The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 10 (February 1, 1934)
The Strength of Jimmy Lee
(Illus.rations by M. Matthows.)
The most astonishing thing in the life of Jimmy Lee was his sudden discovery one night that, apparently, he possessed amazing physical strength, which was all the more amazing, since Jimmy was a little man. His job did not tend to make him a Hercules, for he tapped the carriage wheels at the Junction with a long-handled hammer. Sometimes when he thought he had discovered a faulty wheel he tapped twice or even three times, so that his right arm might have acquired unusual punch. At any rate, when his wrath overcame him and he hit Long Charlie, during an argument at the Junction, to his horror, and the surprise of the other men, the big driver fell prone to the ground and lay there. Jonah rushed Jimmy away before Long Charlie could come to and kill him, was the way Jonah put it. So Jimmy went home in wonderment and missed the hilarity after he had gone.
Railwaymen are great practical jokers and this was a joke on Jimmy.
Next day, he noticed that everyone spoke to him respectfully, though none referred directly to the episode of the night before. Once when he was stooping to test the wheels of the Overland, he heard someone say something about what would happen when Long Charlie got hold of him; and it worried him a bit till he straightened up and saw that the speaker was only one of the young cleaners.
He went to the Junction that night, but Long Charlie was not there, being on the night run on the Limited. Jimmy kept his temper, an unusual thing for him, even when Mascot teased him about playing tunes on the wheels, for Jimmy often boasted that he had a musical ear.
At the Junction, however, for some reason a man picked on Jimmy and gave him a shove, and then Jimmy turned, still determined to keep his temper and shoved the man. He did not use all his strength, being afraid after the previous night's experience. Nevertheless, the man fell on his back with a crash and it took Jimmy and Mascot all their time to bring him round.
“You want to be careful,” Mascot said, “or they'll be locking you up. You're too dashed strong.”
After that, whenever Jimmy got a bit wild, the men would draw away and speak to him in placating words. And although he tried not to, Jimmy began to be cheeky, even to big men.
A new driver from the North came in one night on a special, and seeing Jimmy shouldered him roughly, but not intentionally so. Jimmy hauled him off to “crack him,” but Mascot grabbed his arm and when Jimmy had cooled down Mascot spoke in quiet tones to the stranger. What he said Jimmy could not hear, but the man shook Mascot off, and said—
“I don't care if he is ‘Whiskers Blake'.”
As he said it he turned and glared at Jimmy and laughed.
“What, that little squirt!” he sneered.
And then Jimmy hit him, right on the ear, and down went the driver, while his fireman, who was not in the joke, stared in amazement and edged away, in case Jimmy was fighting a tribal war, which would include him.
While Jimmy was still gazing at the prostrate man, three enginemen made a rush at him, and grabbed him with his arms held tightly against his sides.
“You're dangerous,” one of them said. Jimmy just went mad then.page 50
“Am I?” he yelled. “Well look out,” and to the amazement of the fireman and himself—the only two who were not in the joke—he flung the three off, knocked one of them down and walked off majestically.
“The next time you touch me, you won't get off so easy,” he said, and went off into the night to think about this strange access of strength which had come to him. Perhaps it was heavensent, he thought. When he looked down at his slight form and bandy legs, he remembered that bandy men often were very strong in the legs, but it was in his arms, too, that the strength lay, and they weren't bandy. Perhaps, thought Jimmy, if he trained he might become a great wrestler and make big money.
When Jimmy's wife woke the next morning, she was confronted by the spectacle of her husband with very little on, standing before the narrow slit of mirror in their time-payment-wardrobe. He was posing like a strong man, flexing his arms and waving his hips about.
“What the devil's the matter with you?” she asked in disrespectful tones, not at all suited for addressing a man who was the terror of the Junction. But then, Jimmy was not a boastful man at home and she knew nothing of his prowess as a strong man.
Jimmy looked at her pityingly. Women were so superficial. They never looked beneath the surface of a man. That was why any flash fellow could win their affections, while men like himself, real men, had to demonstrate whatever qualities of charm they had hidden away inside themselves.
“I'm just wondering” Jimmy said.
“Wondering what?” she asked acidly.
“Where my great strength came from.”
“What?” She sat up in her astonishment and stared at him. “Why you haven't got the strength of a rat.” With an exclamation of disgust, as though all her disappointment in ever marrying him had at last found vent, she lay down again.
For a moment Jimmy considered the idea of showing her how strong he was. But there, she was a woman, and who could man-handle a woman without losing dignity? So he went on with his posing, till his exasperated wife told him to clear out and milk the cow. The cow offered him a fair chance to be strong without any come-back. That astonished beast never had such a rough handling in her life, and at last expressed her feelings in a long, sad “moo.” This brought Mrs. Jimmy to the back door to ask what he was doing. She caught him in the act of trying to throw the cow's hind-quarters towards the leg-rope, when he could have pushed them.
“Well, if you aren't batty,” she said.
