The Last Engineer
As the flashing red light over Huron St. signaled our crossing, the flagman walked ahead of us, then jumped back up on the side ladder to ride until we neared the next intersection at Ann St. The thirty-five-ton gasoline-powered Plymouth switching engine we rode had been purchased as surplus from the U.S. Army in 1949, after the university dismantled its original electrified rail system. It had a twin that was parked on a siding alongside the old food service building (replaced by today's Biomedical Science Research Building). The university had purchased the second engine for parts, but I always imagined it was being readied for me to use when I grew up.
As we prepared to cross Ann, my dad would let me yank on the overhead cord that made the whistle shriek, warning the automobiles that we were coming through. Our route would then continue along the east side of the Glen-Fuller curve, cutting behind several houses that faced Glen on our left and gliding amazingly close to many of the university buildings on our right. The old tracks angled through the western quarter of today's Ann/Catherine parking structures and ran right next to Angelo's restaurant, which had only recently opened at the time I was riding the rails. The popular coffee shop was already the regular hangout for my dad's morning break with the other men who worked the coal operation at the power plant.