Once Upon A Time: The Railroad Handcar

Once upon a time there was a railroad. It stretched off into the distance, with the telegraph wires running alongside. Off to the side was a great mesa, like a limestone stack of pancakes.

Along the railroad comes a handcar. It is pumped by a single man, who is pumping for all he is worth. In a moment you see the reason, as a line of smoke appears behind him.

If the man abandons his railroad handcar, the train will crash into it. Other people will die. But if he stays with the handcar, he will die. And the train is catching him.

What would you do?

The man isn’t out there with his handcar emptyhanded. He has a bedroll, a lot of water, food, and cookpans. Everything you’d need to work out along the rail line. He even has a shovel and railroad ties and a sledgehammer. That’s why he was out there, to make repairs to the line. The man didn’t think there were any trains for four days. But they changed the schedule on him.

As the man pumps, he thinks about how heavy his handcar is. He needs to dump some of the things.  Then inspiration hits him.  If he dumps the things on the track, the engineer will look out his window, see the handcar, and hit the brakes.

So the man starts dumping things over the side, still pumping with one hand.  He dumps his sleeping roll, his pots and pans, everything, all back on the track.

As the train approaches, the man considers abandoning his handcar.  But even if the engineer hits the brakes, the handcar may not be far enough.  The safest thing for the passengers would be for the man to keep pumping.  But if the train hits him, he will die.

What would you do?

The engineer hits the bedroll, and then the pots and pans.  They clatter and he looks out the side.  He sees the handcar and yells to hit the brakes.

The man pumping looks back.  He knows that the brakes have been hit, but it won’t stop in time.  The train is going to hit the handcar.

What would you do?

The man jumps, rolling out of the way, as the train runs into the handcar and flips it off the track.  In the front of the train is a wedge shaped piece of metal called a cattle catcher that prevents the train from being derailed.

When the man gets up and boards the train, he is hailed as a hero.


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