Excerpt for Murder On the Goderich Local by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Murder

On the

Goderich Local

A Mike Donovan Mystery





By Don Hayward



Smashwords edition

Licence Notes

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Copyright 2017



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About the Author

Other books by Don Hayward

Next to be published







Dedicated to Chuck Ramsay, the honorary coach for our midget house-league hockey team in 1962-63 Espanola Ontario, a man I should have known better, and my friend, Merilyn Quesnel, now passed on, who inspired me to keep writing through her wit, insight and joy for the written word.

They both live in my memory.





Acknowledgement



To Mr Lammi who let us ride in the back of his Willy’s Jeep, pick-up truck to meet the steam-powered mail-train in the 1950s.

To my father, who took me on my first train ride and for our wonderful visits on the Alliston station platform watching the big, six-wheeled locomotives. It’s where my love of rail began.

As always, my wife Diane has spent many patient hours editing, giving wise advice and making the work more readable.

Murder on the Goderich Local is the first of several stories I hope to share.





Chapter One

In the bright morning sun, the wheel-polished rails of the Canadian Southern Railway formed silver wires running through the countryside, tying Goderich to Guelph. When it emerged from the arched tunnel at Blyth, the steel curved into a long shining arrow, pointing east, straight and true until the disrupted hills and swales of the Conestogo and Grand Rivers sent them in curving arcs to Elmira.

The track ran through cuts and over fills, beneath stately white elm trees, past maple bush, ripening fields of wheat and barley, and pastures occupied by contented Holstein milk cows and Hereford beef cattle. Occasionally, a farmer wandered through a hay field wondering when he could make his second cut of fodder. In the winter, this would be a snowy wasteland with frequent massive drifts off Lake Huron blocking the dead straight track.

The men who ran the trains were not too unlike the track itself, but they more resembled the twists and turns of the rougher parts, seeking the easier way but still true to their purpose. In parallel to the tracks, they had their share of bumps, diversions and outright wrecks. Still, the men laboured on, the old ones with steam, heat, cold, soot and sulphur in their faces, their working days spent inches and seconds from burning, scalding disaster.

The younger ones running the belching smoother diesels showed more of the cockiness that comes from the reliable instant response of the machines to button push and lever movement. Both types were married to their locomotives, but perhaps in contrast to the cranky, stubborn unforgiving steamers, the internal combustion inventions demanded less love.

On this late July morning, train 111, a mixed-freight manifest rolled across Highway Four at Blythe, eased at yard-speed through the town and ran under the arched bridge of the long abandoned Grand Trunk Line. The engineer always eased off on the throttle there, coasting the locomotive through the tunnel to keep the boiler smoke from choking the crew. The big Pacific steam locomotive emerged from the arched tunnel, billowing black clouds and loudly complaining as it struggled to get to line speed. The green light above the two red signals gave the clear to go to high speed.

For the Pacific, locomotive 1232, this meant fifty miles per hour. The fireman laboured to charge coal into the demanding inferno of the boiler’s firebox. Country roads crossed the track almost every mile or two. The train whistle sounded frequently, two shorts, a long, a short and a long lingering wail as the engine cleared the roadways. Sulphurous black and white smoke and steam rose from the stack, drifting over the countryside, tracing the progress of the freight train.

That could have been my life, thought Walter Edwards as he waved from the fireman’s window at a farmer riding an old Massy-Harris ‘sharecropper’ as he inspected the railway fence along the south side of his pasture. Years ago, Walter had dreamed of having a farm, before reality forced him onto the railway.

The farmer waved back in envy.

That could have been me, he remembered, if father hadn’t gotten sick, leaving me to take over the place, damned war.

He impatiently pushed the tractor’s hand feed throttle. Black smoke shot from the rusty muffler sticking up from the fading red engine hood.



Walter Edwards threw a shovel-full of coal deep into the firebox. Al hit the throttle, and black smoke puffed angrily from the G5 Pacific stack as it powered up an incline.

At Mile 49, the throttle came off, and the train began to slow, squealing from brakes being applied intermittently with the whistle howling through the crossing at Highway 23. Before the Mile 47 marker, the locomotive eased through the switch on the west end of a siding that allowed the loading of cattle cars. This sidetrack only had enough room for a dozen freight cars. The train squealed to a final stop before the second switch at the east end of the siding. A white cloud blew sideways, blasting loudly above the track ballast as the cylinders cleared.

“Get that damned car uncoupled,” Albert O’Connell gave Bobby Ellis a shove.

The brakeman went down the ladder face first, lugging a big wrench, which he threw towards the switch stand. The switch usually stuck from lack of use. Bobbie hated this drop and hurried to the second boxcar behind the engine tender, looking over his shoulder, expecting to see provincial cops rushing from the bush.

He yanked the coupling-pin bar and waved. The locomotive lurched forward drawing the remaining car as the airline connector snapped apart, hissing and dropping stiffly towards the track. Bobby hurried to unlock the switch arm, yanking on the operating handle and whacking it hard with the wrench to free the reluctant mechanism. The big steam locomotive backed the boxcar into the siding with Bobby riding the fore ladder, searching the trees for a Provincial Police greeting party. They squealed to a stop opposite a gate beside the empty stock pens. He quickly set the brake, uncoupled the boxcar and rode the tender back to the switch. In a few minutes the train, less boxcar 315387 was ready to roll.

Al threw the throttle forward impatiently. They were always behind schedule after this drop. He shared Bobby’s nervousness. The six big drive-wheels spun out a shower of sparks. Black smoke shot from the stack. The slack came off too fast, and the couplings crashed as the train stretched.

“How not to start a train,” Walter tried to tease O’Connell.

“We’re behind time now,” Al growled back, as anxious as Bobby to be clear of the dropped boxcar.

He eased off and let the engine coax the train into motion. Bobby snagged the moving ladder and climbed into the safety of the cab, throwing the wrench ahead of him.

Al’s snarly this morning, Walter thought, but at least he isn’t hung over. He’s always better when Millie has him under her wing for the night.

