A Horse Tale
by Robert McCabe of the Adirondacks
Reprinted with permission from the March/April 1992 issue of Adirondack Life magazine
Winter in the Adirondacks, 1901.
The Raquette Lake Railway was in its first year of operation, making it possible to travel by rail from New York City to Raquette Lake. The force behind this new rail service was Mrs. Collis Huntington, who announced to her wealthy husband that she would no longer endure the buckboard rides necessary to get to their camp, Pine Knot, on Raquette Lake. Mr. Huntington subsequently convinced J.P. Morgan, among others, that a great fortune awaited those who invested in railways in the developing North Country, and thus a new railroad was born.
In those early times, railroad stations communicated by telegraph. And since there was only a single wire, telegraphers could overhear messages meant for other stations down the line. They also “gossiped” by wire when they were bored, using code names to avoid detection by headquarters. (It is said that an old vaudeville comedy routine originated with telegraphers on the Erie Railroad, when one telegrapher messaged another, “How’s your wife?” and some wiseguy down the line immediately tapped out, “Compared to whom?”)
Like any new enterprise, railroads had start-up bugs. So, it was no surprise when the telegrapher from Raquette Lake sent this message to his counterpart at Clearwater: “WHERE NUMBER SEVEN? ONE HOUR OVERDUE HERE.” The resulting dialogue follows.
Clearwater: SEVEN LEFT HERE 10:40.
Raquette Lake: NOT HERE. WILL SEND HANDCAR
Utica: REPORT FINDINGS SOONEST. MRS. HUNTINGTON AND PARTY ON NUMBER SEVEN.
Eagle Bay: HAVE REPORT TRAIN STALLED BELOW UNCAS.
Raquette Lake: WHAT IS PROBLEM?
Eagle Bay: WAIT, WILL ASK. (pause) NOT SURE. CHARLIE HUDSON SAYS LITTLE SMOKE FROM STACK. MAYBE WATER PROBLEM.
Utica: HEAVY TRAFFIC TODAY. WHERE NUMBER SEVEN REFILL WATER?
Clearwater: NOT HERE.
Utica: SHOULD HAVE REFILLED THERE.
Raquette Lake: HANDCAR BACK. SAYS SEVEN LOW ON WATER, CAN’T MAKE UNCAS WATER TANK. WHAT DO NOW?
Raquette Lake: REQUEST ASSISTANCE. REPEAT. NEED INSTRUCTIONS.
Eagle Bay: GET A HORSE.
Raquette Lake: WHAT?
Eagle Bay: TRACK FAIRLY LEVEL HERE. COULD HORSE PULL ENGINE?
Utica (interrupting): IMPORTANT KNOW ABOUT PASSENGERS. WHAT OUTSIDE TEMPERATURE THERE? WHERE TRAIN? HOW LONG STALLED? CAN WAGONS OR SLEDS REACH? OWNER’S WIFE IS PASSENGER.
Raquette Lake: WAIT. (pause) CHARLIE HUDSON SAYS TRAIN FEW MILES BELOW HERE, BUT STEEP SLOPES ON EACH SIDE.
Utica: IS ENGINE HEATING CARS?
Raquette Lake: THINK SO.
New York: ALL STATIONS CLEAR LINE. THIS IS HEADQUARTERS, TOP PRIORITY.
New York: WHAT ENGINE PULLING NUMBER SEVEN?
Utica: LITTLE 460 ON MAKE-UP CHART HERE.
Eagle Bay: GET A HORSE.
New York: STAY OFF LINE. REPEAT STAY OFF LINE.
New York: UTICA, DIVISION MANAGER HERE WILL DISCUSS SITUATION WITH LOCOMOTIVE DESIGN EXPERTS. STAND BY.
Utica: WE COULD RUN A BIG 894 ENGINE IN BEHIND TO PUSH.
New York: MUST KNOW WEIGHT AND CONDITION OF CARS AND ENGINE FIRST. 894 MAY NOT BE BIG ENOUGH. IS THERE A 999 IN YOUR DIVISION?
Unknown: GET A HORSE.
New York: EAGLE BAY, IS THAT YOU? STAY OFF LINE!
Eagle Bay: NOT ME.
Clearwater: NOT ME.
Raquette Lake: NOT ME.
Utica: NOT ME, SIR
Unknown: GET A HORSE.
New York: ALBANY, ARE YOU MONITORING?
Albany: AM I MONITORING WHAT?
New York: WHERE WERE YOU? STAY ALERT, THIS MAY BE AN EMERGENCY.
Raquette Lake: MAY WE TRY OUR WAY? HAVE IDEA ABOUT MELTING SNOW.
Utica: WON’T WORK. DON’T INTERFERE. TECHNICAL MEETING UNDERWAY IN NEW YORK NOW.
New York: RIGHT. BEST BRAINS IN COMPANY WORKING ON THIS. VERY COMPLICATED. MAY INVOLVE CRANES AND U.S. ARMY.
Unknown: PHELPS SAYS SIX MILES.
Unknown: UNCAS TANK LESS.
New York: WHAT? WHAT WAS THAT?