“You mind you own business,” said Jimmy. “Who's milking this cow, you or me?”
But that morning, she spoke to Mrs. Day, her neighbour, whose husband worked at the coal bins and had an arm like a sledgehammer.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Day, “Tom's been telling me about Jimmy laying into half the men, sometimes three at a time, and knocking them out.”
Tom had not told his wife the joke, though, so she could not tell it to Jimmy's wife, and that lady decided she had better reconsider her idea of giving Jimmy a thrashing, to show her superiority, as she had done once or twice before, she being quite twice his size. Jimmy came home that evening, walking like a gladiator. He had just “cracked” Danny Blow, the shunter, for cheeking him and only a friendly switch handle which Danny grabbed, had saved him from going into the ditch.
“I want my tea,” Jimmy said, “and when I want it, I want it.”
“Yes,” his wife quavered. “It's ready, Jimmy.” She hurried away wondering who had been Jimmy's latest victim and what she should do if he became violent. For Mrs. Lee's only explanation of Jimmy's herculean strength was that he was going mad. Madmen it was said page 51 gained great physical strength as their mental powers went awry.
While Jimmy was eating his tea, Mrs. Day informed her, in a hurried talk over the fence, of the man-handling of Danny.
“Dear, oh, dear!” Mrs. Lee exclaimed, “what chance will I have if he takes to me?” and even her great size did not make Mrs. Day laugh, for Jimmy's outbreaks were becoming the talk of the Junction. In fact, more than that, for the tales were carried up and down the line and trainmen, who only occasionally went to the Junction, hoped for an early call at that station, so as to see Jimmy at work.
Sometimes, in the yard, a man would ask Jimmy to give him a hand with a big lift. But Jimmy had got proud and would say, insultingly, “Lift the thing yourselves. I'm not a porter.”
Then he would go to his job of tapping the wheels, with a song of exultation over his strength weaving into the “tink-tonk” of his long hammer.
One day after doing this to the “fast passenger” Jimmy went into a goods shed to see some of the men there. They included Danny, the shunter whom Jimmy had taught to keep his place. A mixed train was shunting outside, and Jimmy thought Danny was taking a spell while the train was working up the yard. Someone spoke of Jimmy's strength and hoped, ingratiatingly, that Jimmy would never take to him, the speaker. Jimmy regarded him superciliously and said:
“It all depends on yerself, how ye behave.”
Then a man spoke.
“Them shed doors are heavy and hard to move. Takes two men,” he said, “to move them.”
“You mean two ordinary men,” Danny said.
“Yes, that's what I mean. But why?”
“Why? Because Jimmy here could shove one himself.”
“Bet you a pound he couldn't?”
Danny looked at Jimmy inquiringly, as though to get the tip about backing him for a pound. Jimmy's look being friendly, Danny said: “I'll bet you a pound he can. Go on Jimmy!”
With a strong man's dignity, Jimmy walked across to the big door which hung from oiled wheels and rails high up above the doorway. The door was wide open. He suddenly heaved and the door ran smoothly, till it quite closed the opening, when it came to rest with a soft thud, leaving the shed in semi darkness.
Still swaggering, Jimmy walked after the door to shove it back. Then it seemed the end of the world came. There was an ear-splitting crash, and a steel truck, one of a “rake” of six which were being shunted into the shed, came clean through the door, almost running over Jimmy, whose agility much eclipsed his strength.
Leaving the door a tattered shred hanging from its rollers, the trucks rolled into the shed where Danny cleverly braked them, a process which he had been waiting to do, but in which he was much handicapped by the paralysing laughter which afflicted him, along with the other men there.
Jimmy just stood there, bewildered and speechless till the yard boss, who had heard the crash, came over, and in heated language wanted to know all about it.
When they could speak, and it was only in gasps, they tried to explain, but the only coherent part was Danny's words.
“Jimmy shut the door.”
“They bet me I couldn't,” Jimmy exploded.
“Couldn't shut that door?” the yard boss said, with its patent rollers, why a baby could blow it along.”
The yard boss looked at the shattered door.
“I reckon that will cost £20 to mend,” he said, “and who is to pay for it?”
“What about Jimmy giving a strong man show at the picture palace,” Danny suggested. “That would bring in a few pounds.”
Even the yard boss laughed then—this was in the days when yard bosses did laugh sometimes—and he took Jimmy by the shoulder and said:
“Look, Jimmy, they've been pulling your leg. You couldn't kill a flapper. But we'll get back on them. I'm going to pass the hat round and make them all put in to pay for that door. And here comes No. 61. You get right down and tune up her wheels, while I fix this mess.”
And every man paid up—for railwaymen are kind as they are hard, in a grim way. And Mrs. Jimmy—well, she was so incensed at the trick that had been played on her husband, she worked the women at the Junction up to such an anti-man feeling that all the husbands were afraid to go home at nights.
“You and your kids’ tricks, said Mrs. Long Charlie scornfully to her husband, and she voiced the anger of every wife at the Junction.