Walter Edwards was Albert O’Connell’s fireman. Walter and Al had worked together for over ten years, always on the Goderich sub. Years of stoking boilers had made Edwards tough physically, but he was a thoughtful man. He did not much like Al’s rough edges, his bullying and his capacity for guzzling Red Caps.

Walter Edwards had no ambition to become an engineer. It would have meant more years on the spare board. He had hated being the low seniority man with irregular hours. Now, he had a stable income, augmented by the twenty-five dollar bonus from the just dropped carload, and a home life in Guelph with his wife. It was quiet now that the kids had all moved out. Retirement loomed, and he was content. The only sacrifice was lying over at Maitland Station on weeknights.

Al had lost his family long ago. The beer, the irregular hours, and his wife finding a war job in Toronto had contributed to the inevitable end. O’Connell liked the layovers in Millie’s Hotel. He had his room but usually shared Millie’s bed.



Down the line to the east, the Goderich bound morning combination was waiting on a siding. Bill Blatchford felt the comforting vibrations of the RS3 diesel at idle and watched the glowing headlamp of the steam locomotive. He contemplated the growing bulk of the approaching black engine. Steamers were certainly romantic and beautiful, but they were old fashioned. This RS was a joy, even with its paint fading and the rattles of ageing sheet metal shook loose from bouncing over uneven track bed. Bill lusted for a mainline job running one of the newer, more powerful GP locomotives on the smooth tracks between Toronto and Windsor. There was more pay and prestige in the main line runs between big cities. He might even get to run pure passenger trains instead of these milk-stopping consists. Blatchford was young, ambitious and ruthless. In his book, these branch subs were for losers.

The approaching Pacific was dirty, drafty and required more care than diesel. Blatchford sat in his padded driver’s chair in comfort. Today, the electric fan cooled him and Jones. In winter, the heater kept them snug. Starting and stopping was a simple matter of throttle and air brake adjustment, no coal to shovel, no soot in your face. The Pacific bellowing smoke as it worked the slight grade roared past the impatient diesel idling on the passing track. Bill gave a toot on the horn and waved. The Pacific engineer stared back, unmoving.

Stubborn bastard thought Blatchford.



As he approached, Albert O’Connell watched the new- fangled engine. Its headlight seemed to be bullying. He imagined his G-5’s lamp staring back, defiantly.

“Look at that bully, leaving his headlamp on to scare us, bastard. He deserves a whack up the side of the head.”

The headlamp of the diesel locomotive went out, as it should for a train waiting on the passing track. The switches were set to run through on the main line.

“Guess you scared him good.” Walter laughed at Al.

Edwards knew how far he could push O’Connell before the man’s quick temper might take control. Al had a slower fuse at work. Walter once saw the people in the train master’s office in Guelph play Al like a fiddle, taking him to the edge of exploding and then backing off.

O’Connell would not risk fighting and losing his job, but he had his limit. His ‘off time’ was different. Walter had once crossed Al’s temper-line in Millie’s dining room. O’Connell had laid him on the floor with one punch. Walter did not want to get banned from the hotel and had not fought back. Millie seemed to blame Al and sent him upstairs as punishment.



“I’ll get him good, one day,” O’Connell muttered to Walter as he focused on Blatchford in the RS3. “You know I can.”

As they roared past the RS3, Al heard the arrogant toot on the diesel’s horn. The Pacific’s drive wheels clacked over the switch frog.

The devil’s horn, Albert thought, although he never went to church.

The diesel driver’s wave looked like a dismissive put-down. It did not help that Albert no longer got to run passengers. Blatchford had that run. The CSR thought the smoke was too much. The diesels were cleaner. The waiting train, number 100 was the morning Goderich bound combination, consisting of mixed freight trailed by an express car and a lone passenger coach.

Damn them!

“Look at that tin can,” O’Connell said, nodding at the combination fast disappearing as they sped east. “They’ll never last. They aren’t powerful like Georgie. The only dash it’s got is in its name.” For some reason, Al always wrote RS3 as RS-3.

“They are the way of the future,” Bobby said. “CSR is replacing the 0-6-0 Goderich yard engine with diesel.”

“What do you know, you stupid pup?”

Bobby frowned. He had no love for Al but put up with him for this regular job on the Goderich sub. It was the young man’s only way to get off the spare board. He needed the regular money. Roberta needed his help. He and Walter had more in common.

Al’s kind of right, he thought, little kids won’t stay at the Goderich station for hours watching a boring diesel switcher.

They sped on. Albert loved this old Pacific locomotive. She was alive, a friend, fussing and hissing, sharing his impatience. He ran his hand over the brass throttle handle worn shiny beneath his glove and looked at the windowsill where years of forearms, especially his, had polished cheap wood into fine lustre. Firebox heat filled the cab, the heat he cursed in August for being there and cursed in January for not being enough. This old Pacific had personality; she was his second mistress. To Albert, her name was Georgie, a wild, loving girl. She could be mean.

Sometimes, Al needed to coax Georgie, but today’s manifest was easy. Train 111 was a long line of empty grain cars with a couple of road graders on flat cars and boxcars of mixed freight. The return, 110, would have Georgie pulling her limit, a full load of grain for the ships and steel for the Federal Machine Company. Walter hustled to spread coal into the firebox, cursing every shovel full.

“I hate this effing banjo,” Walter glared at his shovel. He and the coal scoop had carried on love, hate relationship for over thirty years. CSR was not going to replace the Pacific with an oil-fired unit on this declining branch line. Edwards frowned at the water level sight-glass and injected more water into the boiler.

“We might have to water at Elmira,” Walter said. “The drop-off uses a lot.” His spirits lifted when he paused to enjoy the morning air.

They sped along the straight towards Elmira, rattling over the diamond that allowed the CSR and the CN Stratford to Palmerston trains to cross without stopping. Walter shared Al’s dislike for diesel. Edwards knew that Blatchford, running the diesel behind them, clipping along in his oil-smelling comfort would never feel the wind or the rails as they could in this cranky girl.

