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Index>Prose & Poetry >Remember!

Remember!

(excerpt)


by David E. Rutan

Copyright © 2007 David E. Rutan



"I'm cold," said Jonathan, stretching his coat tighter across his chest.

"I know son," said his father. "I'm cold too, but this is very important.

Jonathan looked out to the cleared area where weeks before laborers had laid the ties and the iron rails. A large pit had been dug and a turning bridge installed. Nearby, the timbers were being put up to enclose what would be Newton's train depot.

He spied the town cannon positioned at the edge of the clearing near the future-depot and the squad of students from the Academy attending it. It seemed like the whole town had turned out for this event. "Why didn't Ma come?" he asked.

"Someone has to take care of your baby sister. Besides, She doesn't like the cold."

The church bell began ringing the twelve o'clock hour and the murmur of the crowd became noticeably louder. They edged closer to the pair of tracks that led to the unfinished depot and seemed to lean to the south.

It was then that a faint whistle was heard. "She's comin'! I hear her now!" cried several in the front. They jumped as they yelled.

Another whistle was heard and the crowd became louder as they peered down the curving track in an attempt to witness the coming of the technological marvel.

Jonathan's view was soon blocked by the taller adults pressing together. It was warmer here, but he valiantly tried to peek between the bodies for a view.

His father's strong arms picked him up and hoisted him onto his tall shoulders.

"There you go, Johnny. I want you to see this and remember what's happening."

The view now open, Jonathan could see a plume of white smoke rising above the trees to the south.

The whistle blew again, louder than ever and the chuffing of the engine became evident. The town cannon was fired in answer to the whistle. As the engine, pulling a pair of cars, appeared around the bend, someone cried out, "Three cheers for Tom Hewitt and the Sussex Railroad! Hip hip..."

"Hurray!"

"Hip hip..."

"Hurray!"

"Hip hip..."

"Hurray!"

Jonathan watched hats sail high into the air as the train slowed down before the gathering. Music erupted as several people broke out instruments and began playing a jig. The crowd began jumping and dancing. He even spotted several in tears.

"Why are they crying? Are they sad?"

"No, Johnny. His father smiled a toothy grin. "Everyone's happy."

"Why?"

"Because the railroad is here, and that means we're connected to the rest of the state by rail."

"But I don't understand, Pa..."

He smiled. "Remember the road we took to get here, how narrow it is?" Jonathan nodded.

"Remember in the Spring when we came to town, how muddy it was."

He nodded. "We got stuck in the ruts when we pulled over to let the other wagon by."

"Railroads don't have that problem. They don't even freeze up in winter like the canal at Waterloo. Us farmers can ship out goods whenever we want over the rails."

Jonathan nodded again, but his attention was caught by the people moving toward the station still under construction. A man was climbing onto a railroad handcar to give a speech. Jonathan looked to the engine moving onto the turntable.

"Can we go see the train?"

His father smiled, turning away from the speechmaker. "Sure we can," and he moved towards the area of activity. Steadying Jonathan on his shoulders, he made his way through the crowd.

Not surprisingly, at the turning bridge were other young boys come to watch the train. Several of them stood near the long lever which moved the bridge around in the pit to turn the engine. Jonathan was let down from his father's shoulders. "Go take a look son. Today is history."

The conductor stepped in front of the group, smiling as he gathered his coat closer in the December chill. Time to turn the engine, Joey. Ya wanna pick some helpers?" A tall boy in a long gray cloth coat motioned to all of them.

"There's a big lever on both ends of the bridge." he yelled. "Half of you help me on this one and half take the other one."

Jonathan, seeing his father's nod, went to the one with the tall boy in charge. He stood with his feet on the outside of the pit, like the others and put his hands on the wooden lever. "Now," said Joey, "On the count of three we all push. One... two... three!" The levers creaked, but nothing moved.

Joey gave a loud sigh and stood up straight, looking at the boys on the other lever. "You lot are pushin' the wrong way!" A wave of chuckles went through nearby onlookers. Jonathan saw Joey brace against the lever and set his feet again.

"One... two... three!" all the boys finished together. The levers creaked and this time Jonathan felt the bridge move. He braced his arms and pushed with all his might as did the other boys. The engine was being turned for the trip back to Waterloo.

"Hold up! Hold up! shouted Joey. His helpers let go of the levers and stepped back. The bridge slowed and stopped just short of the mark. "I need just two on each." yelled Joey. He pointed to Jonathan. "You, come give a hand on this one."

"Just me?" he asked, pointing a finger to his chest.

"Just you. Get over here."

Together, the lighter crew gently pushed the bridge into alignment with the track.

Jonathan turned as he straightened up, only to have Joey's hand placed firmly on his shoulder. Joey held out his hand to him. "Thankee for the help. Name's Joey Quackenbush."

"Jonathan," he replied, shaking Joey's hand. "I'm Jonathan." His father's smile summoned him back, and they walked toward the crowd listening to the speaker on the handcar. The two wooden, red painted coaches were on the track, awaiting the engine to be hooked back on for the return to Waterloo.

While his father listened to the speaker, Jonathan quietly wandered away to join a few boys near the far end of the coaches. They were climbing up the stairs and into the car where they warmed themselves in front of the stove, it's base glowing cherry red.

"Hey," said Jonathan, "won't we get in trouble being in here?"

"Nah," said one of the older boys. "Everyone's watching that old windbag talkin'"

The warmth was welcome on his hands. So welcome that none of them noticed the engine backing up to hook up to the cars. Suddenly the car jarred with a clank and the boys all fell over each other as the car lurched. The conductor's voice was heard saying that the pin was in and the train was ready to go.

Jonathan looked around furtively to see if anyone was coming in to find them.

"C'mon" said a boy gesturing for him. He followed the boy as each hid behind a seat. After a few minutes, no voices were heard so the others got up and left the coach.

Just as Jonathan rose to do likewise, people began coming into the coach, each one pausing by the stove to warm their hands. He froze in place, not knowing what to do. Finally, he simply sat down by the window, looking for his father.

A man took the seat next to him. He wore a very nice overcoat and a top hat, and he looked older than Pa. The man kept looking straight, as if he hadn't seen Jonathan.

The train's bell began ringing. As the train lurched forward, he spotted his father in the crowd. "Pa!" he said, pressing his hands against the cold glass of the window. "Pa!"

He watched as his father saw him, ran a few steps towards the moving train, then stopped. Pa's arm shot up as he called out, but he couldn't hear him. Then he ran off in another direction.

(end of excerpt)


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