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The Flight of the Coyote Special

The Flight of the Coyote Special


THE TRUE STORY SERIES. Whenever railroad men fall to discussing shotgun runs and long-distance record-breaking specials, the conversation is sure to veer around to the trip of the Coyote Special over the line of the Santa Fe between Los Angeles and Chicago, 2,265 miles in forty-four hours and fifty-four minutes. That was railroading. Where have they beaten it?

Yes, Scotty was the man who did it. Have your own opinion about him, but there is one thing' which you cannot take away from Scotty, and that is the distinction of having bought and paid for the fastest ride over the Rockies and across the plains ever made possible by steam and steel. The Coyote's record still stands and it is likely to stand for some time.

How the Graving for Notoriety and Love of the Unusual, of a California Miner, Brought About the Fastest Long-Distance Run Ever Made in the History of Railroading.


WALTER SCOTT has well been called the man of mystery, and a lot of people are still puzzling their brains about him.

Some say that he was hired by the Santa Fe to advertise the road; they say he was a train-robber; they say he was a counterfeiter, and wonderful tales have been told of his cache of thousand-dollar notes in a cave in Death Valley.

As a matter of fact, Scott, whom every one in the West calls "Scotty," was a young man who was clever enough to sell something which he never proved he had to a lot of Eastern millionaires. His appearance as a man of mystery was an accident.

One night a husky young man in the outfit of a cow-puncher walked up to a Los Angeles cigar clerk and asked for a fifty-cent cigar.

He tendered in payment a one-hundred-dollar note. The clerk said he could not change it.

"Well, change half of it!" said, the stranger, whereupon he tore the bill in two, left half of it on the show-case, and walked away. But he remembered the number; for, whatever may have been the matter with him, Scott was not crazy.

A reporter happened along, saw the torn bill, and, not being able to find Scott and talk with him, went away and wrote him up as the man of mystery.

Scotty, believing everything he saw in the papers, at once made up his mind that there must be something mysterious about himself; and thereafter he did his best to live up to the part. There is your explanation of Walter Scott in a nutshell. As for his amazing supply of money, he got it in the most prosaic manner in the world—in the form of drafts upon New York banking institutions; and the men who sent him the drafts were convinced that he had a mine.

In the first place, Scotty liked notoriety; that is, he liked it before he got too much of it. In the second place, he had something to sell. It may have been a mine, and it may have been conversation about a mine; at any rate, it was for sale, and Eastern men bought it.

The Coyote Special grew out of two things—Scott's love for notoriety, and his desire to convince people that he had a good thing. As a matter of fact, he had two good things; but it would be unkind to print their names. They furnished the money, and it bought themselves an interest in a gold-mine.

They were buying an interest in themselves, but they did not know that until afterward. It is the general opinion out West that if a man is smart enough to sell a gold brick to an Eastern millionaire, he is entitled to the proceeds.

Now, about that train. After the incident of the torn one-hundred-dollar-bill—and that trick belonged to the justly celebrated Steve Brodie, who also went back after the pieces—Scotty began to appear next to live reading matter in the public prints. When he could not think of anything else to do, he hired a special train from Barstow to Los Angeles—a matter of one hundred and forty-one miles over the Cajon Pass, and through the garden-spot of southern California.

Scotty broke the record with a whoop and a hurrah, and he liked the sensation so well that inside of ten days he slipped quietly out to Barstow; and I received a telegram from there, saying that the man of mystery was in the office at that point, arranging for a second special train. I wired him that he was crazy; he wired back:


Pay no attention! I'm coming in to arrange for a special train from Los Angeles to Chicago to lower the record made by the Peacock Special.


That was news. Scotty came rolling in from Barstow, stripped to the waist, and working on the engine with Finley, the crack driver of the division. With his usual blast of trumpets, he announced that he was going over to Chicago in forty-five hours.

The Santa Fe was annoyed. The record of the Peacock Special, which had made the fastest time over the road, east bound, was fifty-seven hours and fifty-six minutes; and that was railroading to any man who knows what the Santa Fe grades are like in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.

For a few days Scotty talked and the Santa Fe figured. Every little while Scotty would "spur the ole Santa Fay in the shoulder," as he called it and Eastern newspapers began to wake up and send in queries asking when the train was to start.

On Saturday, July 8, 1905, Scotty walked into the office of John J. Byrne, general passenger-agent of the Santa Fe in Los Angeles, and laid down a roll of thousand-dollar bills.

"I've come to buy speed!" said he. "What'll you take to do forty-five hours?"

That was the beginning of a two-hour confab. Byrne had an idea what the road could do, for the wires had been humming for four days. Every division superintendent along the entire route had made a report; Byrne had the figures under his hand. It was his opinion that to attempt anything like a forty-five-hour schedule would be suicide.

