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Dave Tolliver, a telegraph operator for G. R. & N. Railroad, is on the nightshift during a storm when he gets an emergency message from dispatch to sidetrack a train to avoid a collision. After setting the lever, Dave is held up by a payroll thief who emerges from a coffin in the tower. During the struggle, as the lever is switched, Dave notices a serpent and sword tattoo on the thief's forearm. Dave runs after the thief outside the tower and shoots him in the shoulder, causing him to drop the payroll bag before he disappears into the woods. The trains crash, killing twenty-seven people, and Dave is tried for criminal negligence. Because he retrieved the payroll, he has no proof he was robbed and is sentenced to five years in prison. Dave escapes on his way to the penitentiary and becomes a drifter. A few years later, he meets "Pop" Martin, a telegraph operator at the Noyo Tower, who was one of the passengers injured in the collision. Pop's daughter Janet is being bullied by nightshift operator Joe Forbes into marrying him. Dave walks in on the row while looking for work, and Janet befriends him, inviting him to board with her and Pop after kicking out Joe. Dave, still feeling sorry for himself, is about to skip town when Pop has a heart attack while on duty. Dave takes over for him under the name Bob Kirk and makes the rail workers promise not to tell the dispatcher Pop is sick, so that he can collect his pension. When Pop is ready to return to work, Dave decides to leave, but Pop knows he and Janet are in love and suggests he propose. Joe, angry at losing Janet to Dave, threatens to tell the dispatcher about Pop's absence unless she marries him. Pop overhears, however, and pulls a rifle on Joe, telling him Janet is already engaged. When an old friend of Dave recognizes him, Joe, overhearing him being addressed as Dave Tolliver, exposes him to the dispatch superintendent. That night, when Dave and Joe switch shifts during a storm, Dave hears an incoming message about a sheriff arriving on the Westbound Limited to arrest him. Joe pulls a gun on Dave to keep him from fleeing and they fight. Meanwhile, a runaway train heads toward Noyo Tower, threatening to crash into the Westbound Limited, and dispatch sends a message for Joe to derail the runaway. Dave finally knocks out Joe, breaking his arm, and is about to flee, but stays to fix the broken derailer. The sheriff arrives safely and thanks Dave for his sacrifice. When Joe's arm is set, Dave recognizes the thief's tattoo and accuses Joe, who is arrested. Dave and Janet then embrace.