Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Wheels of Locomotion

By the beginning of the Twentieth Century, steam locomotives on U.S. railroads were huge. We are talking 100 feet long or better, with weights of 400-plus tons and drive train wheels taller than a man, diameters of 70-80 inches.

The types were designated by configurations of their wheels. For example, a 2-8-4 engine had two small guide wheels in front, eight giant drive train wheels middle, and four small support wheels under the cab where engineer and fireman operated the locomotive.

I learned all of this, of course, while researching for my book, GRIT, co-authored by William Maltese. If you read the excerpt which accompanies the book on its publisher's web site, MLR PRESS, you will see that one particular type of engine, a 2-10-2, had some issues when first put into service. The incident is fiction, but the problem and solution was very real.

I found one of these locomotives on display at a museum and snapped a picture of its drive train wheels.

Lo and behold, my character in GRIT, Wilton Zukel, was assigned this same type of steam locomotive when he became engineer pulling drag freight for the Santa Fe Railroad. Unlike his father's 2-10-2, Wilton's machine served faithfully and flawlessly until 1933. This is the only known photo of Wilton with his 1677, one year before "the mishap" that takes place in our story.  

He's on the left near the cab, doing a walk-around inspection before boarding for departure. The accident which occurred on an Edgerton, KS siding would end the 1677's career, but Wilton survived to continue his service with the Santa Fe and fuel his romance with a certain railroad detective. 

It's all documented in our Great Depression-era, fact-meets-fiction, manlove novel, GRIT, and it's available in paperback and ebook formats at MLR PRESS.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Papa Zukel Whispers

by Jardonn Smith

Once upon a midnight clear
I awakened, gently, to something queer

A man of age beside my bed
his flesh aglow in fiery red

His left side scarred, melting, a-boil
and I shuddered with fright, winced in recoil

But through the macabre mass he be
chocolate brown eyes flashed friendly to me

With a rub of my eyes and a slap to my cheek
I steadied myself, gathered courage to speak

I know you, old man, with confidence I claimed
you're the fireman who burned, Zukel's your name

You were shoveling coal on the Santa Fe
when wheels left the rails, shot embers your way

Lava of hell from the firebox did rain
fanned by the wind on a fast-moving train

Your clothing ablaze, you had nowhere to run
when the train finally stopped you were cooked, well and done

The engineer smothered you, did what he could
delayed the inevitable, did you no good

On a hospital bed you laid suffering in wait
prayed for your God to quicken your fate

You summoned your son, coaxed him to near
and with voicebox singed you gasped in his ear

My pain is too much, I can no longer bear
you must stifle my breath, cut off my air

Your boy was a good boy, he did what you said
he covered your holes until you were dead

Your suffering thus ended, his just begun
for yours was an unspeakable task for your son

Your boy, Wilton

He takes your scars with him wherever he goes
his nightmares of struggle, his father's death throes

So now, Papa Zukel, my pitiful man
why have you come here? what is your plan?

His red glow subsided to a comforting hue
shades of serenity, of green and of blue

His flesh calmed its turmoil, shone pinkish rose
reshaped his form proper, nose to his toes

He joined me on the mattress, reached for my hand
his lips pecked my forehead and he told me his plan

Your perceptions are keen so I give you this task
tell of my son, it is not much to ask

You must tell of my Wilton, I hurt him so bad
he must know of my pride, he must never be sad

Papa Zukel's rough hand gave mine a squeeze
his form dissipated as he started to leave

But what, I pondered, a question to ask
answer essential to completing my task

But what of his partner, Gaither Hollis, his flame
do I speak of their love which dare not speak its name?

His chocolate eyes beamed, and he rose from my bed
with a breathy guffaw he tossed back his head

I know what matters, things are not what they were
my world is like your world, so to you I defer

His flesh turned to ether and he soon disappeared
leaving his enlightenment fresh in my ear

I leapt from my bed, and with no time to waste
my fingers set to typing my tale, post-haste

A yarn about steam engines bigger than ships
of railroaders, Dust Bowls, and harrowing trips

Of Depression and hobos riding the rails
of criminals and lawmen tougher than nails

And within this great chaos I type on the page
gentle whispers to guide me, Papa Zukel, my sage

* * * * *

My half-assed attempt at prose is for sinister purpose. I'm promoting a book!

William writes about desperate men riding the rails west in search of employment, while I write about the men who run the trains.

Available in ebook formats at the publisher's web site, MLR PRESS here:


where you can read a text excerpt which expands upon my poem.