The little engine that couldn't.
Once upon a time, there was a little engine that couldn't.
Whenever his mommy asked her to make her bed, she'd say "I can't."
And whenever her daddy asked her to clear out the coal bin, she'd say "I can't."
Now, these are things that engines can do, especially engines that talk.
Of course, they don't mean quite the same thing to engines, that they do to you.
For an engine, the bed is the ground under the railroad tracks.
Little by little, the ground wears away, and you have to put down new gravel to
replace the old. It isn't that hard, even for a little engine, even for the little engine.
And if the little engine's mommy asks her to do it, it should be no problem at all.
But for the little engine that couldn't, it was a problem. In fact, for the little engine
that couldn't, it was impossible. She'd just sit there, and puff out blue smoke, and
say "I can't."
Day after day, the same thing happened, until all the engines got together to discuss it.
The rail mistress said, "I've tried to show her how he can do it, but she doesn't try. She
just watches me do it, and then the next time I ask her, she again says "I can't." Well, I can't do
anything with that. I really can't, either."
Old Chuff, who pulled important freight trains, said "You can't help her if she doesn't want
help. And if you ask me, she doesn't want help."
Even Thunderball, the high-speed passenger engine, said "I wish I could help. It looks beyond
anything I can figure, though. Maybe we just have to wait until the little engine that couldn't, is bigger."
But then the Little Engine with Ideas spoke up. "I don't see why you are all complaining that she
says she can't. I've been listening to you all, and I'm hearing nothing but "I can't." I don't see
how you're any better."
Well, there was quite a huff of steam from many a boiler, when the Little Engine with Ideas said that. The
other engines all quite properly told the Little Engine with Ideas that if he had a good idea, he should
share it, or better yet, do it. If not, he should stop criticizing. And they all went off with many a huff.
So the Little Engine with Ideas started a new train of thought. "I think I can... but how?" And suddenly,
he had an idea. "I know, I'll plant a how bug behind his ear."
So the Little Engine with Ideas went searching through meadows, under logs, near railroad ties, and even
in the brook, looking and listening very carefully. And then, under an old rotted leaf, he heard a little voice
say "_HOW_ do you do?" Well, that was exactly what the Little Engine with Ideas was looking for. He picked up
the little bug, tucked it under his whistle, and went steaming off in search of the Little Engine that couldn't.
When he got there, the Little Engine that couldn't had just been asked to make her bed, and had just said for the twentieth
time, "I can't." So the Little Engine that couldn't's mommy started to explain how her little one couldn't play,
and the Little Engine with Ideas quickly slipped the bug behind his friend's ear. Then he said "Well, maybe next time", and
went home. And Mommy engine, who was really very busy, went off to do her shopping.
There was the Little Engine that couldn't, all alone, with an impossibly huge task to do. She huffed a huff of blue smoke,
and said "I can't. I can't make my bed."
All of a sudden, from just behind his ear, she heard a small voice. "How?"
Well, that took the Little Engine that couldn't by surprise. She replied, "To make my bed, I'd have to go and
get gravel, and I can't."
And the how bug said, "How?"
The little engine that couldn't said, "I'd have to go get a coal hopper, and put it under the gravel chute."
And the how bug said, "How?"
The little engine that couldn't said, "I'd have to get the coal hopper from the yard, and then take it to the gravel
chute just up the line."
And the how bug said, "How?"
And the little engine that couldn't couldn't think of an answer. She tried, and tried, and tried, and the only thing
she could think of to answer the how-bug, was "Like this!" And she took off to the trainyard, hooked up the coal hopper,
pulled it to the gravel chute, and filled it with gravel. And whenever the how-bug asked "how", she just said, "Like this",
and continued to show the how-bug how.
Well, she got it full of gravel, and stopped. "I still can't make my bed. It's too much work."
As you might suppose, the how bug said "How?", and the little engine that couldn't kept on answering how, until she had
nothing else to say except, "Like this"; and then she did it.
When her mother came home, and saw her bed all nice and neat, with the corners all square, and all full of gravel,
she was so surprised that she could only say "My! What a good little engine you are!"
And when Daddy Engine came home from work, and asked the Little Engine that Couldn't to clear out the coal bin, the little
engine that couldn't had to keep explaining how it was impossible, until she found that the job was done -- by her, herself.
Now, it is true that the little Engine that couldn't found such questions terribly frustrating. But they were all exactly
the right question -- how? -- for they made the Little Engine that couldn't answer how, and keep on answering until
she knew for sure that she could.
And when the how bug grew up and flew away, well, the little Engine that couldn't still kept on thinking "how?" every time
she wanted to say "I can't." So even when the how bug was gone, the Little Engine that couldn't still found that there
really wasn't very much that she couldn't do.
And because of that, people stopped calling her the little engine that couldn't.
Instead, they started calling her by a new name, one that maybe you have heard before:
"The Little Engine that Could."