In Number Fur Tunnerl
fHE Big Tank, an American engine—No. 99, Class Wa, ]S T ew Zealand Railways — was climbing noisily up the "■«" Short Hill where the grades rise in places to one in forty. Rain was falling as it had been doing for two days — in a steady downpour— and tlie 3.15 suburban she was hauling carried very few passengers. In places the storm-water from the hill-side splashed on to the footplate, and Dan Jefferson, the driver, was prepared to meet a fall of earth round any of the many curves. But he reached Thomsontown, and thence proceeded on to Bluff Bridge, which is on the sea-coast. Here the Big Tank waited on a siding, dozing uneasily, until she heard the Star-Duster's chimewhistle calling through the twilight away along the coast where the road is level for miles. When she heard lit she awoke and prepared to receive the mail- train, which waltzed into Bluff Bridge at the tail of the Star-Duster— a beautiful Baldwin ten-wheel locomotive. She was numbered 1182, Class M, in the railway list, but among the enginemen she was called Star-Duster, because the exhaust from her funnel flew so high that it threw a dimness over the stars.
In a few minutes the fiver whirled
her ten full carriages into the station, and paused for breath before tackling the hill. The Big Tank was then sandwiched between the express engine and the train, for the grades between Bluff Bridge and the city are too heavy for fast running, with one engine. The Star-Duster was not especially suited for hill work, but it did not pay to keep a big engine solely for so short a distance, and she and the Elephant, one on the morning, and one on theafternoon train, made good time with an engine like the Tank to help them.
The guard blew his whistle, and the Star-Duster's sweet chime echoed through the gloaming, followed by the Big Tank's deep bass. And the engines rushed up the line, winding and twisting among the hills, the Star-Duster roaring her speed-song-—a song of the level plains, " We're running on time ! — on time! — on time !"
The Tank always slipped her wheels when the chorus came. Jefferson said it was because her pist oil-power was too great for her tractive force, i.e., her wheels were not pressed to the rails enough. But the Big Tank put it down to nervousness. They tore over tall viaducts and through echoing tunnels that sometimes rained loose
lime upon them, and rolled into Thomsontown hot and dripping with rain. It was still pouring.
A plate-layer had just arrived at Wellington station on a trolly, having traversed the Short Hill track, and the traffic office wired to Thomsontown, " Line all clear/
" You're making good time, this weather/ the station-master said to Finch, driver of the Star-Duster.
Finch blew his whistle and pushed the regulator forward slowly.
" That's Jefferson's fault," he said pleasantly, as the train moved out of the station and wound round the curve like a luminous serpent.
Then his face became grave once more. Downhill running with a fast train is always nerve-trying work, and in wet weather the risk is increased.
Half-way down the Short Hill is the Semicircle, where the line sweeps round the head of a gully, and below this are five tunnels numbered from the city end of the line.
Numbers " three " and " four " pierce outstanding spurs of the, range whose sides slope precipitously into the valley below, and between them the line is supported by an embankment across a narrow gorge. At about th^.iime the mailtrain pulled out of ■Thomsontown, a boy was,.Tomndk^ up some cows so that they would be handy for the morning milking. The animals had been sheltering below the embankment, and. were loth to leave their haven and face the rain.
The boy was throwing stones and shouting to them, when a trickle of earth and water rattled 'down the ■embankment. The boy looked up. What lie saw set him running along the face of the hill, and with' a sound between a huge sigh and a lazy snarl the whole embankment slid down, burying beneath it five good cows. Only the frightened boy remained, and the sagging rails and sleepers, waggling in mid- air, showed where the solid line had been.
When the boy rushed into the louse two 'minutes later and told
his tale, his father, John Sangster, sprang to his feet. " Gimme a light," he said quickly. " P'raps. the boy got scared and left the cows. Damme, they can't all be gone." His wife and his nineteen-year-old daughter assisted him to get into his oilskin and gum-boots, and he took a lantern in his hand. As he left the door, his daughter! ran after him. " What is it, Loo ?" he asked sharply . " 1 didn't want to scare mother/ she replied, "hut there's a train coming down the line now — Dan's train. You must stop it somehow, Dad !" She was white-lipped and trembling. She and Dan Jefferson were engaged to be married. " Yes, yes, girl ! I'll do my best. Perhaps the line is all right, though, and there's a chance of the train being blocked further up the line. Don't you worry," he added more kindly. When Sangster reached the broken) embankment the water was leaping, in cascades down the fissure, and over the lower face of Number Four tunnel a waterfall was pouring. As he looked at the havoc wrought, he realised that his,, son's story was no doubt quite correct, but his own immediate loss was quite forgotten in the face of the greater disaster. And when he heard the engines calling far up the line, and remembered that they were drawing a fast train, his blood ran cold. Then he scrambled on to the line, and started to run up the track. In the tunnel he ran hard, fearing to meet the train underground. ~ No man likes the thought of death in darkness, and there is little room for anything besides a train in a single-track tunnel. As he reached the open-air he heard the Star-Duster's tuneful double-chime blowing for No. 5 tunnel. About a quarter of a mile separated the two tunnels, and he had covered half that distance when
the express-engine's head-light flared in the tunnel, and the train presently shot into view. It was moving fast considering the grade. Sangster waved his light and yelled. Not that his yelling could do much good, for the noise in the cab of a locomotive travelling fast is considerable. But Finch saw the light, and short and sharp came the triple call, fearful and imperative, "Brakes ! Brakes ! Brakes!"
