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Tales of the rails

Milton Smith of Oelwein, Ia.

Jim L. Rueber

Milton Smith was in engine service on the Chicago Great Western between Oelwein, Iowa and Stockton, Illinois. He lived in Oelwein by himself having been divorced many years ago. He always drove a Studabaker car and he was still driving one long after the Studabaker factory had gone out of business. He wore bib overalls every day of the week and said he saw nothing wrong with that as Oelwein was a farming community and most farmers wore bib overalls all the time.

He was telling me one time about when he first went to work for the CGW they sent him to Graf, Iowa to be the fireman on the helper engine stationed there to assist westbound trains up over Farley hill.

He said that they had just tied up one day and the engineer had gone home and Milton went in the depot to talk with the operator for a few minutes. He said he happened to look out the window of the depot and the helper engine was gone and there was just a little trace of smoke coming from around the curve east of Graf. Milton took off running as fast as his short legs would go and he caught up with the helper engine, climbed up into the cab and not even thinking about any trains coming he backed the engine into Graf.

With some help from the operator they managed to get the engine through the damaged east switch and back in on the engine tie up track. While Milton put a short piece of log chain in front of one of the drivers so if the brakes leaked off again the engine could not get away, the operator got on the wire and found the sectionmen working over by Kidder and had them come back to Graf and repair the damaged bridle rod on the east switch.

Nobody reported this incident and Milton was able to continue working for the CGW for many more years but he never forgot to put a chain around one of the driving wheels whenever he had to park an engine.

Another note about the helper engine at Graf. Chet Cole grew up in Kent, Illinois and went to work for the CGW at East Stockton in 1910 when they were building a big terminal there. He later worked as a telegraph operator at Graf and he told me that when the firebox on the helper engine would need caulking they would send out a machinist from East Stockton roundhouse. The guy would ride out to Graf on one of the passenger trains nipping on a bottle of booze, by the time he got to Graf he could hardly stand up.

The helper crew had dumped the fire on the engine before they went home but it was still pretty hot inside the fire box. The machinist would tear apart a wooden grain door and throw Some of the boards inside the fire box to crawl around on while he was doing the caulking. Chet said that it was so hot inside the fire box that by the time the guy was finished he was sober.


Copyright 1998,99 Tom Tolstead
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