“At five sharp,” responded the assistant engineer. “An hour later we hit the long trail in earnest. This isn’t an idling camp.”
“I’m glad it isn’t,” Reade nodded.
Then Blaisdell chatted with the boys, drawing out of them what they knew, or thought they knew, of civil engineering, especially as applied to railroad building.
“I hope you lads are going to make good,” said Blaisdell earnestly. “We’re in something of a fix on this work at best, and we need even more than we have, of the very best hustling engineers that can be found.”
“I am beginning to wonder,” said Tom, “how, when you have such need of men of long training, your New York office ever came to pick us out.”
“Because,” replied the assistant candidly, “the New York office doesn’t know the difference between an engineer and a railroad tie. Tim Thurston has been making a long yell at the New York offices of the company for engineers. Knowing the little that they do, our New York owners take anyone who says he’s an engineer, and unload the stranger on us.”
“I hope we prove up to the work,” sighed Harry.
“We’re going to size up. We’ve got to, and that’s all there is to it,” retorted Tom. “We’ve been thrown in the water here, Harry, and we’ve got to swim—–which means that we’re going to do so. Mr. Blaisdell,” turning to the assistant, “you needn’t worry as to whether we’re going to make good. We shall!”
“I like your spirit, at any rate, and I’ve a notion that you’re going to win through,” remarked the assistant.
“You try out a lot of men here, don’t you?” asked Harry.
“A good many,” assented Blaisdell.
“From what I heard at table,” Hazelton continued, “Mr. Thurston drops a good many of the new men after trying them.”
“He doesn’t drop any man that he doesn’t have to drop,” returned Blaisdell. “Tim Thurston wants every competent man that he can get here. Let me see-----”
Blaisdell did some silent counting on his fingers. Then he went on:
“In the last eleven weeks, Thurston has dropped just sixteen new men.”
“Whew!” gasped Harry, casting a sidelong glance at his shoes, with visions of a coming walk at least as far back as Denver or Pueblo.
“Mr. Thurston isn’t going to drop us,” Tom declared. “Mr. Blaisdell, Hazelton and I are here and we’re going to hang on if we have to do it with our teeth. We’re going to know how to do what’s required of us if we have to stay up all night finding out. We’ve just got to make good, for we haven’t any money with which to get home or anywhere else. Besides, if we can’t make good here we’re not fit to be tried out anywhere else.”
“We’re in an especially hard fix, you see,” the assistant engineer explained. “When we got our charter something less than two years ago we undertook to have every mile of track ballasted and laid on the S.B. & L., and trains running through, by September 30th of this year. There are three hundred and fifty-four miles of road in all. Now, in July, less than three months from the time, this camp is forty-nine miles from the terminus of the road at Loadstone, while the constructing engineers and the track-layers are thirty-eight miles behind us. Do you see the problem?”