Saturday, November 7, 2015

Wizard of Waukesha; Were you pulled by the 400?; By candle light; Adios Halloween for this year

Waukesha's own Les Paul


Were You Pulled By The 400?

The 400 was the Chicago and Northwestern's
First mile-a-minute
Steam-operated streamliner
Regularly scheduled to operate
Over a distance of 200 miles
Its name came from its unheard-of ability
To pull a train 400 miles
In less than 400 minutes
And the name suggested the future
The next decade

The 400 was introduced on January 2, 1935
And in 1936
It got the first oscillating headlamp
A safety feature for high-speed trains
People and animals weren't used to such swiftly-approaching

Here comes the 400
Waukesha kids would shout
Those of us lucky enough to live
Near the tracks in the 1940s

We would run down through Silurian Park
Then source of still-coveted Waukesha water
To the other train depot on Williams Street
to see the 400
Hoping it would stop
In its mighty glory
Sometimes it even had an American flag
Flying above the oscillating safety lamp

I walk that way now
Water debunked
A legend gone plain
Flags out of style among the hip
That war is over
Trains rusty drones
Competing with trucks
The good buddies of the roadway
In our way
Maybe sporting flag decals
Next to permit decals on their window glass
Beating out the iron rails
Not quite yet - no, never

In the 40s the 400 ruled
Among the regular high smoke-stacked
Black as coal
Steam engines
Pausing to take on water at the Waukesha depots
Give entertainment to TV-less children
And get their giant wheels oiled

By trainmen in bib overalls
Their bucket oil cans with specially long spouts
And their watch chains guarding
Marvelous timepieces tucked in
Those upper blue and gray striped pockets
Watches that were cherished possessions
Setting those men apart
Amidst the bursts of steam trackside
Like dry-ice effects on a stage

Times were hard and my mother and grandmother
Would warn me at dusk
Don't go down there
There are tramps down there
And there were sometimes
But I never saw one that meant
Me any harm
Come on

Like the 400 and the other plainer trains
The tramps were transitory
Unlike today's homeless
They were said to hole up briefly
In camps outside of town
Sometimes they would beg door-to-door
And leave a secret mark
Where they were treated kindly

I featured them cooking stews in old tin cans
Staying away, embarrassed
But I never truly met a tramp to find out
They didn't seem to want to know us
And we didn't seem to want to know them
   in the 1940s

My church was and is just on the other side
Of those train tracks
And I don't remember them teaching us
To worry about these homeless people
Like they encourage us to do now
But they might have done so
I was little; I wondered

The mighty 400 flew through town
Sometimes without stopping
It's oscillating headlamp showing
Like Diogenes' lantern -
It might have been looking for an honest man
An honest boy
An honest tramp

It was an elite train bent on getting
Where it was going
It's trainmen a cut-above
Their denims seemed starched
Their watches looked even better
The uncluttered lines of this engine
Showed little of what was going on

A thing of wonder in the change of the age
I saw men stopped at railroad crossings
Interrupted by the coursing 400
Not cursing their bad luck
But getting out of their cars and doffing their hats
At the swiftly arriving and disappearing
on the non-stops
Engineer who would wave

An eddy of wind left behind
Might swirl a newspaper and dust up into the air
And in a moment the 400 was gone
What happened?

There are still pictures of the 400 in the museum here
And a local tavern across from the depot
Still bears its name
Reliquaries hold the engines remaining now

We would put our small feet on the tracks
To feel the power of the still-out-of-sight
Incredible behemoth 400
Horn blaring its look out
No old-fashioned bell 'dinging'
Look out for the swinging beam

So connected;
We felt
We were going somewhere

And the tramps rode the rails
A mile a minute sometimes
If they were pulled by the 400

[David Dix]

Gym at redone renamed Les Paul Middle School, Waukesha

Justin Max Shoepke, metal sculptor,
last I heard now in CA,
used to live across the street from  us on Colton St.
He sometimes displayed, before he went on, with 
the West Main Street artists.

At that early period of his life I bought this candle holder
he'd fashioned from a fireplace andiron.

It is still in service at here at the Odd Fellows hall.
He was working  from his studio in the garage
across the street from us, back then.

What a lucky thing to have!

(Justin is the son of  Waukesha Realtor Sally Schoepke
and mortgage originator Steve Schoepke.)


Halloween is a thing of the past 
for this year.

We've put away
the plastic jack-o-lantern
but there was a day
on Arcadian Ave
- our family homestead -
when this end of Halloween time
was observed
but there wa

 flat pumpkin