The leader of the colorados scoffed at the idea, but knew there was nothing to lose. Beside him, General Salazar protested more from his dislike of foreigners than the idea being foolish. Orozco granted permission and ordered his men to be ready to follow the train. Once it exploded, they were to attack the federal camp. Again Salazar voiced his objections, but willingly agreed when Orozco convinced him that if the train attack failed, the foreigners would most likely die.
Switchmen moved an engine and coal car in the rail yard, setting it on the tracks that ran north to the federal encampment. Richardson climbed aboard the engine cab, looked over the throttle controls and measured rope for later. Standing by the cowcatcher, Dreben oversaw the loading of eight hundred pounds of dynamite. He opened crates, liberally poured primers over the explosives and gently resealed them. It was shabby, primitive looking work, but all he needed was to tie the crates to the cowcatcher and ensure they held until the crash.
General Orozco watched with a crooked grin yet was coming to believe the plan was crazy enough to work. A soldier stepped away after carrying a crate of dynamite. He glanced at Orozco.
“It’s a loco loco, a crazy locomotive,” he said, shaking his head.
Another soldier drew a serious face. “No, stupid, it’s a máquina loca, a crazy machine.”
“They’re both right,” Dreben said, climbing into the engine’s cab with his partner. He picked up a shovel and fed coal into the boiler as fast as he could shovel.
Richardson waited until the pressure grew high then yelled to Orozco and the officers near him. “Tell your men there will be debris flying after the explosion.”
A partial nod and a wave came from Orozco in reply. Six thousand colorados with their red flags flying were already mounted.
“If we die, Sam, guess I’ll be seeing you in Hell,” Richardson shouted as the boiler growled from its intense pressure. He released the brake. The engine shook and inched forward. Black smoke belched from its stack, thin and wispy, and steadily became a thick, billowy pillar.
The engine picked up speed and the noise in the cab grew deafening. Steam hissed and the boiler’s fire roared like an angry lion. A rhythmic clack of the engine’s wheel against the tracks became a constant hammering, and the wind whistled as it blew through the open sides of the cab.
Sweat trailed down Dreben’s face and flowed off his chin. His wet shirt stuck to him yet he kept heaving coal into the screaming boiler. Richardson watched the needle of the pressure gauge climb and peg into the red danger zone. He leaned out the cab’s window and the howling wind whipped his hat from his head. His eyes watered from the blast of wind as he looked to check the remaining distance to the federal camp. Tapping Dreben on the shoulder, he motioned him to stop shoveling.
“Get ready to jump,” he yelled at the top of his voice, but the blare of noise masked his words.
Dreben understood though and moved to the cab’s open doorway, standing ready. He held onto the climbing rails and gazed at the blurred ground as they flew along the tracks.
Richardson pulled the throttle wide open and the engine shuddered, almost taking the two men off balance. The engine became a meteor on wheels with roiling black smoke stretched behind it through the air. He lashed a rope about the throttle and tied it off. Both men hung their head out the side to check the distance. The federal camp grew larger by the second and the three trains ahead were still there.
At a hundred yards from the encampment, Richardson slapped Dreben’s back and watched his friend leap from the cab. Richardson never hesitated and flung himself clear of the engine. Both men struck the ground hard and rolled head over heels until coming to rest against scrub brush and rocks. They lay on the ground, groaning, spitting dirt from their mouths and wiping their faces to see the engine.
The federal soldiers stopped their work and looked down the tracks at the howling train rushing toward them.
“Don’t worry. We’re safe. We removed the rails in front of our trains. Our general expected the colorados to try that,” a mounted officer shouted to the men. He grinned and nodded confidently, turning his gaze to the oncoming train. But his grin faded and mouth slowly opened as he recognized the crates tied on the cowcatcher.
“Dynamite! Run!” he yelled, wheeling his horse about and wildly whipping it into a gallop.
The engine raced along the tracks at full speed, billowing black smoke. A wave of hysteria swept across the encampment. Soldiers shouted and fled in all directions, forgetting their rifles, caring only to get away from the dynamite packed train.
Reaching the end of the rails, the engine plowed through the hard dirt and kept rolling as if it were still on rail tracks. Dirt shot skyward and a wall of dust like a desert sandstorm swept up and about the engine. The cowcatcher collided with the federal’s first train on the tracks and eight hundred pounds of dynamite detonated. A massive fireball erupted that could be seen for miles. The thunderous boom of the explosion swept across the land and the earth trembled. Its black, gray, red, and yellow immense fiery cloud engulfed the large camp and secondary detonations immediately came as crates of artillery rounds and weapons ammunition were torched by the blast.