Why Puskie refused to stop at rail crossings

A GOOD friend of long ago was Puskie Farrar, whose grandfather was my grandfather's tentmate in the Civil War. My grandfather thought so much of Puskie's grandfather that he named a son for him - my father was Franklin Farrar Gould. So I've known all the Farrars since my beginnings, and many were the tales of derring-do those tentmates passed along to both families. In 1925, I had an automobile, and at my grandfather's request I drove him and Frankie Farrar, with three other GAR veterans, to the last regimental reunion of the 16th Maine Volunteers - these five were the only members left. Probably no other Model T ever carried such precious cargo - at the first day of Gettysburg the 16th Maine had been reduced from a full regiment to 37 survivors.

Puskie Farrar now comes to mind because of an incident in our upstate Maine town of Corinna. It seems the driver of a school bus is in trouble because she refuses to stop before taking her busload of tots over a railroad crossing.

Her reason, which the authorities had not accepted at my last hearing, is that the railroad ceased to operate some years back, and there has been no train for a long time. The right-of-way has grown to weeds and bushes, and tarmac has been laid over the rails in the highway.

True, the tracks run right through the heart of town, and it would be a poor place to have an incident, but the bus driver remarks that in today's situation, at that place, it is safer to keep going than to stop.

The tracks through Corinna were a branch line of the Maine Central Railroad, leading into the sturdy scenery of Piscataquis County and toward Moosehead Lake, but the Maine Central Railroad, once Maine's largest, ceased to exist some time ago, and before it sold out had methodically abandoned its side-shoots.

Except for moldy tracks across Corinna's village, there is nothing there today to remind of the golden era of steam choo-choos, chime whistles, and brakemen who, like Diogenes, swung lanterns in daylight and called, ``All aboard!'' There hasn't been a train since Hector was a pup, and probably no school tot in Corinna ever heard a train blow for a crossing. But drivers of school buses are required to stop before crossing any railroad tracks.

That was somewhat Puskie's lament. I should interpolate, for the sake of giving this essay some class, that one of the more remote members of Puskie's family was the operatic soprano Geraldine Farrar, but since she pronounced it ``far-RAW'' rather than ``far-rer,'' Puskie didn't know she was a relative.

When Puskie's town first bought a school bus, a driver was sought, and Puskie ``put his name in.'' He was competent and able, and as there were numerous Farrars around, he got the job. All he had to do was go to the State House and take a test. This he did, and a highly uniformed inspector with his Glory attached went to a back seat and said, ``Drive on.''

Puskie had been driving around in the field behind his house, and had circled the high school building several hundred times, so he had no qualms about being examined. He turned right when told to do so, and left when told to do so, and he did everything right and finally got back to the place of beginning where the inspector said, ``Park!'' Puskie parked.

The next day the superintendent of schools was notified that Puskie had failed to pass the test. He was not eligible for the job. The superintendent of schools at that time wasn't too hot on education, but he knew his way around in a cow trade, and he thought highly of the Farrar family, so he put up a howl, and it came out that Puskie had failed to stop before two railroad crossings.

Puskie, informed of this, said, ``So what?''

``It's the law!'' explained the superintendent.

``It's foolish,'' said Puskie. ``I ain't got no railroad crossings on my bus route.''

``Ain't got any railroad crossings,'' corrected the superintendent. After a good deal of give-and-take over this nonsense, the state authorities decided that a bus driver who didn't have any railroad crossings didn't have to stop at them, so Puskie drove his route for years and he never stopped at any railroad crossings and he never got hit by a train.

Admittedly, the situation in Corinna is different, because there they still have a railroad crossing that, in bygone times, school buses recognized. The fact that no trains come is hardly an issue. But one moral might be that the same government that demands respect for obsolete law is the same government that can make an obsolete railroad take up its innocuous desuetudes.

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