Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/248

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IN considering whether some of our frequent railway accidents may not be due to the character of the signals we employ, it should be borne in mind that these signals often must be caught and instantly translated into action under conditions of uncommon mental stress. And for this reason, defects of the symbols which might otherwise be far from serious do now become of vital moment. Yet it has been said that the work of the locomotive engineer seems to the observer more difficult than it is—that the long training through which these men must pass permits them to carry lightly their great responsibilities. It was the more interesting, therefore, when, on an express-engine not long ago, we had come to the end of our long course, and the din and jostle had given way to calm, to hear the engineer speak of the tension of his work. He had been at the throttle but three hours that day, and after going for a time to the round-house, would take his express back over the same run that night. "My partner," said he, "will have the run to-morrow. No man could stand it, holding her down in this way day after day." And so the engine crews on such a swift express lie off alternate days, and the engineer and fireman may not take out their train unless the entire preceding day has been a day of rest. Such carefulness on the part of a great corporation calls for praise which should be all the less restrained when so much must be said to-day of the shortcomings of our railways. Yet there could hardly be stronger proof of the strain under which the engineer must labor; for no company would give to its hardy servants every alternate day for freedom, unless experience had taught that the service itself required it.

Nor is it difficult to appreciate in some measure the severity of the work. Various duties that on an ocean steamer are distributed among helmsman, lookout, engineer, and the officer on the bridge, here fall chiefly upon a single man, and this where the care and instant judgment required seem at times to be not far below those needed for the guidance of a ship. The locomotive engineer must control a marvelously complex and ponderous piece of mechanism, keeping his sight and hearing and sense of shock so alive that amid the universe of whirl and glare and explosive rattle in which, for the time, he is centered, he can detect the foreign note or quiver that speaks of disarrangement.