Forgotten Breath

The Gonzo Journals

April 17th, 2023

There I sat. Watching. Waiting. Trying to predict every gasp of the air pump or the illusive gust through the trees. She falters for a second, bringing me to attention; my hands fumbling for the solution. Fortunately, all is well. She’s just keeping me on my toes.

Sitting perfectly still in a 1901 ALCO steam locomotive isn’t as easy as it seems. It was converted to burning fuel oil rather than coal, wood, or – in the case of the General Sam Houston – sugar cane. Does that sound strange to you? Nothing in the history books or the old west shows ever mentioned anything like that. It was leased from the Enterprise Sugar Plantation in Louisiana in 1961 and they had plenty of that on hand. A self-sufficient and “renewable” fuel source, and so was the water in the boiler. Evaporation, rain, etc. Who said the older generations were a wasteful bunch? They were brilliant. Morally? Not so much. Mechanically? Nothing today comes close.

Suddenly, all goes quiet in the fire box, and the scramble begins again. I increase the fuel stick, causing her to roar back to life. A sudden inhale of oxygen from the watch hole and a cough of flame shows me all is well. As with everything else in life, balance is a constant struggle. No steam engine fireman will ever be perfect. The lady of the rails makes damn sure of that. It’s her world, and the select few upon this planet who still have the pleasure of courting her must follow her lead.

A puff of black disperses through the smokestack, showing me once again that I’ve offered too much. She wasn’t as hungry as she thought she was. I cut back on the fuel and all returns to normal. Normalcy is an illusion in the presence of a lady, though. If it were at all possible, I know the iron girl would smile at my gentle motions, striving for perfection second to second. She just wants to run, but the powers-that-be have called her home for some much-needed tinkering. Still, she’s not ready for bed. There are miles of rail to travel before she slumbers. I remain vigilant.

Her pressure begins to build to curious levels, nearing the safety valve’s signal to quiet her racing soul. I offer her a drink from the tender and she accepts graciously. The steam gauge levels out to something less catastrophic, and I exhale, mimicking the chugging demon disguised in heaven’s wardrobe. The sight glass reveals when she’s had enough, so I cut her off like a Saturday night bar keep on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Too much could intoxicate her desires, and we all know where that leads. There are some things a true lady is never meant to do before the eyes of the public. Goddess forbid the YouTube scrutiny of the Six Flags & Texas Railroad. Enemy eyes are always watching, waiting for that one faux pas to make me inadvertently famous for all the wrong reasons. If they only knew the truth.

I can feel her tension as she nears the edge of insanity, so I repeat the process once more. If my readers feel as though I’m over sexualizing this situation just a bit too much, they obviously don’t understand how to interpret the pulse of the potential apocalypse. That’s my job, and it’s no different than the flesh covered beauty who inhabits the bed or the winking seductor who teases on the boulevard. There’s a reason I call the locomotive “she”. For those willing to argue the point, I’ve known several women named Sam. I’m in a polygamous marriage with two of them: one human and one steam engine.

At last, the signal is given. I intensify her feverish burn with slight tweaks upon her pleading sensitivities. I’ve toyed with her long enough. She sprints forward, slowly at first, but a full gallop is in order. The old girl sat motionless for far too long. She latches upon the steel track, grinding the straights and leaning into every corner. All is copasetic in Sam’s world once more. Her majesty builds to a crescendo and, as expected, she screams an ear-piercing shriek toward the treetops warning all of her continued dominance. Time faltered at taming the beast. One hundred and twenty-two years have faded since the first bolt led to the final lick of paint. The movie of her life has failed to tame her moxy.

She drives into the sunset, eyes narrowed to the blinding tingle of daylight’s defeat. She is immortal, unstoppable, and forever celebrated in the form of men’s dreams and children’s wonders. A rolling bomb who bypasses destruction for a glimpse of history’s past. Although I serve her greatness, controlling this lady of the rails will always be just beyond my reach. I react to her every shudder but know deep down this queen overjoys in her own deception. No fireman can ever dominate the will of a guided bullet. Again, it’s her world. She only allows me to exist within.

Translation: my train broke down yesterday and I had to sit for four hours while the maintenance crew fumbled for a solution. Next time, try YouTube.

We are not the same.



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