y boots are centered on the warped boards of the Delores platform, my hat jammed over my head as thunder crashes around the high Colorado peaks, spooking the cattle in the nearby pen. A small engine is just chuffing along a distant curve, its headlamp shimmering down the long rails. Suddenly the rain is smoking down and I neatly step back into my tobacco-stuffy station office, touching the telegraph key without fishing the chair forward.
“OS DELORES WEST”
The windows rattle, causing a small avalanche of fly corpses from the sill as 243 East rolls past. With my finger poised on the key, I note the fading numbers off his cab flank, then cast a glace at the station clock. I rattle this information down the line, getting an acknowledge as the crummy’s marker lights swing around the corner, brakes humming as the train slides to a stop. There comes a crashing of couplers as the crew jumps to their jobs, just trying to get their Delores cuts tossed off and retreat back into their dry caboose. Distantly I see Rob moving down the line of his train, his slicker yellow in the muddy gray deluge.
Not much to do inside my dry station. I know we’ve got a through freight west at 2:20 or so, so I need these guys clear. Rob knows this. I don’t have to tell him. But thirty minutes later, when his pufferbelly pushes back down the siding to work 243’s tail end, I call up him as they pass.
“Clear by 2:10!”
He tosses me a thumbs up, every bit the drowned rat, his slicker oily and old.
I stand in the doorway and alternately watch his crew fuss a couple of cars off the back on their train, all while the rains fall. I check my pocket watch. They’re running out of time. I can see the crew standing around the engine’s drivers on the west end turnouts, then regrouping around the forward coupler. My pocket watch clicks through 2:08. I start thinking of my own slicker (also oily and old), and the red flag I’m going to have to run up the line to stop that through freight. Then two things happen – they are rolling forward into the siding, clear. And I hear the distant whistle of the westbound, dragging up the long grade east of town.
And, thankfully, I’m still dry.