Dan Peters often said that he would rather meet President Dan
Willard, of the B. & O., than Napoleon. He said when President Dan
pounded his big desk in Baltimore, the windows in his office would puff
out like the cheeks of balloons, and the B. & O. tracks would shake
15 miles away. What Dan Willard said of Dan Peters doesn’t appear
in the official history of the railroad, but it is common knowledge
among railroad men that the first time Dan Peter’s name was
discussed in Baltimore, President Dan shook the National Limited off the
tracks near Washington, and as far west as Cumberland, Maryland, section
hands dozing beside the tracks jumped up respectfully and tipped their
That was the day when Dan Willard and his officers, sitting
open-mouthed like a glee club around the big desk, heard that the B.
& O. had somehow mislaid a train.
Dan Willard’s eloquence, when the situation demanded it, was
like Boulder Dam breaking, but his silence was sometimes more ominous
than the rain before a typhoon. Dan Willard was silent. And when he
finally spoke, it was only to gasp, “Who in Tophet–What engineer
has managed to do that?” It took a long-distance call to answer
this question. When the answer came, it was in one of those moments
like Daniel Boone looking through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky: it was
the first time that the most famous name in railroad history since
Stephenson, save only Dan Willard’s name, had been mentioned in the
big office in Baltimore.
The traffic manager looked up from the telephone and said,
“The engineer is Dan Peters.”
They combed the record as though it was a Shetland pony, trying to
find what they could about Dan Peters. His history was neat and
favorable. Twenty years an engineer on the Muskingum Valley spur line
in Ohio. Twenty years a well-kept timetable.
“If you saw a roomful of quiet little men,” the personnel
manager said, “Dan Peters would be the quietest and littlest.”
A mild little man, the records agreed, meek and gentle, completely
dependable, but no imagination.
Then they kept the wires warm to the west, and the more they asked,
the more items people remembered about Dan Peters. For one thing, he
talked to his locomotive. When he came down in the morning to his
little train that had lain all night like a sleeping cocker spaniel in
the yards at Parkersburg, West Virginia, where the long greyhounds of
the main line could sniff at it before they dashed on to St. Louis or
Washington–when he came down he would put his hand gently on the ords
and say something to the locomotive; and it would pant out cones of
white smoke and tremble as though it were a streamliner eager to be off
for San Francisco, rather than a milk train bound for Marietta, Ohio.
So people said.
He called the engine “Casey Jones”–“Casey” for
short. “Come on, Casey,” brakemen would sometimes hear him
say in the morning, “don’t let ’em get you down. We
aren’t very big, but we’re good. Good old Casey]” he
would say, sadly.
Then, at 5:40, he would clang carefully out of the station. By
6:15, when the sun climbed the hills, spangled the river and danced on
the milk cans beside the tracks, he was in Marietta, 13 miles on his
way. At 6:20 he tipped his cap forward off his short gray hair to Mrs.
Blennerhassett, who lived beside the railroad, and pointed Casey north
under the Harmer bluffs. At 10:00, or a little later if there had been
many milk cans, he was calming his puffy little train to a stop where
the shadow of the Zanesville courthouse pointed the finger of its across
the tracks. Then, at 1:00, back over the 85 miles to Parkersburg. By
5:30 he would be sliding across the bridge, out of the coolness of the
Ohio hills into the late-afternoon sunshine, ease into the Parkersburg
station and tenderly, tenderly apply the air, so that the last forward
impetus would die just before the brakes had to kill it. This,
faithfully, for 20 years.
A calm man who said little and kept his timetables, everyone
agreed. Not until Dan Peters had committed the engineer’s
unpardonable sin and broken out of the timetable did people realize how
many of his little sayings had stuck like cockleburs in their memories.
“Would you rather own a zebra or a giraffe?” he asked a
brakeman one day. Another time he said, “You know, I was looking
at a map last night and found a town named What Cheer, Iowa. Now what
do you suppose What Cheer, Iowa, is like?” And one day just before
starting time, the station agent overheard this conversation.
“Bill,” Dan Peters asked Big Bill, his fireman, “do
you suppose a locomotive ever gets jealous of automobiles?”
“Uh,” remarked the fireman.
“As far as we know,” said Dan, “there isn’t a
hill in the valley with more than one side.”
“Want to bet on it?” asked the fireman.
“And no offense to your home town,” said Dan, “but
sometimes I get so damned tired riding into MArietta, Ohio.”
