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THE CATTLE TRAIN
Dave stood on the fence of one of the shipping pens at the Albuquerque stockyards and used a prod-pole to guide the bawling cattle below. The Fifty-Four Quarter Circle was loading a train of beef steers and cows for Denver. Just how he was going to manage it Dave did not know, but he intended to be aboard that freight when it pulled out for the mile-high town in Colorado.
He had reached Albuquerque by a strange and devious route of zigzags and back-trackings. His weary bronco he had long since sold for ten dollars at a cow town where he had sacked his saddle to be held at a livery stable until sent for. By blind baggage he had ridden a night and part of a day. For a hundred miles he had actually paid his fare. The next leg of the journey had been more exciting. He had elected to travel by freight. For many hours he and a husky brakeman had held different opinions about this. Dave had been chased from the rods into an empty and out of the box car to the roof. He had been ditched half a dozen times during the night, but each time he had managed to hook on before the train had gathered headway. The brakeman enlisted the rest of the crew in the hunt, with the result that the range-rider found himself stranded on the desert ten miles from a station. He walked the ties in his high-heeled boots, and before he reached the yards his feet were sending messages of pain at every step. Reluctantly he bought a ticket to Albuquerque. Here he had picked up a temporary job ten minutes after his arrival.
A raw-boned inspector kept tally at the chute while the cattle passed up into the car.
"Fifteen, sixteen--prod 'em up, you Arizona--seventeen, eighteen--jab that whiteface along--nineteen--hustle 'em in."
The air was heavy with the dust raised by the milling cattle. Calves stretched their necks and blatted for their mothers, which kept up in turn a steady bawling for their strayed offspring. They were conscious that something unusual was in progress, something that threatened their security and comfort, and they resented it in the only way they knew.
Car after car was jammed full of the frightened creatures as the men moved from pen to pen, threw open and shut the big gates, and hustled the stock up the chutes. Dave had begun work at six in the morning. A glance at his watch showed him that it was now ten o'clock.
A middle-aged man in wrinkled corduroys and a pinched-in white hat drove up to the fence. "How're they coming, Sam?" he asked of the foreman in charge.
"We'd ought to be movin' by noon, Mr. West."
"Fine. I've decided to send Garrison in charge. He can pick one of the boys to take along. We can't right well spare any of 'em now. If I knew where to find a good man--"
The lean Arizona-born youth slid from the fence on his prod-pole and stepped forward till he stood beside the buckboard of the cattleman.
"I'm the man you're lookin' for, Mr. West."
The owner of the Fifty-Four Quarter Circle brand looked him over with keen eyes around which nets of little wrinkles spread.
"What man?" he asked.
"The one to help Mr. Garrison take the cattle to Denver."
"Recommend yoreself, can you?" asked West with a hint of humor.
"Who are you?"
"Dave Sanders--from Arizona, first off."
"Been punchin' long?"
"Since I was a kid. Worked for the D Bar Lazy R last."
"Ever go on a cattle train?"
"Twice--to Kansas City."
"Hmp!" That grunt told Dave just what the difficulty was. It said, "I don't know you. Why should I trust you to help take a trainload of my cattle through?"
"You can wire to Mr. Crawford at Malapi and ask him about me," the young fellow suggested.
"How long you ride for him?"
"Three years comin' grass."
"How do I knew you you're the man you say you are?"
"One of yore boys knows me--Bud Holway."
West grunted again. He knew Emerson Crawford well. He was a level-headed cowman and his word was as good as his bond. If Em said this young man was trustworthy, the shipper was willing to take a chance on him. The honest eye, the open face, the straightforward manner of the youth recommended his ability and integrity. The shipper was badly in need of a man. He made up his mind to wire.
"Let you know later," he said, and for the moment dropped Dave out of the conversation.
But before noon he sent for him.
"I've heard from Crawford," he said, and mentioned terms.
"Whatever's fair," agreed Dave.
An hour later he was in the caboose of a cattle train rolling eastward. He was second in command of a shipment consigned to the Denver Terminal Stockyards Company. Most of them were shipped by the West Cattle Company. An odd car was a jackpot bunch of pickups composed of various brands. All the cars were packed to the door, as was the custom of those days.
