At the tender age of seventeen, Neil Pollard reluctantly hired me for my first job at the Pollardville. (I say "reluctantly" because that's the way he felt about anyone who worked for him) On a clear spring Saturday morning, I became the engineer of the legendary CKRR-old number 65-the great Ghost Town train.
The 50 cent ride (a quarter for young 'uns) took passengers on a tour of the north side of the property, starting across the trestle that spanned the deadliest waters known to man, those being the outdoor lab experiment known as the pond. How ducks swam in that muck and lived I'll never know. As the train chugged along at what I believe was a top speed of maybe 5 MPH, the sights along the way due east included the makeshift mine where suckers...uh, customers panned for gold, the huge red barn, an old-fashioned gazebo/bandstand and the foundation for a city hall that nevr materialized. Rounding the furthest end of the property that called "the back 40", a giant radio tower for FM station KWIN loomed overhead, a stranger in an even stranger land.
It was at this point in the trip that I derailed the train not once but twice on the same day of my first weekend. Oh, the whole thing didn't hop the tracks, just the middle car. The second time I had a full load of a kid's birthday party. To this day, I'll never forget those lil' tykes bouncing up in the air to and fro like popcorns kernels. In a panic, I slammed on the brakes and turned back to survey the damage. Mercifully unhurt, the kids just laughed and and proclaimed, "Let's do it again!" The little darlings. I had the pleasure of having to leave the train put as I walked the party back into town into the arms of their none-too-pleased parents.
Neil and his dad, the venerable Ray B. Pollard, claimed that I sped around the tracks when nobody was looking. Oh yeah, I cranked that sucker up all the way to 10! Go, Speed Racer, Go!
It wasn't my fault. A small section of the track was a tad unstable that we subsequently fixed. Still this didn't endear me to the Pollards. Neither did the next incident.
During a Sunday rehearsal at the theater, Ray Rustigian had parked his car too close to the tracks right next to the tunnel, the end of the ride. I noticed it too late and prayed that I cleared it. Well, the front of the engine did, but the cab was just wee bit wider and BANG! I clipped Ray's bumper. Sheepishly I found Neil to tell him the news, who in turn, silently stormed over to the theater to find Ray. The damage to the car was minimal. The train had just scrunched up the rubber bumper guard and Ray pretty much shrugged his shoulder, claiming responsibility for his choice of parking spots.
Not Neil. He read me the riot act, which I think he wrote himself. " Say listen... If a guy had a train,he'd learn how to drive it! Goddamn stupid kids. Never pay attention to anything..."
But he didn't fire me.
That wass the thing about Neil. He groused, he kvetched, he bitched, he moaned, he complained
about all of us that worked for him in one capacity or another. But he never let us go. Who knows? Maybe he actually liked us.