Walter glanced at the brakeman. He liked Bobby, but the young man did not understand. He and Albert had spent over thirty years each in engines like Georgie. She was their life.

Bobby will end up being a diesel man for sure. He’s right; diesel is the future. These beautiful Pacific engines will soon be a memory or locked up in museums. It’s good that Al and I will soon retire.

The pressure gauge was showing one hundred and ninety-nine. Walter slid open the cast iron doors and threw a shovel-full of coal to the back of the firebox.



Train 100 cleared the switch onto the main line and paused for the rear end brakeman riding in the coach to reset the switch. Blatchford lost no time in moving the throttle up to the fifth notch even though still short of the next block signal. On the Goderich sub, the blocks were four miles long to save money. Traffic had declined these days. With so few trains, Blatchford thought they could control the traffic by mail. Now that the Pacific had cleared, there was no danger of meeting another train. They soon passed the ‘high-clear’ signal, and the RS3 leapt ahead full speed with the throttle lever in the eighth notch.

“Why is it, George, that once a month we end up waiting for that rattletrap of an engine? He’s supposed to be on the passing track instead of us. It’s always every few weeks.”

“Maybe they have extra eggs at month’s end,” George Jones chuckled. “The hotel at Maitland has good food.”

“The food’s great there,” said Blatchford, “and the service. That little waitress is sexy.”

“You have a weakness for waitresses,” George smiled. Irene, Mrs Blatchford had been a server.

Bill forgot about the steamer as he ran train 100 west. As they flew past Mile 47, he saw the out of place freight car parked on the cattle siding. He took off his sunglasses for a better look.

Maybe it is a bad order. Perhaps it had a hot box, Bill thought. There was one there last month too, strange.

Blatchford was curious. The only train that could be dropping that boxcar was 111. They seemed to be doing it regularly.

“George, did you get the number of the boxcar back there at 47?”

George Jones, still called ‘fireman’ in the diesel locomotive to conform to union pay scales, strained to look back. “Nope, wasn’t paying attention to your side. We were going too fast. Slow down, and I’ll get her on the way back.”

“315, something,” muttered Blatchford, “remind me to check. There’s something funny with that car.”

“It’s probably a bad order, a cripple with a hot bearing.” George stared at his side of the track. “The CSR doesn’t change the trucks much on these dedicated sub freight cars.”

Jones and Blatchford usually worked together three times a week. Bill ran the engine every day, but he had no sentiment for the RS3. George was more romantic and nicknamed her ‘Jane’, pretending the RS stood for ‘Russell’. He had put a pin-up of the sexy actress beside Blatchford’s picture of his pretty wife. If Bill paid as much attention to Irene Blatchford as he did to bedding other women and getting a promotion, it might change things. George hoped Bill would never change unless he disappeared completely. Jones was still a spare man, and with the rotation, he spent two days a week on the ground in Guelph. For the moment, he was satisfied to stay on the spare board. George looked at the pictures of Jane and Bill’s wife and smiled. They compared favourably, at least in looks. Jones had no idea how Jane Russell was in bed. He still had a connection to Blatchford on those off days.



Chapter Two

Train 100 squealed down the hill, across the Highway 21 overpass and eased to a stop at Meneset Station. A semaphore guarded the track to signal passenger pickup stops at the unmanned station. Occasionally, the train-orders signal banjo required the engineer to go into the station to call down to the Goderich stationmaster. Today, a passenger was getting off, and there were no special orders. The locomotive paused in the sunshine before heading into the pleasant tree-shaded section before the bridge.

Less the one rider, Bill eased locomotive 8439 up to mid-speed, fanning the brake on the long, shallow down-slope along the riverbank to the bridge. As the front bogies rounded the curve to align with the trestle, a square yellow flag trackside warned of work ahead. He throttled down to a single notch and eased across. Two workers stood on a safety platform jutting from the bridge, hanging high above the river on the engineer’s side.

The crossing had made a spectacular impression the first time Blatchford saw it, but after so many trips Bill no longer found it interesting. In late summer, the shallow river below was languid and slimy with gravel bars visible everywhere. Occasionally, a fish would be sunning itself in a deeper pool. It was a dry summer. The August morning mist had not yet burned off. Downstream, it shrouded the break wall that protected the head works of the deep salt mine where the river met the lake. There was no horizon line. The lake and sky beyond the salt mine’s head-frame melded together in a pearl grey. The wheels raised a hollow rumble from the tarred crossties and the steel supporting girders. This late in the summer, birds had abandoned their nests on the inside flanges of the steel.

“Look at those fishermen up there.” George leaned back so Bill could see upriver towards the highway bridge at Saltford. Fishermen stood in hip waders in the flow. The languid water only reached their knees. A few dark silhouettes trailed line and bait in flowing current, while two others snapped long spinning rods towards quiet backwaters.

“They won’t get anything,” Bill said, “the water’s too warm and low.”

“Unlike that blue heron down there in the ox-bow,” George leaned out his window for a better look, “it just speared a frog.”

A herring gull suddenly lifted up beside the open window and squawked at no one in particular. George started and smiled. He loved the long bridge. Sun, rain, snow, sleet, fog, whenever he crossed, the bridge suspended him between earth and heaven. One day, he might retire here and be one of those shadows whiling away a summer morning in the river.

Bill only thought about the main line and promotion. He waved at the two, track workers as they passed. One raised a spike-hammer in salute.

I hope they don’t slip, thought Bill. They’d die for sure in the shallow water.

The down slope eased a half-mile past the bridge below the sharp bluff of the Lake Huron shore as they entered the Goderich yard a few hundred feet from the station. The dark shadow of the high bank contrasted with the distant green-blue of the lake. The mist was lifting rapidly, revealing several sailing boats passing offshore, taking advantage of the gentle breeze and calm water.

