Williamstown Branch


As I have mentioned, Mr. Webb was in the habit of bringing his train in on time. On this particular day he was three-quarters of an hour late because he had had to wait for a carload of guano fertilizer that was coming in from Boston on the main line. Mr. Seaver, the feed store proprietor, had been making a fuss about this guano, which stank to high heaven but did make things grow when properly applied.

Mr. Webb feJt that fate had been unkind, first in this delay, second, because he had to take time to set out the car of guano at Mr. Seaver’s loading platform, where Mr. Seaver could get at it in the morning.

Mr. Webb therefore arrived in Williamstown hungrier than usual, madder than usual, and fully aware that the supper he was about to get at the Monument House wouldn’t be as good or as cheerfully served as it would have been earlier.

I had come upstreet after supper, a criminal returning to the scene. Or almost to the scene, for I hung around J. K. Linton’s store, waiting for the whistle. Eight o’clock came, and then quarter after eight, and I now knew that my parents would be wondering where I was—or, assuming that my big brother was also upstreet, where we both were.

The wail of Mr. Webb’s manfully struggling locomotive came at last, from down the line a mile or so, near the Tud Holler one-room school building.

I wanted to go home, yet I was curious as to what would happen. It seemed best not to wait. If I were the kind of boy who went home in the evening as his bedtime drew near I would be less likely to be suspected as a member of a gang that went around wrecking railroad turntables.

My mother asked me what I had been doing and I said I had been hanging around J. K. Linton’s store. My father looked up from his newspaper and said there might be better things to do, and my mother said that if I never went to any worse place than J. K. Linton’s store I’d be safe enough. My father said that when he was a boy of ten he was already working out of school hours and tired enough at eight o’clock to be glad to have a chance to go to bed, and not hang around anybody’s store. My mother said times had changed, and my father commented that they evidently had.

I lay awake for an hour or so, or maybe fifteen minutes, for lying awake was something I wasn’t used to. In the morning, I had my breakfast, still in a worried frame of mind and not sure—indeed, I am not yet sure—whether my brother or others of my young associates were also worried.

I thought it would be best to look into the situation, but in a cautious way that would not arouse suspicion. I therefore strolled, nonchalantly, so I hoped, toward the J. K. Linton store, then slid round the corner and looked toward the station.

The two cars that were to make up the early train to Barre that morning were still standing beside the station platform. This was unusual, for it was by now nearly nine o’clock, and Mr. Webb should have pulled out an hour and a half before.

Going a little farther around the corner of the store and gazing past Fred Ainsworth’s drugstore, I observed that Mr. Webb’s locomotive was down by the turntable, a few hundred feet south of the station and therefore to my right.

At the turntable itself there seemed to be quite a group of men, working and arguing, and Mr. Webb, whose upper portion was leaning out of the engine cab, was almost visibly swearing. A man couldn’t make the gestures Mr. Webb was making and still be talking in Sunday school language.

I then realized the dismaying truth. Mr. Webb hadn’t turned his engine around the night before. He hadn’t found out that anything was wrong with the turntable until he had tried to turn the thing around in the morning; or until his current fireman, who was sometimes trusted with the operation, had tried to do so.

Then he had found himself stuck, and his plans for the day had immediately gone wrong. Mr. Webb was going to be so late into Barre that he wouldn’t have time for a nap and would be lucky if he had a few minutes in which to eat the slice of steak, the fried potatoes, the thick slices of buttered bread, and the apple pie with which the Monument House had probably provided him.

Mr. Webb was annoyed. He was listening to loud advice from the men struggling with the turntable and was giving even louder advice in return. Nobody seemed to be getting anywhere.

As a normal boy I longed to go over and watch the fun —and listen to it. As a criminal interfering with the Central Vermont Railway and possibly also with the United States mails, I judged I had better not do this.

I ducked over past the station on the north side, out of sight of any possibly suspicious eye among those struggling with the turntable, scrambled up a sandbank, and found myself with some of my fellow criminals in the grass at the top.

We watched the animated scene below. One of my companions suddenly drew a long breath. “He’s going to back the train down to Barre,” said this young man. “Judas Priest! Why didn’t he think of that before?”

And this was indeed what that man of brawn and genius, Mr. Webb, actually did. He came away from the turntable with a whooshing of steam and spinning of wheels, picked up his abandoned tender, now well stocked with elm and maple chunks, hitched the front end of his engine to the train, blew his whistle as though he were letting out one last cuss word, and departed for Barre.