"A Sleeping Mind Is A Dreamer"

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

"Legend of Gold Pocket Watch", I heard...


(this is long, but I want to tell it as near as I can remember)

Back in the early 1800's when the railroads were being built across America, men worked long hard hours to safe guard the general public. Trains were moving cargo and people across the country, settling into new territories. The railroads created towns at their stops for water and fuel. Railroads built bridges and bore through mountains to create faster travel.

So it required strong brave men to weather the elements to not only build the railroad, but to 'man' the whistle stops and draw bridges. Men, who sometimes brought their wives to live in isolated unsettled places on the rail line.

And this is where the legend began, as I remember hearing it.

In the far north the railroad line ran through a deep thick unexplored forest. The line crossed a mighty river that served as a shipping channel to all sorts of boats and barrages also carrying cargo and people to new adventures in young America.
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At this river the railroad had built a draw bridge and a very elaborate massive machine. The machine full of gears with the pulleys and weights would lift a section of the railroad over the river and allow the tall smokestakes on ships to clear and travel through. Nothing besides the animals in the wild lived within hundreds of miles of this draw bridge, except one lone man and his wife.

They were immigrants from Germany or Poland, I don't remember exactly. Times were hard back then, and jobs were hard to find, but when he was offered the job to man the draw bridge for the railroad he accepted. It was early spring and for a while they lived in a tent until he built a small one room log cabin near the draw bridge. His strong brave young wife planted a garden for their vegetables. A train would stop every few months just long enough to drop off sugar, salt, and other supplies they had need of, including parts for the draw bridge maintenance. And they were happy together in their beautiful mountainous forest.
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The man carried a pocket watch that the railroad had giving him because it was imperative he kept to the trains schedules and yet beware of approaching ships. He was a master of this sole job by listening for the whistles of the ships and trains. Each could alert him with the code of whistles they were approaching and at what distance from the draw bridge they were. He also had a whistle he could alert them with an "All Clear" so the trains knew the bridge was down or the ships knew it was up and open. The amount of time needed to open and close the bridge was several minutes so it was important that he always be listening for the whistle signals and be close enough to the control booth to pull the levers to raise or push to lower the bridge.

After a couple of years of living in this pristine wondrous forest filled with all sorts of animals and birds, his wife announced she was expecting a baby. Now this thrilled him and at the same time gave him pause, considering how isolated they were, but she assured him women had babies all over the world in near exact circumstances, and she loved their life there under God's wonderful sky and its peace and quiet. So they stayed at the draw bridge and she had their baby, a son. It was in the middle of a cold winter, the river was frozen enough that the big ships had ceased for a few months, so the man remained inside the cabin with his beautiful wife and wonderful new son quite abit. They had foods stored and his wife knitted and he whittled toys as they stayed warm inside their snow covered cabin. Other then a few passing trappers or friendly Indians they were totally alone. He checked the bridge occassionaly, but until the spring thaw there wasn't much for him to do.

Time tends to flash by when you feel so much contentment and happiness. Springs came, summers, falls and the winters when his work would slow. The wife tended her garden, harvesting and storing up for another winter. Their baby was growing into a little boy.

The man would sit inside the little booth he had built at the end of the bridge where the bridge's control levers were and watch the trains pass. Sometimes he would carry his little son with him and hold him on his lap, while setting the levers to raise or lower the bridge. The passenger trains were becoming more common and more frequent. He would wave as the trains slowed to cross and he noticed children waving back. More families moving West, the country was growing. And the ships were becoming more numerous as well, which meant he spent more time at the bridge, staying close in case he heard a whistle.
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Down the slope under the booth stood the mighty gears that needed regular greasing to stay in good working condition. If would be disaster if the gears became locked up from rust or fallen limbs, so he had to make sure all stayed clear. He would walk down to the river's edge where the massive cogs were installed under the bridge and check to see nothing had washed up from the spring's thaw to clog the gears, and on occassion he would throw a fishing line into the water and catch fish for supper. Sometimes his wife and little son would join him and they would have their lunch at the river's edge. Life was good and they were happy.
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One summer morning when the son was about six. He and his mom were weeding their garden and as children can do in the blink of a eye...he slipped away and went down to the bridge, looking for his dad. The bridge stood raised for a passing cargo ship. He went inside the booth, but dad wasn't there. He climbed up on to the chair and lean out the window and looked down below towards the machine and saw his dad greasing the gears. He called out, and dad looked up and saw his waving and leaning out of the window. As if his heartwrenching thought was transmitted like a bolt of lightening, the son fell from the opening, landing upon the huge machine of monster gears and pulleys. The man began to scramble towards the unconscience boy, the light of his life, as fast as he could, but as fate has a way of punching us a second time, the whistle of the approaching 9:15 train screamed out into the wind. The man's mind instantly knew he needed five minutes to lower the bridge at the first whistle. He jerked out his watch....it was 9:10. A decision had to be made, to move forward to retrieve his only child, or rush up and push the levers to lower the bridge. The train would be the main passenager train carrying fifty or more people, and would crash into the river, killing all, if he didn't lower the bridge.
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God is blamed for testing our will power, our faith, our devotion to Him, this man was at that point in time. He had to choose and in the time of the next heart beat. He was crying and howling like an animal as he turned and clawed his way to the booth. He pushed the lever which engaged the gears and pulleys to lower the bridge................
As the train was passing across the bridge, the train crew thought it strange and wondered why the man was still blowing the "All Clear" whistle standing in the booth, openly sobbing like a child, as they rolled past. The smiling children were waving at the man, but they halted when they too, saw a grown man crying so heartbreakingly.
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Later the railroad company presented him with a solid gold pocket watch and a cash bonus when they learned what had happened. For his unselfish sacrifice of his own son to save the lives of strangers riding on the 9:15 train. A short time later he and his wife moved away and were never heard of again.
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Not unlike our Heavenly Father and his only son, Jesus , the decision was made in a heartbeat of who lived and who died. Not unlike our soldiers, our police, our firemen, even our President, they make decisions in a heartbeat. We give them medals and all sorts of honors, but the burden of making those decisions over human life is beyond any merit or reward on this earth. It must await them in Heaven, and pray there is blessed peace for that sacrifice of soul.
***The End***
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So that's the story I heard about the Railroad's Gold Pocket Watch. It was the Medal of Honor for sacrifice and service to their company, and to their fellowman. For their integrity and loyalty to strict standards of conduct. It meant something back then to receive it, it spoke volumes of the man who carried one. But like so many things, it lost it's value and purpose over the years.....it's old and good for nothing now in a world of cheap knock-offs and disposibles.
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My hubby received this one in the photo as a gift on his 75th birthday from a good friend that works as a railroad investigator. His company had given it to him for "Job Well Done", but he wanted to give it to my husband as a show of respect and admiration, and for getting old so gracefully. Which reminded me of the legend. Even this friend had never heard the story before. I guess with companies hiring and firing all the time, there's just no longer any need for legends to be remembered either.
more later....Maybe

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