Train 100 squealed to a stop with the coach and express car opposite the waiting-room door. A station man pulled the lever for the knuckle pin and with two short horn-blasts and a clanging bell Bill eased forward, snapping the air coupling, heading towards the lead switch with his freight cars. Beyond the switch, on the main track dead end, a spare coach sat just short of the derail and the buffer. It was there in the unlikely event an unusual demand overflowed the one passenger coach. The last time it had been used was last month during the Royal Visit.

“I guess we’ll end up there eventually, on some dead end.” Jones was still dreaming of ending his days in the river and sunshine. Blatchford ignored him.

The RS diverted onto the lead track, away from the parked coach.

Switcher 6275, the small 0-6-0 steam-powered yard locomotive was huffing out of the shed adding its smoke to the morning haze, ready to distribute the newly arrived cars. Bill waved at Henry, the yard switcher’s engineer. He was training to run the diesel-hydraulic shunt locomotive that was supposed to arrive before winter.

Blatchford dropped the oddball mix of freight cars and rolled along to the ‘strong-arm’ roundtable. George and the yard roustabout pushed hard on the arms to swing the locomotive around, so the long-hood pointed east. They then eased up to capture flat cars loaded with road graders that Henry had deposited at the upstream stub’s loading ramp. It was a short diversion backing through the wye into the grain elevator yard where two dozen empties waited to be taken up to Maitland for tomorrow’s run on 111 behind the Pacific. A large lake ship, a self-unloading grain carrier floated beyond the elevators. Another lay anchored offshore, waiting its turn. Across the harbour, a third bulk-carrier lay low in the water, fully loaded with salt and raising steam, about to depart. Bill exchanged friendly insults with a CN engineer performing the same operation with an S3 switcher on the parallel track.

“We’re making lots of work for grumpy Al,” Bill laughed at George.

6275 had placed a caboose on the main, short of the station and was busy backing the coach and baggage car through the wye, turning them around for tonight’s train 101. Bill backed into the caboose for the hookup.

By the union rules, this little shunting run had to have a caboose with a conductor and rear brakeman. In reality, unless there was some brass about, the caboose always rode empty. The conductor and brakeman would be in Goderich somewhere, likely the beer parlour of the Hexagon Hotel. If a manager was up from Guelph, they had to make the boring trip to Maitland Station and cool their heels in Millie’s Hotel beer parlour until 6839 returned late in the afternoon to retrieve combination 101 for the evening run to Guelph. In the harvest season, they might ride extra grain trains all the way to Guelph and usually saw added salt runs in October. Today, George Jones would do the switching. The errant rear-end crew slipped him a case of beer once a month to compensate. Jenkins, the station manager, kept a blind eye. There was a standing joke among railway men that anyone in charge of a small station had to be half-blind. In the same way, train crews knew never to embarrass or compromise the station masters whose deliberate blindness allowed the cut corners and goofing off.

The uphill run with the empties was light work for the RS3. They arrived back at Maitland Station just after lunch. The line up of cars was too long for the lead track. Bill backed them into the two-mile spur that ran up the river to an old mill. A furniture factory occupied the far side of the track opposite the original water powered grist mill, justifying the long service-track. The CSR lifted several boxcars of product from the place each week. Al’s crew always handled the freight into and out of the factory.

Bill and George left the caboose coupled behind the RS3 on the mainline in front of the station. They went inside to let Ed, the stationmaster stamp them off. George headed for the bunkhouse for a few hours rest. Bill was eager to get to Millie’s Hotel.

“Good day, Mr Blatchford,” Chuck Bisco limped through the doorway into the stationmaster’s office. Chuck was hoping Ed would have a job for him to earn a couple of bits. Blatchford ignored the young man.

“Hi, Chuck,” Ed, stayed glued to his chair behind a cluttered desk. “Would you run down to the lead switch and set it to off the mainline? One-ten will be here in a bit, and I want it on the lead. Here’s a quarter,” Ed flipped a coin to Chuck who pivoted on his good leg and caught it easily.

“Forget the running part,” Blatchford finally acknowledged Bisco with a sneer, “just hobble along and earn your charity.” Bill laughed. Ed winced.

Chuck's cheeks burned in humiliation. He stared at the floor. Blatchford always made fun of his handicap. Once again, Bisco cursed the careless doctor who had damaged his leg during his breach birth. As a kid, he had hung around the ball diamond and the arena, watching everyone at play. They had always treated him well. Remembering these places evoked a mixture of happiness and longing. Chuck limped out, trying not to hate Blatchford.

“Hey Ed, do you know anything about a boxcar out on the siding at Mile 47?”

Ed jerked his head towards the wall, ignoring Blatchford’s question. He stared at the calendar for a long minute, listening to a loose windowpane rattling from the vibration of the idling diesel just along the platform.

Bill, shut down 6839. The exhaust is coming in.”

“George won’t like it if we have to do a bar-over,” Blatchford grumbled.

“It’s a warm day. You’ll be okay. I used to do it all the time when I ran an RS1 in here.” The man had been the first diesel engineer on the sub before this promotion.

Ed had extracted a small amount of revenge for Chuck. He did not like Blatchford. He did not like the question about Mile 47. Ed hoped Blatchford would not connect the boxcar at 47 with the furniture factory.

Bill stomped out. Ed watched through the crystal-clear window as Blatchford headed to Millie’s Hotel. Chuck took care of cleaning the station and paid from petty cash. He kept the Maitland Station windows the cleanest on the whole CSR system.

Ed returned to reshuffling the manifests on his desk. It was boring make-work. If it were not for doubling as the ticket agent, preparing cattle load manifests and the furniture factory he would have little to do. With volume dropping, they would soon be doing his job from Goderich, or worse, Guelph. In that case, he would likely be back in a diesel cab.

Thinking about the furniture factory reminded him of Blatchford’s question.

Bad business, he thought.



Kathleen had flaming red hair, freckles and an ample chest that strained against her tight white blouse. The flaming hair was not a warning. Kat was quiet and gentle, even a little unsure. She was Millie’s daughter and at twenty years old ran the hotel until the four o’clock drinking and supper hour. Millie always showed up to keep the boozers in line and augment the serving staff.

