The First Day:
Wednesday February 22nd 1911
6:30pm, Weehawken, WA
Weehawken was a medium sized town that lay along one bank of the wide, lazy Colorado river. The town was long and thin in plan, sandwiched as it was between the docks and river to the east and the railroad to the west, but was wealthy enough to support a number of decent brick buildings, a couple of theatres and a modest tram network.
Weehawken’s station was not particularly impressive, little more than a robust clapboard shack, but it did sport a comfortable waiting room with carpets, upholstered chairs, modest gas lighting and a ferocious fire to keep away the bitter chill.
It was in this comfortable, homely little building that I found myself on the evening of Febuary 22nd.I was sitting in one of the wing-back chairs, smoking a small cigarillo and staring vacantly at the vast enamelled clock that dominated the room, waiting for my train to pull in. I’d been in town for a week and felt ready to be back in Seattle. I didn’t really have any real ties to the city, I had no family and my house was small and cold, but being in Weehawken meant that I was away from my business, and a business without someone in charge can swiftly become a mess, no matter how good your assistants are - and mine aren’t that good.
In the distance I could hear the mournful ringing of a bell. It grew louder as my train, number 25, otherwise known as the Cascade Express, approached the station. The bell tolled louder and louder until, with a whoosh, the scarlet locomotive swept into view through the waiting room’s windows accompanied by a gentle squeal of brakes and a hiss of steam.
I collected my case, a battered carpet valise I had bought long ago in a former life, and filed out of the cosy waiting room with my fellow passengers into the wet chill of the evening.
The day carriages slid to a smooth halt alongside the platform. Inside, in the orange lit warmth of the carriages, the passengers who had joined the train in Denham gazed out of the condensation-streaked windows and eyed up their new travelling companions.
As soon as the train came to a complete stop, a uniformed porter stepped off the footplate of each of the six carriages with a small portable step and began helping passengers and their luggage on and off the train. At the front of the train, barely visible through clouds of escaping steam, a large portly man watched the efforts of his crew, holding a shiny pocket watch in his hand and checking that everything ran to time. Standing with their heads and shoulders proud of the carriage roofline, were the train’s brakemen, their gloved hands grasping the brake wheel that slowed each carriage and held the train stationary against the platform.
I had travelled on the Cascade Express many times over the past few years, and had come to the opinion that the best way to cross the mountains was overnight, and the best way to sleep was to reserve one of the Pacific NorthWestern’s famed couchettes and lay down in a proper, if small, bed. I turned from the day cars in front of me and walked down the platform towards the two sleeping cars neare the middle of the train, falling in step as I did so with a shorter man in finely tailored coat. Reaching my car, I stepped aside to let him onto the carriage first and then followed him up the three short steps into the car and out of the steady drizzle.
All the Pacific NorthWestern’s passenger cars, be they day or sleeping, follow the same template: at either end of carriage there is an open portico ringed with a cast iron balustrade and roofed by the carriage roof. From this portico a passenger can either step across to the following carriage via a gap in the balustrade or open a rosewood and glass door, fitted out with bright brass door furniture, into the carriage proper.
Once inside the sleeping car, the passenger enters a tiny passageway, barely two foot across, and must immediately turn ninety degrees as the passageway routes itself to one side of the carriage. The other side of the carriage, taking up most of the available room, was row of couchettes, ten to a carriage and all in possession of their own dark wooden door identified by a shiny brass number. This passageway is so narrow it is impossible for a person to walk freely down it; instead one must shuffle with your body twisted to one side and any cases you may be carrying held out in front and behind you. It is therefore impossible to avoid banging into the thin walls of the couchettes so I recommend that you never book either couchette 01 or 10 on any Pacific NorthWestern train lest you suffer a disturbed night’s sleep.
My couchette, number 107, was towards the end of the carriage, but both the shorter man and I were unable to reach our couchettes because the door to 105 was open, blocking our way. The shorter man stopped, turned to me and grinned; a firm, even smile that failed to expose his teeth.
“It’s always the way, isn’t it? Never get on the right end.” his voice was clipped and precise with the distinctive accent of a Chicago native.
At the sound of our voices, a pretty nurse, her face fringed with brown hair and head topped by a perky paper hat, appeared in the gap between the door and the outside wall of the carriage.
“Terribly sorry Gents, I’ll be out of your way in just a moment. Just need to get Mr Vail settled.” Her voice was husky and throaty.
“No problem Nurse,” said the shorter man pleasantly, “take your time.”
