Trains

Lingering thoughts of last week’s Metrolink disaster remind me of a story my mother told me about my grandfather, William Douglas Dill, who for most of his life was an engineer with the Southern Railway company.

There’d been an accident in the Sheffield railyard where he worked — the closest of the railway’s yards to where he lived outside of Carbon Hill in Walker County. An ALCo Ps-4 steam locomotive coming off the line to the roundhouse for fueling and servicing derailed, rupturing its boiler and pinning a repairman name of Elam in such away that the scalding water was pouring directly on him and there was no way to stop the stream or divert it. Being burned by the steady flow of boiling water Elam was obviously in a ridiculous amount of pain, and in the frantic and failed attempts to raise the locomotive and free him, it quickly became clear to everyone present — including Elam — that he was doomed and there were two options: let the water kill him slowly or let a bullet.

Of course no one volunteered for the duty. But Elam who lived in Jasper near to Carbon Hill was a friend of my grandfather William Douglas Dill who for most of his life was an engineer with the Southern Railway company and who wouldn’t stand to see his friend Elam’s suffering prolonged. Even if it meant anguish for being the one to end it.

Stepping through the solemn crowd of railway workers and withdrawing the long-barreled revolver he always carried holstered on his hip, he got beside the overturned steam locomotive and knelt down to where he could look his friend Elam in the eye and get a clear shot. My grandfather William Douglas Dill who for most of his life was an engineer with the Southern Railway company told his friend Elam he was sorry it had come to this, and Elam told his friend William it was all right. Then Elam asked for him to waste no more time relieving him of his suffering and my grandfather did not.

I never met my grandfather William Douglas Dill, who for most of his life was an engineer with the Southern Railway company, and who died at the age of 74, the year before I was born.