Semaphore Header

Of Trains and Time

By Daniel Pinelli

Authors note: I am writing a fictional story about a boy who lives in the 1930's and is a train freak (like me). The "Time" part of the title is because he eventually travels into the 21st Century to find an answer to a baffling question.
Editor’s note: The author is 14.

Asheville, North Carolina. 1936 AD
It was a week I would remember for my entire life. After my 14th birthday celebrations, I walked to the train station to meet my dad who was a locomotive designer for Electro-Motive Division of General Motors Corporation. He had been away on a business trip in La Grange, Illinois. What he was doing there, I wasn’t to know. As I walked through a lazy rainstorm across the Swannanoa River, I wondered if what he was working on was exceptional or not, if anything.

I entered the station, which was a slight relief from the cold, and sat down on a bench. With consistent glances at the clock, I waited. Pa’s train was due to arrive at 5:30. I amused myself by watching other people. One man was picking his nose, and a young woman in the seat beside him was caring for her youngster who was getting restless waiting for the train. Suddenly the low, mourning wail of a steam whistle cut through the drizzle. A plume of smoke darkened the sky, accompanied by a steady chug-chug-chug of the special, roaring up the tracks in front of the station. She came to a stop as air brakes screeched on the wheels. People started disembarking as I pushed open the door and emerged onto the platform, and I saw a familiar face emerge from the crowd that was descending from the café coach.

“Hello, George!” A black beard and glasses combined to make the likable face of my father.

“Hi Pa.”

“Why the long face? I got a surprise for you!”

“You do?” I said, brightening up.

“You’d better hope I do!” he laughed.

“What is it?” I asked. Pa gave no response, but opened a large portfolio and took out some drawings. Being the son of a locomotive designer, I could read blueprints, but what I saw before me was so extraordinary that I had to ask what it was.

“E. M. D’s newest!” he grinned. “The 103 – a diesel electric locomotive!”

“What’s...?” I began. I then realized that Pa had told me about the locomotive just before he left. “Oh yeah! You told me a bit about this!” I exclaimed.

“That’s right. However, there’s a serious design hitch. We can’t figure out how to provide adequate suspension for the locomotives. All of our tests have proved unsuccessful, some with fatal results.”

“You’re joking!” I gasped.

“No, and we need to design a body, but I think you are smart enough to come up with an answer to both questions. Do you think you can do it?” he asked. I sometimes came up with answers that completely baffled Pa’s company.

“What? Me? Wow… I could never do that much, Pa!”

“Never say ‘never’.” By this time the special had left the station and the platform was rapidly clearing.

“How much will I get paid?" I joked. We both burst out laughing, All along the way home we talked about the 103 and completely forgot about my birthday. Pa gave me a set of blueprints for the EA, a passenger locomotive that the Electro-Motive Division was soon to manufacture.

“Don! You’re here!” It was my mom, Laurie.

“Pa!” said a voice. Becky, one of my little sisters, seemed really happy about her father’s return. She had missed the moments of parenting that only a dad could offer. Amelia, my youngest sister, was enjoying a snack of bananas and yogurt. It was one of hers favorites, but most reached the extremities of her face instead of her stomach.

But where are Maia and Victoria?” Pa asked. As if in reply to his question, a scream came from my oldest sister’s room. My family’s reaction was one that I had endured many times; Pa rolled his eyes, my mother turned to me and told me to stop playing jokes on Maia, and Amelia laughed and asked me what joke I had played.

Just then, Amelia accidentally upset her snack onto the back of Pa’s pants. We all laughed, and Pa helped Mom clean up the mess and he then went to change his pants.

Later that evening, we were all sitting in the parlor, with the exception of my sisters (they were having too much fun by themselves and had no interest whatsoever for trains), and Pa was giving us the details about the 103. I learned some useful facts about the locomotive. It was very practical, with a greater efficiency than a steam locomotive. The driver sat in a cab towards the front, providing much better vision than a steam locomotive. The controls were much simpler as well.

Suddenly, Mom realized time had flown, and I was soon in the bathroom brushing my teeth and washing my face. I got into bed and tucked myself in. I went to sleep in my clothes, thinking all the time about the 103.