National Geographic : 1994 Dec
"I had a hard time with a wolverine when we stoppedfor repairsone night. He was convinced he was going to eat my boot." PAT WELLS Locomotive engineer and, beyond it, flickers glow up from a storm below the horizon. There's a smell of cut hay and diesel smoke. In the silence I think of two more things about the prairie. Pierre Berton described the first days of the coming of the line to the young towns: "The sharp, spring air was pungent with the incense of fresh lumber and ringing with the clamor of construction ... lasting friendships were forged among the soiled tents on the river bank ... every man was young and strong and in love with life." And I remember sitting around a dining room table near Creelman with Dennis Smith and his family. At the table were his wife, Judy, and his pretty younger daughters: Jan elle-at 15 all braced and blushy-and Amber, 13, who was still on the happy, sharp edge of childhood. The family was neither bitter nor resigned; they seemed to share a kind of calm resolve common in families who survive on the prairie for generation after generation, adapting, as Wallace Stegner has written, "to the terms the land sets." We talked about Creelman's small post office. Hours have been cut, but the government has promised it won't be closed. "So it'll be there for a little while yet," Judy said. Amber sneaked a wicked grin at me. "Like everything else," she said. "A little while." ON CP EXTRA 57411I hear the whistle of the oncoming train. The lead engine rounds a bend a mile away, and the broad beam of its headlight hits Paul Taylor, who's standing down on the grass to check the other train as it passes. Weird shad ows shift and jiggle as the light moves. Paul's shadow dances wildly, and in the shadows in the long grass I cannot tell light from wind; Straight as an arrow shot at Banff, the railway cuts through a wild realm where crews can see more than two dozen bears during a single run.