Railroadin' in the Ozarks can make for some pretty excitin' moments at times. Some of those moments can even be "stain yer Hanes" moments. Case in point:
Things were goin' pretty smooth (for railroading on the Casey's Ozark Sub) in the middle of a cold autumn night as Extra 427 South rumbled past the small dept at Piney and started dropping down the bane of the entire KC&G: Buck Mountain Grade. Buck Mountain Grade is several miles of 2.5%, with stretches at or near 2.9%. (Some swear it hits 3%, but the MOW Big Heads vehemently deny that.) All the Old Heads know this grade well and have a deep respect for Buck Mountain Grade, and the newcomers learn to respect it in a hurry. Things can go bad in a hurry on Buck Mountain, especially if it's self-inflicted and you've pi**ed away your air. You get experience in a hurry taking trains down Buck Mountain.
The lights pierced a hole in the darkness as the hogger, an old head by the name of "Tater" Smith, dropped off the face of the earth onto the side of Buck Mountain and into the blackness of a cold moonless night. Things were going pretty smooth. GP7 #427 had a great set of cab heaters and the cab was toasty warm, Tater had his air set "just so" and was only having to use throttle to ease them through short let ups in the grade as he glided his train down Buck Mountain. Warm cab. Good handling train. Can't get much better than this.
Rounding the curve that plunges the train into Buck Hollow... Tater's heart jumped into his throat.
"HIT THE DECK!" Tater hollered to his nodding Fireman and Head End Brakeman.
Of what Tater could see among the eerie and grotesque shadows, a large tree looked to be laying on the rails! Avoiding big holing... Tater pulled off a deep set of air and ducked below the window for cover, as did the Fireman and the Head End Brakeman. If they went off the rails, it would be better to be crouched and braced, and if they stayed on the rails, at the least, they'd need to stop and check out the damage that this one WAS going to inflict upon the consist that was under Tater's charge.
With a loud "ka-WHUMPH"... followed by a the sound of rustling... Extra 427 plowed right through the tree. The trio of mountain railroaders crouched in the cab of that Geep breathed a huge sigh of relief that the engines stayed on the rails and the air hadn't busted into Emergency. Still rolling, Tater got up, and sat back into the "Hot Seat" of the slowing train only to face darkness: The impact had taken out the head lights. Eventually Extra 427 South ground to a halt near Jack Fork crossing.
"What's wrong Tater?" crackled the radio. It was the hind end as the Brains wanted to know what had happened.
"We got through a tree. Looked to be a big 'un. Got no headlights. I'm fixin' to go out and check the motor's over."
"Gotcha. We'll start walkin' up checking the train. Tell Henpeck (Head End Brakeman) to git out an' start poundin' the chat back to us lookin' things over."
"He's already on his way", came Tater's reply. Tater continued: "I'll be tryin' to raise the 'Spatcher on the horn to let 'em know what's goin' on before I git out an' start seein' what I can do 'bout the head lights."
Henpeck had already grabbed his Star lantern, cinched up against chill of the night air, and had started back into the cold night air to check the train, eventually meet up with Fat Dog and Midge. (The Conductor and Rear Brakeman.)
Fortunately, the headlight housing was intact, not so the beams. Using the small batch of tools Tater carried in his grip, Tater was able to pull the beams out of the rear light, and get the front light up and going again. That would be a huge help, for trying to ease your way the rest of the way off the grade to Ozarka (where the units could be safely swapped around to get a functioning headlight on the point) using nothing but a Star lantern hung on the front handrail would be a mite discomfiting, to say nothing of complicating a crossing. Amazingly, the damage was limited to the headlight, and what looked to be the steam generator stack, which now had a new crease in it, courtesy of the limb that whacked the tar out of it. That must have only been a limb hanging low and the rest of what appeared to be a huge tree trunk across the rails was a result of the strange shadows from the headlight that the branch was playing upon the rails. It happens.
Henpeck returned to the cab, and Fat Dog and Midge made it back to the shack. The train was fine. It would be A-okay to continue.
Tater put the set of power in reverse, and eased out the throttle to about 3 notch. The amp gauge needle went up the dial to about the 12 o'clock position. The units were loading fine. Seeing that all things were good, Tater knocked off the train air, and using the engines to lean against the the train (holding it in place), he recharged his airline. (No way the engine brakes would have held back the tonnage.) It would have been fool hardy indeed to just kick the air off after a deep set and start merrily down the Mountain. You'd regret that decision in hurry just as soon as you started pulling off what's left of your air for the set that was surely coming.
Air up, it was slack off the throttle, into Forward, and start what hoped to be an uneventful trip the rest of the way to Clarskville.
Railroading the mountains can make for some mighty unusual experiences. Pitch in the fact that yer railroading mountains on the Casey... and that makes it even more unpredictable. However, that's the way it is on the KC&G's Ozark Sub.
I modeled P2K GP7 #427 as a steam generator equipped Geep. It's the last unit in the KC&G's GP7 roster. The last three GP7's were ordered with steam generators to cover some of the lesser passenger trains that were still operating in the early 1950s when the Geeps were purchased. The dented steam generator stack idea was gleaned from Frisco GP7 #618, which had such a steam generator stack that obviously had received a thump somewhere along it's travel through life. Here's a composite pic showing the lasting reminder of that fateful night coming down Buck Mountain:
(Also note the handle on the sand hatch took a thump, too.)
I concocted the above scenario to explain the damaged stack on #427 which reflects what I see in my pics of Frisco #618, but also draws from several experiences I had while railroading the Ozark Mountains myself.
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed creating it! (What can I say? I was in a story-telling mood!)
All fer now.