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Special Correspondence to TELEGRAPH

             Grand Crossing, Ill.. Dec. 7th, ’84

             Mr. Editor-The number of railways that cross here, and the numerous trains that are constantly thundering past, amply entitles this place to the name of Grand Crossing, but if I had been at the christening I would have called it Ditchtown, because it is ditches from end to end. The houses are far between, the lots being held on speculation; the land is low and flat; the sidewalks are elevated about two feet above the level, and alongside of the sidewalk, on each side of the street, are ditches dug from three to four feet deep, and like a tinker’s bed, both broad and wide.

             I am told that in spring they go from house to house Venetian fashion, in boats. I am employed on a railway three miles from here, and ride out to work in the morning and back in the evening. Coming back some nights, especially when dark, the yard looks like some grand entrance to the dark regions. There are from eight to ten engines standing in the yard, with their great glaring headlights, and from some of these the spectator is enveloped in a cloud of smoke and steam every few minutes. The whole length of the yard, about 1 ½ miles, is studded with the switch lamps of different colors, and the numberless switchmen swinging their signal lamps, gives to a stranger the appearance of the utmost confusion. Then, 150 men with blackened faces came hurrying from the workshops, each with a lamp, when a tall Irishman, with his hands in his pockets to the elbow pokes his coal besmeared visage from the dark over the lighted track “the very picture of terror,” looking for the approaching train, the scream of which can now be heard.

             On looking around, I can see prairie fires blazing in all directions, and before I have time to think, or the incoming train to stop, the lamp lit gentry before mentioned make a rush for the train, and the engine heaves a great puff of steam. Prairie fires are mostly commenced by locomotives and by hunters, and run both before and against the wind. They recede slowly, but advance with great rapidity if the wind is high, about as follows. The flame shoots up and the wind doubles it over and it strikes five or six feet ahead, where it takes fire instantly. The fire now approaches both forward and back on the intermediate unburned space, and when they meet the flame shoots up high and bursts with a loud report, and each time leaps farther and farther, and consequently going faster and faster; but on a calm night they don’t make much headway and are simply grand. The fire is fought when necessary somewhat like skipping the rope. Each of two men take a long wet cloth and beat the fire streaks from the sides, and they are followed by two more, and so on. This if done on both sides of the fire, soon become contracted, and dies out at the first obstacle it cannot leap. I will tell you about the winter soon.

Yours &c.,

Robert Lamont

Welland Telegraph
2 January 1885