"I think I am safe in saying that we will better fifty hours for you," said he. "That would lower the record by almost eight hours for the east-bound run."

No. Wouldn't do. Wouldn't do at all. Scotty wanted speed. As for that Peacock Special, he knew all about her; and Byrne's eyes opened wide when Scotty began to tell about the number of times she had been put in the hole for hand-cars, as Scotty expressed it;

"I know what this road can do if I get the engines I want," said the man of mystery. "And I want the right of way over every train on the road, with the switches spiked half an hour in front of me."

"See here," said Byrne, "how do you come to know so much about prairie types, balance compounds, and grades, and things?"

"I ought to know a little," said Scott. "I beat my way over your old road about thirty times. I know every foot of it."

In the end, Passenger-Agent Byrne agreed to arrange a forty-six-hour schedule for the two thousand two hundred and sixty-five miles, giving the special the right of way over everything on wheels, including the palatial limited, the pride of the road.

As soon as the money was paid over, Byrne sent out a flood of telegrams. "All right; get ready," they said. That happened late on Saturday afternoon. At noon the next day the Coyote backed into the yard, ready to start at one o'clock.

There were four passengers—Walter Scott, his wife, Frank Holman, a friend of mine who went along for the fun of the trip, and the writer.

When the minute-hand of the clock crept to the top of the dial, Conductor George Simpson gave Engineer John Finley the finger, old 442 coughed once, slid rapidly over the clattering switches, and the great run for the record was on.

From the first minute of the trip we began fighting that forty-six hour schedule. Finley had been allowed three hours and twenty minutes in which to make Barstow—one hundred and forty-one miles away, over the steep Cajon Pass—the record time for the run. At San Bernardino, sixty miles out, we were to pick up a second engine for the climb up grade, drop her by a flying-switch, and go on down the other side to the Mojave Desert.

All that it needed to get Finley's fighting-blood into action was a four-minute stop on account of a hot tank-box; after that he knocked out miles under forty-five seconds, and came booming into San Bernardino four minutes ahead of the schedule.

Leaving San Bernardino with an extra engine, the Coyote tackled the first of the five mountain ranges; and Conductor Simpson, who had been in-charge of the Peacock Special and the Lowe Special, which established the west-bound record, kept his watch in his hand and one eye on the mile-posts.

The run to the summit was made in faster time than it had ever been made before; the second engine jumped ahead, took a flying-switch, and was in the clear as the short train came pounding by, topping the crest of the first range of hills.

The track twisting down to the desert was a dangerous place on which to attempt speed; but Finley knew every inch of it, and he let the Coyote out to the danger-limit. His best mile was done in thirty-nine seconds flat from Summit to Helen, thirty-five miles on a bad grade, his time was thirty-three minutes. With old 442 screeching like a lunatic, the special whirled around the long curve into Barstow twenty-five minutes ahead of the forty-six hour schedule.

Scotty rode the engine from Summit to Barstow, and he came back into the Pullman spattered from head to foot with grease and oil.

"We give the ole girl fits on that grade!" was his comment.

Barstow was Scotty's stamping-ground—the point at which he outfitted for his many trips out into the Death Valley country. The desert rats had their own opinion of Scotty and his mine; but they were all on hand to give him a cheer, and "sic him" onto the record.

Those fellows knew Scotty when he ate his meals at a fifteen-cent lunch-counter; and, while they had an opinion that they had entertained the king of the bunco men, they were not too proud to wish him well.

Then Engineer Gallegher took command for the run over the Mojave Desert. The thermometer in the car registered one hundred and twenty degrees, and the silver-gray dust of the desert, following the train like a cloud, sifted in at every crack. Mrs. Scott retired to the drawing-room, as the motion of the train made her ill.

With our coats and vests laid aside, the rest of us haunted the water-cooler; and I remember that Gallegher took the horseshoe curve outside of Bagdad at such a terrific clip that it knocked us all out of our seats.

At 6.38 that evening we went through Fenner at better than a mile a minute, and on the switch was the east-bound overland which had left Los Angeles at 7.30 that morning. With her start of five and a half hours we had run her down in five hours and thirty-eight minutes, averaging twice her speed. By schedule we were due in Needles at 7.30. Gallegher brought us in at 7.17, and grieved because he had not done better.

Needles made a record for a short stop. Gallegher took 1005 away, and 1010—the new engine, with a wild man named Jackson at the throttle—had the Coyote moving again in exactly sixty seconds by a stop-watch. Trainmaster Mills had rehearsed the whole program.

"This fellow Jackson," said the new conductor, "came down and just naturally bullied 'em into letting him haul this train. Drives her like there wasn't a curve on the line, hey?"