The beer parlour, the usual focus of farm boys and workers from the furniture factory and the Ladies and Escorts Lounge, with its habitual customers was handled easily by a gruff bar manager. George was a large, powerful man who had served in some secret Canadian-American commando outfit in Italy and then in Korea. He never talked about the war, but all of the drunks were afraid of him. Once, an oversized mill worker from Lucknow had tried to fight him in the beer parlour. George had gently deposited the unconscious fellow onto the sidewalk. It had only taken one blow. It was the only time Millie ever saw George cry. He had slumped into a chair, trembling and wiping his eyes.

“I almost killed him, Millie. At the last second, I convinced myself it was a training fight. I never want to kill again.” He had said no more.

After the incident, Millie refereed future skirmishes while focusing on the eatery and accommodations.

One end of the country-elegant eatery hosted those who overindulged in the licensed rooms before deciding on eating. The main room usually filled with more sober clients who just wanted a meal. A half wall of polished oak that had once supported translucent glass panels reaching the ceiling hid the drunks. A drunken patron demolished one of the glass panels with a thrown china mug. Millie removed the others and implemented a no mercy policy with drunken troublemakers. Now, the barrier was open to the ceiling and topped by a collection of dusty geraniums. No one argued with Millie.

“Hey, cutie,” Blatchford winked at Kat as she brought his usual coffee. He always said it. She always blushed.

The menu was a formality. As usual, Bill ordered the daily special. Today it was meatloaf and mashed potatoes covered in thick dark-brown gravy that competed with creamed corn for space on the white China plate. The food was cheap and good. She brought the meal, then sat opposite Bill and sipped a Coke. Over the few months Blatchford had worked on the Goderich sub, it had become routine for Kathleen to sit with him. Things were usually slow in the afternoons.

“I hear it’s beautiful up at the old mill,” Blatchford smiled, trying to sound casual.

It would be nice to get the girl alone.

He glanced around to make sure Kat’s mother was not watching. Millie was safely upstairs. He reached out and took her hand.

“It’s quiet, and there are nice places near the river where no one bothers you. I go there to draw. Would you like to see it sometime?” Her smile suggested Kathleen would not mind being alone with Bill.

“That’d be great.” Bill rubbed her hand. Kathleen did not draw away. “Is it a long walk?”

“I’ll borrow a car. Can you drive?” Kathleen glanced around to make sure her mother was upstairs. She squeezed Blatchford’s hand.

“I have a nice Plymouth back in Guelph. Maybe you’ll get to ride in it one day.”

“You could drive up on the weekends,” Kat said. “We could go to the beach.”

Blatchford frowned slightly and then caught himself.

“Chuck has a car, and he likes me,” Kat continued, “so he’ll lend it. I won’t tell him why. It’s an automatic, because of his leg.”

“How can that cripple afford a car?” Blatchford asked. “He scavenges for nickels and dimes.”

“His mother supports him,” Kathleen frowned. Chuck was her friend. He did everything he could to earn extra money. Kat admired that, and the fact Chuck had been with her all through school. His limp did not matter to her. Kathleen never thought of Chuck as a cripple.

“His mother feels guilty about his leg. She bought the car and buys the gas. Chuck’s a nice guy and generous. He drives me to Goderich.”

Blatchford frowned. Kat was not sure if it was because he would be sponging off Chuck, or he resented Bisco spending time with her. She hoped Bill was jealous. Chuck was fun, always making jokes. He was like a brother.

“They’re changing the schedule soon,” Bill squeezed her hand harder. His intent was obvious. “I’ll have an overnight stay every Tuesday. Can we drive up one afternoon?”

Kathleen blushed and smiled. Blatchford was handsome and had travelled. Not like the hick boys in this township. The interesting ones were all in the war. They had seen a lot, but they were old, almost forty.

“How old are you, Bill?” she suddenly asked.

“Thirty,” Blatchford said without hesitation. It was not the first or the worst lie he told the girl. He was thirty-six. Ten years difference would be okay, but Kat might think he was an old man at his real age. As long as he could keep Jones away from Kathleen, his bigger secret would be safe. He did not like the signals from Kathleen. She was thinking of the future. Blatchford thought of her as entertainment, a fling like most of his conquests. Bill was adept at telling women what they wanted to hear.

“Old and wise,” Kat flirted.



The Pacific rolled towards Maitland Station drawing train 110 at yard speed. Al O’Connell could see the diesel and caboose blocking the mainline and the switch already set to put him on the lead.

“Look at that bastard blocking us,” Al snarled.

“Six in one, half dozen in the other,” muttered Walter. “We still have to do the switching and juggling no matter where we start.”

“We’re too long for the lead. I’m going to roll by so Milt and Jim don’t have so far to walk from the caboose. Then I’m backing up beside that rat bag. Our tail will stick out onto the main, but that ass can worry about it later.”

“Keep steam up,” Al said to Walter as he dismounted under his own, good head of steam, “I’ll find Blatchford.”

Al headed into the station. The tail end crew tagged along. They had more to do before stamping out, but it was nice to stretch their legs.

“Blatchford’s over at Millie’s as usual,” Ed said and changed the subject. “There are a couple of loaded boxcars up at the factory. You have to lift them today.” The stationmaster frowned. “It’s a rush order. Winslow threatened to send it all by road. Add them to the tail of the empties.”

Al was disgusted. There was no longer a shunting engine at Maitland. The 2-6-0 Mogul switcher was rusting in the engine shed. The Pacific would have to do it all, adding at least an hour to Al’s day. He wanted to see Millie, or more importantly, he wanted to eat and get a beer.

“Hey, gimp,” Al snarled at Chuck Bisco, “here’s a quarter, get Blatchford from Millie’s. Tell him he owes you two bits more,” Al laughed.

O’Connell was not shy about belittling Chuck. Since he always paid the boy for errands, the engineer thought he had the right to make fun. Al could not see it from the young man’s point of view. He normally never bothered to wonder what was on other people’s minds.