“Marietta, Ohio, is one of the most interesting small towns in
the United States of America,” said Big Bill. “It has the
biggest elm tree in the country.”
“That’s what I mean,” said Dan. “If Marietta
only had the smallest elm tree once.”
The fireman rolled his eyes.
“Every day for 20 years,” said Dan, “I’ve
picked up three milk cans at Ben Eppel’s farm. Never two or four.
For 20 years.”
“How much time we got?” asked the fireman.
“I mean,” said Dan Peters, “wouldn’t it be fun
to pull a string of sleepers over the Painted Desert? Or listen to
station names like Lackawanna and Tonawanda, intead of Marietta, Ohio,
“Mr. Dan,” said the fireman, “for a solid man
you’ve got the unsolidest ideas. You’d drive the train off
the tracks, like an automobile, if you could. If you could steer it.
“Well, I don’t know,” said Dan Peters thoughtfully.
“Casey and me have a sort of understanding.”
The station agent swore that is what he heard Dan Peters say on the
morning of the day they had to telegraph President Dan Willard that No.
41 hadn’t come into Zanesville, and apparently wasn’t going to
“What do you make of it?” Dan Willard asked his officers.
“The train isn’t on the tracks or beside the
tracks,” said the traffic manager. “They rode the whole
“I read a book once,” said the executive vice president,
“about a town that waited all day for a milk train. Then they
found that the tracks ended at the edge of town. All other civilization
had disappeared. The train never did come in.”
“What happened?” asked the consulting professor from
“The milk spoiled,” said the vice president. “There
was a beautiful red-haired widow in the book. It was a good
“The analogy doesn’t seem to be perfect,” objected
“Gentlemen,” said Dan Willard, “let us come down to
“It must be a very rare situation,” mused the professor.
“Unique,” grunted the traffic manager.
“Let us not make an arbitrary assumption,” said the
professor, producing a pencil. “Let us proceed empirically on the
evidence. We know at least that the train will be late at Zanesville.
Now, how many times in the last 12 months has a B. & O. train been
late in arriving at its destination?” “Ahem]” said Dan
“There’s no sign of an accident,” said the personnel
manager. “There’s just no train.”
“I read a book once,” said the executive vice president,
“about a train that was running along and nobody could find the
engineer, and nobody knew where it was going. They finally found they
were going to heaven, and this was the westbound train of souls, or
something like that. I believe it was a ship, not a train.”
Then President Dan Willard rose and delivered one of those pithy remarks for which he is famous wherever railroad men come to warm their
feet around an iron stove. “Gentlemen,” he said, “you
can lose a crowbar. You can lose a brakeman. You can even lose an
elephant. Gentlemen”–his fist fell–“gentlemen, you
can’t lose a train]” But his voice lacked conviction.
Alone in the big office, Dan Willard set about quilting together
the story of what had happened that day in the Muskingum Valley. It was
a long time before he could make the pieces fit.
No. 41 was puffing into a curve. The brakeman later said they
might have been going a little fast. Certainly they were going faster
than cautious Dan Peters usually went. There was a jolt–a slight jolt,
more than a loose rail, less than a cow–and the hills, which had been
on only the left side of the train, now appeared on both sides. A
picket fence was sliding past the windows like a fine-toothed comb.
The brakeman, in his sworn testimony before the Interstate Commerce
Commission, said that he had rubbed his eyes and leaned out the door,
and–he hoped the gentlemen of the commission would believe him when he
said that he was not drunk–he observed that they were running along the
He went back to talk to the conductor. There were no passengers.
The conductor was sitting in the coach, rubbing his hand over his eyes
“Was that an automobile we just went around?” he asked
“It was,” said the brakeman.
“Hold on]” shouted the conductor and braced himself for
the pile-up. But the train leaned around a curve and rumbled
comfortably on beside the picket fence.
“This is a funny kind of dream,” said the conductor at
last. “I have a sensation that we’re running on a concrete
“Maybe we’re chasing a rabbit,” grunted the
“If this isn’t a dream,” said the conductor,
“in 25 years on the railroad I’ve never seen anything like
“It isn’t a dream,” said the brakeman.
“But it simply isn’t possible,” the conductor
argued, “for a train to run on a concrete road.”
“Tell that to Dan Peters,” said the brakeman.
Then the train pulled up beside the road, and Dan Peters came back
to the coach.