After the train had settled down to the chant of the rails Garrison sent Dave on a tour of the cars. The young man reported all well and returned to the caboose. The train crew was playing poker for small stakes. Garrison had joined them. For a time Dave watched, then read a four-day-old newspaper through to the last advertisement. The hum of the wheels made him drowsy. He stretched out comfortably on the seat with his coat for a pillow.
When he awoke it was beginning to get dark. Garrison had left the caboose, evidently to have a look at the stock. Dave ate some crackers and cheese, climbed to the roof, and with a lantern hanging on his arm moved forward.
Already a few of the calves, yielding to the pressure in the heavily laden cars, had tried to escape it by lying down. With his prod Dave drove back the nearest animal. Then he used the nail in the pole to twist the tails of the calves and force them to their feet. In those days of crowded cars almost the most important thing in transit was to keep the cattle on their legs to prevent any from being trampled and smothered to death.
As the night grew older both men were busier. With their lanterns and prod-poles they went from car to car relieving the pressure wherever it was greatest. The weaker animals began to give way, worn out by the heavy lurching and the jam of heavy bodies against them. They had to be defended against their own weakness.
Dave was crossing from the top of one car to another when he heard his name called. He knew the voice belonged to Garrison and he listened to make sure from which car it came. Presently he heard it a second time and localized the sound as just below him. He entered the car by the end door near the roof.
"Hello! Call me?" he asked.
"Yep. I done fell and bust my laig. Can you get me outa here?"
"Bad, is it?"
"I'll get some of the train hands. Will you be all right till I get back?" the young man asked.
"I reckon. Hop along lively. I'm right in the jam here."
The conductor stopped the train. With the help of the crew Dave got Garrison back to the caboose. There was no doubt that the leg was broken. It was decided to put the injured man off at the next station, send him back by the up train, and wire West that Dave would see the cattle got through all right. This was done.
Dave got no more sleep that night. He had never been busier in his life. Before morning broke half the calves were unable to keep their feet. The only thing to do was to reload.
He went to the conductor and asked for a siding. The man running the train was annoyed, but he did not say so. He played for time.
"All right. We'll come to one after a while and I'll put you on it," he promised.
Half an hour later the train rumbled merrily past a siding without stopping. Dave walked back along the roof to the caboose.
"We've just passed a siding," he told the trainman.
"Couldn't stop there. A freight behind us has orders to take that to let the Limited pass," he said glibly.
Dave suspected he was lying, but he could not prove it. He asked where the next siding was.
"A little ways down," said a brakeman.
The puncher saw his left eyelid droop in a wink to the conductor. He knew now that they were "stalling" for time. The end of their run lay only thirty miles away. They had no intention of losing two or three hours' time while the cattle were reloaded. After the train reached the division point another conductor and crew would have to wrestle with the problem.
Young Sanders felt keenly his inexperience. They were taking advantage of him because he was a boy. He did not know what to do. He had a right to insist on a siding, but it was not his business to decide which one.
The train rolled past another siding and into the yards of the division town. At once Dave hurried to the station. The conductor about to take charge of the train was talking with the one just leaving. The range-rider saw them look at him and laugh as he approached. His blood began to warm.
"I want you to run this train onto a siding," he said at once.
"You the train dispatcher?" asked the new man satirically.
"You know who I am. I'll say right now that the cattle on this train are suffering. Some won't last another hour. I'm goin' to reload."
"Are you? I guess not. This train's going out soon as we've changed engines, and that'll be in about seven minutes."
"I'll not go with it."
"Suit yourself," said the officer jauntily, and turned away to talk with the other man.
Dave walked to the dispatcher's office. The cowpuncher stated his case.
"Fix that up with the train conductor," said the dispatcher. "He can have a siding whenever he wants it."
"But he won't gimme one."
"Not my business."
"Whose business is it?"
The dispatcher got busy over his charts. Dave became aware that he was going to get no satisfaction here.
He tramped back to the platform.
"All aboard," sang out the conductor.
