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The Train Driver (True Story)



The Train Driver is a true story about the complex human relationships. In just a week, a train driver had already started seeing me, who he had met just one week ago, as his own son. The year was 1990 when this true story happened. 

Although I was a Pilot by profession, true story is about how I drove a steam engine passenger train all by myself and independently, from one railway station to the next railway station about 18 kilometres away and the train had 300 passengers onboard. Driving the train that day gave me a thrilling experience, which was way beyond the feeling I had got when I took off for the first time into the sky in a jet engine aircraft.

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I and my friend were posted to a remote airbase on temporarily for just one month. We staying there in a rented house about 10 km from the airbase. The village had about two hundred people and the place was completely sandy and barren, with thorny cactus spread all over, and some tall Palm trees scattered all over and it rains just months in the whole year.

Our working hours those days was from 07:30 am to 2:00 pm. Thereafter, the two of us would sleep for an hour post lunch, after which we just would start watching movies till past midnight. Those days we used to watch movies on video cassette players using video tapes. We used to rent two dozen video tapes once in a week and watch those movies over and over so many times. We literally memorized every scene and every dialogue those movies.

Work, eat, watch movies and sleep were the only things we were doing every day. Only flying a few hours during working hours was the only thrill in life. After a week or so I got fed up of watching movie. I discussed with my friend and we decided to change our evening routine.

The next day onwards we slept just half an hour after lunch, have a tea after and then, we would go for a walk for about two hours after that. We would wander aimlessly exploring some new road. By the evening we would have walked more than ten kilometres around the countryside.

Walking around the country side meeting the local people was fun for a few days but, we were getting bored again. So, we started going along all the small footpaths that we could find in between the fishermen's huts. This fisherman colony was restricted area because many antisocial elements were also camped inside it. Nevertheless, we would go in there and would even talk to some of the fishermen.

In a few days, we got bored of this fishing village walks too, because there were no footpaths left on which we had not walked on and no fisherman family left with whom we had not met. I was left with just 10 days to go back to my parent unit and the next day the two of us decided to walk along the railway track to the next railway station.

As we walked along the railway tracks, the evening steam engine passenger train passed by. When the steam engine locomotive went past us, we got off the tracks and waved frantically at everyone in the train starting from the steam engine train driver. It was amazing to see that almost everyone who sat at the windows were waving at us. Probably an involuntary human action of reciprocation.

We had walked almost 18 kilometres to the next railway station over the next four hours. Then, we took a bus back to our village house. We did this walking along the railway tracks for three days and got bored of these deserted tracks with nothing to see around in that barren land, except one train that runs during our walk time. And walking 18 kilometres daily was too tiring and it would be well past the dinner time when we reach back home. That night we sat and discussed what adventure to indulge into the next day.

We got another idea. We decided to board the train from the nearby railway station and get down at the next station. Then we could walk back home. This made us happy for two reasons. The first reason was that we don't have to walk on the deserted railway tracks and secondly, we don't have to get into the crowded bus to reach back home. The evening train is not crowded, because the track ends at a terminal just 35 kilometres away.

The next day onwards we would go wait at the railway station for the steam engine locomotive to stop there and into to a compartment. Then we would start talking to the passengers on the train and get down at the next station. After 3 days, we were bored of this too because we were meeting mostly the same passengers daily.

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On the fourth day we decided to befriend the steam engine driver, whom we have been waving at, during our walk along the railway tracks a few days back. The steam engine driver was also very friendly and down to earth natured and allowed us into the steam engine driver cabin and we got down at the next station. This time we walked back home by night. We were covered in black coal dust and were embarrassed to board a bus in those carbonised attire.

The steam engine driver cabin was unusually hot because of the coal burning furnace on the other side of the front wall which made us sweat like pigs. Not only that, on the second day, the old steam engine driver even made us put some coal into the steam engine furnace making his assistant in the cabin to sit idle and smoke cigarette. That was something we did not like at all. But, for fun we both shovelled some coal into the furnace that day.

I said, "Sir, we are airplane pilots and you can't make us do shovel coal into the furnace."

The train driver looked straight into my eyes and said, "I will stop the train right here and throw both of you out. Want to see?"

