His father was right. The mountains were enormous. He could, barely, make out the tops of some of them if he turned his head sideways and looked up through the side window of the yellow truck.
They were driving through a winding roadway near the bottom of a valley, sometimes following a river, other times a pair of railroad tracks that cut through the untamed scenery. Sometimes there was a small town, usually heralded by a sign on a tall post around the next bend of the valley floor. Shell, Sunoco, Husky, the signs read.
At one point his father directed him to look up at the side of one tree-covered slope, where he could see the small black squares of mine shafts driven into the rock. Another time they both watched with fascination as a surprisingly long and slow train trundled up the slop and into a tunnel, only to emerge further up the steep grade and traveling the other way. A moment later it popped into another tunnel, and again emerged higher up, again moving in the original direction. It fascinated the boy to see three parts of a train going in seemingly different directions, so he asked his father to explain it.
“It’s a double spiral,” he explained. Seeing the boy’s somewhat blank expression, he drew a shape similar in the dust on the dashboard. “The train goes in, and spirals upward to the right in a big circle, always going up slowly. Then it comes out of the tunnel. That’s where you see it going in the other direction. Then it goes back in, and does the same thing in the opposite direction, but still going up. It’s kind of like an elevator for trains to get over the mountains.”
The boy thought on this a long time, forming a mental picture of stone tunnels through the darkness, and the engines pulling their long line of cars upward through the spirals. It put him in mind of a book he had read when he was younger, about the little engine that could. He laughed, thinking to himself “I think I can, I think I can…“ and when his father asked him what was so funny, he explained and they both laughed for a long time.
The big yellow truck was also chugging along, no longer rumbling gently along. The engine sounded like it was working harder, and it was much louder. His father had to keep it in a lower gear than when they were crossing the prairies, and they went along much slower, winding their way upward from the valley floor.