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The Night Operator

By Frank L. Packard

Summed up short, the Hill Division is a vicious piece of track; also, it is a classic in its profound contempt for the stereotyped equations and formulae of engineering. And it is that way for the straightforward reason that it could not be any other way. The mountains objected, and objected strenuously, to the process of manhandling. They were there first, the mountains that was all, and their surrender was a bitter matter.

So, from Big Cloud, the divisional point, at the eastern fringe of the Rockies, to where the foothills of the Sierras on the western side merge with the more open, rolling country, the right of way performs gyrations that would not shame an acrobatic star. It sweeps through the rifts in the range like a freed bird from the open door of its cage; clings to cañon edges where a hissing stream bubbles and boils eighteen hundred feet below; burrows its way into the heart of things in long tunnels and short ones; circles a projecting spur in a dizzy whirl, and swoops from the higher to the lower levels in grades whose percentages the passenger department does not deem its policy to specify in its advertising literature, but before which the men in the cabs and the cabooses shut their teeth and try hard to remember the prayers they learned at their mother’s knees. Some parts of it are worse than others, naturally; but no part of it, to the last inch of its single-tracked mileage, is pretty—leaving out the scenery, which is grand. That is the Hill Division.

And the men who man the shops, who pull the throttles on the big, ten-wheel mountain racers, who swing the pick and shovels in the lurching cabs, who do the work about the yards, or from the cupola of a caboose stare out on a string of wriggling flats, boxes and gondolas, and, at night-time, watch the high-flung sparks sail heavenward, as the full, deep-chested notes of the exhaust roar an accompaniment in their ears, are men with calloused, horny hands, toilers, grimy of face and dress, rough if you like, not gentle of word, nor, sometimes, of action—but men whose hearts are big and right, who…

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Frank L. Packard

Frank Lucius Packard (February 2, 1877 – February 17, 1942) was a Canadian novelist.


Frank L. Packard was born in Montreal, Quebec, and educated at McGill University and the University of Liège. As a young man, he worked as a civil engineer for the Canadian Pacific Railway. His experiences working on the railroad led to his writing many railroad stories, and then to a series of mystery novels, the most famous of which featured a character called Jimmie Dale. Several of his novels were made into films. Frank Packard died in 1942 in Lachine, Quebec, and was buried in the Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal.


Jimmie Dale series
The Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1917)
The Further Adventures of Jimmie Dale (1919)
Jimmie Dale and the Phantom Clue (1922)
Jimmie Dale and Blue Envelope Murder (1930)
Jimmie Dale and the Missing Hour (1935)
Return of the Grey Seal (2007)
Jimmie Dale, Alias the Gray Seal by Michael Howard (2017)
Other works
On the Iron at Big Cloud (1911)
Greater Love Hath No Man (1913)
The Miracle Man (1914)
The Belovéd Traitor (1915)
The Sin That Was His (1917)
The Wire Devils (1918)
Coogan’s Last Run. (Novella) Published in Top-Notch magazine, Feb. 1918; a slightly expanded version of the short story “The Guardian of the Devil’s Slide,” which is included in On The Iron at Big Cloud (1911).)
From Now On (1919)
The Night Operator (1919)
The White Moll (1920)
Pawned (1921)
Doors of the Night (1922)
The Four Stragglers (1923)
The Locked Book (1924)
Running Special (1925)
Broken Waters (1925)
The Red Ledger (1926)
The Devil’s Mantle (1927)
Two Stolen Idols (1927)
Shanghai Jim (1928)
The Big Shot (1929)
Tiger Claws (1929)
Gold Skull Murders (1931)
The Hidden Door (1933)
The Purple Ball (1933)
The Dragon’s Jaws (1937)
More Knaves Than One (1938) (Includes: More Knaves Than One, The King of Fools, Behind The Masks, and The Devil Sits In.)

Frank L. Packard

Frank L. Packard