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It was a cold and early morning in the minute town of Hope, nestled high in the Rocky Mountains. Snowflakes were being driven by a fierce wind that howled around buildings and whooshed deeply through the swaying pine trees. In those pitch-black hours of morning, someone stirred.
A few lights inside of an old house shone softly through the window. Inside, a man of about fifty years of age named Pete was getting dressed. He plopped down into his armchair, knowing his day of work was probably soon to come. After a while, the phone began ringing at 4:30. Pete rose up from his chair, walked into the kitchen and picked it up. Just as he had suspected, it was his boss Russ. Pete, a seasoned railroad engineer, was being summoned to drive today’s train. He walked to his refrigerator and grabbed some salami for his meal later on. He then began walking down dark street. In the distance, he could see the headlamps of an idling locomotive illuminating the falling snow.
He arrived at the railroad track and found Russ had dire news. “This past week,” He said, “I’ve been looking over our expenses and profits. I figured out that today is our last chance, or else were gonna go belly-up. That’s why I chose you, You’re the only person that can handle today’s train, especially over the summit with this weather. She’s gonna be heavy, forty-seven hopper cars of ore from the mine. Pete, I know you can do it.” With that information, Pete climbed the ladder to locomotive #3, knowing the fate of the entire town now rest on his shoulders. That was because the town’s economy relied solely on the railroad and the mine. Without one of them, the other would be unable to do business, causing the entire town to fold. The train had limited power, locomotive #2 was an old unit, coupled up directly behind #3. Although it would help pull the train, it seemed to give off more exhaust than anything else. Locomotive #1 was unavailable since it had been in a derailment a month before.
Pete gently throttled the locomotives, easing the entire train into motion, giving two blasts from his horn to signal his departure. He quickly began notching the throttle to higher power to pick up as much speed as he could, for fighting the steep grade to come. The train gained speed, and was soon charging up the grade as the engines roared and the rattling of the heavy cars followed. Having already passed the tree-line, the train was now at the summit. Pete was now feeling quite relieved from successfully making the grade. As it crested the summit, he gave a test of the train brakes to make sure they were ready for a long downhill journey. To his satisfaction, everything was just fine.
As he was going to take the pressure off of the brakes, a rupture-like sound followed by a steady hissing became apparent. He realized one of the components had failed. Pete did not panic, he knew that he had a last line of defense; his locomotive brakes. The train began to pick up speed in the short time that he had started to roll down the grade. He now tried to apply the locomotive brakes. They seemed to be slowing him down, but the immense dead weight from the rest of the train was pushing him forward. Smoke began to pour out from the locomotive’s wheels and they squealed horridly: the brakes were beginning to burn up. This was clearly apparent when all of the grease from the axles burst into flames and sparks showered by the thousands. Then a large metallic snap indicated that his locomotive brakes had completely failed.
Pete had just become the engineer of a runaway freight train. The train steadily gathered speed. Suddenly, Pete came to a realization. Thirty-two miles down the rail line was the town of Pine Canyon. The railroad was built on the mountainside. The problem was that the town was on the downhill side of the track. The railroad track made a tight outward turn as it followed the contour of a mountain. If the train were to go around the bend as fast as he was going, a derailment would be certain. That would mean a train would almost be flying right into the center of the quiet little town, insuring that nearly everyone would be killed. He frantically picked up his radio mike. He called to his dispatcher and told him very quickly the situation at hand. The only thing the inexperienced dispatcher could suggest was that Pete should jump from the locomotive into a snow bank to save himself.
Pete was angry, “No!”He exclaimed, “I ain’t going to let all of those people get killed. If you don’t have any ideas, then I’m going to tell you what to do. You need to listen to what I say and then do it! Understood?” The dispatcher replied, “Yes sir!” Pete then said, “Alright, I’ve got it. Radio the gravel pit in Pine Canyon and tell them to get every dump truck, bucket loader, and bulldozer they own on the move. I need a gravel pile that is twice as big as they would think would be enough to stop a train built on the railroad track immediately. Put it a ¼ mile before you hit town up in the canyon, the canyon should completely contain a crash if I have one, there’s an access road up to the track right there.”
He put down the mike, got down on his knees and prayed for strength, also accepting that he was probably going to lose his life. He rose up off of his knees and sat back down calmly in his chair. The train barely hugged the rails as it thundered along. Meanwhile, work crews worked feverishly to build the gravel pile. Now within four miles of where the gravel pile was being built. Pete radioed in to the dispatcher and told him to order the work crews to evacuate immediately, by any means possible. He lay his hand upon the horn and sounded it in a series of blasts to make it apparent he was coming.
Pete rounded the final turn. In the distance, he saw an immense gravel pile, and everybody had left. “Good,” he thought. He got down onto the floor between the chair and the control-panel and covered his head and hoped with all of his heart that his efforts would pay off for the safety of the townspeople. The train made impact at a blinding speed soon afterward. For that moment, every other sound on earth ceased to exist, except for the sound of crushing, snapping, and scraping steel with flying rocks and soil. The locomotives and part of the train lurched upward through the pile of rock and were sliding to the left as they continued forward. They slid over further and further off of the pile and began to roll down the steep hillside into the canyon, snapping trees like delicate toothpicks. The locomotive slowed with its rolling and began to slide downward while on its side, crashing nose-first into the bottom of the rocky gulch with a sickening thud. The other half of the train up on the tracks continued to smash into itself, as if the cars were made of rusty soda cans. Everything lay scattered and devastated across the hillside.
All of the sounds stopped, diesel fuel gushed from the locomotive’s ruptured tank, soon ignited by electrical wiring. As the fire burnt wildly, the smell of smoke jostled Pete from being unconscious. He dragged himself from the burning cab of the overturned locomotive with every bit of strength he had. He continued to claw his way up the opposite hillside from where he’d fallen, using just his arms. Once he was about sixty-five feet away, he collapsed from exhaustion, face-down. Pete was in bad shape, both of his legs were grotesquely broken, and had been dragged behind him like dead meat, his shirt had also burnt off ,along with all of the skin on his back. Lastly he was losing blood from deep wounds at a quick rate.
Pete strained to turn his head to the right. When he did, he was looking east, to look upon the most beautiful sunrise he ever saw, just appearing above the horizon. The colors of dawn seemed to have been painted delicately with a coarse brush across the sky, below the lights of the sleeping town twinkled happily in the early light,still blind to the incident that just occurred. He then died, looking at that beautiful sunrise, but with a calm, content smile upon his battered face, knowing everyone was safe.
The insurance for the railroad covered the cost to replace the train, but also insured the ore which they had been carrying. Ironically, Hope had been saved because of the crash. Pine Canyon’s citizens were touched by Pete’s self-sacrifice. The two towns united forces, each commissioning a statue in his honor. Upon the plaque read, “Pete Gregory: The hero who gave his life trying to save his town, but ended up saving two.”