I’m edging out of the haller at the Carbon Hill spur with a rusty cut of boxcars. Behind me, the setting sun glitters of the tin roof of the Champion Mine processing plant. Atop the embankment I’m climbing along, freight 247 squeals to a stop on the main, hissing like a leaky ball. I ease up to the turnout to enter the main just past him. While the brakeman scrambles down to lean against the switch stand, I ring the dispatcher. My orders are to hang out for train 68, varnish eastbound. Already I can hear his bell ringing up the valley. I don’t need to glance at my pocket watch to know he’s hours and hours late.
Orders go out to everyone. The brakes down 247’s length creak as they’re pumped off. Just as he starts to roll, 68 rumbles past, a Pensy PA giving us a jolly honk as he clears onto the main. As the final car clatters past, I gesture to the brakeman. He throws the turnout and catches the engine grab iron and we rattle out over a spindly metal bridge. Since the tracks curve to follow the river’s bow, its easy for me to watch my rusty red caboose, imagining the rear dude hopping down, realigning the switch and scrambling back aboard. Hope he’s on. I advance the throttle.
Ahead of us, 68 is punching through a tunnel – even without a checkbox-4, I’ll never catch him. By the time I’m calling clear at my final stop in Zaynesville, he’s gone. Here, I drop my cut on an old drill track – tomorrow’s job will take these with the sweepings from GM and Carolina Desk and carry them over to Martin. Someone else’s problem.
Edging out of the drill track, I recouple to the caboose and shut down the units. We’re done.