May 10, 1869—What The Engines Said

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What the Engines Said.
(Opening of the Pacific Railroad—May 10, 1869.)


The Overland for June crosses the continent on the completed Pacific Railroad. As there are few readers who have not been told before, that it is the “greatest work of the age,” they will, perhaps, overlook the omission here of much of the popular rhetoric in regard to “indissoluble ties,” “wedding of the East to the West,” etc. But some who remember to have read that “the two locomotives moved up until their pilots rubbed together, symbolic of the friendly salute of their respective owners,” did not perhaps hear

WHAT was it the Engines said,
Pilots touching,—head to head
Facing on the single track,
Half a world behind each back?
This is what the Engines said,
Unreported and unread!

With a prefatory screech,
In a florid Western speech,
Said the Engine from the WEST:
“I am from Sierra’s crest;
And if altitude’s a test,
Why, I reckon, it’s confessed
That I’ve done my level best.”

Said the Engine from the EAST:
“They who work best talk the least.
S’pose you whistle down your brakes;
What you’ve done is no great shakes,—
Pretty fair,—but let our meeting
Be a different kind of greeting.
Let these folks with champagne stuffing,
Not their Engines, do the puffing.

“Listen! Where Atlantic beats
Shores of snow and summer heats;
Where the Indian autumn skies
Paint the woods with wampum dyes,—
I have chased the flying sun,
Seeing all he looked upon,
Blessing all that he has blessed,
Nursing in my iron breast
All his vivifying heat,
All his clouds about my crest;
And before my flying feet
Every shadow must retreat.”

Said the Western Engine, “Phew!”
And a long, low whistle blew.
“Come, now, really that’s the oddest
Talk for one so very modest.
You brag of your East! You do?
Why, I bring the East to you!
All the Orient, all Cathay,
Find through me the shortest way;
And the sun you follow here
Rises in my hemisphere.
Really,—if one must be rude,—
Length, my friend, ain’t longitude.”

Said the Union: “Do n’t reflect, or
I’ll run over some Director.”
Said the Central: “I’m Pacific;
But, when riled, I’m quite terrific.
Yet to-day we shall not quarrel,
Just to show these folks this moral,
How two Engines—in their vision—
Once have met without collision.”

That is what the Engines said,
Unreported and unread;
Spoken slightly through the nose,
With a whistle at the close.

—Bret Harte, Overland Monthly, June 1869.

Courtesy of Democratic Thinker