Henry Hautman was born old. He had the face and figure of a voter at fifteen. His skin did not fit his face,—it wrinkled and resembled a piece of rawhide that had been left out in the rain and sun.
Henry’s father was a freighter on the Santa Fe trail when Independence was the back door of civilization, opening on a wilderness. Little Henry used to ride on the high seat with his father, close up to the tail of a Missouri mule, the seventh of a series of eight, including the trailer which his father drove in front of the big wagon. It was the wind of the west that tanned the hide on Henry’s face and made him look old before his time.
At night they used to arrange the wagons in a ring, in which the freighters slept.
One night Henry was wakened by the yells of Indians, and saw men fighting. Presently he was swung to the back of a cayuse behind a painted warrior, and as they rode away the boy, looking back, saw the wagons burning and guessed the rest.
Later the lad escaped and made his way to Chicago, where he began his career on the rail, and where this story really begins.
It was extremely difficult, in the early days, to find sober, reliable young men to man the few locomotives in America and run the trains. A large part of the population seemed to be floating, drifting west, west, always west. So when this stout-shouldered, strong-faced youth asked for work, the round-house foreman took him on gladly. Henry’s boyhood had been so full of peril that he was absolutely indifferent to danger and a stranger to fear. He was not even afraid of work, and at the end of eighteen months he was marked up for a run. He had passed from the wiping gang to the deck of a passenger engine, and was now ready for the road.
Henry was proud of his rapid promotion, especially this last lift, that would enable him to race in the moonlight along the steel trail, though he recalled that it had cost him his first little white lie.
One of the rules of the road said a man must be twenty-one years old before he could handle a locomotive. Henry knew his book well, but he knew also that the railroad needed his service and that he needed the job; so when the clerk had taken his “Personal Record,”—which was only a mild way of asking where he would have his body sent in case he met the fate so common at that time on a new line in a new country,—he gave his age as twenty, hoping the master-mechanic would allow him a year for good behavior.
Years passed. So did the Indian and the buffalo. The railway reached out across the Great American Desert. The border became blurred and was rubbed out. The desert was dotted with homes. Towns began to grow up about the water-tanks and to bud and blow on the treeless plain.
Henry Hautman became known as the coolest and most daring driver on the road. He was a good engineer and a good citizen. He owned his home; and while his pay was not what an engineer draws to-day for the same run made in half the time, it was sufficient unto the day, his requirements, and his wife’s taste.