The Eternal Mayor - Part II


The Eternal Mayor, Part II

By James M. O'Meara, © 2006

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Battling Bob’s train was due in Walnutwood late Friday afternoon, the day before the big festival. At the station, a crowd started forming two hours early. A half hour before Battling Bob’s train arrived, the platform was full and the crowd stretched half a block down Main Street.

Over the years Walnutwood had been deliberately ignored on many a politician’s whistle-stop tour. Presidents, Senators and Congressman had all blasted through Walnutwood Station at full speed, never stopping—the town was hardly worth the effort, it appeared. Nevertheless, a few folks always turned out to stand along the platform and wave to the politicians as they hurtled by. For the arrival of Battling Bob Jones, it was strictly standing-room-only. Everyone knew this was the most important train to ever pull into town. Banners hung from the weathered, clapboard walls of the station. Small American flags were clutched in everyone’s hands. The high school marching band stood at the ready to escort Bob to a gazebo in the city park, where a hero’s welcome awaited him.

“Listen!” someone cried.

The crowd hushed. There! There! The distant sound of the locomotive’s engine and faint clackety-clack of the cars on the tracks could be heard off in the distance. The sound of the approaching train galvanized the crowd. Small children were hoisted onto the strong shoulders of their fathers. Young boys shimmied up light poles, and shimmied right back down when a policeman tapped the pole with his nightstick. Women grew breathless, their pulses quickening. Men went dry in the mouth. Soon smoke from the train’s engine could be seen rising in steady chugging puffs over the woods bordering the tracks a mere mile or so away. Oh, the excitement! Battling Bob Jones was nearly home!

At last the big, red bull-nosed locomotive—Pennsylvania Railroad’s famous No. 5901—pulled slowly into the station. Almost unconsciously and as a herd, the crowd moved closer to the tracks as the big diesel came to a halt. The first folks off the train were blasted with The Marines’ Hymn by the Walnutwood High School Marching Band. Being nuns, they were startled and bewildered by the brass band welcome. The conductor frantically waved the band to a stop. The crowd grew quiet. Big No. 5901 just sat there, disgorging no one, and apprehension rippled through the crowd. Where was their hero? Where was Battling Bob?

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