barnabas_truman: (oldstyle)
[personal profile] barnabas_truman
Didja know Paul Bunyan had a younger brother named Cal? Cal was in the railroad business; founded the Union Columbia line 'round the same time everyone else was just starting to figure out that you could put wheels on steam engines. Built a grand railway all the way from California to New York by way of Alaska. Of course that needed a lot of steel; he kept all the steel mills in seventeen states running overtime eight days a week just to keep up. Needed a lot of lumber for the ties, too, so he called in his older brother Paul the lumberjack. That was Paul's first job in that line of work, choppin' lumber from the Mojave Jungle to make ties for the Union Columbia. (What's that you say? There isn't any Mojave Jungle? Well, not anymore there isn't.)

Anyway, Cal personally designed and built the flagship train for the Union Columbia line, and he christened it the Wabash Cannonball. This train was so long ("how long was it?") so long that it had a miniature railroad on the inside to ferry passengers from the sleeper car to the dining car. It was so fast ("how fast was it?") so fast that on shorter journeys it would sometimes arrive before it left. Its boiler was so big ("how big was it?") so big that the American Cartographers' Association had to rewrite the definition of "river" to avoid accidentally categorizing it as one. It had so many cars ("how many cars?") so many cars that they had to hire six mathematicians just to keep track.

Once Cal tried to set up the world's first trans-Atlantic railroad, extending the Union Columbia from New York to London. Laying track underwater would be quite a task, but Cal had heard that the telegraph men had set down a couple of telegraph cables across the bottom of the Atlantic, and he figured, hell, a couple of cables is most of what a railroad needs anyway! So he sent down some divers to position the cables the correct gauge distance from each other, using wood salvaged from shipwrecks as ties. When it was all ready he sent down a specially made train, the Queen of Tortuga, with watertight cars and fancy porthole windows and plenty of oxygen for your breathing pleasure. Quite an experience, I'm told, but it didn't last long--on the maiden voyage, wouldn't you know it, some city slicker decided he wanted a bit of a breeze and opened up a window, and that was the end of the Queen of Tortuga.

After that Cal figured he ought to stay on dry land and focus on breaking the speed record. He got those mathematicians to invent a new branch of thermodynamics to get the engines running more efficiently, and found a way to refine coal so pure there weren't nothin' left. That got the Wabash Cannonball running so fast ("how fast was it?") so fast that even when it was at a dead stop it was still going sixty.

Once he thought everything was perfect, Cal took his newly remodeled flagship on a test run. He put it on the tracks at Union Station in Los Angeles, aimed it towards New York, and started stokin' the engine. What he didn't know was that some kid in Juneau had put a penny on the tracks to see it get squashed, and when Cal's supersonic train hit that bump, it got knocked off the track and flew clean into orbit.

Some folks say that Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon, but on a clear night, if you squint just right and look in the right spot you can almost see some tracks up there. And if you listen real close, you just might hear the lonesome whistle of the Wabash Cannonball echoing across America, carrying some old hobo on one last trip to the Great Rock Candy Mountain.

That may be a tall tale, but it's truer than most anything else you'll hear these days. Guaranteed 110% true, with the extra 10% because you're such a good customer.
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