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R.I.P. on the Q

A hogger finds home where he first knew heaven
At 1:45 p.m. on a sunny spring afternoon in 1955, the pace of activity at the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy depot in Brookfield, Mo., quickened. Due at 1:57 was train 36, the Chicago-bound Kansas City Zephyr -- a streamliner led by two sliver E8's.

Automobiles began arriving and discharging passengers and their baggage. Station personnel patiently answered hurried questions. A loaded baggage cart was wheeled out of the station and clanked down the platform toward a point where the baggage car normally stopped. Already there was a middle-aged man in overalls quietly standing beside a well-sealed cardboard box.

"Hi, Ed," said the man pushing the cart. "Are you working 36 today?"

"No, Chick," the man replied, "I'm just going to ride the baggage car with old Ben here." Ed saw the quizzical look on Chick's face, so he continued.

"You might remember him even though he retired about 10 years ago. He was my engineer when I first hired out. Took me on my first trip. Taught me a lot through the years. He died and was cremated last week. I saw the family at the services and they asked whether he had ever said anything to me about how he would like his remains to be handled.

"At first I said no, but later I remember that once, many years ago when heading east near midnight with about 80 cars of perishables behind an M-2a, we were just past Clarence when Ben suddenly reached up and opened the throttle all the way. Gave that engine its full head of steam. We really took off, and for the first time in my life I felt how a steam engine could respond. It was terrific, like a thoroughbred being allowed to run full-out. The headlight boring a hole in the star-studded night was we flew past the green signals, the soft glow of orange light from the firebox casting eerie shadows around the cab. I'll never forget it. We both looked at each other and for many minutes just enjoyed the breeze.

"Finally, above the din Ben shouted, 'I've always given them their head right here. They seem to expect it, and they love it, and by God, so do I. I know heaven will be just like this!' So I told the family about that night. Later they called me and said they all agreed that's where he'd want to be. They asked me to help out, so I'm going to take him there today."

The monologue was halted by the sound of No. 36 arriving. The E8's glided by, then came to a stop. Both men stood silently while baggage was loaded. Then Ed climbed into the car, Chick handed up the box containing Ben, and for a few seconds of knowing silence they looked at each other as the E8's rumbled and headed east.

In about an hour, 36 entered the level stretch east of Clarence. As previously arranged, the engineer opened up the throttle, giving the E's their head, and for a few miles the Zephyr became a stiff breeze. The baggage door was opened, and when he saw the place he remembered from many years ago, Ed reverently consigned Ben's ashes to the wind. They wafted along the gleaming sides of the sliver train, eddied in the wake of the observation car, then fell to earth, nestling softly amidst the ballast.

And there Ben rests today, near milepost 55 just east of Clarence, where he first knew heaven.


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