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The Phantom Train of
By Charles M. Skinner
the rails were laid across Marshall
where they go over a height of twelve thousand feet above the sea, an old
engineer named Nelson Edwards was assigned to a train. He had traveled the
road with passengers behind him for a couple of months and met with no
accident, but one night as he set off for the divide he fancied that the
silence was deeper, the canon darker, and the air frostier than usual. A
defective rail and an unsafe bridge had been reported that morning, and he
began the long ascent with some misgivings. As he left the first line of
snow-sheds he heard a whistle echoing somewhere among the ice and rocks,
and at the same time the gong in his cab sounded and he applied the
The conductor ran up and asked, "What did you stop
"Why did you signal to stop?"
"I gave no signal. Pull her open and light out, for
we've got to pass No. 19 at the switches, and there's a wild train
climbing behind us."
Denver and Rio Grande Railroad at Marshall Pass, 1898.
This image available for
photographic prints and downloads
Edwards drew the lever, sanded the track, and the heavy
train got under way again; but the whistles behind grew nearer,
sounding danger-signals, and in turning a curve he looked out and saw
a train speeding after him at a rate that must bring it against the
rear of his own train if something were not done. He broke into a
sweat as he pulled the throttle wide open and lunged into a snow-bank.
The cars lurched, but the snow was flung off and the train went
roaring through another shed. Here was where the defective rail had
been reported. No matter. A greater danger was pressing behind. The
fireman piled on coal until his clothes were wet with perspiration,
and fire belched from the smoke- stack. The passengers, too, having
been warned of their peril, had dressed themselves and were anxiously
watching at the windows, for talk went among them that a mad engineer
was driving the train behind.
Edwards crossed the summit he shut off steam and surrendered his train
to the force of gravity. Looking back, he could see by the faint light
from new snow that the driving-wheels on the rear engine were bigger
than his own, and that a tall figure stood atop of the cars and
gestured franticly. At a sharp turn in the track he found the other
train but two hundred yards behind, and as he swept around the curve
the engineer who was chasing him leaned from his window and laughed.
His face was like dough. Snow was falling and had begun to drift in
the hollows, but the trains flew on; bridges shook as they thundered
across them; wind screamed in the ears of the passengers; the
suspected bridge was reached; Edwards's heart was in his throat, but
he seemed to clear the chasm by a bound. Now the switch was in sight,
but No. 19 was not there, and as the brakes were freed the train shot
by like a flash. Suddenly a red light appeared ahead, swinging to and
fro on the track. As well be run into behind as to crash into an
obstacle ahead. He heard the whistle of the pursuing locomotive yelp
behind him, yet he reversed the lever and put on brakes, and for a few
seconds lived in a hell of dread.
sound, now, he glanced back and saw the wild train almost leap upon
his own--yet just before it touched it the track seemed to spread, the
engine toppled from the bank, the whole train rolled into the canyon
shuddered and listened. No cry of hurt men or hiss of steam came
up--nothing but the groan of the wind as it rolled through the black
depth. The lantern ahead, too, had disappeared. Now another danger
impended, and there was no time to linger, for No. 19 might be on its way
ahead if he did not reach the second switch before it moved out. The mad
run was resumed and the second switch was reached in time. As Edwards was
finishing the run to Green River, which he reached in the morning ahead of
schedule, he found written in the frost of his cab-window these words:
train was recked as yu saw. Now that yu saw it yu will never make another
run. The enjine was not ounder control and four sexshun men wor killed. If
yu ever run on this road again yu will be recked."
quit the road that morning, and returning to
found employment on the Union Pacific. No wreck was discovered next day in
the canyon where he had seen it, nor has the phantom train been in chase
of any engineer who has crossed the divide since that night.
Pass in 1880,
photo by William Henry Jackson,
courtesy Denver Public
Compiled and edited by
of America, updated November, 2012.
About the Author: Charles M. Skinner (1852-1907) authored the
complete nine volume set of Myths and Legends of Our Own Land in
1896. This tale is excerpted from these excellent works, which are
now in the public domain.
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