August 24, 1892
A Section Hand on the Union Pacific Railway, Scribner's Magazine,June 1901
Buda remains one of my favorite locations, not only because of Walter's detailed description, but also for the
Twilight Zone incidents experienced there. The year before, on our test run to Morris, IL, we had stopped here on
a whim and I got out and walked along the tracks to the road crossing just east of the siding, keeping an ear out for
the frequent trains. Part of my tribute to Walter was to read aloud a pertinent passage from his book as we stopped
at each locality he mentioned.
As I stood by the tracks and recited, "On
Wednesday morning, August 24th . . ."
I stopped in mid-sentence as a funny
feeling came over me. It occurred to me
that we had started this trip in August and,
glancing at my watch, I read "Aug 24".
The hairs on the back of my neck snapped
to attention and I half expectantly looked
eastward along the tracks towards Gibbon,
searching for a figure purposefully
trudging along. Had that occurred, I think
I would have suffered an embarrassing
moment. Alas, no one appeared, not even
Rod Serling; but just to play it safe, I
looked heavenward and said, "Here's to
you, Walter, 110 years later." No one but
Phyllis heard me, and she's used to this
sort of thing by now.
Nevertheless, this incident did make me wonder about the events that had to fall into place to make this happen.
Walter rarely mentioned a specific date, usually settling for "Monday morning" or "early in September" Then too,
in 2001, we left home a day later than planned because of a cell-phone problem that had to be corrected locally. We
were cruising along Interstate 80, unaware of the date, when I suddenly decided to refuel in the next town, even
though we were on the top half of the tank. The next exit was coming up, so on the spur of the moment we took the
exit and topped off in Kearney. Originally we planned to stop at Buda on the homeward-bound leg, as we would be
coming down US 30 from Fremont. Since Buda was only four miles east of town, we decided to follow US 30 there,
then cross back over to the Interstate and continue east. All things considered, I had a warm feeling from then on
and nursed the suspicion that it wasn't only Walter's words that were guiding us.
". . . and glancing down the line I saw a gang of section-hands at work . . .
"Two hundred miles west of Omaha the wages
earned at the livery stable in Council Bluffs
were exhausted, and I was obliged to look for
another job with which to replenish my store.
I was following the line of the Union Pacific
Railway, and, having spent my last cent one
mid-day for a dinner, I went up to the first
section-boss whom I met in the afternoon's
walk and asked him for a job. Without a
moment's hesitation he told me that he was in
no need of a man, but that Osborn, the boss of
the next section . . . with headquarters at
Buda, he knew was looking for one."
I walked something more than three miles into the next section, the Thirty-second, before I came up with the gang
that worked it. I went up to them and asked for Osborn . . . instantly upon my application, Osborn accepted me as a
section-hand at wages of a dollar and a quarter a day for ten hours work."
|Courtesy Comtois Collection
|Section hands repairing track near Buda, ca 1906
A year later Buda (2002), Walter was still at it and Buda again reinforced its grip on my imagination. I had walked
at least a mile along these tracks for each of Walter's towns, six in all along the UP route, at all hours of the day, but
it was only outside of Buda that I had another Twilight Zone episode.
|Union Pacific work gang (in truck running on tracks at left)
just outside of Buda
The next morning we left Gibbon and
drove five miles along US 30. At that point
I allowed we were three miles from Buda
and decided to walk them in as Walter had
done. Unfortunately, it wasn't August
24th this time but evidently Walter was
still tweaking the dials. Just as I was
nearing the Buda corn storage building
(far center), a Union Pacific work crew in
a truck riding the rails made its
appearance. I was tempted to ask them
for a job as a section hand but they looked
pretty busy and figured they might not
appreciate this bit of whimsy.
|Looking East towards Gibbon from the Buda station
"Island in a sea of corn" on center right - trees surround a farm house.
"On Wednesday morning, August 24th, I was a little beyond the town of Gibbon . . . my funds were low. . . .It would be
easy to apply for work upon some of the many farms . . . Still, I had had a little experience as a farmhand and I wished to
extend the range of my experiment as far as I could within the limits of unskilled labor . . .