It made every heart on the train thrill, for even the uninitiated felt its terror, and every train-hand sprang to attention. Even the mailsorters paused in their work.
In her home on the hill-side, Loo Gangster heard it, and her life seemed suddenly grey, and cold, and lonely.
Finch's face was very grim as he opened the valve of the air-brakes. His fireman had the steam and hand-brakes hard down. There was ;a great screeching of brake-shoes and hissing of brake-cylinders, but the Star-Duster swept irresistibly into Number Four tunnel. Jefferson,, on the second engine, was asking himself the question which was perplexing every train-man.
" What is wrong at the other end of this tunnel ?"
There is seldom trouble in a tunnel.
The speed was diminishing, but would it diminish quickly enough ? Suddenly, just as the lower end of the tunnel was being reached, the head-light flickered on standingwater, and the big engine splashed into it. Then she buried her cowcatcher and pilot in two hundred tons of clay and rotten rock which fell at the moment.
Sangster started running up the line.
With a jar the train came to a stop.
The Star-Duster did not appear to strike tHe. obstacle hard, yet her cow-catcher was twisted out of all shape, and her smoke-box stays torn off. She sprang upwards and crushed her funnel on the low roof ; the glass in her cab-windows was
shattered ; her guage-glass burst ; and the boiler-tubes gaped from the boiler ends so that the escaping steam and water drowned her fire. The steam drove her driver and fireman from the foot-plate, but before he left, Finch lifted the safety-valve by means of the relief-lever, and the throbbing roar of steam iillepl the long tunnel. A guard came to the Big Tank. " What's wrong ?" " Slip," Jefferson replied. '" Tell the passengers not to move. We'll take them back immediately/ A brakesman carried this information. When the steam had bloAvn itself out somewhat, the engine-crews climbed over the slip and saw the real danger. For a moment no one spoke. Then someone said, " My God !" It sounded like a prayer. " You'll have to shove the train back," Finch said to Jefferson. " The Tank isn't damaged." " Can she do it, do you think ?" " She'll have to,"' Jefferson replied. A thin, sharp " crack " resounded through the tunnel. " The whole darned hill's on the move," a brakesman said. "Sooner those cars are out of this, the better." They fired-up on the Big Tank till her guage showed 180 lbs. pressure. " She'll just about do it," Jefferson said. " Crack !" the tunnel spoke again. " Uncouple !" cried Finch. The couplings clanged, and the Tank whistled boastfully — " I'm reversing." " Let's see you do it," the StarDuster snarled. The brakes came off with a longdrawn hiss, and the smaller engine grunted. The sand-pipes spouted, and she shuddered like a giant who finds his task beyond him. " Bang V— the exhaust steam from her funnel struck the tunnelroof and brought down a shower of rotten brick and lime.
" Bang ! Bang ! Bang !"— she was off. The sound of her exhaust quickened. Then, " Whir-r-r-r \" her •drivers raced. " Too much steam," Finch grumbled. But she gripped the rail again, and the noise of her struggling- was ■deafening until she cleared the tunnel. When she" had gone, Finch lit the cab-light and two hand-lights, and looked round for his fireman. Presently he came running and carrying a parcel. '"' Tucker from the dining-car/ he grinned. "We might be here all night."
Finch laughed, though he did not feel like laughing. " The Tank'll bring a flying-gang when she gets that lot up the hill, and she'll tow us out of this. Disconnect for towing, — lend a hand \" " Poor old Star-Duster !" the fireman said ; " she looks prettyrocky now." Then he thought of that awful gulf on the other side of the slip, and he worked at the valve-gear in silence. As she passed the farm-house, the Big Tank, amid all her noise and heavy labour, found steam to blow a short, hoarse, fierce call. Loo Sangster knew. " That's Dan/ she said, and her heart was glad again.
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In Number Fur Tunnerl, New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904
In Number Fur Tunnerl New Zealand Illustrated Magazine, 1 February 1904
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