Dave, not knowing what else to do, swung on to the caboose as it passed. He sat down on the steps and put his brains at work. There must be a way out, if he could only find what it was. The next station was fifteen miles down the line. Before the train stopped there Dave knew exactly what he meant to do. He wrote out two messages. One was to the division superintendent. The other was to Henry B. West.
He had swung from the steps of the caboose and was in the station before the conductor.
"I want to send two telegrams," he told the agent. "Here they are all ready. Rush 'em through. I want an answer here to the one to the superintendent."
The wire to the railroad official read:
Conductor freight number 17 refuses me siding to reload stock in my charge. Cattle down and dying. Serve notice herewith I put responsibility for all loss on railroad. Will leave cars in charge of train crew.
Representing West Cattle Company
The other message was just as direct.
Conductor refuses me siding to reload. Cattle suffering and dying. Have wired division superintendent. Will refuse responsibility and leave train unless siding given me.
The conductor caught the eye of the agent.
"I'll send the wires when I get time," said the latter to the cowboy.
"You'll send 'em now--right now," announced Dave.
"Say, are you the president of the road?" bristled the agent.
"You'll lose yore job within forty-eight hours if you don't send them telegrams now. I'll see to that personal." Dave leaned forward and looked at him steadily.
The conductor spoke to the agent, nodding his head insolently toward Dave. "Young-man-heap-swelled-head," he introduced him.
But the agent had had a scare. It was his job at stake, not the conductor's. He sat down sulkily and sent the messages.
The conductor read his orders and walked to the door. "Number 17 leaving. All aboard," he called back insolently.
"I'm stayin' here till I hear from the superintendent," answered Dave flatly. "You leave an' you've got them cattle to look out for. They'll be in yore care."
The conductor swaggered out and gave the signal to go. The train drew out from the station and disappeared around a curve in the track. Five minutes later it backed in again. The conductor was furious.
"Get aboard here, you hayseed, if you're goin' to ride with me!" he yelled.
Dave was sitting on the platform whittling a stick. His back was comfortably resting against a truck. Apparently he had not heard.
The conductor strode up to him and looked down at the lank boy. "Say, are you comin' or ain't you?" he shouted, as though he had been fifty yards away instead of four feet.
"Talkin' to me?" Dave looked up with amiable surprise. "Why, no, not if you're in a hurry. I'm waitin' to hear from the superintendent."
"If you think any boob can come along and hold my train up till I lose my right of way you've got another guess comin'. I ain't goin' to be sidetracked by every train on the division."
"That's the company's business, not mine. I'm interested only in my cattle."
The conductor had a reputation as a bully. He had intended to override this young fellow by weight of age, authority, and personality. That he had failed filled him with rage.
"Say, for half a cent I'd kick you into the middle of next week," he said, between clamped teeth.
The cowpuncher's steel-blue eyes met his steadily. "Do you reckon that would be quite safe?" he asked mildly.
That was a question the conductor had been asking himself. He did not know. A good many cowboys carried six-shooters tucked away on their ample persons. It was very likely this one had not set out on his long journey without one.
"You're more obstinate than a Missouri mule," the railroad man exploded. "I don't have to put up with you, and I won't!"
The agent came out from the station waving two slips of paper. "Heard from the super," he called.
One wire was addressed to Dave, the other to the conductor. Dave read:
Am instructing conductor to put you on siding and place train crew under your orders to reload.
Beneath was the signature of the superintendent.
The conductor flushed purple as he read the orders sent by his superior.
"Well," he stormed at Dave. "What do you want? Spit it out!"
"Run me on the siding. I'm gonna take the calves out of the cars and tie 'em on the feed-racks above."
"How're you goin' to get 'em up?"
"If you think I'll turn my crew into freight elevators because some fool cattleman didn't know how to load right--"
"Maybe you've got a kick comin'. I'll not say you haven't. But this is an emergency. I'm willin' to pay good money for the time they help me." Dave made no reference to the telegram in his hand. He was giving the conductor a chance to save his face.
"Oh, well, that's different. I'll put it up to the boys."
Three hours later the wheels were once more moving eastward. Dave had had the calves roped down to the feed-racks above the cars.
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