14 February 2011

Chapter 52: "Frank Buckner Special No. 71," Pt 2

July 4 Special
July 4:  One of those rare times when a huge passenger consist arrived at Kennecott  --UAF Archives
          The warm weather had taken an unmistakably firm hold as the snow melted rapidly away.  No trains moved at all until Douglass was ready.  He decided that he would do this one activity right.  He called in Johnny and Cap, who were staying in the west barracks waiting for the next train out, along with many of the others.         

          “I want to thank both of you. You found our beloved brother engineer.”

          Bill had to stop speaking for a moment. It was too overwhelming.

          “ You’ve become an important part of Kennecott.  We’ll never forget you two.  But you were also a significant part of Frank’s life, maybe more than you realize.  We’ll always remember him as our much loved junior engineer. This was his home. He probably would have stayed here forever, if he could. I want you to accompany him on the train all the way to Cordova. He’s headed for a full-military burial at Sitka as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army.”
          The Chitina men just stood there looking at Bill Douglass, unable to say anything in response to Bill’s words.

          “I understand.  You don’t have to talk right now.  Frank had a strong dedication to you that never wavered.  He stood up for you as if he was your older brother.  I’m hoping you will do this one last thing for all of us.  Russell Belvedere, one of our engineers, will also be on board as the company representative.  Coffins traveling on the train are required to be accompanied. We are packing all the coffins with ice and sending them out tomorrow.

          “Russell was also a friend of Franks.  Every one of us engineers feel the loss.  We’ll all be there at the front of the train to see him off.  Number 71 will be designated as Frank Buckner Special No. 71 for this one trip.”

          Johnny looked at Cap, who silently nodded his approval.

          “We’ll do it, Mr. Douglass.  We won’t let our sla’cheen Frank down now.”

          Frank Buckner Special #71 was steamed up, facing downhill at the beginning of a beautiful sunny day.  No one could have imagined the difference one week had made in the weather. In the front of the large engine were two American flags mounted just behind and above the large plow.  The train consisted solely of the combine, the business car and the caboose.  

          Johnny, Cap and Russell boarded the combine, entering the open baggage 
compartment.  Behind them, a group of six senior engineers carried the first coffin, carefully sliding it aboard. The Japanese cooks and waiters carried the next two coffins.  A group of miners and two mine foremen carried the coffins of the two who would be returning to Montana. 

          At Russell’s signal, the Indians slid shut the large cargo doors on both sides of the coach.
Outside the two waiting passenger trains was largest group of men ever assembled along the tracks at Kennecott, waiting to give their final salute to the junior engineer and all the others who lost their lives in that one cataclysmic day.  Immediately behind the funeral train,  steamed up  and ready to follow at a close interval was Marvelous Mother Lode Special No. 74.   This engine, originally scheduled to return to Cordova with a load of ore,  would instead  be leaving behind the ore cars and the box cars in favor of its higher duty to escort the honor train out.  It was loaded with the laid-off crew and rescue teams of the Marvelous Mother Lode disaster.  It was rare to find a face along those tracks which did not have tears. 

          John Bittner pulled out his trumpet to play taps, followed by Amazing Grace. Once Bittner concluded his salute, the trains steamed up and slowly chugged out in the direction of the rising sun. The massive twin locomotives announced their departures with a  long series of whistle blasts which continued in ten-minute intervals and at every station and whistle-stop the full 196 miles to Cordova.  

Train Leaves Kennecott
The train departs Kennecott   --UAF Archives

Continue with
Chapter 53: "The Last Train In"

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