Jackson did. We were trying to eat a salad when Jackson hit the abrupt curve on the California side of the Colorado River. My salad landed in my lap, and the table was swept clean. Glasses were smashed, plates flew about the floor, and the two waiters, turned from black to gray, hung on with both hands. Scotty liked that.

"Do you know what Finley and his fireman were doing when they were coming down the Cajon this afternoon at ninety miles an hour? They were shaking hands and holding her old nozzle wide open. Me for them!"

In the dark the Coyote took to the mountains on the Arizona side of the line. At Seligman, four hundred and sixty miles out, we picked up mountain time, and the watches reported us eleven minute's ahead of the schedule.

Everybody knew that it was on the mountain divisions that the fight must be won or lost. On the Santa Fe "race-track" east of La Junta the balance compounds were waiting, and, as Scotty told Byrne, "You ain't got a man on your road knows how fast them balance compounds can go."

If the mountain divisions could deliver the goods and snake the Coyote into La Junta within the forty-six-hour schedule, the balance compounds across Kansas could be depended on for the rest.

Between sunset and sunrise the Coyote streaked across Arizona, a night of fighting against heavy grades. The small Arizona towns flickered by the windows of the Pullman like a hatful of sparks tossed out into a gale, and Division Superintendent Gibson held his watch in his hand most of the night.

Gibson is a great railroad man; nothing surprises him. Nothing gets a rise out of him. When he hoisted himself aboard the train at Williams he did not congratulate anybody, or make any talk about what his division was going to do.

"What delayed you?" was all he asked; and he put that question to men who had been knocking the spots out of the best running time ever made on a mountain division.

I did not sleep any the first night. Scotty, being built of whalebone and india-rubber, went to his berth and snored. Holman prowled up and down between the diner and the Pullman, not being able to make up his mind which would be the best place on the train in case of a smash.

Geyer, the German chef, who deserves a medal, prepared a midnight lunch for Holman, and while we were eating, the train came to a stop at some unknown place in the hills. Out in the dark, high-pitched and clear, like the bark of a coyote, came a voice:

"Ohée, Scotty!"

The man of mystery was snoring in the Pullman, and did not respond.

"Oh, Scotty! Come outen that and show yourself!"

No answer.

"You ain't all swelled up because you got money, are you? I knowed you when you was poor. Come out and say howdy!"

Silence from the train.

"Hey, there! I'm thirsty, I am! I ain't got no fool pride like some people! I'd take a drink with a hawss-thief, I would! Ha-a-a-ay, Scotty!"

Then the train began to move, and the unseen serenader gave vent to his feelings with some of the most remarkable profanity a man ever shuddered to hear.

"I guess that must have been Bill," said Scott, the next morning. "Friend of mine."

Superintendent Gibson had given his word to knock half an hour off the best time ever made over his division, the Lowe Special holding the record. His men made us a present of an additional four minutes, for we were in Albuquerque at 9.30 Monday morning, 888 miles from Los Angeles. We made our longest stop at a station in Albuquerque, where they restocked the diner and picked up a new outfit, which included Train-master Jim Kurn, a fine specimen of a mountain railroad man.

"It's a lot easier to be on a plain's division," said Kurn; "but I like this mountain country, even if we do have to put in twenty-two hours a day fighting these grades. We'll show you some regular railroading when we get down on the Glorieta."

Railroad men the country over know about the Glorieta Pass. Ed Sears is the name of the engineer who took us from Lamy to Las Vegas, up one side of the Glorieta and down the other, and a three per cent grade on both sides. There was some repairing being done on the far side of the Glorieta, and Sears had two slow orders to four miles an hour. He rolled them up into a little ball and dropped them out of the cab-window.

"If they pick us up in the ditch," said Sears, "never let it be said that they found any slow orders on us. We're off!"

Sears jerked the Coyote up Apache Cañon at forty-five miles an hour. We had a passenger on this part of the run a young man whose uncle was one of the high officials of the road. When the Coyote crossed the top of the ridge and started down the other side, Sears showed us the railroading that Jim Kurn had been talking about. Kurn was out to make up the time which Arizona had lost and send us out of the mountains with a chance to beat forty-six hours into Chicago.

Down the eastern slope of the Glorieta Pass the road is one long succession of compound curves laid out on the side of a mountain strewn with immense boulders. The first time that Ed Sears slammed into a compound curve, the wheels on one side of the Pullman lifted about two inches from the track and came down again with a bang that made the dust spurt out of the cracks in the woodwork of the car.

That was the program all the way down the side of the mountain. I looked at Jim Kurn. He was doubled up in a ball, with his watch in his hand. I ventured to ask him what would happen if the train should leave the track on one of those dangerous curves.

