Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad
October 20 1954: 05:00 – 05:35
Right on time the signal out in front of them, just short of the switch onto the main, one of only two double-head, tri-colored dwarf signals on the DP, both of them here in Goat Crossing at either end of the arrival/departure track siding, changes from red-over-red to red-over-yellow, as the block-operator, still Harold Sneed who is on shift for another hour yet, conditionally clears them onto the main.
The top signal is for the main and the bottom for the siding. Red, of course means stop, green means proceed at will, and yellow means proceed with caution because the train in front of you is between 5 and 20 minutes out.*
*In the early days of electric signals for controlling traffic on railroads, before there were any standards, (Remember, this was before the automobile so railroads were using ‘traffic’ signals first.) someone thought that it was a good idea if green was a stop signal and white was clear or go, but if the colored glass, whatever color it was, was broken out of a signal lens it would appear white to the train crew which, as you can imagine, caused a few problems. Now there are no white signals, only colors. By the way, for oil-burning lamps and signals the glass for the green indicator is actually blue. Combined with the yellow flame this produced a green indicator.
Apparently these new tri-lights, or three color signals, a single eye that can show three different colors, are temperamental. More than once in the few months they’ve been in use Tom has seen the block-operator’s gofer come running out to kick at a stubbornly inoperative signal while holding up an appropriately colored flag as a substitute, so, at this point anyway, elsewhere along the line the only other “signals” are the train-order semaphores at depots.
These are the older style, unlit, lower-quadrant semaphores. If the lever and link operated red and white arm of the semaphore is angled down that’s the ‘proceed’ signal which means there are no orders to pick up, but if it is horizontal, or alert, position then the crew is to pick up new orders, usually because the schedule has been thrown out of whack for some reason.*
*Again, there was, and still is, no ‘official’ signaling protocol and some railroads adopted the opposite scheme, the reasoning being that if the linkage fails, not an unknown occurrence, then the semaphore arm will fall to the stop or alert position, that being preferable to it inadvertently falling to the proceed position. In addition, here on the DP, the semaphores are supplemented at night with red lanterns that are hung on a hook about head-high on the semaphore tower whenever the semaphore arm has been raised to the alert position. They are more work to maintain, but these lanterns are still oil-burners because those are more reliable than the battery-powered lanterns that some of the train-crews are starting to carry.
The Freight, and the Expresses of course, stop at every depot making picking up new orders easy, but the Ore and Pipelines run straight through several of the depots making passing 19 orders up to those trains a little more complicated.*
*If the new orders are 31 orders that have to be signed for rather than 19 orders which are just passed along, then the station agent will be standing track-side, giving the stop signal with a red flag during the day or red lantern at night.
In that case the station agent, who is also the block operator in most cases, takes two of the three copies of the new orders (One stays at the depot with the operator) phoned into him by the dispatcher,* rolls each up, tie them onto a twine loop, and clip the twine to a stick with a Y-shaped end on it which will hold the loop open. The engineer gets one copy of orders and the conductor the other.
*”Phoning” orders is a slow and laborious process that requires the dispatcher to say each word then spell it out letter by letter and afterwards wait for the station agent to repeat the new order back the same way to verify it was copied correctly. This is because these “modern” phones are scratchy, twangy, and full of static, which often makes it hard to hear clearly over them. The issue is that phone lines are very sensitive to a less than perfect ground, which is affected by just about everything, such as humidity, snow, branches, wind, etc., while the old telegraph instruments worked clearly through just about anything short of a cut line. Most the old-timers would rather go back to the not-so-distant telegraph days of “pounding brass”, but few of the younger operators coming up these days actually know how to use a telegraph.
To pass orders up to through trains the operator has to stand out next to the track as the train rolls by, not exactly the safest place to be, and hold the first hoop up high. Either the engineer or fireman will lean out and, with a crooked arm through the twine loop, snag the orders as he goes by. Then the operator has to hold the second hoop out lower so the conductor can snag his orders while standing on the steps of the house-car vestibule. If either ‘hoop up’ is missed the train has to be stopped and backed up because proceeding without both conductor and engineer in possession of their copy of the orders, which are the train’s authority, or stick,* to occupy the track, is not allowed.