Chuck limped out the door wondering which of the two railway men he disliked the most. He would never ask Blatchford for money. He did not want more abuse. Al was just trying to use him to mess with Blatchford.

Chuck stopped at the dining room door, pulled a handkerchief from the back pocket of his coveralls and mopped his brow. The minute gave him time to calm his disappointment. He could see Blatchford holding Kat’s hand. Chuck knew he had no right to have expectations, but it still hurt. He limped through the dining room to Blatchford’s table.

Mr Blatchford,” Chuck did not like talking to the man. “Mr O’Connell has arrived, and the grain cars are ready for you. He says you need to get moving so he can run the spur.” Chuck shifted nervously. His damaged leg exaggerated the effort. He wanted to lean on a chair but refused to give Blatchford the satisfaction.

Bill glanced at the wall clock. He had less than an hour to get the full cars down to Goderich and hooked to 101.

“Damn,” he exclaimed, “I have to run.” He squeezed Kathleen’s hand and stood. “Put lunch on my bill.”

Chuck had to shift painfully on his bad leg as Blatchford pushed by. The bump might have been on purpose. He could not tell.

“Your hair looks very pretty.” Chuck stood nervously, wanting to run but longing to sit with Kat.

“Thank you, Chuck. How’s your Mamma?” Kat could see his nervousness and knew why. She tried to keep the conversation neutral and not encourage him with false hope. He was too nice to tease. He did have a special place in her heart. Because of his leg, he had little prospect of ever supporting a family. Blatchford had much more promise. He had plans to go places, and that would get Kat out of Maitland Station into the big outside world. Her mother often said, going with your heart is good, but you need someone to take care of you.

The kind of support Kathleen would soon need would not be the physical kind but warm, healing love.



Al saw Blatchford hurrying across the street. He knew time was tight for the diesel to get down to the harbour.

“Time for fun,” he winked at Ed and slipped into the storeroom.

“Where’s that grumpy bastard?” Blatchford glanced out the window beyond his RS3 towards the Pacific resting on the lead, still attached to the line of freight cars. Bobby was sitting in the shade of the tender. Walter was leaning on one of the drive wheels, looking relaxed. Edwards had watched Blatchford rush into the station and imagined the argument.

“O’Connell!” Bill shouted. “Where the hell are you? I have to get going.”

Al wandered casually from the storeroom.

“I thought you’d be here waiting, seeing as how you’re in a rush and all,” Al smiled. “You left the yard while on duty,” accusing Blatchford of a breach that Al had committed many times.

“How’s Kathleen?” Ed saw the chance to stir things up. It was a boring day. Neither of these men was his favourites.

“Were you with that sweet girl?” O’Connell flared at Blatchford. “You stay away from her, you hear.”

“She served me lunch, and held my hand.” Bill could not resist the extra dig at the steam-engineer. Blatchford could not understand why Al was protective of the girl. Maybe it was because he was sleeping with her mother. “She doesn’t like old men like you.”

O’Connell took a step towards Blatchford, balling his fists. His mouth was moving, but no words came. Ed stood, afraid he had gone too far and might have to referee.

“Calm down, old man.” Bill did not want a fight, just a humiliation. “I have to get moving. Back those cars onto the main so I can hook up.”

“Back ‘em yourself,” Al’s face flushed.

“I can leave them. If they have to send 6275 up to get them, it’ll be you they blame for clogging up the main line and making 101 late.”

“I’ll get you, you bastard,” Al stomped out the door, growling at Walter and Bobby to get moving as he scaled the ladder.

They backed the string onto the main track and then returned to the lead while Blatchford backed into the loaded cars and eased forward. He had no time to arrange the Goderich caboose at the end. The 8439 pulled forward and stopped with Al’s caboose at the station.

“Uncouple that car,” Al ordered Bobby, “be quick about it!”

Bobby scrambled out, and once he raised the knuckle pin signalled Blatchford. The RS3 belched black exhaust and rattled as if about to come apart. It strained to get the heavy load moving. With the bell ringing and air horn blasting a warning at the Main Street crossing, the grain cars began to ease away towards Goderich.

Al steamed the Pacific onto the main, hitched the caboose and deposited it onto a stub off the lead. Milt and Jim would sleep in it overnight. The tail end crew did not need to make the run to the factory. Then the Pacific nosed into the empties on the spur and pushed them the two miles to the loaded boxcars at the furniture factory. They would leave the string on the spur for the night. An hour later, long after the Guelph combination had run through behind the RS3, Al backed the Pacific onto the engine shed stub, over the ash pit and left her to cool down for the night man who would clean the ash box and relight her to be steam up by five the next morning. The crew trudged off to stamp out at the station. Al hurried away to see Millie.

“Ed, come up to the hotel and have a beer with us,” Walter said. “I want a bite to eat before hitting the bunkhouse.”

“Me too,” Bobby added, “it always seems like a short night.”

Ed threw his car keys into the desk drawer and grabbed his hat. There was nothing to do now until train 100 arrived in the morning. He liked Walter, and this young brakeman seemed okay.

“I’m with you. Just for a quick one. The misses won’t like me late for supper, and it’s a five-minute walk.”

Walter and Bobby waited as Ed carefully locked the door and hid the key behind a loose brick on the windowsill. They went past the stationmaster’s sleek ’55 Buick and walked across the street to the beer parlour.

“How come you don’t drive home?” asked Billy.

“The Buick belongs to the CSR, so it stays at the station. I just drive home for lunch to keep it running.” Ed did not mention using the railway automobile mention for family trips and errands.

On the evening run to Guelph, Bill was finally able to discover the number of the boxcar at Mile 47. He wrote 315387 into his journal with the note: something’s funny about this car...must look into it. The car would still be there in the morning but gone by the next evening’s run of 101 when Bill would note it and write the date beside his first entry.