I felt the train driver meant what he said. I replied, "We are soldiers. And before you start moving again, we would have boarded the passenger coach of your train."

The old man just smiled, took out a cigarette, lighted it. As he smoked, he looked at us. There was a look that made it looks as if this locomotive steam engine driver had actually started liking us boarding the engine driver cabin.

The train driver said as he threw out the cigarette," You know, this is my last assignment. I am retiring this month end. I will miss life in this fiery engine. I joined at a very young age. It was my childhood dream to drive a train and I have been driving a steam engine for more than 40 years now."

The train driver continued, " I belong to this place and this is my last assignment before my retirement. I have exactly 10 days to go."

His voice had a sadness in it as he spoke these words with much difficulty.

I said, "Sir, hats off to you having endured this hot and sweaty place for 40 years. It has been just two days and I am already giving up this tough job."

The train driver said, "I was shovelling coal as an assistant for a decade before they considered me for driving the train. I love the smell of coal and this hot furnace. I love being in this steam engine. It makes me feel at home. Its smell is like the smell of good food."

I said, "Sir, how did your family take your job?"

The train driver said, "My wife understands my job although she hates my job routine, because it keeps me away from home. But, my two sons never understood me or my job. I could never attach to them because I was mostly away from home when they were growing up."

He paused as if controlling his emotions and said, "They are doing well for themselves. A few years back I married both of them off. I and my wife have not heard from them or seen them since then. They may be just a couple of years older than you two. Here people get married at an early age."

The train driver continued, "The years when my two sons were growing up, I was away from home for days at length and came back only for a day in between. Now-a-days, I go back home every evening, but my sons are not there at home anymore." I could make out that the old man missed his sons very badly.

Night Train

Putting coal into the steam engine furnace was too tiring in that sweaty hot cabin and we were completely black with coal dust on our body and our clothes. But, next few days, we were shovelling coal into the furnace happily. We were happy to be with the old man who would narrate the adventures of his young days as a train driver.

Five days had passed boarding the train engine. This was also becoming monotonous. My temporary duty in that place was ending that weekend and I had to go back to my parent unit from where I had come down to this place. And since the two of us were already friends with the engine driver, I thought of asking him something he was unlikely to agree. Although it looked impossible a goal to achieve, we decided to give a try.

Next evening as usual, the two of us boarded the steam engine locomotive, I requested the train driver, "Sir, will you teach us how to drive this steam engine train?

Amazingly, the old man agreed immediately, despite the fact that his assistant who has been working with him for over a decade, was not allowed to drive the train by himself. There is another reason why the old loco driver agreed. Where we work, we have our breakfast, lunch and dinner next to the railway track in an open hut. The railway track runs along our boundary fencing just twenty yards away. Our kitchen was an old abandoned railway hut.

We have been waving at all trains whenever they passed by, during our meals time. Most passengers in the train and the train drivers also wave back at us. When we met this old man loco driver a week ago, the first question he had asked us was really funny.

The train driver asked, "You people keep eating the whole day?

I said puzzled, "What do you mean by that?"

The train driver said, "Because whenever I pass your airbase, you people are on the meals table."

His train would often pass by the airbase, close to meals time and he would see us sitting under a thatched roof dining hall having meals. This was the reason he let us into his engine because he knew we are from the defence and we can be trusted. I knew rules do not permit others to enter into the train engine. Yet he allowed us into the train engine probably because in those days the regulations were not as hard and fast as it is today.

The next day the old man started teaching the two of us how to drive the locomotive steam engine. He did not teach us anything more than what is required to start the train moving, how to control the speed of the train and then how to apply brakes and by reversing the steam into the engine cylinders to bring the whole train to a stop.

The old driver also taught us how to pull a cord tied across the cabin, to sound the typical steam engine whistling sound made by using the high-pressure steam. As a kid I have been mesmerised by this whistle which can be heard miles away.

After two days of train driving lessons, I said, "Sir, tomorrow my job here is over and the day after morning I would be flying back to my parent unit. Will you let me drive the train all by myself just once?"

But the old train driver placed a funny demand. He said, "If you do well today, then I will let you drive from here all the way to the next station 18 kilometres away tomorrow independently. under one condition that, you bring one full grilled chicken for me."

