Held For Orders: (Frank H. Spearman Classics Collection)by Frank Spearman
"He's rather a bad lot, I guess," wrote Bucks to Callahan, "but I am satisfied of one thing-you can't run that yard with a Sunday-school superintendent. He won't make you any trouble unless he gets to drinking. If that happens, don't have any words with him." Bucks underscored three times. "Simply crawl into a cyclone cellar and wire me. Sending you eighteen loads of steel to-night, and six cars of ties. Blair reports section 10 ready for track layers and Mear's outfit moving into the Palisade Cañon. Push the stuff to the front."
It was getting dark, and Callahan sat in that part of the Benkleton depot he called the office, pulling at a muddy root that went unaccountably hot in sudden flashes. He took the pipe from his mouth, leaving his foot on the table, and looked at the bowl resentfully, wondering again if there could be powder in that infernal tobacco of Rubedo's. The mouthpiece he eyed as a desperate man might ponder a final shift.
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This 1901 novel Held for Orders: Tales of Railroad Life by Frank H. Spearman is one of the great forgotten-then-rescued classics of American literature. The book’s stories are told through eyes and words of gritty, down-to-earth western American railroaders apparently sitting around a pot-bellied stove during working men’s slow nights somewhere west of Omaha. Each chapter is a story of a different man in interesting times: the striker, the dispatcher, the conductor, the wiper and others. The stories are inter-connected as the majorsubject of each story is casual to others. Mr. Spearman, the author, was a banker in Nebraska who obviously spent a lot of time with railroaders (perhaps around late-night stoves) and he had an ear for the language of his time. He reproduced that language very well -- American speech as it was before homogenization by broadcast media and mass entertainment. There is poetry - not of verse - but of speech in it. I found this book in the attic when I was 12, well more than half a century ago. In the way one returns to see a loved, classic movie, I reread it every few years for enjoyment of the qualities of it.