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Author Topic: Stories from the Standard Gauge  (Read 1122 times)
Joe Fox
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« on: January 23, 2017, 11:50:35 PM »

After several requests, here are a few stories from my experiences with "The Bigger Stuff"

From learning to fire steam at the WW&F, to firing a more forgiving larger engine at Conway Scenic, to running long freights on a regional railroad, these are my stories.

My railroad career started at the WW&F, working through the ranks as a brakeman, conductor, fireman, engineer trainee. To going to Conway Scenic and doing the same and running the Valley Train with all motive power operational in 2012. I then transfered over to a regional railroad.

Firing steam was quite the experience, and it was easy to keep steam pressure between 160 & 170 with the variety of engineers. Some would leave it near the corner and beat the hell out of the engine. Others would notch up a decent amount. The only real challenge I discovered up there was firing with clay mixed in to the coal. It was ok until the engine would sit in the yard for an hour and a half and the clay cooled forming giant clinkers in the fire. After that I learned to look at the shovel before throwing it in, chucking out any clay lumps out the door.

I learned to run from a ex MEC engineer, and he was very helpfull in giving me pointers for both long and short trains. Within two full weeks I was ready to qualify and work on my own. In short order I quickly learned how to get the train over the road without needing help. On a return trip from Bartlett the air compressor blew a high pressure gasket, making a very loud noise. I stopped to check it out to see if it could be fixed. Upon realizing it had to be taken apart, I told the conductor we had to hurry back to tge station for the remaining 3 miles to the station. What happened next was funny after and we joke about it to this day. The conductor and trainman walked to the engine to see if they could help, and I thought the got off the train on the third car. He told me ok back and they would jump on. Knowing the urgency of the situation I put the engine in notch 4 and we accelerated very quickly. I looked back to see that they had got on safely, only to realize as the third car was going by them they were still waiting for their open door. I notched down and put soms brakes on. The trainman jumped on first as the conductor tried as well. By this time we were moving at 8mph. The conductor jumped on the last platform, but his radio fell off his hip. So we stopped, he ran down to grab his radio and this time waited till he was on to give me the ok back command again. With our main res losing pressure at an alarming rate, I put the engine in notch 8 and away we went. Pulling into the North Conwah station we had dropped below 90psi, which means the brakes on the train had began to set up. As we stopped I had the engine in notch 6 pulling against a 17psi reduction on the train line. The brake squeal was so loud I couldn't hear the countdown for the platform stop and went off a landmark. Luckily the Roundhouse mechanic had pulled an engine out to get ready for a power swap. Our air was so low, we had to use the other engine to move the road engine for safety reasons. What a day that was. Never a dull moment.

Pusher service on a regional railroad to come next time.
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Bill Sample
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« Reply #1 on: January 24, 2017, 12:50:38 AM »

Joe you just proved that railroading adventure continues with your generation - even steam railroading adventure!
Thank you for sharing this.
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Mike Fox
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« Reply #2 on: January 24, 2017, 02:43:52 AM »

Funny, I thought the only time there was trouble was when I showed up. I arrived one afternoon, the locomotive he was supposed to be using was in the yard at full throttle, and no train in sight. We were there for a ride and he was late. Showed up about 20 minutes behind schedule, and told me about a little carbon build-up that came off and started a fire. So, I guess it was a good excuse.
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Mike
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Joe Fox
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« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2017, 01:24:41 AM »

Yea. If memory serves correctly the fire incident was a week later.

Pusher service on an Auto Rack train

Being a recently qualified engineer on the west end of a regional railroad I was still rather green. Heading in the same direction as the auto racks, we heard them stall on a decent hill in front of us by about 20 miles. The dispatcher told us to drop our train and give them a push. (The auto rack train consisted of 2 engines and 81 cars, 10,000 tons with each car consisting of about 4-6' of slack.) Being my first time doing any pushing at all, as you can imagine tension was high. An auto rack train is the worst train to learn to push on because jack knifing is very easy due to long draw bars. After hooking on, doing a brake test, we were now ready to begin our 10 mile climb to the top of the hill. The lead engine told me what notch he was in, and I very slowly began to push on the back. Move the throttle one notch, wait for the slack and train to settle out. Keeping it as gentle as possible by using some engine brake to keep from launching into the train to fast. Keep repeating until the head end says they are on the move. Once on the move you push gradually more and more until you reach the desired track speed.

