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Author Topic: Hostling a 1921 steam engine  (Read 1222 times)
Joe Fox
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« on: November 14, 2016, 12:48:39 PM »

The morning started like any other, except these would be my last moments with the old girl. Many thoughts going through mind, wondering if this is what the original steam guys felt on their last days of steam.

I entered the roundhouse at 630 a.m. on a cold 40* fall morning. Opened up the doors to the table to cool off the shop and climbed inside the engine. Looking at the water level in the boiler, I opened the fire box doors and checked on the banked fire. With boiler pressure still in the 150 psi range I decided to let her sleep a little longer. Jumping onto the tank, I checked on the water level in the tender, filled the oil cups on the air compressor, and greased the rods and bearings.

Climbing up into the cab once more, it was now time to dump the dead ash into the ash pan and break up the bank. Spreading the hot coals over the fire, the coals cool quickly leaving little time to add fresh coal. Grabbing the scoop, I throw several scoops of coal into the firebox to cover the hot coals. Once I shut the firebox doors I crank up the blower to ignite the coal as quick as possible before losing all of the fire. Outside a light black smoke is filling the air, and soon the town can smell the coal smoke as it fades off into town.

Climbing down out of the cab once more I grab the specially made ash rake to push the dead ash off the front corners of the ash pan and into the large hopper. Climbing back inside the cab, I open the fire doors to check the fire. With the fire doing well,  I turn down the blower, throw more coal on the fire, and shake the rear grates to dump most of the dead ash from the previous day.

With the engine slowly awakening from her nap, it is time to awaken the "heart" aka air compressor. With steam drains open, and a few turns of the steam valve the air compressor slowly comes to life. As the cylinders warm up, I climb up using a wooden ladder to close off the steam drains. Now I climb inside once more and open the steam valve all the way to the air pump  and listen to the compressor work hard to pump up the  engine reservoirs. As the air pressure climbs, the turntable is hooked up to the brake pipe to pump up the air powered turntable at the same time. Pausing for a moment I take in all that is going on, knowing these are my final moments with the old girl.

As the air compressor slows, and a quick engine brake test is done, it is time for her to step outside the shop. The chain chock is removed, a loud hiss of exhaust from the power reverse, turn the bell on, and an easy hand on the throttle we slowly emerge from the roundhouse. This moment in full glory that was a normal job until now, suddenly sticks out like a sore thumb. Man and machine come to life. With the engine balanced on the table, the engine is turned for the days run. A small crowd of gatherers have come to watch the activities as the engine spins around.

Taking the throttle once more, I eased the engine off the table and empty the ash hopper. With servicing complete, the engine simmered in the mid morning light. Climbing inside the tender it was not time to "cut the coal". The term "cut the coal" is an old term used when the fireman or hostler would have to shovel coal to the front of the tender. With enough coal for at least one trip moved closer to the front, I walk around the engine once more with the ever growing appreciation for the night hostlers that would get the engine ready for the engine crew.
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Tom Casper
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« Reply #1 on: November 14, 2016, 03:38:25 PM »

Nice story Joe, any more to the tale?

Tom C.
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Joe Fox
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« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2016, 11:18:35 PM »

Yes. I have a few other tales I can write in the next few days from my days with the Standard gauge engine. When our roundhouse in Alna is complete it will be neat to make some from those experiences as well.
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Wayne Laepple
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« Reply #3 on: November 19, 2016, 12:42:20 PM »

Forty years ago (and more), I did night hostling of a couple of steam locomotives for main line trips. I enjoyed that phase of the activity much more than I enjoyed the actual running on the main line. It was a lot more relaxed and quiet and I wasn't besieged by railfans. I was the guy who went to the roundhouse 12 hours before the trip and fired up the engine, filled the lubricators, made sure everything worked and so forth. Then I got to sit in the cab and relax while the steam pressure came up. I got to talk to the old girl and listen to her as she creaked and groaned as she woke up. I had quality time with the engine. Then, when it was time to go out on the main line, I turned her over to the road crew and went home to bed. When the trip came home that evening, I was the one who put the engine away, once again communing with her as the boiler cooled and steam pressure dropped. I wished her a good rest until the next trip. Those hours, often alone with the engine, are among my favorite memories.
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Paul Uhland
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« Reply #4 on: November 19, 2016, 05:01:06 PM »

Joe, Wayne...Great stories.
Helped keep the Chama  night hostler company summers  in cabs of the C&TS 480s 2-8-2s. Your tales deeply impressed me how "human" steam locos seem to be.  
Love 'em!
« Last Edit: November 19, 2016, 05:05:59 PM by Paul Uhland » Logged

Paul Uhland
Joe Fox
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« Reply #5 on: December 03, 2016, 02:16:17 AM »

My First Day firing CN 7470

I will never forget my first day on "big" steam. I was apprentice with fireman and fellow WW&F volunteer Rich Currie. The day started out like any other. Hostling the engine as mentioned earlier, and watching him fire the first trip to Conway. We got back to North Conway with the engine and fire ready to sit for a little more than an hour at the station. The 573 went onto the valley train like normal, except the Notch train broke down ahead of us. No other engines were ready or would start, so the notch train backed down the old Mountain Division to clear the current main line so 573 could go up light. Steam was put on the valley train and we ran to Bartlett. It was great. More people followed the train that day than on Railfans day when the engine is scheduled to pull the 11:30 Bartlett train. It was a trip I will never forget.
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