Story and cover art by GH22.
The Legend of the 311 is copyrighted to Wraithmike
The morning of November 1st was chilly and overcast as a lone section-hand and his Fairmount motorcar puttered its way up the winding Longs Peak grade towards the Miller River Bridge near the summit to inspect the bridge and track after the storm the other night.
There were many other places the section-hand would rather be right now and the Miller river bridge was not one of them. He knew all about what had happened on the old bridge that once stood there 50 years ago and the curse that has hung around like a bad itch ever since.
It took ether a really crazy or brave engineer and locomotive to cross that bridge on the night of October 31st as well as the fallowing morning, lest they run into the phantom that called the bridge home and run the risk of the curse befalling them
But this section-hand didn’t want any part of that and would have stayed put in the yard and let some other poor shmuck deal with the inspection. That and he didn’t want to be anywhere near the Yardmaster since he pranked him with a water bucket on the yard office door last night.
But Much to his surprise the Yardmaster didn’t seem at all peeved about it, saying it was all in the Halloween spirit of TRICK or treat and boy did he get tricked!
So after a bit of haggling the Yardmaster agreed to give the section hand a pay raise in exchange for him inspecting the Miller River Bridge.
Not wasting any time the section-hand headed over to the maintenance of way yard and borrowed an old Fairmount motorcar, equipped with nothing but a shovel, a pry bar and a spike maul he started on his way out of the yards, through the city and then onto the grade.
It had started raining as he neared the switch for the old bridge alignment and even though he knew that there weren’t any trains due through the area in the next few hours he stopped just before old switch, got off the old Fairmount with the prybar and after much cursing and straining with the points he managed to open the switch then pushed the old motorcar onto the old alignment off the mainline…just in case.
Once he had pushed the motorcar clear of the mainline he set the hand brake, picked up his tools and then walked back to the switch to close it. Once he was sure the switch was securely shut he pulled up the collar of his rain coat then walk down the tracks towards the bridge.
As he neared the bridge the section-hand swore he heard the faint tolling of a locomotive bell in the distance, he knew there weren’t any trains due for the next hour or so and even if there was a train on his section he would have heard the rumble of diesels in notch 8 or the bark of a steam locomotives stack long before he’d hear a bell.
But all he could hear was the falling rain and the echoing bell, yet as soon as his feet touched the bridge deck the eerie tolling stopped replaced by the just the pitter pater of rain drops hitting the bridge deck.
The hairs on the back of the section-hands neck where now truly standing on end as he quickened his pace to get this inspection over with.
He made quick work of his inspection as he walked along the bridge checking for loose spikes, worn crossties, rails out of alignment, and just the general structural integrity of the bridge.
He was at the half way point of the bridge when heard a sound that made him stop in his tracks. A 3-chime whistle could be off in the distance ahead of him fallowed by the mysterious bell he had heard earlier.
The section-hand quickly picked up his tools and started to make his way to the other side of the bridge, he quickened his pace has he heard the rhythmic bet of a large steam locomotive somewhere ahead him.
His heart was now racing as he neared the other end of the bridge while the puffing got closer and closer, the section-hand dropped his tools then put all his reaming strength into one last burst of speed and sprinted for the end of the bridge as the rails began to vibrate.
The section-hand reached the end of the bridge with only seconds to spare as the large black form of a 4-8-2 Mountain materialized around a blind corner ahead of him.
The section-hand was petrified as the phantom Mountain and its train rolled towards him, its bell tolling as clear as day and its whistle howling like a banshee as it drew closer and closer. And as the spectral locomotive rolled by, his eyes came to rest on a road number that had come to be feared in these parts.
All the section-hand could do was stand there and pray the specter and her train would disappear into the morning mist when she tried to cross the bridge just as she had done for the last 50 years, but much to the section-hands amazement she didn’t vanish when she started across.
The section-hand watched in amazement as the 311 and her train crossed the mid-point of the bridge, a point many a railroader and locomotive said she would never cross again. But there she was half way across and still going strong.
As the 311 neared the end of the bridge she let off one last long, low whistle blast that reverberated off the canyon walls in all directions and then slowly started to fade into the morning mist on the far side.
