We pulled out of the station three minutes behind schedule - there would be two hundred miles ahead.
I pulled the throttle open a little too fast and applied sand to control the wheel slip. Once the drivers regained traction we were off and running, accelerating quickly to sixty miles an hour. I adjusted the cutoff to keep up a comfortable pace without using too much steam.
I called over to Angel. "When we get past the grade crossing I'm going to make up the lost time from that last stop. The rails are dry, and it's good weather ahead, running fast should not be a problem."
One year ago, Angel began firing for me. At first, I was skeptical about having a female in the cab of a AT&SF Northern Class 4-8-4 number 3751 but Angel proved to be very capable, knowledgeable and strong.
In the cab this time of year, it gets quite hot and Angel had opted to wear her bib-overalls, post-era steel-toed work boots and gloves with the long firehose fabric gauntlets - and nothing else.
Distracting yes, but I am a professional engineer and I could put her diversions out of my mind.
"I'm going to blow down the boiler before the grade crossing," Angel yelled to me over the roar of the firebox noise in the cab. "That-away I can have a boiler full of dry steam ready to go for the next one hundred miles." Angel was always ahead of me. "Once we get under way after the grade crossing, I have a Western Union wire for you that the agent gave me at the last stop."
Then, clang, blam and whoosh! All hell broke loose when Angel hit the blowdown petcock. The rusty and muddy water from the blowdown changed consistency as the mud from the bottom of the boiler blew out onto the side of the roadbed.
"Who's it from?" I hollered over the blowdown blast. I watched as Angel leaned out her side of the cab window to check the progress of the blowdown.
When steam and boiling water were the only things blowing out, Angel shut off the petcock and announced, "Your editor."
Angel leaned back into the cab and faced me, coyly releasing one of the snaps from the top of her overall bib and giving me a view of her pert, shapely right breast.
"For you after we finish with this trick," she said with a mischievous grin.
The above is an excerpt from the opening story of the Western Union series. You may read the series on my website angelchroniclestories.com