When President Dan Willard finally had a chance to talk to the
conductor, he asked how Dan Peters looked that morning. The conductor
said that Dan came back in his sooty overalls. He looked a little hurt
and pitiful, if one didn’t look at him carefully. His bushy gray
eyebrows curved over the fierce wind-burned red of his cheeks, and when
he wasn’t talking his eyes were a cool gray and his face had the
downward curves that seem to say, “Here is a public servant.”
But when he talked his eyes flamed into the gray of an August storm that
sweeps uo out of Kentucky and breaks on the Ohio hills. He didn’t
say much, but what he said was sure and confident, like Pullman wheels
clicking over the rail joints at night.
“When will we get into Zanesville?” the conductor said.
He thought later the question sounded rather stupid.
“We won’t,” said Dan Peters.
“Where are we going?” asked the brakeman.
“I don’t rightly know,” said Dan. “Except
nowehere we’ve ever gone before. We’re even going to run at
night, because we’ve always had to run in the daytime. I’m
sorry for the inconvenience. You can get off here.”
That is the story Dan Willard heard when the conductor telephoned
the morning after the train disappeared. He was calling from jail. He
wanted to explain what had happened. When he and the brakeman had told
their story, a constable had locked them up as drunk and disorderly. A
justice of the peace had fined them a dollar and costs each, which added
up to 39 dollars and 20[, and there they were with $3 between them, and
would the railroad please do something. President Dan asked a great
many questions, then called the constable to the phone and explained
sadly that the conductor and the brakeman were bad ones who should be
kept in jail and on no condition allowed to talk to anyone.
Then he showed the executive vice president a report from
Zanesville which said that a sideshow had moved into the station to wait
for the next train to Marietta. Siamese twins and missing likns were
sleeping on the benches, and monkeys were playing in the signal tower.
The manager of the sideshow threatened to sue the railroad.
“I read a book once–” began the vice president.
“You,” Dan Willard said–“you seem to have some
ideas on this matter. Suppose you go out and find that train. After as
many years as you’ve worked with trains that knew where they were
going, you ought to find it refreshing to deal with one that
doesn’t know where it’s going. Which puts it in exactly the
same situation as most of the world at the present moment,” he
“The worst of it is,” he reminded his officers after the
vice president had left, “we don’t dare get out the police and
really look for that train, because if we ever admit we’ve lost a
train, they’ll never quit laughing at us.”
President Dan drummed lightly on his desk until the switch engines
danced in the Baltimore yards.
President Dan Willard began to see a pattern in the fantastic news
that filled the papers during the next days.
From a hospital in Indiana came the strange story of a farm woman
under treatment for hysteria. She told doctors that a small gray-haired
man with red cheeks had appeared at her door and asked permission to
park in her yard that day, inasmuch as he traveled only at night. She
charged him 25[. An hour later she looked out the window and thought
she saw a train next to the front porch. The hallucination was
remarkably vivid. She could even swear that she saw three men, two in
overalls, one in a business suit, cooking beans on the engine’s
boiler. Then she fainted.
The men in overalls, said President Dan to himself, are Dan Peters
and the fireman. Who is the man in a business suit?
A coal dealer in Watseka, Illinois, reported ruefully that thieves
with a nasty sense of humor had taken 20 tons of coal from his yard in
the dead of night and left a check to which they had forged the name of
a vice president of the B. & O. Railroad.
President Dan looked a long time at that item, then called in the
visiting professor from Cornell, who was on his way to address the
Baltimore Kiwanis Club.
“I’m going to make you a detective,” the president
said. “If you can’t find the train, find the vice
On the outskirts of What Cheer, Iowa, a dazed filling-station
attendant said that–his hand upon a Bible–he had just serviced a
President Dan observed that the papers were concerning themselves
with a psychological phenomenon. All over the Middle West,
psychiatrists reported a sort of mass hallucination–the sensation of
seeing or hearing a train passing in the night, although there were no
tracks near by.
A tribe of Navaho Indians told tourists that a god had passed their
hogans one night, panted hard, ground his teeth and turned the painted
sands of their desert bright as day.
A Columbia University psychologist said that such mass delusions
are perfectly understandable in the light of Freud and Pavlov. A
minister in Boston said that the beasts of the Apocalypse were abroad on
the face of the earth. The Saturday Review of Literature said that the
psychosis was a remarkable demonstration of the power of Thomas
Wolfe’s descriptions of trains. All the studios in Hollywood wired
offers to Wolfe, and were much disappointed to find that he was dead.