New York: STAND BY. WILL HAVE MESSAGE IN FIVE MINUTES. PRESIDENT COLLIS P. HUNTINGTON JR. BEING CALLED. CHIEF ENGINEER UNION PACIFIC COMING TO ADVISE.
Unknown: OATS ARE CHEAPER.
Utica: OKAY, GUYS, THAT’S IT. STAY OFF THE LINE OR BE FIRED. AND I HAVE AN IDEA WHO’S TALKING.
Unknown: OKAY, PHELPS AT DILLON’S.
Unknown: GOOD IDEA.
Utica: DON’T, REPEAT, DON’T TRY ANY OF YOUR SCHEMES…
New York (interrupting): PRIORITY, PRIORITY. FULL RESOURCES OF SIX RAILROADS NOW INVOLVED. NEAREST USEFUL ARMY UNIT SACKETTS HARBOR, TRAIN BEING MADE UP IN SYRACUSE WITH CRANE, HEAVY ARMY EQUIPMENT AND TWO COMPANIES MEN. GOVERNOR BEING NOTIFIED. FOLLOWING ARE QUESTIONS FOR UTICA AND CLEARWATER, MUST HAVE ANSWERS IMMEDIATELY. MR. HUNTINGTON NOW HERE. HERE ARE QUESTIONS. WAS ENGINE 460 OILED PROPERLY IN CLEARWATER? WHAT IS NAME OF ENGINEER? HOW MANY CONDUCTORS ABOARD? WHAT IS EXACT GRADE OF PRESENT TRACK LOCATION? HAS 460 BEEN REFITTED WITH NUMBER B4 WHEELS? WHAT IS ICE CONDITION? IS SNOWPLOW AVAILABLE THERE FOR SIZE 12 ENGINE? HAVE TRAIN TOILETS BEEN CHECKED? IMPERATIVE DINING CAR CONTINUE SERVICE FOR MRS. HUNTINGTON AND PARTY, DIVERT ENGINE HEAT FROM OTHER CARS IF REQUIRED. CAN HANDCAR CARRY SUPPLIES TO TRAIN? WHAT SIZE HANDCAR, NUMBER H5 OR H6? WHAT SIZE CABOOSE? WHERE NEAREST TRACK SWITCH? WHAT IS EXACT WATER LEVEL IN TANK NUMBER ONE? NUMBER TWO? HOW IS COAL SUPPLY? IS IT SNOWING? (Pause) MORE QUESTIONS TO FOLLOW.
Unknown: GET A YOU-KNOW-WHAT.
Raquette Lake: PRIORITY, PRIORITY. SAM PHELPS BORROWED DILLON’S HORSE. NUMBER SEVEN ENGINEER SAYS WILL DETACH ENGINE AND PULL TO UNCAS WATER TANK, THEN BACK UP TO GET CARS.
New York: NEGATIVE, IMPOSSIBLE ONE HORSE PULL ANY ENGINE. DO NOT, REPEAT, DO NOT TRY, WAIT FOR OUR INSTRUCTIONS.
Raquette Lake: CANNOT CANCEL. I WAS JUST TOLD HE LEFT FORTY MINUTES AGO.
New York: LET HIM GO, HE DOESN’T MATTER. ENGINEER HERE NEED ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS I SENT.
Unknown: HORSE’S REARS.
New York: THERE WILL BE AN INVESTIGATION…
Eagle Bay (interrupting): HERE THEY COME. I SEE PHELPS AND HORSE AND THEY HAVE ENGINE ON CHAIN. HEADING FOR UNCAS TANK.
New York: WHAT?
Eagle Bay: THE ENGINE IS HERE. PHELPS DID IT. THEY’LL GO BACK FOR PASSENGERS IN TEN MINUTES.
New York: PRIORITY. WHAT THE HECK IS HAPPENING? WHO IS IN CHARGE? IS NUMBER SEVEN ENGINEER THERE, WANT TO TALK WITH HIM. ENGINEERS HERE SAY IMPOSSIBLE PULL ENGINE WITH HORSE DUE TO HEAVY COEFFICIENT OF FRICTION, RAIL CONDITION, INERTIA AND OTHER LIMITATIONS.
Unknown: THIS HORSE DIDN’T KNOW THAT.
Eagle Bay: ENGINE NOW BACKING UP. WILL HOOK UP PASSENGERS IN FEW MINUTES. CROWD HERE CHEERING.
Utica: VERY GLAD AT NEWS. BUT COMPANY PROCEDURES NOT FOLLOWED. THERE WILL BE INVESTIGATION…
New York (interrupting): I AM SPEAKING FOR MR. HUNTINGTON. HE WANTS TO SAY THANK YOU FOR RESCUE. THERE WILL BE NO INVESTIGATION. NEVER MIND ARMY, GOVERNOR AND REST, WE WILL CANCEL FROM HERE. HE WANTS SPECIAL REWARD FOR PHELPS AND WILL COME RAQUETTE LAKE NEXT TRAIN. ALSO SAYS THANKS TO DILLON FOR HORSE. WHAT ELSE CAN HE DO TO HELP?
Unknown: GIVE THE HORSE SOME OATS.