in an irritated voice. “I’ve known him since grade school, that big overgrown lout. There’s nothing special about him, we all put our pants on the same way.”

“Well maybe not all you men put your pants on the same way.”

“What?” He was getting more irritated as the conversation wore on.

“I am just foolin’ with you Honey Bun. Remember what happened this morning? You got flustered and put your shorts on backwards!” Hoping to change the subject from this morning’s romp, I asked, “What went on at the table after Bucky arrived?”

“Bucky started telling stories about how his businesses were so successful. Just talking out loud to the table in general. All the people at our end of the Grange Hall could hear him. Not only was he loud, he’s fat. You should see his gut hanging over that five-inch belt buckle, I thought his chair would collapse from under him.”

“You’re not jealous, about the money?” I asked demurely, trying not to laugh out loud at the description of Bucky my man was giving me.

He sighed, “No, I know what I am up against. I’m getting older and a good woman is going to need some other man, younger, with a future, not just a pension.”

I felt him slump down in his seat, as if he was succumbing to the weight of the world around him.

“How did the meal go afterwards?”

“During the time that Bucky was spouting off, the widow glanced at me and said in a low voice, ‘I hate to leave you with that oaf, but I have the ladies quilting bee in a few minutes. You just never mind about him and come over on Sunday for that apple pie, we can have a good laugh.’ Then she patted the top of my hand and I nearly fell apart, you know, from the strain of losing Claire, and the possibility of a new relationship. I’m so grateful I have you, Angel, I don’t know what I would do without your direction.”

We sat there, just sat, while he regained his composure.

“It’s getting to be time to go.”

I turned and took my seat on the fireman’s side.

“All aboard. All aboard,” I heard the call and checked the steam pressure: 230 pounds with plenty of water.

He gave two blasts on the whistle and we moved with great precision out of the station.

Since we were underway, I made up my mind to sit in the spare seat behind him and just hold his hand and I pondered, if you have ever wondered why steam engine whistles seem so forlorn, it is because of all the loves gained and lost while working on the railroad.