Bullet: The New Steam Engine
Bullet the Steam Engine never stared into the barrels of Bill Miner’s six-shooters.
On September 10th, 1904, Bill Miner, an American outlaw who’d crossed the US/Canadian border, robbed the Silverdale train in British Columbia. It was definitely British Columbia’s first train robbery and, most likely, Canada’s first train robbery.
Bill Miner — aka the Grey Fox; the Gentleman Bandit
— is credited with being the hombre who coined the holdup directive, “Hands up!”
Bullet the Steam Engine never met Bill.
Chances are Bullet never heard any of the hundreds — p’raps thousands — of great train songs. Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, sang train songs. Johnny Cash sang train songs. Fred Eaglesmith sang famously, and simply, “I like trains.” Bullet never heard a note. What odds, eh b’ys? Bullet The New Steam Engine [Pennywell Books] is a children’s book designed to familiarize post-Roads for Rails youngsters with the legendary, the iconic, Newfie Bullet, symbol of this province’s defunct railway.
Listen — to go back a paragraph — Bullet the Steam Engine may not have heard any of the great train songs, but bet your choo-choo, he — yes, he. Frig indeterminate gender — heard plenty of songs.
Sure, even I, as a bay-boy at Mammy’s knee, heard songs aboard the Newfie Bullet. Once in particular, while riding the Bullet from St. John’s to Clarenville, I heard a robust lady whose eyes glistened crazily, screech [!] “The Star of Logy Bay” all the way from Kelligrews to Deep Bight.
Kneeling on my seat, I listened and watched in bay-boy wonder until Mammy said, “Harry, sit down and behave yourself. That woman might be sick.”
Sick? Not likely, eh b’ys?
Something else. I’m always tickled when I make a cameo appearance in a book, especially a book written and illustrated for children.
Smack in the middle of this book there’s a picture of the Clarenville station platform. Mammy and me are among the passengers waiting for the Bullet. What?
Yes, it’s me. I recognize my bibbed overalls. My mouth is in gear and I’m pointing at something, prob’ly the queer red shoes on Missus across the platform. I might be making a holy show of Mammy in the process.
But before that…
Bullet the Steam Engine meets Conductor Robert before they begin Bullet’s maiden clickity- clack across the province.
“Bullet at your service,” says the engine, all beaver-eager despite the gull perched on his back — a friggin’ gull that ought to be shooed away before it splatters Bullet with a deposit worse than one of it cousins left on the shingles of our house.
… clickity- clack, clickity-clack… Bullet encounters a caribou herd crossing the tracks and is introduced to — get this — fog.
“Wow! It’s like clouds on land! That’s amazing!”
… clickity-clack, clickity-clack… While crossing a bridge, Bullet — along with Fireman David and Brakeman Johnny — is obliged to stop and help a couple of men retrieve their boat before it is washed away downstream. … clickity-clack, clickity-clack … Remember what might be the most famous children’s train story — The Little Engine That Could? That optimistic little engine strains his pistons — or whatever — to climb a mountain and deliver toys to children on the other side.
(Not an epic purpose, I s’pose, but more purpose than the bear had.)
Fond memories of the Little Engine flooded my noggin as I watched Bullet courageously scoat his guts out to haul his … well, train of cars, 1554 ft. to the Summit, his chuff-chuffing frightening the buttons out of a bunny in the process.
… clickety-clack, clickety-clack … Coming on duckish, Bullet is required to shine his headlight at its brightest and blow his whistle to help a trio of goneastray berry pickers find their way to the track.
See them? Two women — their heads bandanna-bound — standing beside two overflowing buckets of blueberries and, several steps away, a man waving one hand, the other in his pocket.
Wonder who’s lugging the load in this group?
… clickety-clack, clickety-clack …
Bullet off-loads a couple of passengers at Robinsons and gets a drink of water. … clickety-clack, clickety-clack … Bullet carefully crosses the Wreckhouse and — after shuffing some logs off the track — makes his way to the end of the line.
“Here’s our Newfie Bullet!” cheers the waiting crowd.
Pleased by the greeting, Bullet says, “I think I’m going to like this pace.” Why wouldn’t he?
Thank you for reading.