om Wilson could easily play the role of Father Christmas with his warm grin and twinkling eyes. So that is why we find him in an huge stuffed easy chair before a roaring fire. In his lap is a large book. “Tonight, Children,” he says with an smile so infectious, it could be an STD in The Villages, “I shall read you a story. It is called, The Tale of the Two Dispatchers.”
So there once was a land with two dispatchers, the Virginia Southwestern. The Southern dispatcher ran a line staffed with merry country people who ran their trains with a great deal of happy bell ringing and whistle tooting. They were hardly issued warrants at all since there were so few of them. They might okay two, maybe three warrants in a session. It was a happy place.
Yet the other dispatcher, an evil wizard of warrants, ran the L&N line. His line was an unhappy place stuffed full of trains that had to struggle to make any headway at all. And unlike the Southern, the L&N had a huge yard at Norton. Here, the L&N dispatcher kept an older couple chained to their benches, forced to work it. While he promised to not meet trains in yard limits, he would do it anyway, often with a laugh. They were miserable but what could they do? They’d signed up for the job.
These two dispatchers had no dealings with each other at all except for two places. At the cold northern end of the parallel railroads, at a tiny town of Edison Jct, there was a spot where the lines crossed. Technically it was owned by the Southern dispatcher, who was always quick to allow the L&N dispatcher to cross. Yet the L&N dispatcher hated asking for permission. It galled him to no end.
On the other side of Norton, far to the south end, there was the dark valley of Goodbee, a place much like Mordor, a deep valley where the L&N ruled. Here was a long stretch of shared trackage which the L&N Dispatcher lorded over. More often than not, the dark L&N Dispatcher would chortle and laugh, denying the Southern to use it. It was his land, all his.
While many things angered the L&N dispatcher, one of the top picks was when he’d issue one of his patented “Hyperspace” warrants, that is, a warrant that would allow a train to run over half the division on a single clearance, Norton to Atlanta. The L&N dispatcher loved issuing these mainly because he did not like dealing with his minion engineers. He could sit on his can and enjoy coffee and donuts, not doing any work at all while his crews labored. Yet every time he did issue a long warrant, the Southern dispatcher would then, thirty seconds later, ask to use the shared Goodbee trackage.
“But I’ve just issued a warrant,” the L&N dispatcher would bluster. “My train has rights! It’s a pain in the ass to change them!”
“But it is still in the Norton-Blackwood helix,” the Southern dispatcher observed. “Miles away.”
Which was true. But it made the L&N dispatcher angry that he would have to call his warranted crew on the overhead and have them report in at Granfield to hold them if the Goodbee line was not quite clear. It was a sloppy way to do things, hardly “by the book”. So the two dispatchers clashed over this section of track, and animosities flamed.
Then came the day that the Southern really, really needed the Goodbee trackage and again asked, politely, if he could “borrow it for a very short time, a moment, a jiffy.” The L&N dispatcher pointed to their shared monitoring screen where his train was even now rolling through Granfield. “But but but…”
“Pullllleeeeze?” the Southern dispatcher whined, fluttering his eyes.
What the L&N dispatcher said in reply cannot be repeated, children. It was not polite or helpful at all. Still, he intercommed the room and asked for his train to call him. “Hold at Granfield, and don’t give me any lip!” And while the gray train did stop, the L&N dispatcher could imagine the knowing glances between his engineers. Verbally passing an order like this was a very sloppy thing indeed.
“Thank you,” responded the ever-polite Southern dispatcher, who then ran his train through. The two watched the monitor as the train cleared into Granfield. “Oh, um, one more thing. I have a second train coming behind the first. May I run him through was well?”
“What the fu…!!!”
“It’s only one more train,” the Southern dispatcher noted. “A fast freight. And you are already stopped.”
The L&N ground his teeth. “Fine, fine, whatever. Be quick about it!”
And so the “fast freight” rolled through the gap. And then cleared the single track. Well, not quite. It had stopped short, still fouling, to switch a Granfield industry.
“Fast freight?” the L&N dispatcher sputtered. He realized he’d been “bait and switched”.
The Southern dispatcher answered with an angelic smile.
“You rat bastard,” the L&N dispatcher replied. On the screen, the blocking freight switched a second car. “You knew! And you still begged him through. Well, I’m not giving you Goodbee any more. Never again!”
And that’s when the Southern dispatcher displayed his true Christmas nature. “Then you won’t get Edison Jct, my trackage. And you run a hundred trains to each of mine. Your trains south out of Decoursy will pack into the helix like genies in a lamp. So have fun with that.”
And so the L&N dispatcher learned the true spirit of the holidays (namely guilt and intimidation). But he also learned vengeance, a true Christmas virtue. For tonight, he was to dispatch on the P&WV, the Southern dispatcher’s own road. “I’ll settle your hash”, he breathed.
But this did not come to pass, because the superintendent (a fellow named after a Presidential assassin and whose career was honored in a Glen Campbell song) demanded a special meet because of his silly limited staging and lack of documentation. So the L&N dispatcher had to rush about the room, talking to three engineers in turn, and blushing at the knowing grins. And while the meet did occur, he lost track of two returning peddlers (a fast one and a slow one, and not in that order). There was a near miss, some angry recriminations, and then the jolly elves from the NTSB visited and forced the L&N dispatcher to fill a testing cup with holiday cheer. It was a sad end of the L&N dispatcher’s career, and he wound up as a costumed Santa in a shopping mall, ending his days with rosy, fat children giving him blood clots in his thighs.
And Tom Wilson closed his big book and smiled towards the fourth wall. “Remember the lesson we’ve learned here, children. It is easier to run trains, to derail and wreck them, than it is to be responsible for them.”
Merry Protorails one and all!