New Horizons Writers’ Group

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Bob Hirt

My wife had just heard the familiar “whoo-whoo” of the locomotive from our kitchen as the train rolled into town on a Sunday afternoon. The Attica Railroad, now a familiar tourist train with its bright orange engine and three passenger cars had just returned from its distant terminus some 12 miles north. It was there that the engine was shunted off onto a side track, the three passenger cars pushed forward, and now the engine with its three tourist cars was back in town.

This little railroad is listed among the Registers of familiar tourist trains across the USA. It has been in existence for many years, initially traveling some 25 miles to another town world famous for its prison. The prison, Attica, holds many of the “lifers,” as they’re known. Among them is Son of Sam, guilty of several killings on his murderous rampage many years ago and now looking from the inside out until he draws his final breath. Others, too numerous to mention, all bide their time waiting for their inevitable day of reckoning or of meeting their Maker.

The train’s engineer, Manley Jackson, was on duty that day. He chose to work weekends because he was also a dairy farmer. In fact, farming was his livelihood, but to add a little color to his life he put in an application eight years ago to be the train’s main engineer. He loved that engineer’s job, probably a lot more than dairy farming and it was a heck of a lot easier. He had loved trains ever since boyhood. The pay, while not great, gave him little more than pocket change as well as a way to replenish his coffers of chewing tobacco.

Manley had a real knack for storytelling. Actually, he should have been back in one of the tourist cars giving his version of a shootout that he experienced in a small town not far from Attica a few years before he took on the responsibility of being the train’s main engineer.

Manley relied on me, his veterinarian, to take care of any and all of his animals when they got sick – a mule, 18 dairy cows and a couple of “beefers.”

He was such an easygoing fellow. He loved to keep me in stitches with one story after another as I worked on a cow or calf that was sick or needed attention. Nothing bothered Manley, not even my ultra-loud scream on the day he invited me and my year-old son to sit in the cab of his locomotive as we were about to steam north some 12 miles away to the train’s northernmost destination. Manley had just said, “Now just sit yourself down on that there seat, Doc, the best seat in the house while I build up a little more steam on Old Nellie here. It’ll only be a couple of minutes yet and we’ll get goin.” What Manley didn’t tell me was that the steam pipe coming from the engine’s boiler was tight against the left wall of the engine. As I jostled to get my happy little guy situated properly on my lap my left leg grazed that scorching hot steam pipe. Manley never heard me; he just kept on yakking about all the things that made that engine so mighty. Like a bolt of lightning I jumped off the stool, my son Rob in my arms! Manley had a look of shock on his face. “Whatsa matter, Doc, somethin’ bite ya?” I was glad it was me and not my son. I sported a water blister 12 inches long and three inches wide on my left thigh for almost two weeks. I showed it to him four days later at the farm and he just laughed like crazy, totally unaware of the excruciating pain that that steam pipe inflicted on me.

Years went by, Manley passed into The Netherworld and his widow managed to keep a few animals around, mostly for companionship, I felt. When I was back at the farm one day she produced the page of the newspaper showing his obituary. Proudly, she had written his “profession” as Head Railroad Engineer and secondarily as: “farmer.” “He would have loved that,” she said with proudly raised chin and a smile. “It was his life!”

Those were “the olden days,” with small and insignificant happenings at the time but no less memorable. It was a lot different then, the years when I was catering to the little farms, their owners trying to scratch out a living in the back country of western New York.