Locomotive gets new wheels – Empty Nest by Curt Swarm

EMPTY NEST- BY CURT SWARM

A day in the life of a writer: I was going to meet another writer for lunch in Stronghurst, Illinois.  We both publish columns in various newspapers and thought it would be nice if we could meet and chit-chat about writing, life and the price of soybeans.  It’s called “networking.”  Of course I took my wife and editor, Ginnie, to (a.) keep me out of trouble, and (b.) Ginnie’s not going to miss an opportunity for lunch out.  She thought it sounded so “New Yorkish”–two writers “doing lunch.”

We met at the writer’s house in rural Stronghurst.  She put on quite a spread of delicatessen sandwiches, potato salad, sliced tomatoes, tangerines and choice of apricot or pear juice for drink.  Tough choices in a tough world.

No sooner had we sat down and were preparing to stuff our faces, when my phone rang, and it was the publisher and owner of the Henderson County Quill, Dessa Rodeffer.  Knowing that two writers were having lunch, Dessa had a hot scoop.  The BNSF railroad, that passes through Stronghurst, was going to change the front wheels on a locomotive in downtown Stronghurst.  Would we be interested in covering the story?  Is there a Writer God in Heaven? 

The race was on as to who could cram this delicious food down our gullets faster, and tear off for the railroad yard to witness, take pictures of, and write about the front wheel change on a giant locomotive.  Actually we played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to determine who would write the story.  I won—scissors cuts paper.

Neither of us had any idea how wheels were changed on a locomotive, but we were about to get a most vivid and visual demonstration.  One of the BNSF workers was quite helpful and courteous in explaining the exact procedure for a wheel change.  (He also had his hands full keeping us off the tracks.  The trains, dispatched out of Ft. Worth, Texas, were shut down, but no one is allowed on the tracks except for railroad employees.)  Evidently the front wheels of the locomotive were worn and needed to be replaced.  Two huge counter-weighted cranes, one on each side of the locomotive, lifted the front end of the locomotive up, like it was a toy.  Unlike an automobile, where the wheels and axle are attached to the frame, gravity is the only thing holding the gigantic steel wheels under this behemoth diesel powered engine.  Can you believe it?  Yup.   

 The two cranes lifted the front end of the locomotive up and the old wheels were rolled out.  The new wheels were rolled under the locomotive, which looked like the mouth of a giant monster getting a tooth extracted.  Then the locomotive was lowered back down on its new wheels.  Slam bam, thank you, ma’am—baby has a new pair of shoes! 

There was a whole lot of banging, pounding and hand signaling, but the whole wheel-changing procedure lasted less than half-an-hour.  Who would have thunked it?     

The new wheels safely under the locomotive, and the engine ready to roll, we headed back to the writer’s house for dessert—chocolate ice cream with raspberry sorbet, coffee and stimulating conversation.  “Can you believe what we just saw?”  “Naw, haven’t had this much fun since the Cubies won the Series!”  It was the perfect ending to an absolutely marvelous, sunny, Illinois, Land-of-Lincoln, spring day. 

 Ginnie has long since ceased to be surprised at what happens when she takes off with me for one of our “writer adventures.”  Even New York can’t top this.

Have a good story?  Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at 319-217-0526, email him at curtswarm@yahoo.com or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com.

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