"The only question," remarked Kurn, "would be the size of the splinters. Don't talk about it."

The Pullman leaped and swayed from side to side as it righted itself around the curves; Scotty tried to walk down the aisle, and his shoulder went through one of the windows. Our passenger did not seem to be enjoying himself, and—I speak for myself—there was one man aboard who was trainsick.

There was a piece of track on the side of that mountain where it seemed that we were running over choppy water. That was one of the places where the track was being repaired; one of the four-mile-an-hour "slow orders." Ed Sears ran over at a mile a minute.

"This is what you call fancy railroading," remarked Kurn, when the engine whistled for Las Vegas. "They laid me out a tough schedule, but we've gained eight minutes on her, and you've had the fastest ride down the Glorieta that any people ever had that came out alive."

As we pulled into Las Vegas, the passenger came over to say good-by.

"I want to get over into Kansas in a hurry," said Tie, "and I'm no quitter, but I've had all this sort of thing that I want. I'd rather ride on a slow freight than on this train. Send me the newspaper clippings, will you?"

The porter on the Pullman also announced himself after that Glorieta joy-ride.

"Ridiculous; plum ridiculous!" he said.

From Las Vegas to Raton, over the mountains, and then a tremendous sprint from La Junta and the beginning of the "race-track" and the balance compounds. Hud Gardner brought us into La Junta exactly even with the revised schedule. To do it he gave her nine notches and threw away the lever.

Engineer Dave Lesher took the Coyote out of La Junta, and his actual running time for the first 120 miles was 111 minutes. It is 202 miles from La Junta to Dodge City, and it was done in 198 minutes, including three stops caused by a hot box on the diner.

Scotty worried about that hot box, and, because of it, elected to ride in the diner, with a bucket of cracked ice always within reach. Once, when the Coyote was forced to stop, Scotty was packing chunks of ice into that hot box before the wheels were through turning.

Somewhere between Newton and Kansas City, after midnight, I was in the diner, trying to find something to eat. One of the crew of the special, a trainmaster, I think, dropped in after a sandwich. Like most of the men east of La Junta, he had never heard of Walter Scott, and had not the faintest idea as to why the run was being made. He had heard, in a hazy way, that the man who bought the train was a mining millionaire.

At the same time, Scott came in from the engine, stripped to his shirt and trousers, and sat down.

"Well," said the trainmaster, "what kind of dash-blank fool is it that's hiring this train? What's his idea?"

Scotty winked. I said that, so far as I could judge, the idea was to get to Chicago as soon as possible.

"Man must be crazy," said the train-master. "Raving crazy. Nobody but a fool would want to run this fast. Ain't that so?" And he appealed to Scotty himself.

"Don't put it up to me, mister," said Scotty. "You see, I happen to be that darn fool you've been talking about."

The trainmaster was still qualifying his remark the last we saw of him.

At 3.37 in the morning we pulled into Kansas City, stopped just long enough to make a flying change of engines, and we were off again. With daylight we figured that we had a chance to reach Chicago in forty-five hours. The original schedule had been smashed to bits after leaving La Junta.

At Fort Madison, with 239 miles still to go, we were turned over to a big, quiet German named Losee, the engineer whom the officials of the road had selected to set the high-speed mark for the trip. He had one mile in thirty-nine seconds to beat, and that mile was made by the first engineer in charge, of the train, John Finley.

Scott asked Losee what he thought he could make the distance in, and Losee shook his head.

"Wait!" he said. "I'll tell you when we get to Chicago."

Between the two little stations of Cameron and Surrey, in Illinois, there is a slight down-grade. The distance is two and eight-tenths miles. It was here that Losee was to let her out and see what a balance compound could do. There were three split-second watches on the train, brought along for the purpose of timing that dash between Cameron and Surrey. Losee made the two and eight-tenths miles in 1.35 flat, or a trifle better than 108 miles an hour. Trouble with his engine laid him out for ten minutes, but he did the 239 miles in 244 minutes, including three stops.

The Coyote, dusty and smelling to heaven of scorched waste, limped into the Polk Street Station in Chicago at ll.54 on Tuesday morning, thirteen hours and twelve minutes ahead of the best time ever made by an east-bound special, and seven hours and fifty-five minutes ahead of the time of the Lowe Special, west bound. She had bettered fifty miles an hour between the points, and a thousand miles of the distance had been a tremendous battle with mountain grades.

The thing which pleased Scotty the most was that he had beaten forty-five hours, a thing which General Passenger-Agent Byrne had said was impossible. Here is the telegram he sent Byrne reminding him of that circumstance:


"Forty-four; fifty-four! I guess I'm crazy!"


The man who beats it will have to be crazy.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1924.

The author died in 1919, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 99 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.