The nurse nodded her thanks and disappeared from view. My friendly travelling companion turned to me and stuck out a hand.
“Joseph Moller.” He said by way of introduction, “109.” He smiled his even smile again.
“Edmund Parker.” I replied, shaking his hand firmly. “Number 107.”
Moller put down his travelling case, removed his felt hat and opened his coat. “I always find these carriages a bit too hot.” He said by way of an explanation.
“Me too,” I agreed, “but I never find myself complaining when we’re high in the mountains.”
“Too true.” agreed Moller. His voice was soft and clear and came from a smallish mouth in a narrow chin. His hair was light in colour and curly though it had been crushed flat by his hat. From beneath a pair of neatly trimmed eyebrows peered a pair of clear blue eyes. His nose was pointed and thin and was underlined by a neat mustache that complimented his tidily clipped goatee. Though his face could have been thought of as pinched and pointed its overall impression was one of inquisitiveness and curiosity. When he smiled, which he appeared to do quite readily, he exuded a sense of friendliness and openness that was quite charming. I took to the man immediately.
“I take it you travel this route often then, Mr. Parker?” He asked.
“I come over the mountains about six times a year. I run a fruit business in Seattle.” I explained.
“Let me guess,” said Moller playfully, “Apples?”
I had to grin. “I am guessing then, Mr. Moller, that you are local to Weehawken?”
“Not me, Sir, I’m from Chicago,” he admitted, resting his back against the couchette wall, “but I’m through here often enough.” He smiled. “I spend my life selling typewriters between Seattle and Chicago.”
“Typewriters? How interesting.” It wasn’t. I didn’t have any interest in typewriters. I’d heard of such a contraption, but didn’t know much about them. One of my office assistants, an eager, intelligent young clerk called Matthew, had asked me several times about investing in one, citing the improvements it would make for my business, how we’d avoid confusion over orders, how our invoices would be much easier to read and pay on time. I suspected that the real reason was to avoid me continually having to needle him about his poor penmanship.
“How is the typewriter business?” I asked. I wasn’t really that interested, but it seemed an easy way to keep the conversation going.
Before Moller could answer, a short black man, dressed in the uniform of a porter and wearing a badge that announced his name as Anderson, approached us from along the corridor.
“Good evening Gentlemen,” He greeted, “what appears to be the hold-up?” Answering his own question, he pressed past us and rapped his knuckles on the open door. The nurse, pretty brown bangles of hair bouncing under her crisp hat, re-appeared and closed the door.
“Sorry about that, Gents,” she said with a thick, rough-sounding accent, “it takes a while to get him settled.” She looked a little frazzled and there were dark circles around her brown eyes.
“Not to worry.” said the avuncular Moller, picking up his hat and bag. I smiled a friendly smile at the nurse as we all squeezed and shuffled past each other and headed down the passageway towards our berths, pausing briefly to let Moller into his couchette.
As ever on the Pacific NorthWestern, the couchette was clean, tidy and perfectly formed. The bed, a full two foot from the floor, ran across the right of the space under the window and was resplendent with its vibrant red blanket and crisp white pillows. The window itself, a large rounded rectangle reminiscent of a porthole, was fringed with a pair of red velvet curtains which contrasted with the white boarding of the walls. To the left of the narrow door was a small china washbasin in a cabinet that housed soft towels and the small steam radiator that heated the space; to the right a small desk space and a tiny stool. Beneath the bed were a couple of small cupboards and a shelf. I placed my valise on the desk and sat on the soft bed for a moment.
In the distance I heard a whistle, then a clang of a bell. With a short, gentle shudder, the carriage began to move. I could see the gas lights of Weehawken begin to drift to my left as the train pulled out of the station. I gazed through the window for a minute, watching the fireflies of civilisation move slowly past. Less than a minute later the lights had vanished and darkness had claimed the view.
7:30pm, En Route to Frasier, WA
I was finishing up my minutes of the meetings I’d been taking in Weehawken over the past week when I heard the Porter’s soft tap on my door announcing that dinner was being served. I closed my notebook and snapped the elastic strap into place.
I swung my feet off the raised couchette and stood, rearranging my braces as I did so. I took a look in the tiny mirror and smoothed down a patch of hair that had become ruffled. I pulled my shirt straight and grabbed my woollen jacket, pulling the lapels stiffly to ensure a good fit. Satisfied that I looked presentable, I picked up my overcoat and opened the couchette door to reveal Moller standing there, his hand raised as if to knock.
“Join me for dinner?” he asked with a slightly sheepish grin. With a smile, I accepted.