Once you reach the top of the grade both engines shut off as close together as possible. The pusher engine keeps slight pressure on the train until the lead engine makes a brake pipe reduction. This minimizes slack action.
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John Rogers
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« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2017, 03:53:21 AM »

Joe, In time you will become comfortable "running" anywhere--up hill or down. But where you will "earn your experience" is after a few downhill runs--when things "don't go well......"
I had many downhill "experiences" when I was your age. There was an old unwritten rule in the Berkshires on the Boston & Albany:
If you apply and then release the brakes twice--and then have to apply the brakes a third time: STOP--if you have enough air left.
While your now old SD-40s were newer back then, and your newer GEs were new then, sometimes the dynamics on both would not always do what they were supposed to do, which meant using the air, and of course there was occasionally a "kicker" to deal with.
Made many a trip down the Berkshires with my toes curled up--you will too, but experience will make you into a great engineer:
It was a great ride for me--nearly 40 years. Someday you will say the same.
Good Luck!
John Rogers

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Joe Fox
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« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2017, 12:06:24 PM »

Out of our 120 engines, 8 have dynamics. After 3 years of running I can say I am comfortable running anywhere we run. And there has been a few times I have puckered up a bit running down our 14 mile hill. Some trains are easy, you set the air once and go right down. Others you have to keep releasing the brakes because the air bleeds down. The longest mixed freight I have run was a 137 cars, 9200'. Almost had to run a 140 car 9300' train, 13000 tons, but things didn't go well leaving the yard. If that would have left there would be no siding or location big enough to hold us for the 117 mile trip.
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Bill Baskerville
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« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2017, 12:52:46 PM »

Joe,

I loved reading about your first experience pushing.  I always wondered how the two locomotives coordinated to take up the slack.

What is involved in a 'break test'?

Bill
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Joe Fox
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« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2017, 06:53:20 PM »

More "modern" railroads have the engines synced to each other so each one follows what the lead engine does using a Distributed Power Unit aka DPU.

When a pusher is hooked on the rear we do a set and release of the brakes to ensure brake pipe continuity through the train. Once the tail end confirms a set and release we are ready to roll.

Two good engineers can push a train with little to no communication between crews. The only communication really needed is when you want to slow down when cresting the top. As a pusher the only thing to worry about is closing the throttle off to early. Too soon and the cars will run out, either breaking a knuckle, or derailing the train.

Luckily I had a veteran engineer in the lead to help me out if I needed it. When we stopped and cut off he was very pleased with how smooth it was. Of course I pawned it off as being nervous and with his helpfull advice before we took off. Once we got to the top and he said he was shutting off, I just watched the speed and eased off the throttle on our end to keep the same speed.
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Wayne Laepple
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« Reply #8 on: January 25, 2017, 09:59:27 PM »

Back in the days before radio communications, railroad rulebooks included specific directions for train crews operating in helper districts. While whistle signals were to be used, per instructions, they were not always audible for one reason or another. Thus, the engineman on the helper engine was directed to observe the air gauge on the train, and when the train line pressure reached a certain point, he was to open his throttle and shove the slack in. The man on the lead engine also watched the air pressure, and when it reached another designated point, he was to open his throttle as well. Many times, the helper was able to push hard enough that the lead engine would actually begin to move, at which point, the lead engine opened up. Imagine doing this on an 80-car train with a rear helper, relying totally on observation of the air gauges. Enginemen in those days really had to know their jobs, or the results were broken knuckles, pulled drawheads or worse.

A perfect example of what could go wrong -- in spades -- can be found in Kalmbach's "The Mohawk That Refused to Abdicate" by David P. Morgan. He describes the struggles of an 8,000-ton iron ore train with four steam engines over the road, including a stall on a 1.25% grade, a broken knuckle, and finally a torrential downpour, in which ultimately the rear-end helpers manage to get the train moving again. All without radios....

Nowadays, on Norfolk Southern's helper operations at Altoona, Pa., westbound over the famous Horseshoe Curve, the pusher engineman opens his throttle to Run 8 when he receives the signal from the head end and leaves it there. The man on the leading locomotives manipulates his throttle to maintain the posted speed limit. Pusher engines are specially equipped to cut away from the train on the fly at the crest of the grade. If the helper is on the head end of the train, the helper engineman has control of the train until he is directed to cut off from the train. Sometimes the helper stays on the train down the other side of the mountain to Johnstown so his dynamic brakes can help control its descent.
« Last Edit: January 27, 2017, 01:32:36 AM by Wayne Laepple » Logged
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