Hail to the Chief
The big station was being cleaned from top to bottom. Windows were polished, platforms were swept, and walls were repainted. The locomotives were all given new coats of paint as well.
“I wonder what this is all about.” Gilbert said to Hudson at the platform one morning. Gilbert was waiting for Hudson to leave with his express train so he could set off with his local stopping train.
“I’m not sure,” said Hudson. “But I heard, and keep this under your dome, that the president himself is coming to our railway!”
“President Roosevelt?” Gilbert gaped. “Who told you that?” Just then the conductor blew his whistle and Hudson started off.
The rumor soon spread. Baldwin and Harry were chatting about the president in the roundhouse that evening as Richard was being repainted.
“It must be something special if you’re being repainted, Richard!” Harry bubbled excitedly. “I was thinking just the other day that you could use a new coat of paint!”
“Harry!” hiss Baldwin. He had a great deal of respect of the old locomotive.
“It’s alright Baldwin!” Richard chuckled. “Young Harry’s right! I haven’t been repainted in years! I feel like a young locomotive again!”
“Do you think its true Richard?” Baldwin asked. “What Hudson says, that the president is coming to see us?”
Richard smiled. “We’ll have to wait and see!”
The answer came sooner than expected! That evening Mr. Rockford came to see the locomotives in the roundhouse. He was very excited!
“Engines and engineers,” He bellowed. “I am delighted to announce that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt will be traveling on our railroad to give a live radio broadcast from the Golden Valley Hotel! He’ll arrive at the Big Station next Friday and I want all of my locomotives in attendance!”
The locos whistled and cheered excitedly!
“Mr. Rockford,” Gilbert piped up. “Who will pull his train?”
“I think that’s fairly obvious Gilbert,” Hudson said in a condescending sort of voice. “There’s only one engine fit for the job!”
“You’re right Hudson,” Mr. Rockford replied. “There is only one engine for the job, but it’s not you.”
Hudson looked startled. “What? Not me? Surely you won’t be letting a mixed traffic locomotive or a freight locomotive pull his train?”
“No, it won’t be a mixed traffic or freight loco.”
“Do you mean to suggest a switcher will be showing the President our railroad?” Hudson sounded disgusted. “What would that say about us?”
“Who says a switcher shouldn’t pull the train?” Harry huffed indignantly.
“It won’t be any of you unfortunately,” Mr. Rockford said. “The president will be arriving on a private train from another railway. The locomotive will be staying here during the days preceding President Roosevelt’s arrival, so I want you all to make him feel welcome.” Mr. Rockford left leaving Hudson greatly disappointed.
The President’s locomotive arrived two days later. He was streamlined like Hudson, but wore a different, flatter, casing. He was painted navy blue with gold lining. His name was Vanderbilt and when Hudson returned to the roundhouse from his days work he was complaining loudly to the other locomotives.
“This roundhouse has a draft!” he groaned. “And is that a hole in the roof? What if it rains and my wheels rust to the rails? This miserable old railroad is hardly worthy of President Roosevelt’s attention.” The others simply glared in silent fury. Even Richard, who was usually clam and quiet, was scowling. Vanderbilt then noticed Hudson backing down into his berth. “Ah, you must be the express engine then!”
“I am.” Hudson said plainly.
“You’ll know to stay out of my way come Friday then!” Vanderbilt sneered. “Good! That will make the president’s journey much easier. Goodnight then! I need to rest up for my big day!” Hudson mumbled something to himself that wasn’t very polite.
The day came at last! The Big Station was decked in red, white and blue with American flags draped anywhere the station staff could find space. Even Vanderbilt’s complaining couldn’t spoil the other locomotives’ mood.
Harry chuntered cheerfully around the yard humming “Hail to the Chief” to himself as he arraigned passenger cars for the other engines. Gilbert, Sullivan, and Hudson were busy running trains up and down the railroad to bring people to see the president. Baldwin pushed Richard from the roundhouse to the station platform where he could get a good view.
Half-an-hour before the president’s arrival, the engines gathered at the Big Station. Crowds of people flocked onto the platforms to wait for President Roosevelt’s arrival. They waited, and waited then waited a little while longer. Mr. Rockford paced the platform nervously. The soon the station clock struck the hour and people peered down the line to see if they could spot the train coming, but the train didn’t come. So they waited again. Five minutes became ten, and then ten became twenty. The locomotives were worried and Mr. Rockford looked pale.