I followed my nattily dressed companion down the narrow passageway. Moller was wearing a brightly coloured blazer, cream with thick blue stripes, and was wearing a matching straw boater hat. He had the the air of someone going to a party.
In the second sleeping car we caught up with another passenger as she was exiting her couchette, a young plump woman with unruly brown hair and a curious trouser suit made of some tough, hessian-like material.
“Evening Ma’am.” said Moller, tapping his finger to his brim and grinning a cheeky grin.
“Mr. Moller...” came the wry reply in a broad Minnesotan accent.
“Miss Nellie Weathers, may Mr. Parker and I accompany you to dinner?” asked Moller mischeviously. The young woman turned her head to face me and looked me over with a pair of dark brown eyes. She smiled, revealing a wide mouth full of even white teeth.
“I’d be delighted.” She said brightly, and the three of us shuffled on down the couchette to the next carriage. Moller opened the rosewood door with its shiny brass fittings at the end of the carriage, and Miss Weathers gasped involuntarily at the chill air that spilled in from the open portico.
“Cold, isn’t it?” she exclaimed to no-one in particular.
“It’ll get much colder, Miss Weathers.” I said. “I recommend that you wear a thick coat when we go for breakfast in the morning.”
“I think that’s a very good idea, Mr. Parker.” Said the young woman as we stepped out onto the portico. Moller closed the carriage door behind us, and then opened the gate in the portico’s iron safety railing. It snapped into position across the gap, and moller then reached over and opened the similar gate on the other carriage’s railing. This he latched to our railing and then took the elongated step required to cross between the two carriages.
Moller stretched out his arm and took Miss Weathers by the hand and she skipped across the gap. I followed, looking down as I always did at the hefty steel couplings, steam hoses and chains that bridged the gap between the two carriages. The connections all stood out clearly against the pale grey blur of the railbed beneath.
Moller let Miss Weathers into the mail car as I closed the safety gates on both carriages. Once done, I ducked through the rosewood door into the functional interior of the mail car.
Here the passageway was down the middle of the carriage, marked by the floor to ceiling brass cages that lined either side. The cages were broken up into a number of different partitions, and were all about a third full with dirty brown sacks all stamped with the legend ‘U.S. Mail’. The carriage was noisy, draughty and poorly lit with narrow windows near the roof.
We left the mailcar, and performed another safety dance around the railing gates to enter the first passenger car. Unlike our couchettes, the passenger cars were one large space with a central passageway, their sides lined with ranks of benches arranged back to back upon which people sat for the duration of the journey. The passenger cars were significantly less comfortable than my couchette, but then again the tickets were significantly cheaper. It was warm and comfortable enough and we saw a number of families tucking into sandwiches and pies they had brought with them in small waxed paper packages.
Through another passenger car and we finally we reached our destination: the dining car.
The dining car was lined with back-to-back benches, much like the passenger cars, but between each pair of facing benches was a rectangular table covered with a crisp white tablecloth. Between each table rose an etched glass screen that rose up to meet the ceiling. The dark wood panelling that rose up the walls and flowed across the ceiling was elaborately carved with Corinthian columns entwined with fruits, berries and vines. At the centre of the ceiling was a large oval of painted glass. The walls also had oval painted glass panels set in them between each window, each decorated with an elaborate scene from antiquity. Not my taste, I prefer a more simple form of decoration, but it was always impressive to find a worthy rival to the interiors of the great Liners at the back of a short train in the middle of the American wilderness.
Each table sat six people and was lit by an electrical lamp in the centre. Each setting was laid with engraved steel cutlery, sharp white chinaware and smooth, simple glassware all engraved with the Pacific NorthWestern logo and set off with a sharply folded napkin of stiff white cotton.
Moller, Miss Weathers and I were ushered by Porter Anderson to a table towards the back of the carriage. There were already three other diners waiting for us; a portly man, his thin, ill looking wife and a strong-looking woman in a plaid shirt. Moller, naturally, made the introductions.
“Joseph Moller,” he said extending his hand to the well-fed gentleman who sat at the corner of the table nearest the wall, “this is Mr. Edmund Parker and Miss Nellie Weathers.” We took our seats as the gentleman introduced himself.
“I’m Edgar Lemman, this is my wife Ada,” he said indicating the thin and sickly looking woman to his left, “and ...” he paused.
“Potter,” said the strong-looking woman, “Jane Potter.” Her tone was brusque and sharp, and I could see why the Lemmans had yet to fully make her acquaintance. Moller didn’t seem the slightest bit put out and shook her proferred hand gently and smiled an open smile. I had to admire the man, he seemed to be able to make friends with anyone. He must be one hell of a salesman.
