Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Train Stoppers

My girlfriend and I were cruising around one Friday night when we happened to go through Hampton NE, population 450. There was a bar right off of N. 3rd St that looked interesting so we stopped in.

The place was packed and everyone seemed to be having a good time. After we found a place to sit down, the waitress came by and asked if she could get us a couple glasses of water. We didn't really want to just sit there and drink water, but she was really persistent so we said, "Sure, why not."

She brought us two nearly full water glasses and then stood back to watch. When we finally got around to taking a sip of water, we discovered that the glasses were filled with Vodka! Evidently the whole bar was in on the joke because it brought down the house.

We got to talking with the people there and I said, "It looks like you're having a party here. What are you celebrating tonight besides the water glass joke?" They said, "You're right, we ARE celebrating. We're celebrating our victory over the Burlington Northern Railroad."

At that time, Burlington Northern was running mile long coal trains right through town once a day. They were carrying coal from the mines in Wyoming to the steel mills and power plants around Chicago. They were so heavy that you could feel the ground shake blocks away as the trains went through.

One afternoon a local farmer was pulling a hay wagon from one field on one side of the tracks to another field on the other side of the tracks. Rather than going all the way around to a grade crossing, he just went straight across the tracks to the other side. As the wagon was crossing the tracks, he happened to looked back and saw the signal lights for the trains turn red in both directions. He guessed that the steel frame of the hay wagon had made contact with both rails.

Once across the tracks, he tested this theory. He took a crowbar out of the tool box on the tractor, went back to the tracks, and laid the crowbar across both rails. The lights turned red in both directions. When he removed the crowbar, the lights turned green. Apparently there was a small current running through the rails. This was some kind of safety feature to stop trains if a vehicle was stuck on the tracks and completed the circuit.

That evening at the weekly meeting of the Hampton Volunteer Fire Dept, he shared his discovery. A couple of hours and a couple of six packs later a plan was hatched to stop the coal train.

The next afternoon Herman went about a mile east of town with a crowbar and his CB radio. Fred went about a mile west of town with his CB radio. When Fred saw the train coming, he radioed Herman who laid his crowbar across the tracks.

When the train finally stopped, it was right in the middle of town blocking N. 3rd St. Once it was completely stopped, the rest of the Volunteer Fire Dept climbed into the fire truck, cranked up the siren, and roared up to the grade crossing blocked by the train.

The law states that when a train is stopped and blocking a crossing, the railroad has to break the train to let an emergency vehicle through. The guy in the caboose had to jog almost a half mile to uncouple the train to let the fire truck through.

Once past the crossing, the guys in the fire truck radioed Herman to go ahead and lift the crowbar while they bombed around in the country for a while.

It was a small victory over Burlington Northern, but one the town felt merited a celebration. The water glasses filled with vodka were a bonus.

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