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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 1, Issue 9 (February 25, 1927)

“A Boss Pianist!” — Dear Mr. Editor,—

page 24

A Boss Pianist!”
Dear Mr. Editor,—

I send you the following contribution, feeling confident that you will be able to find room for it in the columns of your interesting magazine, and that your readers will appreciate the humorous method of recounting his experience in having a “ride on a piano” as told by Jem Nelson, one of America's oldest engine drivers, at an annual “meet.”

John B. Robertson, Public Works Dept., Wellington.


I was loafing around town last night and as I had nothing better to do I dropped into a concert and heard a slick looking Frenchman play a piano that made me feel all over in spots. As soon as he sat down at the piano I knew by the way he handled his work that he understood the machine he was running. He tapped the keys 'way down on one end, just as if they were gauges and he wanted to see if he had water enough. Then he looked up as if he wanted to know how much steam he was carrying, and the next moment he pulled open the throttle and sailed out on the main line as if he was half an hour late. You could hear her thunder over culverts and bridges and getting faster and faster, until the fellow rocked about on his seat like a cradle,—somehow I thought it was old ‘36’ pulling a passenger train and getting out of the way of a special. The fellow worked the keys on the middle division like lightning and then he flew along the northern end of the line until the drivers went around like a buzz-saw, and I got excited. About the time I was trying to tell him to cut her off a little, he kicked the dampers under the machine wide open, pulled the throttle valve 'way back into the tender and—Jerusalem—how he did run. I couldn't stand it any longer and yelled to him that he was pounding on the left and if he wasn't careful he'd drop his ash pan. No one heard me. Everything was flying and whizzing. Telegraph poles on the side of the track looked like cornstalks, the trees appeared to be mud banks, and all the time the exhaust of the old machine sounded like the hum of a humble bee. I tried to yell out, but my tongue would not move. He went round corners like a bullet, slipped an eccentric, blew out a soft plug, went down grades 50 feet to the mile, and not a confounded brake set. She went by the meeting point at a mile and a half a minute, and calling for more steam. My hair stood up like a cat's tail, because I knew the game was up. Sure enough, dead ahead of us was the tail light of a special. In a daze I heard the crash as she struck, and I saw cars shivered into atoms, people mashed and mangled, and bleeding and gasping for water. I heard another crash as the French professor struck the deep keys 'way down on the lower end of the southern division, and then I came to my senses. There he was at a dead stand-still with the door of the fire-box wide open, wiping the perspiration off his face and bowing to the people before him. If I live to be a thousand years old I'll never forget the ride that Frenchman gave me on the piano.”

Fully loaded timber train drawn by two “X” Class Engines leaving Ohakune

Fully loaded timber train drawn by two “X” Class Engines leaving Ohakune