We all exchanged our greetings and settled into our chairs. I took a glance around the carriage at the other passengers. At one table there was much gaiety as group of well dressed men and women were clearly settling into making the most of their journey. The nurse I’d met earlier was looking bored on a table populated entirely by serious-looking business men all considerably older than her. In a far corner a harassed looking woman was trying to control a table of children. The carriage was alive with convivial chatter and hub-bub as the porters wafted back and forth with plates of food that was delivered from a tiny kitchen near the entrance to the car in which two white garbed chefs sweated and cursed.
“Mr Lemman, What takes you to Seattle this winter evening?” Moller again, quite the inquisitor.
“My wife and I are going to visit a doctor in Seattle, I’m afraid to say my Ada is not well.” Ada herself, gave a wan smile and said nothing.
“Nothing serious I hope?” asked Miss Weathers, her face showing pretence at concern, but her eyes seemed to be eager and questioning, as if homing in on something.
Ada smiled a thin smile, her lips pressed firmly together in a bloodless line. Her eyes looked pale, as if the colour had slowly drained from them, and there were dark circles hovering beneath them. Her hair was a thin brown colour and was scooped up into an untidy bun that was almost held in place by a large number of clips and pins. Her skin was so pale it appeared transluscent and her cheeks had a hollow and unhealthy shade to them. For me it was her hands that didn’t seem to fit. They seemed strong and quick with the skin wrinkled and marked.
“My wife has been suffering with nerves,” said Lemman in a sympathetic, yet condescending tone, “we hoping that Doctor Harding in Seattle can help relieve her a bit.”
A tall, striking woman in a sequinned red dress strode into the observation car and sat down at a full table. I was lost for a moment.
“Miss Potter, how about you?” I was brought back to my own table, and stole another look at Mrs Lemman. I saw relief pass across her face as someone else became the subject of the cnversation.
“I am just returning to my husband, Mr Moller,” said Potter with an open smile and a bob of her blonde head. “I’ve been staying with my mother in Denham for a few weeks and it is now time to go back to our logging farm.” She smiled contendly to herself, for a moment. “How about you, Mr. Moller, I take it you have business in Seattle?”
“I sell typewriters, Mrs Potter, and have been called to attend a meeting at our factory for some reason or another. I’m afraid I’m not sure what for though.”
“Typewriters, Mr Moller?” asked Miss Weathers. “I use a travelling Union myself, do you know of it?”
Moller beamed. “It is one of our bestsellers, Miss Weathers.” She nodded. “I am proud to make the acquaintance of one of our valued customers.”
Miss Potter leaned forward. “Does this mean you are something of a writer, Miss Weathers?”
“Freelance writer”, said Miss Weathers proudly, colour rising in her pleasant features. “I’m working on an article about the loggers and fishermen of the Washington coast.” Her dark brown eyes sparkled with enthusiasm. That explained the look I saw in her eyes earlier; she was eager for a story to tell.
“That sounds most interesting.” said Ada Lemman, speaking for the first time since we arrived at her table, “Where are you hoping to publish your article?” Her voice was quiet, but surprisingly strong with a little burr amidst the clipped, precise vowels. She sounded exactly like I imagined an English aristocrat should sound.
“I was thinking of that new journal, the National Geographic. If not, then I have contacts at the Herald Tribune.” Weathers’s features were rosy with excitement, her cheeks glowing, her brown eyes sparkling. Clearly she was loving this journalism idea. I got the impression she was trying something new and was still wrapped up in the novelty of the thing. The overall impression I had of her was that of a silly young girl trying to prove a point. I didn’t much like her.
“I have read National Geographic, it is an interesting publication. Where have you been visiting for your researches?” asked Ada.
“Oh, I’m just heading out for initial researches,” said Nellie bouncily, “experience their lives, look around a bit, sniff out the story to tell, that sort of thing.”
“I see”, said Ada, “and have you been the the Washington coast before?”
“No ma’am. I’ve never been to the ocean before.”
“Make sure you have plenty of warm clothes, and a good slicker is essential. The coast is a wet and windy one.” advised the frail woman.
Nellie held Ada’s gaze for a moment, then blinked, looked away for a moment, and then nodded her head. “I will do, thankyou.” She said as if admonished by a teacher. Mrs. Lemman was stronger than she looked.
