Watch Your Step

Grandpa's bullhorn voice hurt my ears, for forty years he'd made his firemen hear above the rush of steel on steel and steam; and when I fell across his sprawled-out legs he'd yell, ``Watch where you're going, Boy!''

Now, as I look back, his Mallet bursts from coils of smoke and acid smell of cinders stings my nose. ``Boy,'' he says, ``the grade out of Bluefield's mighty steep. My drive wheels chew the rails. But I keep my time.''

He climbed the grade, tuning his 2-6-6-4 like a Swiss watch, ticking away Clinch Valley, gaining time through Ripplemead. He boomed across New River's trestle and quilled long through Shawsville where track ran straight.

He slowed his engine through the switching yards at Roanoke, wheels creaking under tons of coal, and finished all his runs. Black dust lined the seams of his gold Hamilton when Grandma placed it in the bottom of her bureau drawer.

I shut my eyes and see his engine trailing fire and streams of cinders toward a switchman's arcing light, where rails converge and whistles sound with trumpets. ``Son,'' he says, smiling from the window of his cab, ``watch your step.''

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