President Dan noticed, not without a certain grim satisfaction,
what was happening to motor-truck lines. Without apparent reason, the
number of smashed fenders on trucks, the number of trucks forced into
ditches, had increased 300 percent. The accidents strangely enough
occurred almost entirely at night, and doctors suggested that truck
drivers be fed carrots for night blindness. The New York times, tracing
the epidemic of smashed fenders, pointed out the extreme vagueness with
which the accidents were explained. The first driver to come in without
a left front fender had reported, it is true, that a railroad train had
crowded him off the highway, the engineer chuckling wickedly in the cab.
The driver had been a notorious road hog, and nobody felt bad when he
was discharged on suspicion of drunkenness. But thereafter drivers were
loath to say how their accidents had come about. Motorists reported
that trucks, instead of taking two thirds of the road, were now riding
with one wheel off the concrete. The editor of the Epworth Messenger,
himself a motorist, said that the source of all good works is hidden
only to those who will not see.
Persons close to President Dan in those days say that he sat in his
big office in Baltimore gritted his teeth like a tobacco worm, and that
he B. & O. tracks between Washington and Philadelphia trembled with
a constant ague.
“It’s just a question whether we or the newspapers find
him first,” he told the traffic manager. “You know, I sort of
admire the cuss,” he admitted. “If I met him I wouldn’t
know whether to fire him or make him a vice president.”
But when the president got a post card from Mammoth Cave, Kentucky,
he closed himself in his office, and spectators saw the windows bulging
and contracting like a horse’s sides after a long race. The post
card was signed by the executive vice president and the consulting
professor. “Have found the train,” said the vice president.
“Have found the v.p.,” said the professor. Then they joined
in a final message. “Having fine time,” they wrote.
“Wish you were here.”
President Dan packed his bag. “If I don’t come back in
ten days,” he said, “send the police after the train.”
How the newspapers got the story, President Dan never knew. Yet
when the story came out, everyone wondered why the newspapers had been
so long breaking it. Frank Luther Mott gave a whole chapter to the
problem in his American Journalism (pages 773-778)–how could the fact
that four men were missing in such unusual circumstances be kept so long
from reporters? He decided finally it was partly skillful management,
partly chance. The railroad had put a new gasoline trian on the spur
line, and it was implied that Dan Peters and Big Bill, both bachelors
and solitary men, had been transferred elsewhere. The executive vice
president was habitually away from his office much of the time. as for
the professor, his family and the university and the Baltimore Kiwanis
Club had simply decided to leave well enough alone. And thus it is that
if you are looking today for contemporary accounts of the famous lost
train, you must leaf through the papers of that year until July 29
before you find a story that mentions Dan Peters.
It was apparently the conductor’s trial on a charge of
insanity that uncovered the story. The jury was ten to two for
insanity, but the testimony was such a humorous angle on the current
locomotive hysteria that a few reporters decided to look farther. They
smelled something. A traffic policeman in Weirton, West Virginia,
finally uncovered the hot trail.
This copper, sane and sensible, reported to headquarters that about
3 a.m. he had tried to give a ticket to a vehicle passing through the
outskirts of town and showing only one headlight. The vehicle was
coming toward him. When he signaled it to stop, he was no little
startled to find that he had halted a train. There were no tracks; it
was on the highway. Under the circumstances, it seemed rather silly to
say, as he usually did, “What do you think you are? The Twentieth
The engineer, a lively little gray-haired fellow, politely returned
the ticket, challenging him to produce a law saying that a locomotive
must carry more than one headlight. Then one of the passengers had got
off the train and given him a long lecture on the laws of optics,
proving with diagrams and formulas that the train was better lighted
than a fleet of 36-1/2 automobiles; the man had long hair and talked
like a professor. When the policeman was thoroughly flabber-gasted
anyway, he heard the professor fellow call the engineer “Dan,”
and the thought occurred to him that perhaps he was trying to arrest Dan
Scratch, Old Nick himself. The engineer did look red in the glow from
the firebox; like a demon from hell in the midst of the red light.
So the officer waved the train on and sat down on the curb to
recover his self-possession. When he had nearly decided that the
incident had been a moment’s madness or a nasty dream, he was
reminded by the first light of morning that he was still holding a piece
of paper on which the passenger lecturer had been diagramming optics.
The paper was not asbestos. In fact, it bore the letterhead of the
Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.
“What,” everyone asked, “does Dan Peters look
like?” For it was discovered that there was nowhere a picture of
him. “And is he a genius or a madman? And will he give himself
up, or run his train over the Grand Canyon or into the Gulf of Mexico?
