Actors who appeared in classic westerns recall their experiences. As imagined by me.
FROM THE CHAPTER ENTITLED: SMALLER ROLES
THE RAILROAD ENGINEER AND THE FIREMAN
RAILROAD FIREMAN: The train robbers climbed into the cab, and they shot me. I never understood that. Why would they shoot the fireman?
ENGINEER: You were a threat.
FIREMAN: What could I do? Throw wood at them?
FIREMAN: The fireman is essential. Without me feeding the boiler, the train comes to a screeching halt.
ENGINEER: No offense, but anyone can throw wood into a boiler.
FIREMAN: So what you’re saying is…
ENGINEER: You were expendable.
FIREMAN : They shot you sometimes.
ENGINEER: That, I never understood. I’m driving the train.
FIREMAN: You know what was really strange: Shooting both of us. I mean, I can see shooting one of us, though I’m not sure it disproportionately had to be me. But shooting both of us...
ENGINEER: Nobody said train robbers were mentally stable.
FIREMAN: Now, I think that’s unfair. Train robbing is a formidable undertaking.
ENGINEER: What is this? The “Stockholm Syndrome” for train robbers?
FIREMAN: I respect their tenacity, that’s all. It’s not like a bank that sits there and you walk in. They’re robbing a moving entity.
ENGINEER: You appear to have some serious admiration for these hooligans.
FIREMAN: Train robbers never flinch from a challenge. Stage robbers? That’s horses against horses. Train robbing is horses against the most powerful technology known to man at that juncture. Did they throw their hands in the air in futility? Did they say, “Trains are too much trouble, let’s rob something easier”? No! They laughed at the odds and they went for the glory.
ENGINEER: But they shot us – mostly you – for nothing.
FIREMAN: That was bad. But understandable. Outlaws were generally poor and uneducated. The railroad was the future. Killing us could be seen as a symbolic gesture, a desperate lashing out at the inexorable press of progress.
ENGINEER: You may be over-thinking this.
FIREMAN: Why do you think they shot us?
ENGINEER: They were maniacs.
FIREMAN: That’s a rather simplistic answer.
ENGINEER: It’s a western. People want action. You get on the train, and you shoot somebody.
FIREMAN: They could have just beaten us up.
ENGINEER: They preferred to kill us. Or at least the part of the gang that did the killing. The way I see it, train robbers are divided into three distinct categories.
FIREMAN: You’ve given this some thought.
ENGINEER: I have. One group stops the train, either by pulling up the tracks, or by blocking them with an obstruction, like a chopped-down tree. It’s a physical job, so the strong train robbers are assigned to do that. Then, there’s the group that robs the passengers. These are your charming train robbers. They don’t want trouble, just money, valuables, some harmless flirting. Which brings us to the third group.
FIREMAN: The ones who shot us.
ENGINEER: Every gang has its morons and lunatics. They need jobs too. So the leader tells them to “take care of” us. Unfortunately, these kinds of people need precise instructions. “Take care of” isn’t quite specific enough.
FIREMAN: They shot us…
ENGINEER: …because nobody told them not to.
FIREMAN: I still think they were envious of our place in a world that did not include them.
ENGINEER: Fine. Speaking of envious, were you ever envious of me?
FIREMAN: You? Why?
ENGINEER: I was the engineer.
FIREMAN: I was the fireman.
ENGINEER: I got to say, “All aboard!”
FIREMAN: That kept me up nights.
ENGINEER: I was in charge of the train.
FIREMAN: Yeah, yeah…
ENGINEER: I got to blow the whistle.
ENGINEER: That’s it, isn’t it? You were envious of me because I got to blow the whistle.
FIREMAN: I blew it sometimes.
FIREMAN: When you weren’t around.
ENGINEER: I think I see what’s happening here. When you were talking about train robbers being envious of us, you were really talking about you being envious of me.
FIREMAN: That’s ridiculous.
ENGINEER: Fess up. After all these years. You were jealous of me being the engineer.
FIREMAN: Well, why shouldn’t I be? You had a cap. Authority. “What time is the train leaving?” I knew what time the train was leaving. But did they ever ask me?
ENGINEER: It’s something you ask the engineer.
FIREMAN: And we all knew who that was. Hauling out your big gold watch and checking the time in a real showy way. “Look at me. I have a big gold watch!” You always barked to me. “More speed! More speed!” What do you think I was doing, taking a nap?!!!
ENGINEER: You realize it was a movie.
FIREMAN: You were very bossy.
ENGINEER: We were playing parts.
FIREMAN: Two indispensable co-equals. Did you ever think of playing it that way?
ENGINEER: I thought I was fair.
FIREMAN: Really? Did you ever offer to trade?
ENGINEER: Trade what?
FIREMAN: Trade parts.
ENGINEER: Did I ever offer to trade parts?
FIREMAN: Well, did you?
ENGINEER: I didn’t have the authority!
FIREMAN: You were the engineer!
ENGINEER: Are you listening to yourself?
A BEAT OF SUDDEN SELF-REALIZATION.
FIREMAN: What was I thinking? You know, sometimes it just doesn’t pay to look back.
THEY SIT IN SILENCE. THE INTERVIEW IS OVER.