***

The three men spent a half-hour in the beer parlour, telling rude jokes and old, half-true stories until Ed hurried off to supper. Walter and Bobbie went to the dining room. They counted themselves sober, taking a table in the main room near Al and Millie. Millie’s table was next to the divider where she could keep an ear on the drunks and an eye on the cash. The till was not an issue tonight. Kat was serving the dining-room customers, and Mabel, a hard-bitten local woman, took care of the cooking and serving the drunkards. Mabel was not greedy and usually made her extra money from the careless tipping and occasionally short-changing her more intoxicated customers. She would never dip into the till. Millie was always watching.

Albert had time to shower and dress in fresh clothes. Millie did most of his laundry. Walter and Bobby were a contrast of sooty coveralls smelling of oil and sweat. They had not washed the smudges from their faces. They did not stand out from the dusty farm boys smelling of much worse than human sweat.

“I don’t like Blatchford around Kathleen,” Al said to Millie. “I don’t like him. He’ll hurt her.”

“Why do you care?” Millie sounded resentful. “It’s not as if you’ve been a father to her.”

Millie had struggled to raise her daughter on her own. She was protective, but if a nice man wanted to romance Kathleen, that would be fine.

“I care about her, Millie,” Al seemed sad, “there’s something fishy about Blatchford.”

“I’ll keep an eye on her,” Millie smiled. “I won’t let him hurt her. If he does, he’ll have to deal with me.” She stubbed her cigarette firmly into the ashtray.

She’s hurting enough,” Millie glared at O’Connell.

“She’s very pretty.” Bobby was listening while staring at Kathleen as she fussed behind the counter.

“You stay away from her too, you little pup,” Al flared. “She’s too good for you. You couldn’t run an engine like Georgie or a real woman.” He looked at Millie.

“What do you know about running a woman?” Millie scowled. “It seems the last ten years you’ve forgotten how. Your fires out and your stack is plugged.”

“What are you laughing at?” Al snapped at Walter who had broken into a big grin. “We’re both over the hill. When’s the last time you had a full head of steam?”

“Maybe we old women need a younger man,” Millie winked at Bobby.

“What? That little piece of crap,” Al stood as if he was going to punch Bobby. Ellis stared at his shoes sorry they had drawn him into the problem of the older men’s declining sexual prowess. Except for admiring her feminine charms, he had no interest in Kat. He certainly had no interest in Millie who was almost old enough to be his mother. Women got in the way of a career. He wanted to be an engineer. As his little Scots friend in the Guelph engine shed would say, “You don’t need a ball and chain. Better to rent than buy.”

The little Glaswegian philosopher was a drinker, and his wife had finally booted him out the door. The only woman Bobby wanted to help was his little sister, Roberta, who needed to get away from home. Bobby’s father deserved the Scotsman’s treatment, and for the same reason.

Millie grabbed Al’s hand and pulled him back into his seat.

“Shut up, you old fool.” She had loved him once, at least she thought she had loved him, but now it was more of a habit. Millie needed things to be calm. She felt guilty enough about Kathleen. Millie loved her daughter. No one, not even Al, was going to cause Kat grief.

“Blatchford had better mind his Ps and Qs, or he’ll be for it,” Al said loudly, wanting to divert the discussion away from his shortcomings.

Other patrons turned expectantly towards the table. Sometimes, Al put on a good show, ending with Millie dragging him through the kitchen door, adding more to the ongoing whispers and gossip in a town with little excitement. One of the local toughs once had a fist fight with a stranger who tried to insult the boring place by saying it was so sleepy Main Street needed an alarm clock. The bloodied stranger’s insult had since become a local joke.

“Cut the big talk,” Millie laughed. “You couldn’t hurt a fly.”

“Wanna bet?” Al slurred, feeling the effects of the beer.

Millie had put up with many years of Al’s blustering. One time, in a brawl in the beer parlour, he had flattened against the wall, dodging flying glasses letting the drunken farm boys duke it out. She did not believe him this time.



“I need to get away from Al,” Bobby and Walter headed to the bunkhouse. “He treats me like shit. If it weren't for ending up back on the spare board, I’d stand aside. I need the money. He reminds me of my father.”

“Al’s retiring next year,” Walter said, “hang in there until then. I’m going just after, but you have a future. Look to the diesel engines.”

“That’s another thing,” Bobby stopped and looked worried, “that box car deal might end my future.”

“I don’t like it either. It seems foolproof though. No one even knows that car exists.”

“No one had better find out about it.”

The men walked on in silence.



Chapter Three

Bobby had enough of Al’s condescending abuse. Walter might be able to put up with it, but Bobby was angry. Walter’s comment about diesel locomotives sparked a plan to get off the Pacific and onto an RS3.

“Bill,” Bobby approached the diesel engineer on the platform a few days later. “I’d like to learn to run your engine. Could I ride with you a couple of times on this back and forth you have in the afternoon?” Bobby took off his peaked cap and twisted it shyly. He was ten years younger than Blatchford was and lacked the engineer’s cockiness. “I could ride down with you and drop off here when you bring 101 up on your way to Guelph.”

“Why would you want to do that? What’s in it for me?”

Diesel is the future,” Bobby replied. “I want off that damned soot bucket and join the future. I can’t offer you anything.”

Bobby gazed longingly at the RS3, idling noisily on the main. George Jones was listening.

“Hey, Bill, you’ve always wanted to get onto the mains, but you can’t as long as there’s no one on the spare board to replace you. There’s a new training course for diesel engineers in a few months. I’m going to take it, and Bobby could join me. Bobby could replace me, and I could replace you.”

In more ways than one, he thought, Blatchford doesn’t have a clue.

Bill liked the idea. One of his frustrations was the resistance of steam engineers learning diesel. There was no spare board for engineers for the RS3 on the Goderich sub. Having spares would get him ahead before the CSR finally ditched steam, and everyone would wake up and want a diesel job. Too many senior engineers would bump him back to a spare, even on the Goderich sub, unless he were already on a mainline GP9.

Bobby promised the rear brakeman a beer a day to ride up front with Al and Walter for the hour or two of afternoon yard work at Maitland.