And what will President Dan Willard do about him?”
“Let us hope,” said most of the little people who do not
own railroad stocks, “that he will not be fired or put into
The night after Dan Peters’ story finally became public
property, hardly an eye was closed in the United States. Packs of cars
wandered like coyotes over the roads. Seats on high buildings or hills
were sold at scalpers’ prices, although there was no proof that Dan
Peters was within a thousand miles. In later years that night was
remembered as Peters-night and celebrated in some parts of the country
as Walpurgisnacht is in Europe. When, shortly after midnight, a comet
blazed out inthe southern skies, correspondents reported that the
train’s headlight had been seen over Alabama, and many disappointed
Northerners and Westerners relaxed their own vigilance and listened to
reports from the South. Only a few thousand people saw the little train
chugging north through a fog that blew off the eastern shoulder of Lake
It was from Niagara Falls early the next morning that President Dan
Willard got the telegram: Urgent suggest come here stop your train
trying cross international bridge.
When President Dan saw the train puffing quietly there, he was
surprised to find it so small. While he had kept the secret locked up
in his Baltimore office, the train had grown in his mind to gigantic
size. Now he saw a stubby locomotive, a small coar car, one combination
coach and baggage car.
The coach was splattered with mud. Through the half-open doors of
the baggage compartment he could see milk cans. The engine’s
boiler sagged like an old horse’s back, and steam sizzled out the
joints. Every wheel was worn down below the flange.
It was an old, disreputable, rundown train, and he was a little
ashamed of the “B. & O.” that shone bright yellow in the
The train, said the morning extras, had appeared last night at the
entrance to the International Bridge. The engineer had offered the
guards 40[ toll for a motor vehicle with driver and three passengers.
The guards refused the money, and sait that they had no
instructions for charging trains. As a matter of fact, there was no
precedent. And in any case, no vehicle whatsoever could cross the
International Bridge, because it wasn’t dedicated yet. It was to
be a memorial to international peace and friendship, and therefore it
was to be dedicated by the secretary of war. So Dan Peters pulled his
little train up next to the red-white-and-blue ribbon that the secretary
was to cut and said he’d wait. He warmed some cans of beans on the
boiler, and he and Big Bill and the guards and the two passengers sat
down to breakfast.
Ontario, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio had declared legal
holidays, the papers said. In Ottawa, the dominion parliament was
meeting to decide whether the train should be allowed to enter Canada.
In Washington, the cabinet had been summoned to consider what to do in
case Canada decided wrong. And into Niagara Falls people were streaming
at the rate of a million an hour, draining the surrounding country dry
as a pomegranate.
As President Dan Willard pushed through the great crowd toward the
train, he heard the loudspeakers bomming from the stand by the new
bridge. The governor of New York was talking. “In the absence of
the secretary of war—-” he was explaining. He was talking a very
long time. But Dan WillarD, shouldering his neighbors, soon observed
that nobody was listening to the speaker; they were all looking at the
train. The loudspeakers droned over a buzz of conversation.
Then one spectator shouted a sentence that the crowd caught up as
though a cheerleader were directing them. “We want Dan
Peters]” commanded the crowd. The loudspeakers bellowed again.
The echo came back: “We want Dan Peters]”
The governor hesitated, smiled brightly, stepped down from the
stand and whispered in Dan Peters’ ear. Those close by could see
Dan shake his head in protest. The governor whispered again, and
listened. Then he stepped jauntily back to the stand.
“We are fortunate in having with us today,” the
loudspeakers crackled, “Mr. Dan Peters, of the B. & O.
Railroad, and–ah–other points, who will dedicate the bridge.”
The roar that went up from the crowd, they said, could be heard in
New York City.
Dan climbed slowly up the steps and put his hands on one of the
“They tell me this is a peace bridge,” he said. Then he
put a hand over his bushy eyebrows in an attitude of thought. He paused
so long that the people shuffled their feet impatiently and cupped their
“Peace is when you don’t have to be afraid,” he said
slowly. “When all the tough guys keep on their side of the road.
That’s what we call law and order, I reckon. And when you’ve
got that, you’ve got freedom. For the little guys who aren’t
going to hurt anybody. Freedom to keep their own timetables without
somebody busting in on ’em. Freedom to make some of the timetables
too. Not to have them all come from the m ain office. Freedom to look
at the Tetons and get to know somebody in What Cheer, Iowa. Whenyou get
to know somebody, pretty soon you find who you can trust. Like the U.S.
and Canada. And because the U.S. trusts Canada, we’ve got this
bridge, and a mighty pretty one it is. And I thank you.”
