Thursday, March 28, 2013

Gabriel blows his horn

 Thanks again for all the birthday greetings. It's great to be remembered and I appreciated each and every one. It was a good day and it's tempting to just keep hiding out for the rest of the week, but you tend to lose track of things while ignoring the rest of the world. Had to look at a calendar just now to decide if this was Thursday --- or Wednesday --- for example.


Speaking of hiding out, I had this morning's topic all figured out yesterday --- but then got sidetracked onto the story of a prominent Lucas Countyan in post-Civil War Iowa, a Confederate veteran who came here to hide out because of his alleged role in the murder of a Union sympathizer in his badly-divided home state of Tennessee. More about that another time.

The long and the short of it is, however, that what was going to get done didn't. So I'm substituting a little story told by John Faith, editor of The Chariton Democrat, in his edition of June 8, 1869 --- a month before the second anniversary of the arrival of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Chariton. It proves, if nothing else, that new technology always has brought challenges:

It is but two years since the first "iron horse" was seen in Chariton, and its coming was hailed with unbounded satisfaction by all persons. There were those, however, who had never seen the "monster," and were unacquainted with its ways. They looked upon this civilizing machine with undisguised wonder, and had no more idea of its capacities than the Indians had.

The first night of a locomotive in Chariton occasioned a rather ludicrous circumstance. After the "iron horse" had made its trip, the steam was permitted to escape through the dome. It caused a strange noise, and it being far in the night, some of the unsophisticated were horror-struck at the unusual sound. Some thought that the day of judgment had come, and set themselves about making their final preparations.

In one family, the good wife jumped from the bed, and began to pray for herself and "all the rest of mankind." Her husband was no wiser than she, but he was not one of the praying kind. He got up and looked out the windows. Everything seemed to be in status quo, but his wife insisted that it was "Gabriel blowing his trumpet," and begged of him to prepare himself to go up.

Doc waited and watched for an hour or more, and his wife prayed and prayed like the good Christian that she is; but "Gabriel" still continued to blow.

Finally, no change coming over the face of the earth, Doc expressed his willingness that if it was the old gentleman sounding his trump, he might blow and then betake himself to the place of departed spritis, but he intended to go to bed and sleep, notwithstanding his "d--nd blowing."

Next morning, everything was quiet and the good woman was still upon duty in her household; but the joke was too good for Doc to keep, and it has lately come out."

This all may seem a little hard to believe now, 140 years later, but as someone who lives little more than a block from the main double-track line of the Burlington Northern & Santa Fe I'm here to tell you that locomotives, even in this post-steam era, still can make the darndest noises sometimes.

The postcard view at the top, by the way, is Chariton's second depot (with hotel)  --- constructed three or four years after this little story was composed and long since demolished. When John was writing, passengers still were arriving and departing at a much smaller and cruder building pushed up the tracks and into place by that first locomotive.

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