The table fell silent, until Edgar Lemman turned to me and changed the subject, “Mr Parker, are you a tradesman or a creative?” Behind him Jane Potter began to chat to the other women about some subject or other.
“Tradesman, for my sins.” I said. “I’m an apple merchant; buy them in Weehawken, sell them in Seattle.”
“That sounds like a very profitable trade to be in.” said Lemman.
“I do very well, thankyou. And you Mr. Lemman, what is your profession?”
“I’m a small-town lawyer, with a big time case. Begins on Monday in Seattle. Quite looking forward to it.” he said, smugly, shovelling a forkful of roast beef into his small mouth.
“What’s the case?” I asked.
He swallowed noisily and gasped a short breath. “Ah, Mining rights, as are so many cases nowadays, wrapped up, with a couple of other companies, in a nice divorce case with two cheating partners and a whole load of animosity.” He grinned wolfishly.
“Sounds messy.” I opined
“Oh, it’s a bloody one. Nothing like a gold rush to get everyone at each others throats, eh?”
“I’m from San Francisco, Mr. Lemman, so I know all about the mania a Gold Rush can cause.”
“Oh, it’s not gold up here, Mr Parker. Silver is the ore of choice in the high Cascades.”
“I didn’t know that.”
“He owns the silver mine, which hasn’t produced a great deal yet. She owns a successful company making women’s doodahs. He wants a good chunk of her, she wants everything of his. It’s all gotten very ugly and I’m off to Seattle to see if I can, ahem, broker some form of peace.” he waved his fork, “and of course, a suitable renumeration for my client.” He smiled hungrily, and cut himself another piece of beef.
“Are you for him, or for her?” I asked. Lemman looked at me and smiled, and then changed the subject.
“Seeing as you have business both sides of the mountains, Mr. Parker,” he continued “I take it you have taken this trip several times before?”
“A dozen or so times, Mr. Lemman. Why?”
“I’m not a good traveller, Mr. Parker and my wife...” he looked apologetically at Ada who was still in conversation with Nellie Weathers while picking idly at a plate of soup, “has a nervous condition. I have to ask: Is it safe to be crossing these mountains in the middle of winter?”
I paused for a moment, and studied the man’s face. His chubby features were wrinkled and his eyes showed real concern.
“Mr. Lemman I have to tell you that I have every faith in the Pacific NorthWestern. I’ve been delayed before for sure, but by no more than a couple of hours. On of the benefits of an overnight journey is that you get to sleep through most delays.”
“They say there has been quite a fall of snow in the past week.”
“Really?” asked Moller, who’d been quietly evesdropping. “Where did you hear that?”
“The Station Master at Denham,” elaborated Lemman, “He said there was a lot of snow dropping and advised me to take a later train. We just couldn’t, what with Ada’s appointment and my meeting, we had to take this one.”
I tried to reassure the man again. “I’ve been stopped a couple of times, delayed for a day once, but there was never any worry and it was still faster than taking the southern route. Even if the snows are really bad I’m sure they’ll get us through.”
“I hope you’re right, Mr Parker.” said Lemman, with a grin that made me uneasy.
Beside me Moller rolled his eyes and returned to his meal.
9:30pm, En Route to Frasier, WA
After dinner we moved out of the dining car and, entered the last car of the train, the observation car. A third of the carriage was given over to the tiny kitchen that supplied our delicious meal, but after shuffling through the off-centre passageway around the kitchen, we walked into the open space of the observation car proper. Apart from a small piano built into the wall next to the exit door, the furniture was a free-standing mixture of tables and low chairs. Both sides of the carriage were lined with a bench built out from the wall, and groups of people sat, stood and talked while the men smoked and the women chatted. It was a convivial space, full of smoke and conversation.
Edgar Lemman, his wife, Miss Weathers, Jane Potter, the ever-present Moller and I went to join a much larger group listening to the stories of a big burly man in a wheeled chair. He sat in the middle of the swaying, rocking car holding sway like the king of some mediaeval court.
As we joined the group, the big man was completing some tale about shouting down a business competitor and making a great deal of money in the process. Moller seemed genuinely interested and pushed himself to closer to the others in order to better hear.
“Who’s the man?” I asked Jane Potter, but it was Nellie Weathers who answered.
“He’s James J. Brawn, the railway magnate. Owner and builder of the the Pacific NorthWestern”
“You know him?” I asked, impressed.
“I know of him.” She answered enigmatically.
“Well, I know of him.” I answered sarcastically. “He’s been news for the past fifty years, but I wouldn’t be able to recognise him in person.” I answered, probing for more information from her.