Dan Peters turned away from the applause to go back to the train,
but flash bulbs burst around him like an artillery barrage.
“Mr. Peters,” a reporter asked, “is there anything
left that you want to see, after your long trip?”
The microphones picked up his answer, and the crowd held their
stomachs and shook with laughter.
“More than anything else,” he said, “I’d like
to see a zebra, and President Dan Willard, of the B. & O., who is a
greater man than Napoleon,” he added.
“I’m Dan Willard,” said a big man, pushing his way
up to the stand.
“It is] It is Dan Willard]” cried the governor.
President Dan hauled himself up on the stand and strode over and
took Dan Peters’ hand. “I’ve wanted to meet you,”
he said. “Bad.”
They stood looking at each other while the crowd gave cheer on
cheer–big burly Dan Willard and short wiry Dan Peters. He looked
tired, the president thought. And old. It had probably been hard work,
that trip. But Dan’s eyes were a fiery gray when he spoke.
“I thought you would be bigger,” Dan said frankly.
“I thought you would be bigger too,” said the president.
“I thought you would be 20 feet tall.”
Dan Peters lowered his eyes. “I’m sorry, Mr.
President,” he said. “I’m sorry I didn’t keep the
“Dan,” rumbled the president, “I can’t forgive
you for not keeping the schedule. But what I can’t forgive I can
sometimes forget. I’m going to forget what you didn’t do and
remember what you did.”
“Mr. Peters,” said the governor, “if you can move
your train enough so we can get the official automobile past it, we want
you to cut the ribbon and ride over the bridge with us in the first
The two trainmen blanched.
“Did you say ‘automobile’?” Dan Willard asked.
“We’ll ride over in Casey,” said Dan Peters firmly.
That was why the governors, the ambassadors, the generals piled into the
green, plush coach, the mayors and captains sat on the milk cans in the
baggage car, President Dan Willard crawled into the cab with Dan Peters
and the cocky little train burst the red-white-and-blue ribbon and moved
into the great arch of the new bridge.
“You’ve done a great thing for the railroads,” said
President Dan as soon as he could make himself heard above the crowd.
“You’ve been worth thousands of dollars in advertising. The
question is, what do you want to do now? Would you like to be a vice
president? I want officers with imagination around me. I’ve been
willing to take a chance or two myself, you know.”
“I’m not a fancy man,” said Dan Peters.
“I’m an engineer.”
“Then we’ll give you a new 16-coach Diesel
streamliner,” said Dan Willard. “We can get 20,000
applications for your first trip. We’ll pass an act of Congress;
you an go where you want to.”
“No,” said Dan Peters. “I don’t guess I could
drive any train except Casey this way.”
“Why not?” asked the president.
“It’s a matter of souls,” explained Dan Peters.
“Casey has a soul. You can talk to him. You can’t talk to
these shiny new engines. All you can do is feed ’em oil and
grease. I don’t know whether souls grow or you build ’em
in,” he said. “I suspect they grow.”
“But you can’t drive this train any more,” said
President Dan. “It’s worn out.”
“Casey’s old and tired, and so am I,” said Dan
Peters. “I’m at pension age and I’m going to
That was why no other train has ever done what Dan Peters’
train did, although they say the railroads spent a million dollars
trying to build souls into streamliners. They gave Casey the best room
in the Smithsonian for his old age, and Dan Willard gave him a pension
to keep his metal shining and his whistle whetted. Dan Peters just
dropped out of sight. Some people say he went to live in What Cheer,
Iowa, and others that he went to Africa to see zebras. They say they
have known lots of engineers who feel near enough the way Dan Peters
felt to be Dan Peters. Lots of men who aren’t engineers, too, for
that matter. And Dan Peters didn’t tell President Dan he
wouldn’t ever drive a train again. “I’m going to make my
own timetables now,” was all he said.
Of course, most of the crowd at Niagara that morning didn’t
hear what Dan Peters said to the president. The part they remember is
the rainbow over the Horseshoe Falls, and the two great railroad Dans–
Dan Willard so tall he could hardly stand in the cab, and Dan Peters
tipping his cap forward off his gray hair and talking low and lovingly
to his engine. And they remember how, in the middle of the bridge,
President Dan winked at Dan Peters and pulled on the whistle cord, and
Casey’s hoarse old voice yelled up and down Niagara gorge.