Saturday, September 6, 2014

Running A Piano

"I was loitering around the streets last night, '" said Jim Nelson, one of the old locomotive engineers running into New Orleans, "As I had nothing to do, I dropped into a concert and heard a sleek-looking Frenchman play a piano in a way that made me feel all over in spots. As soon as he sat down on the stool I knew by the way he handled himself that he understood the machine he was running.

 He tapped the keys away up one end, just as if they were gages and he wanted to see if he had water enough, Then he looked up, as if he wanted to know how much steam he was carrying and the next moment he pulled open the throttle and sailed on to the main line as if he was half an hour late. You could hear her thunder over culverts and bridges, and getting faster and faster, until the fellow rocked about in.his seat like a cradle.

Somehow I thought it was old' 36' pulling a passenger train and getting out of the way of a special. The fellow worked the keys on the middle division like lightning, and then he flew along the north end of the line until the drivers went around like a buzz saw, and I got excited. About the time I was fixing to tell him to cut her off a little, he kicked the dampers under the machine wide open, pulled the throttle 'way back in the fender, and how he did run!

I couldn't stand it any longer, and yelled to him that he was pounding on the left side, and if he wasn't careful he'd drop his ash-pan. But he didn't hear. No one heard me. Everything was flying and whizzing. Telegraph poles on the side of the track looked like a row of cornstalks, the trees appeared to be a mud-bank, and all the time the exhaust of the old machine sounded like the hum of a bumblebee. I tried to yell out, but my tongue wouldn't move. He went around curves like a bullet, slipped an eccentric, blew out his soft plug-went down grades fifty feet to the mile, and not a controlling brake set.

She went by the meeting point at a mile and a half a minute, and calling for more steam. My hair stood up straight, because I knew the game was up. Sure enough, dead ahead of us was the headlight of a 'special.' In a daze I heard the crash as they struck, and I saw cars shivered into atoms, people smashed and mangled and bleeding and gasping for water. I heard another crash as the French professor struck three deep keys away down on the lower end of the southern division, and then I came to my senses. There he was at a dead stand¬still, with the door of the fire-box of the machine open, wiping the perspiration off his face and bowing to the people before him. If I live to be one thousand years old I'll never forget the tide that Frenchman gave me on a piano."

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