Crooked Mick builds a railway

I reckon the hardest work Mick ever did was when he laid the last ten miles of the track on the Speewah Hills spur line. It wasn't just the lay of the land that was against him: it was the geology itself. It was all jumbled up, with sandstone and shale all mixed in together, and outcrops of quartz sticking up in all the worst places.

So Mick had the problem of digging through really hard rock in the cuttings, but even though there was soft rock in places, it was almost useless for fill. That didn't help any.

Mick was left to do it all on his own, on account of a ghost that had turned up. It wasn't the ghost as such that made all the other workers pack up and leave: it was the way it kept whining and grizzling about what a rough after-life it was having, a real whinger. It just wouldn't shut up, no matter what, and so Mick was there on his own, and that didn't help any.

But there was worse: there was Royalty coming out to open up the line, and there were still ten miles left to do, with just nine days to do it in. That's what governments are like: slow to react and then demanding everything in a rush, and that put Mick under a lot of pressure, which didn't help any, either.

Of course, Mick couldn't have done it without his dog, but the dog was in one of its scatter-brained and lazy moods that it sometimes got into, and that didn't help any, which is why it turned into the hardest piece of work that Crooked Mick ever did.

Anyhow, the dog went out and surveyed the rest of the route and pegged it, but being lazy, it didn't drive the pegs in too far, so a few got knocked out by passing kangaroos, and some passing galahs took a couple more for dessert, which meant Mick actually went the wrong way a couple of times, and that didn't help any.

So after that, Mick gave the dog a good talking-to and sends it out with a team of horses, a team of bullocks, and two scrapers, so they can do the rough work on grading the route. Seeing the dog was being a bit absent-minded, Mick didn't want to overload its intellect. Personally, I reckon the dog knew exactly what it was doing, and it played stupid to get an easy life. Whatever it was, Mick had to do more of the work, and that didn't help any at all.

Still, with the dog supervising the horses and the bullocks, as well as acting as billy-boy, they could've made it, easy as pie. As it was, they got the whole of the way cleared and graded in five days, and that was when Mick found there were no sleepers. So he had to give half a day and all that night to cutting the hardwood sleepers to go under ten miles of track, and here he was lucky: there was a full moon, and that helped a bit.

He tried tossing the sleepers up ahead as he cut them, but any that went further than a mile just splintered when they landed, and the dog couldn't carry more than four at a time, so Mick got the dog to round up a couple of hundred Speewah bull ants, and he tied two sleepers on each ant, one each side, and the dog marched them off, biting through the strings from time to time, to release the sleepers.

After a while, the dog got the idea of undoing the knot, and it learned from that about how the knot was tied. The next morning, it took over the job of tying the loads on, as well as dropping them, and it increased the work force to four hundred ants. That helped a bit.

The only thing is, the sleeper-cutting hadn't been allowed for in Mick's timetable, and he was now behind schedule, so he worked his way along, a hammer in each hand, driving the spikes into the sleepers, which went faster when the dog was there to hold the spikes on the left-hand side, but it was mostly still at work transporting the sleepers.

That was when Mick made a bad mistake: he overworked, and broke both his hammers, with two miles of line still to be laid. That didn't help any, but he still had his fists, and he kept going and got it down to just half a mile to go, when he ran out of spikes. Now that definitely didn't help any.

So he sent the dog out, early the next morning, to bite the tips off as many mosquito stingers as possible, getting only the youngest ones, so the tips hadn't hardened yet. When the mosquitoes first leave the water, their stingers are no harder than half-seasoned ironbark, but half an hour later, they get really tough, so the dog had to get in quickly. That didn't help any, because the dog had to pick and choose among the mosquitoes, dodging the ones that were too old.

But in the end, the dog collected enough of them. As a matter of fact, if you go out there today, the rails have rusted away, and the sleepers have all fallen to the termites, but you can still see those mosquito stingers, marching away across the landscape in two parallel rows.

I suppose you're wondering how Mick transported the rails. He didn't have to do much, because they were loaded on railroad trucks when he took over the work, so he just hooked them up, and pulled them along behind him. That helped quite a lot, having them all loaded up like that.

And I suppose you want to know how he fixed the ghost: well, that was the easiest part of all. He collected the sap that oozes out of the gum trees, the gum that gives them their name, and he heated it up in an old billy. Then, when the ghost came round, he grabbed it by the throat, and poured the hot gum down its throat, and shut it up for good.

And I know what you're thinking now: how could the hot sap stick to a ghost? Well that was where Mick used his brains. He collected all the sap from ghost gums. That helped a lot.

But apart from that, it was the hardest bit of work that Crooked Mick ever did. It would've been easier if the dog hadn't been so lazy.


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