The Super Chief
I got to the Dearborn station early before anyone connected with the filming arrived. The Santa Fe management had given me the time and a special pass allowing me to participate in the filming of a commercial featuring the advantages of train travel with the next generation of modern passenger cars and the diesel-powered engines.
The Santa Fe thought the combination of the brand-new lightweight Budd Corporation stainless-steel passenger cars and the powerful and clean General Motors EMD Corporation streamlined diesel engines would convince people to take the train and ride in unparalleled style and luxury of the new modern era of passenger train travel.
The Super Chief was an extra fare All Pullman Streamliner. Native American colors such as turquoise and copper were featured on the interior intertwined with striking exotic wood trim. The Super Chief’s classic ‘Warbonnet’ exterior design featured sweeping red and yellow lines against the stainless-steel background of the engine and cars. Additionally, the engine had a large dramatic Santa Fe herald emblazoned in wraparound fashion across its gracefully aero-dynamically slanted nose.
A large, lighted drumhead with the Santa Fe logo was affixed to the sweeping curve end of the observation car. The entire train was one brilliantly executed design of the age of modernism: A functional, rolling work of art.
I caught a ride in the cab of the terminal diesel switcher out to the ready track where 3751 sat simmering after being serviced from the Los Angeles run the day before. My train of the old-style heavyweight passenger cars had been cleaned and was coupled on behind the engine and tender. Right away I could see the stark contrast between my old train and the new modern passenger train fleet. My train seemed dated and old fashioned; and then I wondered – was I dated and old fashioned? What would be the ‘transportation of choice’ for the woman who was quickly stealing my heart, Theodora?
As I approached the slumbering engine, I never believed the company would invest so much money in making 3751 shine like new once again.
“I heard you,” Angel shouted over the roar of the conflagration in the firebox.
“I didn’t say it out loud,” I replied as I mounted the ladder to the vestibule of the cab.
“No matter, I could hear your thoughts. Yeah, they pulled out all the stops.”
I looked at Angel incredulously and hoped she didn’t know about the dream I had last night about Theodora sleeping in my arms.
“Yummy, Big Boy, maybe we can perform the same bed-tricks when this movie is through?”
“Good grief,” I replied, “is nothing sacred with you?”
“Only the stuff that happens between you and I. No one would believe that anyway, so I’m safe,” Angel retorted.
She was right, what went on between Angel and I would always remain our secret.
“I see you have the train orders Mr. Engineer, my movie star, mister engineer movie star. I don’t want you sharing your body with any other women until this movie is over, it’s too important for you and the railroad. Besides you have your widow, she would love to be in love, with a real movie star.”
Reality came down hard on me: I have a job, responsibilities to my company, my kids and the memories of my dear departed wife. And perhaps even the attention of a good practical woman who would share my retirement years.
I am just too conservative. However, the idea of being involved with a movie star, and having a boy to raise was very appealing. What-the-heck, other men I knew had women on the side, or much younger wives after their first mate’s passing. Why couldn’t I?
Angel shook her head, “Heartbreak Hotel!”
She was right, again. “Angel, I can’t find my way back from my past life and wife – farming part time, occasional train trips, locking ourselves in the bedroom when we needed private time and hearing the kids holler,`What’s bangin’ up against the wall?'” I moaned, “I want it all back.”
“Soon,” Angel said with conviction. “Let’s steam this loco up and move the train into position. The work will ease your mind for a while. Then, after, you can lay with me and we can make sense of it all.”
The train orders had us backing the empty old-style passenger cars into the station on Track One. Facing out on Track Two, I was to park 3751 next to a brand-new diesel engine: The future of modern train travel – powerful and economical, clean and able to travel long distances without service.
Contrasting the old steam-powered passenger train with the new modern diesel-powered train, the railroad hoped that the film would take ridership away from the increasing competition of the private automobile and the airlines.
The railroads marketing department told me Theodora had requested me to be the engineer on both locomotives; Theodora and Timmy would be the first passengers on the inaugural diesel run from Chicago to Los Angeles. The real life ‘Train of the Stars.’
There was little room to spare at the track ends. I had no doubt in my mind I would be able to ease the train into exactly the right spot and make sure both engines would be even with each other within inches. By design, the trains were set up to be the same length, give or take a foot.
I had to move forward on the ready-track and take the switches, which would place our train on Track One.
Angel had the steam pressure up to the required two hundred thirty pounds. We sat and waited for the track signal to turn green. Precisely at the stipulated time, we received the green signal light. I started the bell ringing and whistled the customary blast for a train moving forward, then released the brakes and applied steam. Our train moved slowly forward and we wound our way through the serpentine of the station-tracks until we were on Track One. I could see the conductor from my side. He gave us the hand signal indicating we had cleared the switches. I gave an acknowledging blast on the whistle. We stopped, waiting for the signal allowing us to back into the station.
Soon the conductor at the rear of the train gave us the go-ahead to reverse. I made the reverse whistle signal and started the reverse move. We drifted slowly backward into the station. I slowly applied engine brakes, allowing the passenger cars to stretch out the slack for a more comfortable jolt-free start when it came time to go. I set the train brakes and the engine brakes and gave one last long mournful whistle blast. Our train had stopped on Track One, perhaps for the last time.
We sat motionless, adjacent to Engine #11, the future of modern locomotives. The second generation of General Motors diesel streamliners consisted of 2 back to back engines, Units E1a and E1b, the latter without a cab. Combining the two engines created a powerful unit of 3600 continuous horsepower, sufficient to pull the Super Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles for the entire 1700 mile trip without fuel stops, a savings of time and money for passengers and the railroad.
On the platform, there was a stir of activity between the two trains. I rose from my seat, but not until once more making sure the train and engine brakes were firmly applied and the steam reverse gear was in neutral and the throttle closed. I walked back on the footplate and stood in the doorway of the cab between the engine and tender.
At that moment I saw her, Theodora, the woman of my dreams. A sharp pang of desire flooded my body and ended up squarely in my groin, an ever-insistent reminder that my interest in her had only begun.
“Be careful Big Boy, you are headed for one big heap of trouble,” my know-it-all wing mate said in an altogether too loud of a remark, which made me jolt out of my erotic dream. “Shape up, here comes the press.”
Following closely behind Theodora and her son was an entourage of people of various job descriptions: Donna, (Theodora’s confidant), Theodora’s agent, the movie producer, marketing people, attorney’s, and what I like to call ‘the hanger-on-ers.’ Behind them I recognized the president of the railroad and his staff, our marketing people, an army of attorney’s and the press. It was a tidal wave of folks, all with their fingers in the pie of me and my starlet’s life.
Just to make matters worse for my already fragile self-esteem, behind all of them was none other than Bucky Armbruster, holding the arm of the widow.
Angel let out a gasp, “Oh no!”
(To be continued….)