The section hand stood there for a moment completely stunned by what he had just witnessed. But he soon quickly came to his senses and ran back out onto the bridge, picked up his tools and then quickly made his way back across the bridge to the side and didn’t stop walking till he reached the motorcar.
And as soon as he had turned the old Fairmount around and loaded his tools on board, he then quickly pushed the motorcar back down to the switch, realigned the old points to the mainline then pushed the motorcar off of the old track alignment and back onto the mainline.
As soon as the section hand had closed the switch he hopped onto the motorcar, started the engine and in no time flat he was speeding back down the mountain like a bat outta hell and didn’t even slow down till he hit the yard limits! At which point he parked the motorcar on the first siding he could find, shut off the engine and then proceeded to try and locate the yardmaster.
He didn’t need to look too far, he found the yardmaster out in front of the roundhouse giving the day’s work orders to the lines three excursion locomotives.
An unlettered and unnumbered Harriman 4-6-0 “Ten-Wheeler” named Archie, an x-Union Pacific Harriman 2-8-0 “Consolidation” named Sampson, and an x-Gainesville Midland 2-8-2 “Heavy Mikado” named Harris.
he section hand wasted no time and ran over to the yard master shouting. “Sir you will not believe the crazy shit I just saw at the Miller River Bridge!”
The yardmaster looked up from his work orders when he heard shouting and saw the very same section hand he had sent to inspect the bridge earlier running towards him. “This had better be good Shawn, if you can’t tell I’m a little busy here.” The yardmaster said as Shawn came a stop next to him almost out of breath.
“I…I saw the…the…the…”
“The what, Come on out with it!” the yardmaster insisted.
It took Shawn a second to compose himself before he could speak clearly. “I saw the Ghost of the 311…”
But before he could get another word out the yardmaster cut him off
“Everyone’s seen the ghost of the 311 at some point while working for this company. What makes this sighting any different from the others?”
Shawn glared at the yard master then said. “If you would have let me finish you would know that I saw her cross the full length of bridge and then vanish on the far side.”
The yardmaster was quite surprised at this revelation to say the least, while Archie, Sampson and Harris just quietly muttered between themselves on the matter.
“That’s impossible!” the Yardmaster said. “The 311 ain’t ever made it all the way across since the wreck, so there’s no way she could have made it now!”
Shawn sighed and said.
“Look…I can’t explain what I saw up there, but I know that I saw the ghost of the 311 make it all the way across the bridge with my own two eyes and these eye’s ain’t ever lied to me before.”
The yardmaster was silent for a moment then said. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, I’m just having a hard time trying to figure out just why after all these years the 311 finally made it.”
He then turned his attention to Archie, Sampson, and Harris. “You three wouldn’t happen to know anything about this, did anything out of the ordinary happen during your stay in Clinton last night?”
The three locomotives looked at each other for a moment as if they were contemplating what to say, and then Harris spoke up. “Aside from the 311 flying through town on her yearly midnight ride, nope things where pretty quiet.”
“Hmm I see.” Pondered the yardmaster. “Though one thing that is for sure is that after 50 long years the 311 has somehow Broken the bonds that held her in the realm of the living and finally crossed over the other side.”
“Well good for her, now about that pay raise you promised me?” Shawn asked.
The yardmaster smirked a little then said. “Ah yes your pay raise, I’ve already filled out your check and it’s waiting for you in my office.”
“Thanks man.” Shawn said and started to walk away from the roundhouse then said over his shoulder “Oh and by the way after I cash my check in I’m taking the rest of the day off!”
“Go right ahead, after what happened today you deserve it.” The Yardmaster said with a slight snicker as Shawn walked towards the yard office door, and as Shawn reached for the door handle the Yardmaster began to quietly count down. “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”
As soon as Shawn opened the door there was a splash fallowed by a surprised yelp, at which point the Yardmaster, Harries, Sampson and Archie all broke into a fit of laughter.
“And That Shawn is what I call pay back!” The Yardmaster said as a soaking wet Shawn walked by him with check in hand.
“I’ve gotta get a transfer from this division.” Shawn said to himself as he walked away.