Who is the fastest in the wild, wild west? The jackrabbit is fast, but he can be outrun by the cougar. The cougar is speedy, but he can be outrun by the wild mustang. Can anyone outrun the wild mustang? That is what all the animals on the prairie have gathered today to find out.
Down in the front the prairie dogs have set up a family picnic. They aren’t a part of this competition, but they aren’t about to miss out on the fun. Off to the side sit the jackrabbits. There was some talk of their chief challenging the mustangs, but now he’s announced that he is to be one of the judges instead. A wise move. No one has better pick up time than the chief jackrabbit, but he just doesn’t have the stamina for this kind of race. Clustered in the middle are the buffalo. They, too, are only observers, since their forte is strength and not speed, but no prairie gathering would be complete without them. Ranged behind the buffalo are the cougars. They were the most recent challengers to be defeated by the wild mustangs, and as such they also have a representative judging today. Perched in the trees by the train tracks are a few buzzards. They eye the prairie dogs with interest, but everyone has agreed to a truce today. The buzzards are here as judges also, their perspective from the sky being essential. A lone turtle wends his way through the crowds, selling cool water for the sunny day, completely uninterested in the competition except as a way to earn some profit.
It’s almost start time and now the mustangs are arriving. Proud and strong, they shake their manes as they gallop to a halt on the open plain before the spectators. With a loud neigh, the herd leader calls the judges forward. While he talks to them, the crowd begins to mutter. Where is the challenger? So far, no opponent has shown up. The prairie dogs crane their necks to see if anyone is coming. Suddenly the youngest prairie dog squeals. The ground is trembling ever so slightly. Soon the rumbling is evident to the whole gathering. In the distance, the shining train appears, rushing toward them, trailing its black smoke. Several of the smaller animals dash for cover. The buzzards lift up into the sky. Only the cougars’ well timed pacing keeps the buffalo from stampeding. The train squeaks and groans to a halt right in their midst. The crowd slowly quiets down.
The lead mustang is announcing that the race will begin in half an hour. The challenger is the smoking black giant before them. A ripple of excitement passes through the watching animals. Never would any of them have thought to pit the mustang against the machine. It is an unspoken rule on the prairie that every animal stays as far from the train and its tracks as possible. Stay out of the way of progress, it is said, and you will live longer. Some animals are calling the lead mustang a fool for breaking this tradition now. Others are fascinated. The cougars look forward to what must be the certain humiliation of the mustangs. The jackrabbits can not imagine a machine mastering the prairie more fully than a living being. The buzzards find the question interesting if irrelevant. Everyone knows flying is the best and fastest was to get somewhere, but the issue of second best is intriguing. A few of the animals place discreet bets on the outcome.
At last it is time to begin. The race is to be a long the one, all the way to Abilene and back again, more than forty miles all told. The judges will wait by the finish line, all except the buzzard who will shadow the racers to insure that there is no cheating. Everyone is excited as the chief jackrabbit counts down to the start.
With a graceful leap, the mustang is off, moving quickly from trot to full gallop. Very soon he is out of sight. The train begins much more slowly. It chugs to life and the wheels turn sluggishly until it gets its great weight in motion. Chug, chug, chug, faster and faster it moves. Chug, chug, chug, faster and faster. Soon it’s speed is tremendous. Tirelessly it gains on the mustang. Overhead, the buzzard is the only observer now, watching as the train catches up with the galloping mustang and then smoothly moves past. The mustang increases his speed a little, but he cannot catch up with the train.
The train arrives in Abilene a good hour before the mustang, but here is its disadvantage. In order to turn around and go back, the great engine must be moved to a special turntable track and be slowly turned around. This process takes time. The buzzard watches as the train waits on its human inventors to switch it around. In the mean time, the mustang has arrived in Abilene and is immediately turning for home. He barely breaks a stride as his hooves thunder around in a circle. He is half way back to the finish line before the train leaves Abilene. It has a full load of coal now, though, and its speed is unbelievable. Steadily, it closes the gap.
By the time the two contestants are in sight of the waiting spectators, the train has nearly caught up with the mustang. The chug of its engine can be heard as its wheels turn effortlessly. Still just a half length ahead of the train, the mustang increases his speed. Flecks of sweat fly off his whipping mane, and his sides heave with the tremendous effort. The two are flying toward the finish line. All the judges watch with intense concentration. The prairie dogs have dropped their food and are staring with open mouths. The buzzards fly forward for a closer look.
The train and the mustang are neck and neck as they cross the finish line. The train squeals to a halt, sending sparks along the tracks, as the mustang stops by the water trough, breathing hard and trembling with fatigue.
The judges have consulted and now they are coming forward with the results, and the winner is…
The winner is….
What do you think? Who wins the race?