If you want a game to tame you and to take your measure in,
Try a week or two of trucking in a mine
Where the rails are never level for a half-a-minute's spin,
And the curves are short and sharp along the line.
Try the feverish bottom level, down five hundred feet of shaft,
Where the atmosphere is like a second suit,
When the wash is full of water, and you've got to run the graft,
For there's forty ton of gravel in the shoot.
‘Want a job o’ truckin', dost tha?’ says the boss, old Geordie Rist,
‘Shift's a trucker short, ma lad, but aw don’ know—
Can'st tha do th' work, though, think'st tha? Art a pretty decent fist?
Eh, well, damme! thoo can try it; go below.’
So the cage is manned, the knocker clangs and clatters on the brace,
The engine draws a deep, defiant breath
To inflate her lungs of iron; and in silence, face to face,
We drop into the darkness deep as death.
Then a fairy sense of lightness and of floating on the night,
A sudden glare, and Number Three is passed;
Soon a sound of warring waters and another rush of light—
‘All clear!’ The up-trip never seems so fast.
It is rough upon the tyro, that first tussle with the trucks—
The wretched four with worn, three-cornered wheels
That are sure to fall to his lot and to floor him if his pluck's
Not true when mates are grinding at his heels.
Then the struggle at the incline, and the deucéd ticklish squeeze
At the curves where strength alone not all avails,
And the floundering in the mullock, and the badly-broken knees
Before he learns to run upon the rails.
But it's like all other grafting, and the man that has the grit
Won't tucker out with one back-racking shift;
When he's sweated to condition, with his muscles firm and fit,
He'll disdain to stick at seven trucks of drift.
He can swarm around the pinches with a scramble and a dash,
And negotiate the inclines just as pat;
And the sheets of iron rattle and the waters surge and splash
As he shoots the ‘full 'uns’ in along the plat.
When the empties wind and clatter down the drive and through the dark—
As ‘blowing’ spells those backward journeys serve—
On before, deep set in darkness, glints and glows a feeble spark,
The candle burning dimly at the curve.
After cribs are polished off, and when the smoke begins to rise
And cling about the caps and in the cracks,
There's a passing satisfaction in the patriarchal lies
Of the Geordie pioneers and Cousin Jacks—
Lanky Steve's unwritten stories of the fun of Fifty-two,
Or the dashing days at Donkey Woman's Flat,
Of traps, and beaks, and heavy yields, and pugilists put through,
And lifting up the flag at Ballarat.
Yes, the truckers' toil is rather heavy grafting as a rule—
Much heavier than the wages, well I know;
But the life's not full of trouble, and the fellow is a fool
Who cannot find some pleasure down below.