“My father used to work for him on the construction of this line.”
“That must have been tough.”
She turned her head to look at me and her dark eyes showed a firmness I initially thought impossible of her.
“You have no idea.” was all she said, and then she turned her attention back to the larger conversation surrounding Brawn.
The old man was in full flow with his stories, told in a rich, booming voice that blasted through any other conversation like a cannonball. His mouth was hard to discern through a thick grey beard that reached to his chest where it rested upon a fine woollen waistcoat in the same red as his railroad. He was a big man, proud of stomach and broad of shoulder. Even in his chair he was practically at eye-level with the smaller women present, such as Miss Weathers.
As he spoke he rocked back and forth in his wheeled chair, causing it to move slightly against its brakes and as his excitement mounted, so did his motion. His eyes were as grey as his beard and his fine domed head rose from his bushy eyebrows like the peak of some noble mountain. From the moment you saw him, you knew all the stories and allegations and tales and heroic feats you had ever heard about him were true. The man was a presence.
“The pioneers of the Oregon trail called them ‘The Last Mountains’.” he continued. “Imagine it. You have hiked two thousand miles from Missouri and you come across the Cascade range: 80 miles wide and five thousand feet high. The foothills are covered in dense forests, too dense to penetrate without following a river or finding some sort of animal trail. There’s little or no grass, so any animals you’ve brought with you will probably die and you’ve no idea how to get through what seems like a wall of crumbling rock.
“The only real way through the mountains in the early days was to travel down the Columbia River, which was an adventure in itself. The first people to do it were the explorers Lewis and Clark in 1806, and even they were stopped by the massive rapids they discovered in the deep Columbia river gorge; rapids so wide, so fast and so ferocious they gave a name to the entire mountain range. Even today those rapids have had to be bypassed by a canal system in order to allow river traffic to pass through the mountains.
“The first overland trails were not much better. The first and best of them, called the Barlow Road, had one slope at an impossible sixty per cent grade; Wagons were winched down this portion of the road on ropes strapped to trees. Hardly ideal for a major transport route.”
Brawn paused in his tale. He stifled a cough with a meaty paw, which caused his moustache to twitch and his beard to shudder. He took a sip of some liquor from the tumbler that he gripped in his right hand and then continued with his tale.
“About this time, someone usually points out that the much higher Rocky mountains had a railway line put through them in 1869, but to say that shows a misunderstanding of the nature of the Cascade mountains.” He smiled at his audience.
“The Cascades may not be high, but they are young and they are complex. This means that the mountains are steeper and far more rugged than the Rockies. They are riddled with blind canyons, all of which are lined by towering cliffs. This was why following the river was the only known way through the range at first – the early explorers figured that all that water had to go somewhere.
“And if the geography of mountains caused problems, the very nature of the mountains made crossing them almost impossible. The rock of the Cascades is delicate; it breaks and shatters easily, and when your cliffs are steep and your peaks are sharp, great chunks of the rock frequently break off and tumble into the valleys below.”
Brawn paused again, this time for effect. He looked up from his chair, his gnarled hands looked impossibly ancient, but his face and eyes blazed with an inner strength that showed the true core of the man. In an instant I saw what made James J. Brawn such a legend: Civil War General, railroad businessman, legendary railroad builder, fearsome foreman. The man who conquered the Cascades; The very man who had built the line over which were travelling at that very moment; The saviour of Seattle, the man who linked Vancouver to the rest of the World, the visionary who turned millions of investor dollars into ninety-five miles of sinuous iron rails that cleared a mountain range at a five per cent grade.
“Building a railway through the Cascades was not my idea.” he continued, modestly. “I mean, I was not the first. Samuel Barlow, the man who created the Barlow Road, proposed a rail route in 1835, only five years after the first rails were laid in the East. Twenty years later, Congress was convinced and put up $150,000 to fund surveys into the possibility of creating a railroad through the mountains.
“One of those men assigned to survey the mountains was a colleague of mine called Franklin Weathers. In 1853 he organised a survey of the northern part of the range, close to the border with Canada. Other teams discovered routes through the mountains to the South, or along the river, but Sharp spent two years walking his team into every blind canyon and up every hopeless defile across a thirty mile wide frontier.”
I noticed Nellie Weathers press her lips firmly together at this.
“In the end he comes up with this route, this ludicrous route,” he banged one of the arms of his chair for emphasis. “Ninety-five miles of twisting track: the summit switchbacks, the Horseshoe tunnel, the Cascade tunnel, the Frasier Grade, the Windy Point turn. It was a route, but only just. Two years later it was most definitely a railroad.”