“Almost thirty minutes late now!” Hudson snorted. “Typical, just typical! They should have let me pull the train!”
Just then a conductor whispered in Mr. Rockford’s ear. He sighed deeply then marched imperiously towards his locos.
“Vanderbilt has failed just beyond the Middle Station,” he said. “He has a leak in his boiler and can’t pull his train. Hudson, you’ll need to collect his train and bring the President here! Be quick now; show him what our railroad is made of!”
“Yes sir!” said Hudson proudly, “Right away sir! Miserable old railroad are we? We’ll show him!” With a blast of his whistle, Hudson vanished in a cloud of steam and set off down the main line.
At the middle station, Vanderbilt was in a state of rage. “It was that drafty old roundhouse!” he fumed; his face was red as a stop sign. “The cold air cracked by boiler! It’s the fault of this trashy old railroad!”
“Stop your self-loathing,” snapped his driver. “You were due to have your boiler replaced soon, it was just worn out. If anything, it is our fault for not looking you over properly before we started.”
Hudson sidled up alongside Vanderbilt with a smug grin on his face. “Afternoon Vanderbilt! Enjoying the sunshine?” Vanderbilt said nothing. “It looks like this ‘miserable old railroad’ is going to save your tender!”
Vanderbilt mumbled some very rude and angry things as Hudson switched him into a nearby siding, then backed down on the president’s train.
“Time to show the president what this railroad is made of!” Hudson puffed to himself. “Come – on, let’s – go! Come – on, let’s – go!” he puffed to his cars has slowly began to move back along the main line towards the Big Station.
Back at the Big Station word had gotten down the line that Hudson was on his way. The station was abuzz with chatter and excitement once again. Then they heard a whistle in the distance and the station fell silent momentarily. The band began to play “Hail to the Chief” as Hudson appeared around the bend. A wide grin stretched across his smokebox and with another blast from his whistle, the station erupted in cheers.
Out of one of the passenger car windows President Franklin Delano Roosevelt waved to the throngs gathered on the platform. Photographers, all struggling to get a good picture, flashed the cameras before the president disappeared back into the car. Hudson came to a smooth stop and moments later the door of his passenger car opened. Cameras flashed again as the president stepped onto the platform. He waved, shook hands with Mr. Rockford, walked a few yards, then stopped. When President Roosevelt stopped, the cameras stopped flashing. A man in a black suit stepped out of Hudson’s train pushing a wheelchair towards the president. Looking relieved, the president took a seat and was wheeled off to a private car to be taken to the Golden Valley Hotel.
“The President uses a wheelchair?” Harry whispered to Baldwin. The other locomotives were just as surprised, but decided to say nothing.
President Roosevelt’s radio broadcast was a great success, and by the time it was time for him to leave, Vanderbilt and been repaired and was scheduled to take the president home. The morning before he was scheduled to leave, the locomotives were gathered in the roundhouse. Mr. Rockford was there and had told the locos to wait in the roundhouse. A shiny black car pulled up beside the turntable and President Roosevelt himself stepped out before being helped into a wheelchair. He was pushed across the ballast towards the locomotives. The engines stared in silent awe.
“Good morning locomotives!” he said in a kind but booming voice. “I wanted to personally thank you for the excellent service you provided me last Friday. You’re a credit to your railroad and to this country! Hard work and endurance is truly the American way and it’s something we must hold onto during these troubled times.” The locomotives cheered and whistled their praise as the President shook hands with all their stokers and engineers. Then he personally thanked each of the locomotives for all their hard work. He spoke to Hudson last.
“Your engineer tells me your name is Hudson!” he began.
“Yes Mr. President, it is!” Hudson said excitedly.
“You and I have a lot in common Hudson,” President Roosevelt said. “You’re named after the Hudson River in my home state. You’re on wheels, and so am I! But most importantly, we’re both trying to help those who need it most. For me, that’s the American people, but for you it me and my train! This railroad is a shining example of the spirit of hard work and loyalty that makes this country great. Mr. Rockford, you should be very proud!”
With that, the President stepped back into his car. The locos whistled one last time as the President’s motorcade drove away towards the Big Station.