Southern Steam Railway
Professor Phineas T. Winterbottom, Ph.D.
Mad Scientist, Tinkeror, Inventor Extraordinaire. Oh, and he has a flamethrower.
SUBJECT: Dr. Phineas T. Winterbottom, Ph.D.
Available documentation yields a rudimentary understanding of subject’s history. Subject was born November 19, 1832 at Winterbottom residence in Chicago, Illinois, and is only natural-born offspring of one Elias F. Winterbottom and legal spouse Cordelia S. Winterbottom, née Cordelia S. Yates. The male parent is noted as having operated a warehousing operation at the port of Chicago on Lake Michigan. Articles from local news media indicate he was an early investor in rail technologies, initially as an assistive means of moving cargo within Winterbottom’s facilities. As regional and national rail links grew, this foresight yielded a small fortune to Winterbottom as his operations benefitted from the efficiency gains of rail transportation, while his competitors later struggled to catch up. When asked how he was able to take advantage of the notoriously unreliable early rail technology, while others who had tried the same abandoned it due to excessive maintenance costs, the elder Winterbottom is quoted in the Chicago Tribune, stating:
“For a long time it weren’t payin’ off for us neither! Things didn’t turn around until our mechanic, Terrance, crushed his arm – damn near lost the thing! – tryin’ to get the steam cart moving again at the dock yard. I ran towards his screamin’, and that’s when I saw his assistant, only there was too many pieces of ‘im to take to the doctor.
We was already behind schedule and the last got-damned thing I needed was to take another reduced fee from a late shipment. And them steers was already butchered, so they warn’t gonna walk themselves!
Bein’ this were a Sunday morning, my boy was wit’ me at the yard – he’d always come to ‘help,’ or so he told his ma – any excuse to not sit through some stuffy sermon. But by gum, this time it weren’t no lie! Phineas says to me, he’d watched the mechanic work on every part of that machine, and knew it hisself, inside ‘n out. Even tinkered with it, too, when ain’t no one else was around. Can’t say what I were surprised – never could keep that boy away from any kind of contraption for too long.
Well, Terrance’s screams was still ringing in my ears and the machine was still slick with blood from that mangled young man. But I was desperate. I ain’t never told Phineas or my dear Cordelia, but we was real close to going under and losing it all. Only a week before I’d taken what cash I could scrounge up and somehow won enough at cards to keep the yard runnin’ for a little while longer. So when my boy tells me wot he can fix that damnable machine, it didn’t take me but a few minutes (and as many draughts of whiskey) afore’ I said yes.
So he rolled up ‘is sleeves and started to tinkerin’. I wanted to watch him work, make sure I was there in case somethin’ went wrong again, but I had to see to Terrance gettin’ tended to, and disposin’ a the pieces of ‘is assistant. As I was walkin’ back in, I ‘eard Phineas exclaim at the machine, ‘Work, you got-damn sumbitch!’ But he ain’t yelled it like ‘e was frust-erated, it were more like he was tellin’ that machine what he were in charge, and that machine were just gonna have’ta deal with it.
After awhile he walked back into this ‘ere werehouse office, lookin’ more a mess ‘o grease, sweat, and blood – mostly not his, I were relieved when he said so – anyway, more a mess than I’d ever seen from any person who weren’t just about to leave this mortal coil.
And wouldn’t you believe it, my Phineas got that contraption runnin’ again good as ever. Hell, better than ever, I tell you wot! We got them sides o’ beef loaded and moved out in ‘ardly no time at all.
I musta’ been the proudest father in the world right then! I was so excited at what he’d done, I took my boy out to celebrate the finest way I could think of. I ain’t goin’ to recount some of the particulars what ain’t fit to print in this here newspaper, but when the deed was done, we went back to my office for whiskey and cigars as men are wont to.
Phineas had told me fer years before he didna’ want to take over at the warehouse for me, and he was goin’ ta go to university and be an inventor. Best one in the world, even, if’n you can imagine it! And I always told ‘im no, that ‘e would become a very respectful man and find hisself a good woman to wife when he was old enough to run the business. But as that bottle o’ whiskey got lighter and our cigars burned shorter, Phineas told me again about his dream. And I could see it in ‘is eyes, this warn’t no simple boyhood daydream. I knew then my son sure as hell weren’t just no boy no more, he were ‘is own man, and that man was tellin’ me what he had to do – what he was gonna do – and from then on, I knew that were how it had to be.
After that, everything started turning up for us Winterbottoms. I hired Phineas on to be a mechanic when he weren’t at school. And afore I knew it, the yard was runnin’ smoother than it had ever before. When Terrance came back to work, he damn near quit right away, sayin’ what he couldn’t figure out what Phineas was doin’ to the machines to get ‘em to work better, and it ain’t made no since to him other than by usin’ the devil’s magic or some such nonesense. Phineas tried showin’ him how ‘is improvements worked, but I guess that mechanic just didn’t have the same knack for it that my son was startin’ to show. With our improving fortunes I were able to pay ‘im more, since he was still the best tinkerer I knew of in Chicago, and he agreed to stay on. Guess he were more worried about lining ‘is pockets than gettin’ caught up with that ‘evil’.”