He looked up with a proud smile and fire in his eyes. “This railroad is, I believe, one of the great wonders of the modern world!”
There was such passion, such belief, such ferocity to his speech that the observation car erupted into applause. I must confess I was carried along with the moment as well, and had to stop myself from applauding as enthusiastically as my compatriots.
I stopped when I noticed that Miss Weathers, standing next to me, was not applauding, was not participating in the slightest. Instead she was staring at Brawn intensely, then shook her head sadly and turned away.
“Mis Weathers ... ?” I asked, in a quiet voice
“Good Night, Mr. Parker.” she said with a gentle finality and walked out of the car.
In the middle of his fans, Brawn beamed.
Someone touched my arm. I turned to face the Lemmans; Edgar looking warm and Ada looking sick.
“Good night, Mr. Parker, thankyou for an enjoyable evening.” He said is in warm, deep voice.
“Yes, thankyou.” murmured Ada quietly. It seemed that speaking was an effort for her.
“You’re both most welcome,” I replied. “I wish you a good night.”
I watched the Lemmans shuffle off towards the exit, Ada leaning on her husband slightly, her thin frame slightly hunched. They looked old.
Finding myself alone for the moment I looked around for Moller, only to find him talking to the young mother I’d spotted earlier. I decided to have a cigarillo on the back porch of the observation car and get a bit of fresh air before the night became too cold.
I grabbed my overcoat from the chair and stepped out through the heavy wooden doors and onto the porch. The wind instantly plucked at the lapels and hem of my coat as the cold air shocked my lungs. I shuddered involuntarily and closed the door behind me with a snap.
I stood on the small platform, a foot and a half wide and hemmed with a cast iron balustrade at the floor and thick wooden walls at the sides. Above me the carriage roof extended to provide a bit more shelter, but it was a cold, blustery, swaying place to spend some time. As I rummaged in my pockets for my cigarillo case and my lighter, I stared out at the rails disappearing off into the gloom behind us like silver spears. To the right the low foothills rose up, clothed in indistinct trees and bushes. To the left the silver mirror of the Weehawken River spread like a shimmering cloth on the landscape.
I lit a cigarillo with my new Zippo lighter, a new design that was quite the latest thing in Seattle. Mine was made of steel and engraved with my initials, a luxury I had treated myself to at the end of last year. Elizabeth, my housekeeper, said I should treat myself to something and, for once, I had no excuse not to. I took lungful of smoke, seeing the end of the small black stick glow against the night, and feeling a warm glow flow through me. I gazed out back the way we had come. A small tree whistled past and was swallowed by the gloom. I exhaled with a bit of a sigh.
“Last one before bed?” said a voice from the far right of the platform.
“Who’s there?” I asked, startled. A figure was huddling in the corner where the wooden walls met, trying to stay out of the breeze. It took a step forward into the pool of light that came from the lamp above the door and I saw it was the tall, striking looking woman I’d noticed at dinner.
“I’m sorry” she said, projecting her voice over the clatter of the train. “I didn’t mean to startle you.” She was blessed with a tumbling head of hair that billowed about her fine features like curtains in a draft where it wasn’t trapped under her thick fur hat. Her coat was trimmed in some kind of fur and fastened with three shiny brass buttons. Her feet were clad in tall leather boots that disappeared into her coat, her hands were sheathed in fine gloves and her long fingers held a long, elegant cigarette holder from which a white stick glowed.
“I didn’t see you there, Miss,” I admitted. “You gave me quite a fright.”
“Just trying to stay out of the draft, it’s frightful windy out here.” she explained. Her voice was cultured and free from accent and came from a shapely mouth tastefully highlighted with lipstick.
“I’m Elizabeth Latsch, Libby.” she stuck out a hand in business-like manner.
“Edmund Parker.” I announced, shaking her hand politely. “I assume you are out here because of the cigarette ban?” I asked, cigarettes being illegal in Washington State at the time.
“That hadn’t occurred to me.” she said, frowning at her holder. “I was told by the porter that I wasn’t allowed to smoke in the lounge car. This is the only other place.” she sounded disgusted. “I’m a woman,” explained Miss Latsch seeing my bemusement. “We’re not allowed to smoke with the men. Not seemly, apparently.” She huffed frustratedly. “Another stupid rule, in my opinion.”
“I agree.” I said, “there are a few too many nowadays.”
