The Writers Voice
Favourite Literary Website
A Drink at Woodford
This is a
lyrical poem; a piece of railroad memorabilia;
maybe a ghost story - take your pick. The
inspiration was a short poem titled "The Tank at
Mancos" about a water tank on an abandoned Colorado
narrow gauge railroad. In my version, the setting
is the Tehachapi Mountains in southern California.
On the long climb out of the San Joaquin valley,
the Southern Pacific Railroad had a water stop at
Woodford siding, a couple of miles below the famed
Tehachapi Loop (Walong siding). The footings
of the tank are still there, as well as the
memories and echoes of the past.
Pompous, weathered, like an old man it stood -
dribbling into the crushed rock they had shoveled
around the foundation to keep soil from washing
into the ditch beside the track. I felt the hot sun
on my shirt as I walked the tie ends. Heat waves
wrinkled the distance and rose above the talking
telegraph poles into the blue above. Immersing
myself into the old man's multi-legged grotto, I
found a fruit crate to rest on. I sat. The cool
droplets dangled, lingered and fell from the beams,
and the gravel tinkled like a wind chime. Lulled by
their water music I dreamed awake, and felt autumn
in the hot wind that would soon turn cold.
The old man's shadow covered me from all but the
sound of the two-forty-five, laboring upgrade
through Keene. Staccato blasts counted steady
cadence for the climb. Four chuffs and another turn
of the drivers - eighteen feet ahead; four inches
upward. The sound intensified until majestically
she materialized from the glistening heat. Slowing
gracefully as she neared and with oft-practiced
precision she eased to a stop at the old man's
feet. The sweaty fireman and brakeman clamored like
ants on the tender, cursing as they wrestled with
the giant spout. The conductor watched nervously,
opening and closing his pocket watch continuously,
as if impatience could force the steed to drink
The hogger dismounted with oil can in hand and
walked slowly alongside, lovingly wiping a blemish
from a polished side rod. Touching his can here and
there, his faith-healer magic quickly eased the
soreness from her joints. She drank thirstily,
panting as her air pumps breathed in the fresh
mountain air. Her generator whined in harmony with
the constant hum of the blower, accompanied by the
ever-present hiss and occasional snort from the
blow-offs. With two shrill toots she announced her
thirst was quenched. The melodic interlude
increased toward a symphonic crescendo. The massive
rods began to move, almost imperceptibly at first,
yet forcing the giant wheels to turn none the less.
They grabbed, then slipped, then grabbed again as
trickles of sand slid silently onto the rails.
With a groan the elegant lady resumed her journey.
Damp darkness shielded me from the stares of
faceless passengers peering from her coach windows.
They could only sense my presence, as I could
theirs. Forgetting me, they resumed their thoughts
of people and places now long gone. She quickly
disappeared but the sounds of her struggle lingered
on long after the last wisps of smoky haze drifted
away. I heard her faint whistle for the tunnel at
Walong and glimpsed her profile one last time as
she danced along the high fill of the Loop. Then
she was gone - forever. The grotto was once again
quiet and mine alone.
whether she had been in my dream, or I in hers.
Perhaps it didn't matter. All I knew is that I was
cool, and sleepy, and nearing fifty.
Critique this work
Click on the book to leave a comment about this work