Western Union The Pocket Watch

Glancing over, I saw that he reached into the top pocket of his overalls and produced a pocket watch, securely attached to a button hole in the bib of his overalls by a gold-toned copper alloy chain with a Masonic medallion on the end.

He consulted the time. “It’s three-o-two, we will leave in 8 minutes,” he proclaimed, still in the pensive mood he had been in all morning.

The watch was as large as pocket watches go, given to him by his father ten years ago as a gift when he was appointed a Railroad Engineer. He was the third family member to have the watch; in the late 1880’s, his grandfather the original owner. Now, both father figure’s were gone. His wife gone; his mother was ill; a great many losses for a man with time left.

Housed in a thick gold case engraved in relief, with a picture of a stag and doe emerging from the forest into the bright sunlight of a meadow, the watch was his pride and joy; within contained all the memories of what little senior family he had left.

The watch seemed to exist on its own, an individual entity, and would live on and go to others when he was gone. In this way the memories of his ‘tribe’ would be preserved. In a moment of intimacy between us, he had explained that in this life, he didn’t really ‘own’ anything, everything was ‘on loan’ to him, to be passed on to others when he made his final trip with me.

He turned and leaned out of the cab window, placing his full upper body weight onto his forearms, his right leg curled under him on the seat, his left leg out behind him braced by his foot on the back-head. He leaned out the window as far as he could, to get a clear view of the train behind him. His train, the train he commanded responsibly, as was his job.

Normally at this time his eyes would be on the senior conductor, waiting for the all-aboard signal, which would give him the go-ahead to leave the station.

I knew what was really on his mind. He was looking for her, the one who had captured his heart in an instant that afternoon here in Lamy, one month ago.

I studied him, he did not know how carefully I was considering him. His overalls were clean. His boots, although old, were kept in good shape by frequently replacing the soles and heels. He meticulously maintained the uppers, now partially hidden by the legs of his overalls fastened around the top of the boots by a leather garter, a fashion that would keep stray hot coals from getting inside his boots.

“Are we ready?” I questioned, knowing the answer full well. I had already topped off the boiler with water a few moments ago and the water had stopped flowing from the injector, leaving on my side of the roadbed only a steam-filled puddle.

The temperature and pressure in the boiler were back up to the levels I needed for a fast departure.

“All the conductors are standing in the vestibules and no one is left on the platform,” he said peaking around behind him. I could hear him over the thump, thump of the steam-powered air compressor and the whine of the generator on the boiler just outside the cab.

He consulted his watch again and compared his time with the master clock on the Western Union wall, scrupulously maintained by wire every hour. Time, which flowed through the wires hung on telegraph poles that lined the right-of-way. Time, which ultimately was regulated by the expansion of the universe, a recently considered wisdom by his contemporary, Albert Einstein.

Because once again, our country was growing quite fast, the Great Depression had come to an end, expansion was the order of the day. The telegraph poles supported more wires, sometimes as many as twenty pairs, all tied securely around the blue glass insulators on every cross arm.

Electrically transmitted information at the speed of light simultaneously streamed into every station in the country; a precursor of what was to come. Already telephone wires were strung along the same poles below the telegraph wires and would soon displace the mechanical telegraph communications with a human voice.

I heard the lead conductor’s voice ring out across the platform,“All aboard.”

My engineer turned and nodded to me.

I was ready.

He toggled the air valve to the engine bell, which rang out censoriously. He applied the sander, momentarily spraying sand onto the rails ahead of the locomotive wheels.

He reached up and pulled the whistle cord, two long blasts, which meant we were on our way.

“High Ball!” he stated loudly. “I’ve got the High Ball.” His voice was filled with emotion, I saw tears run down his cheeks; he was trying to outrun the losses that had accumulated, one after another and much too soon.

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