The long June day was drawing to its close. Hot and strong the slanting sunbeams beat upon the grimy roofs of the train and threw distorted shadows over the sand and sage-brush that stretched to the far horizon. Dense and choking, from beneath the whirring wheels the dust-clouds rose in tawny billows that enveloped the rearmost coaches and, mingling with the black smoke of the "double-header" engines, rolled away in the dreary wake. ...
The long June day was drawing to its close. Hot and strong the slanting sunbeams beat upon the grimy roofs of the train and threw distorted shadows over the sand and sage-brush that stretched to the far horizon. Dense and choking, from beneath the whirring wheels the dust-clouds rose in tawny billows that enveloped the rearmost coaches and, mingling with the black smoke of the "double-header" engines, rolled away in the dreary wake. East and west, north and south, far as the eye could reach, hemmed by low, dun-colored ridges or sharply outlined crests of remote mountain range, in lifeless desolation the landscape lay outspread to the view. Southward, streaked with white fringe of alkali, the flat monotone of sand and ashes blended with the flatter, flawless surface of a wide-spreading, ash-colored inland lake, its shores dotted at intervals with the bleaching bones of cattle and ridged with ancient wagon-tracks unwashed by not so much as a single drop from the cloudless heavens since their first impress on the sinking soil. Here and there along the right of way—a right no human being would care to dispute were the way ten times its width—some drowsing lizards, sprawling in the sunshine along the ties, roused at the sound and tremor of the coming train to squirm off into the sage-brush, but no sign of animation had been seen since the crossing of the big divide near Promontory. The long, winding train, made up of mail-, express-, baggage-, emigrant-, and smoking-cars, "tourists' coaches," and huge sleepers at the rear, with a "diner" midway in the chain, was packed with gasping humanity westward bound for the far Pacific—the long, long, tortuous climb to the snow-capped Sierras ahead, the parched and baking valley of the Great Salt Lake long, dreary miles behind. It was early June of the year '98, and the war with Spain was on.
There had been some delay at Ogden. The trains from the East over the Union Pacific and the Denver and Rio Grande came in crowded, and the resources of the Southern Pacific were suddenly taxed beyond the expectation of its officials. Troops had been whirling westward throughout the week, absorbing much of the rolling stock, and the empty cars were being rushed east again from Oakland pier, but the nearest were still some hundreds of miles from this point of transfer when a carload of recruits was dumped upon the broad platform, and the superintendent scratched his head, and screwed up the corner of his mouth, and asked an assistant how in a hotter place than even Salt Lake Valley the road could expect him to forward troops without delay "when the road took away the last car in the yard getting those Iowa boys out."
"There ain't nuthin' left 'cept that old tourist that's been rustin' and kiln-dryin' up 'longside the shops since last winter," said the junior helplessly. "Shall we have her out?"
"Guess you'll have to," was the answer. "It's that or nothin';" and the boss turned on his heel and slammed the office door behind him. "Ten to one," said he, "there'll be a kick comin' when the boys see what they've got to ride in, an' I'll let Jim take the kick."
The kick had come as predicted, but availed nothing. A score of lusty young patriots were the performers, but, being destined for service in the regulars, they had neither Senator nor State official to "wire" to in wrathful protest, as was usual on such occasions. The superintendent would have thought twice before ever suggesting that car as a component part of the train bearing the volunteers from Nebraska, Colorado, or Iowa so recently shipped over the road. "They could have made it hot for the management," said he. But these fellows, these waifs, were from no State or place in particular. They hadn't even an officer with them, but were hurrying on to their destination under command of a veteran gunner, "lanced" for the purpose at the recruiting station. He had done his best for his men. Ruefully they looked through the dust-covered interior and inspected the muddy trucks and brake-gear. "She wheezes like she had bronchitis," said the corporal, "and the inside's a cross between a hen-coop and coal-bin. You ain't going to run that old rookery for a car, are you?"
"Best we've got," was the curt reply. Yet the yardman shook his head as he heard the squeal of the rusty journals, and ordered his men to pack in fresh waste and "touch 'em up somehow." Any man who had spent a week about a railway could have prophesied "hot boxes" before that coach had run much more than its own length, but it wouldn't do for an employee to say so. The corporal looked appealingly at his fellow-passengers of the Rio Grande train. There were dozens of them stretching their legs and strolling about the platform, after getting their hand-luggage transferred and seats secured, but there was no one in position or authority to interpose. Some seemed to feel no interest.