O’Connell would be another matter. Once Al found out Bobby wanted to train on diesel he would make his workday even more miserable than it already was. Bobby invented a story and was ready for Al’s hostility. He had plenty of practice dodging his father’s abuse.

“Why would you want to ride that claptrap? You ain’t a turncoat going to diesel are you?” O’Connell had been surprised when Jim, the rear-end brakeman hopped into the cab at the Maitland end of the 110 run.

“I’ve met a hot chick in Goderich. This way I get to see her for an hour or two every day. She lives on the hill above the station.” Bobby tried to sound eager. Al smirked. He remembered back when Millie had been a hot chick too.

Funny how Millie has changed, he thought.

“Have fun,” he growled, “they don’t last that way long.”

Everyone frowned. The others all liked Millie, and they knew what Al had meant.

Bobby hurried down from the Pacific before Al found a way to make him feel bad. He scooted from the lead track to climb the rear ladder of the RS3. A short blast from the air horn and Blatchford eased the engine and the line of grain cars into motion. Bobby became a regular afternoon hitchhiker on the RS3 to Goderich and back.

When there was a purpose, Bill could be friendly. He wanted Bobby to have a head start for the training course. The short run to Goderich, shunting loads of grain and then back to Maitland fronting 101 had enough challenges. Bobby would learn to handle almost all the details, including the steep incline over the river and running at the eighth notch bringing the consist over the flat from Meneset to Maitland Station. Bill enjoyed being a teacher. It forced him to rethink the things he had been doing by habit for many months. It would sharpen him up for when he had to train on a GP9. Bobby already knew signals, coupling and switching. Bill only needed to show him the controls and the little tricks.

“These little tricks I’m showing you make it work better, but remember the way they teach you in the course is how you do it until you have a cab of your own. Don’t forget.”

“It’s the same in the Pacific,” Bobby replied. “I don’t think Al could get the thing moving if he tried to do it all by the book.”

“Don’t ever ignore a signal. It could get you killed.” Bill admonished Bobby for a sin he committed on a regular basis on the sub. On the main line, it could indeed be a death sentence.

Bobby made the run with Bill and George twice a week. He was thrilled at the things he was learning and enjoyed the spectacular ride down the hill to Goderich’s harbour.

“Make sure you take her easy here,” Blatchford slipped the throttle down to the fourth notch as the engine made the curve onto the Maitland Bridge. “I think if we were in the eighth notch we would roll her off the curve and into the river.”

“I love this bridge,” said Bobby. “It’s a view to die for. I was sad when we stopped running it.”

“I hate it, said Blatchford. “It’s a stinky river, a dinky little town and a dying run. I can’t wait to get a main line assignment. I don’t want to be here until I retire or die like O’Connell will. If you get the job, you’ll be here when they shut the whole sub down.”

Everything became routine for two weeks, and Bobby managed to run the locomotive for more than one complete return trip. Then the CSR decided to affect his progress.

“There won’t be any return train 101 on Tuesdays,” Bill said to Bobby, raising his voice above the noise of the diesel cab. Bobby thought it was a tomb compared to the Pacific’s constant sound.

Yeah, we heard,” Bobby replied. “Passenger traffic is down a bit.”

“A big bit,” muttered George, “they decided there isn’t any outbound passenger traffic Tuesdays or much inbound Wednesday mornings. We get to lay over the whole night and all day Wednesday.” Bill sounded eager, thinking of Kathleen.

“Not me,” said Jones, “I’ll switch with Johnny. I’d rather stay in Guelph overnight.”

“Like the bright lights, eh?” Bobby asked.

Yeah, something like that,” George smiled thinking of two days and a night with someone else.

***

“Hey, Little Susie,” Bill Blatchford strolled into the freight office beside Guelph station. The young woman behind the counter smiled and blushed. Susan was a clerk looking after manifests and car dispersals. Bill always hoped he could get the beautiful woman into bed and teased her with the lyric to last year’s hit song; however, Susan was engaged and in Guelph there was a risk Bill’s wife would find out. Unlike Kathleen, Susan knew Blatchford was married. Cynics called Guelph, ‘Gossip Ontario’. In spite of his flirting, she did not like Blatchford.

“What do you want, Bill?”

“I have a stray car,” Bill answered.

“What, someone stole your Plymouth?” She faked a concerned frown.

“No,” Bill chuckled, “there’s a lone boxcar bouncing around on the Goderich line. I’m curious. It’s boxcar 315387.”

“Hey Joe,” Susan called over her shoulder towards an open office door, “bring your book and give us some help.”

There was a grumbling reply, and a middle-aged man with a thin moustache and thinner hair wandered out. He did not appear eager.

“Joe’s the expert,” she said to Bill. “I’m not allowed to touch his book,” she said the last loudly and then laughed at Joe, “or anything else.”

“Susie-Q, you can touch it anytime you want.”

Joe retrieved a large hardbound volume from the cabinet top and plopped it on the counter in front of Bill. Dust flew. Joe coughed. He was a chain smoker, and his throat was sensitive. Bill stepped back a pace.

“Susan, I thought you gals were supposed to dust the furniture and make coffee,” Joe was exacting revenge.

“I’ll only dust and cook for the man I marry,” she snarled through another laugh, “and that ain’t going to be you.” She made a show of dusting her desk.

Joe gave up. Everyone in the office got along. If they were not teasing, they were consoling one another over some personal problem. Everyone gossiped. Blatchford’s womanising was well-known.

“Women,” Joe winked at Bill. “What do you want?”

“There’s a stray puppy, boxcar 315387 that turns up monthly at Mile 47. What’s it about?”

“Not possible,” said Joe, “box cars don’t start with a three.”

“That’s the number on it.”

“Still not possible, boxcars start with a one. Let’s see,” Joe opened the book to columns of numbers and related information, “that car is in a series of steel ended flatbeds, likely hauling pulpwood up north. This book is two years old but locates 315387 on the Little Current sub.”

“No record of another one with the same number?”

“Does it say CSR?”

“Yes.”

“Not ours. It’s a counterfeit. Better check that Yankee two dollar bill in your wallet.”


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