Millie (fiction)

Image Borrowed From the Internet

I’d driven to the Humbug Mountain summit for breakfast one Saturday morning and I was headed into the Humbug Cafe when a covey of old men caught my attention. I was younger than most by decades. Still, curiosity pulled me to the thicket of Port Orford Cedar where found an ancient steam shovel. It was a hulk of rust, but on the side of the cab I could still make out the name “Millie”. Obviously, few could remember the last time Millie had seen a head of steam. But I was drawn to the owner, a bearded man in his late eighties, Clem Bridges. He was stooped and spoke with an thin, airy voice. His description of how he used this old girl to carve the first traces up the north face Humbug Mountain, a path that would later become US 101, was riveting.

We cut our wood from the right-of-way – cedar, fir, alder. Water was more difficult. It was fetched by horse and wagon from Pistol River ten miles north. The eight and ten percent grade used up a remuda of horses before we were finished and parked this old girl here,” Clem explained. “But that was actually the easier part. In many places we had to lash the shovel to stumps with cables to keep her from tumbling down the 1700 foot slope into the Pacific. We had our moments,” he added.

After awhile some followed Clem into his cafe where he promised them pie and coffee. Others got into their cars and headed down the mountain. I waited. After everyone was gone, I grabbed a handrail and pulled myself onto one of the tracks. In the silence I peered through the opening at the boiler and firebox. The levers controlling the cables were rusted fast, unmoved from where Clem left them when he parked Millie here.

The ocean breeze moaned through the cedars as I closed my eyes in an effort to relive Clem’s adventure. I’d liked to have been here.

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