“In Britain there’s a group who are chaining themselves to railings and getting themselves arrested for acts of civil disobedience. Trying to get the voice of women heard in higher office, maybe even obtain the right to vote. Over here we’re more civilised, but it won’t be long before some of these restrictive rules will be removed from our society.”
“I take it then, Miss Latsch, you are some form of suffragette?”
“I prefer to think of myself as a member of the North American Woman Suffrage Association, but suffragette is our popular name. How do you stand on the question of women’s suffrage, Mr. Parker? Should we be entitled to vote?” She shifted her head and I was able to see the rest of her face for the first time; high thin eyebrows and wide blue eyes that gleamed in the moonlight.
“I believe that all men are created equal, Miss Latsch, and that no matter what colour, creed – or sex – we should all treat each other with dignity and respect.”
“That’s a nice liberal view to have Mr. Parker, but that didn’t answer my question.” she said archly, eyebrows raised and a wry grin upon her curvaceous mouth.
“I believe that everyone should have the right to vote, Miss Latsch.” I tried again. She smiled, and I continued; “Men, Women, White, Indian, Chinese or Negro.” I took a draw on my cigarillo.
“Even the Blacks?” she sounded unconvinced.
“Have we not just fought a war to treat them like men, not animals?”
“Men yes, but more they are surely more like children. I do not believe they have the necessary maturity to make decisions of such importance as how our country is run.”
“I have to say I find that a surprising view from a Suffragette.” Now it was my turn to grin.
“True, Mr. Parker.” She grinned back. “Perhaps I am not as radical a liberal as you are.” She took a long draw on her cigarette, the paper tube glowing fiercely. “Let me guess, you are either from Boston, or California.”
I smiled and nodded my head. “San Francisco, born and raised.” I answered. She barked a laugh of amusement at my response.
“So what brings you up to this frozen North?”
“Business, I’m in the Apple Trade.”
“But you’re from California?” she inquired, “why sell Apples in the silver North when surely you could be selling oranges in the golden South?”
“I moved up here for a new start, Miss Latsch, after the earthquake.”
She was silent for a moment, and her eyes avoided mine.
“Of course. I’m sorry Mr. Parker, it must have been awful.” she was quieter now.
There was an awkward silence, only the clickety-clack of the train wheels on the rails and the hush of the wind.
“What brings you to this frozen north, Miss Latsch?” I changed the subject.
“My husband, sort of.” she said enigmatically.
“I’m sorry, I assumed... “I said awkwardly.
“Divorced. I should add. He went off with the maid, I went off with his money. Came out West and founded a hair clip business.” she said proudly.
“I’m impressed.” I was. “Are your hair clips revolutionary in some way?”
Instead of answering, she clamped her cigarette holder between her teeth, and plucked a device from her hair, allowing a further handful of curls to fall to her shoulders. She handed over a small item to me.
It was a pair of toothed combs connected together by a spring that held the pair closed when released. I could immediately see that this was a simple way of holding together large amounts of hair simply and easily. Libby Latsch clearly had some brains to go with her beauty.
“That’s very impressive.” I said, handing the clip back to its owner.
“Thankyou, Mr. Parker. They’ve proven to be quite popular, so someone must be finding them useful.”
Our conversation lapsed for a moment and the pair of us gazed out at the train tracks, looking out at where we’d come from, looking back into time. We smoked in silence. On the ground alongside the track were the first small patches of snow, reminding us that we were climbing into more hostile terrain. I finished my cigarillo and pulled my coat around me. Beside me Libby Latsch was fitting another cigarette into her holder.
“You do know those are illegal, don’t you?” I asked in a mischievous manner.
“Stupid rule,” came the snappy reply, “I ask you, why are cigarettes banned, but cigars fine?”
I didn’t know
“It is simple,” she continued, “cigars and your panatelas are primarily smoked by men, cigarettes are popular with women.”
“I see. Another grievance for the suffragettes, Miss Latsch?”
“Indeed, Mr. Parker.” She took a long drag on her cigarette and blew a plume of smoke out into the night, and smiled. There was something in the smile, an unsaid communication between the two of us. I shivered, but entirely from the cold. I was uncomfortable, feeling like I was in the sights of a predator.
“Well I must retire, Miss Latsch.” i said, the words falling out in a rush. “I bid you goodnight.”
“Good night, Mr. Parker.” said the businesswoman, turning back to the view.
I left the platform and passed through the observation car, noticing that it had emptied out considerably. I took a look for Moller in order to wish him goodnight, but didn’t see him. Free of my society obligations for the evening, I headed back to the sleeping car and the warm confines of my couchette.