I did not have a choice but to agree. So, the next evening the two of us had bought not one but two full grilled chicken and boarded the steam engine driver cabin. The train driver took one grilled chicken packet and handed it over to his assistant and told him something. The assistant went into the railway station and came back empty handed. I didn't understand what was going on.

That looked funny. I asked, "I gave you the grilled chicken. Why have you given away one?"

The train driver said, "I am left just a few days to retire. I have to keep the station master at both station happy before we start. If they come to know that I have jeopardised so many passenger's life by letting you drive the train, then my job gets into danger. So, I sent one grilled chicken packet to the station master as gift."

I said, "Good that I brought two grilled chicken. At least you can enjoy the other one."

The train driver whispered so that his assistant cannot hear him, "Good that you bought two packets. The station master is outside my train and could have put my career in danger. But my assistant here has also has been completely displeased with my decision to teach you how to drive a train because he has another year left before he can start driving a train.

Now, when he sees you driving the train now, he is surely going to feel it and report to the railway authorities. And that is going to get me into real trouble. I want to retire peacefully. So, I have to please him too. This one is for him. I and my wife are vegetarian."

As he completed the sentence, he took the other grilled chicken packet from me and placed it in a small box fixed inside the train, smiled at the assistant. The assistant had overheard the conversation and smiled looking at the packet the old man had placed.

The guard gave the green signal at the railway station. I looked at the train driver for approval to start the train moving from the station. He seemed to be very confident and nodded. I did exactly as the train driver had taught me over the past few days.

It was an exhilarating moment of my life when the train started moving at my command. I did not get as much thrill even when I flew my first solo sortie during my flying training. I did everything as demonstrated and taught by the old man and the train started moving very smoothly.

Night Train

The old train driver was impressed. He somehow felt he could relax with me on the controls of his train. I kept a good watch of the track ahead for any danger and kept sounding the hot steam whistle once in a while like a child. The old man knew I was using the whistle a little more than required, but did not stop me from doing it. He seemed to be having the satisfaction of having taught me how to drive a steam engine train in such a short time.

I was so engrossed in driving the train that 15 minutes went past in just about five minutes. I could see the next railway station far away. The old loco driver got up to take over control from me. I looked at him with protest that it is unfair not to let me stop the train as per our unwritten grilled chicken contract agreement. The old man somehow seems to read my eyes and he sat down.

I knew I was endangering his 40-year long career, just a few days short of his retirement date. So, I was very careful and I wanted to make no mistakes. I stopped the train using brakes and the reverse steam technique. I brought the steam engine passenger train just 10 feet short of the usual stopping point at the platform.

The two of us shook hands with the old train driver and his assistant. Even the assistant looked happy. I do not know if it was because of our achievement or the grilled chicken packet he was going to get, which never lost heat in that super-hot oven like driver cabin. As we were about to get down from the train driver cabin, the old train driver hugged the two of us. He knew that we were not coming back from tomorrow.
The two of us were fully coated with carbon and smell like raw coal. We bought a pair of Bermuda and T-shirt each. Then we decided to take a shower in the railway station rest room and change. This passenger train usually stopped for just 3 minutes on this station.

After a quick bath and change, we came out of the rest room about ten minutes later. The train was still there. The old man's eyes had followed us. He kept the train stopped to get another glimpse at us. I looked towards the engine. The assistant was waving at us.

Then I saw the old engine driver appear from the crowd. He came and hugged the two of us, bade good bye with tears in his eyes and went back into his beloved steam engine. We stood on the same spot waving at the train driver, as it started moving from the station until the entire train was out of sight. The train driver too stood in his engine, waving at us.

I asked myself, "Why were there tears in the train driver's eyes?" I could not find an answer to that.

As the two of us were having dinner that night, I asked my friend, "Why do you think the driver stopped his train for 10 minutes on that station and I noticed tears in his eyes when he was hugging us?"

My friend said, "I think, in the past one week that we drove the passenger train with him in his steam engine cabin, he had filled the space in his heart which his two sons had left vacant, with the two of us. Today he was heart broken once again. And he loved you the most."