*In the initial days of block control railroading the ‘authority’ was an actual stick that the crew carried from one station to the next. There was only one stick per block and if you didn’t have it in your hand you were not authorized to be on the track. Obviously this was pretty cumbersome, especially if there were more trains going in one direction than the other, so the practice didn’t last long but the term – um, well – stuck.
Many of the larger railroads are switching over to something called Centralized Traffic Control where ultimately operators sitting maybe hundreds of miles away will control traffic on the track through lit signals, eliminating time-tables and train orders, but that’s not happening here on the DP.
With a yellow ‘conditional’ light in front of him Tom starts the bell, drops the Johnson-bar into the corner, releases the independent brakes, whistles off, and pulls a handful of throttle as he starts his train.
Train #420 groans into motion one car at a time as the labored chuffs from the stack slowly come faster and faster.
Just before he rolls through the switch and takes the main Tom eases the throttle in until the chuffs stop getting faster. This holds his speed to a slow trot to allows Ronald, who walked up to the switch at the main as departure time approached and lined it for the siding when Tom whistled off, to swing up onto the cab ladder as the engine goes by. Even then Tom keeps the speed at that same slow trot as, first the tender, then each car in turn, snakes through the switches from the departure/arrival tracks and onto the main.
Some railroads have ‘remoted’ their switches, especially those around yards and depots, so operators can control them from a centralized point with a lever and a series of links, or even just a push of a button if the switch uses an electric motor, but, again, the DP has no plans to do so, which requires the trainmen to manually throw the switches.
It’s still slightly over an hour till sunrise as #420, the Upbound Freight, takes to the main. Tom is leaning out his window and Ronald hanging on the ladder, both watching behind to make sure the cars are behaving as they roll through the switches.
As the house-car snakes through first the switch at the arrival/departure track juncture, then again at the siding/main, Dean, visible mainly because of the lantern he carries, with the skill any trainman soon learns, steps off and hits the ground running. He stops at the switch stand, grabs the throw, and, as soon as the rear truck of the house-car clears the points, re-lines the switch, the first one for the arrival track, the second for the main, clearly indicated by the green targets on top of the switch stands, though these are much easier to see in daylight.
With the throw firmly locked into its retainer Dean jogs after the receding house-car, grabs the rear handrail, and swings himself onto the step, giving a highball after the second switch to let the head-end crew know he is aboard and they can run the train.
With the throw firmly locked into its retainer Dean jogs after the receding house-car, grabs the rear handrail, and swings himself onto the step, giving a highball after the second switch to let the head-end crew know he is aboard and they can run the train.
At this point Tom turns around, shuts down the bell, lifts the goggles that are dangling around his neck, and fits them over his eyes as he prepares to get down to the business of running his train. While he doesn’t have to contend with the constant shower of cinders that coal-burners put out, even at the low speeds of the DP the slipstream slapping at his face when sticking his head out the side window to see around the boiler in front or down the side of the tender behind is hard on unprotected eyes.
Tom has one train out in front of him. The Upbound Ore, which should now be about 2/3rds of the way to Appleford which it will roll right on through, so, unless something goes drastically wrong, once it passes through Appleford the Ore will only get further and further ahead and is of no concern. But the speedy Upbound Express that will soon be rolling up behind him is another story.
While all other trains on the DP are limited to a 20 MPH top speed, except in Wild Woman Canyon where their top speed is set at 10 MPH and the West Pass Grade which has a speed limit of 15 MPH, the Expresses are the DP’s greyhounds and zip along at 30 MPH, 20 in the canyon, and 25 on West Pass Grade. Factoring in 5 minute stops at each of the 6 depots along the way, the Express’ zip from one end of the railroad to the other in just 3 hours.
Right now Tom’s job is to get #420 up to Appleford before #104, the Upbound Express, flies in from behind at 06:16. The freight’s scheduled arrival time is well ahead of that at 05:32, but to stay on schedule he also has to complete the switching at Appleford, which today, even though it’s just one car, is going to take some time, before the Express arrives. To make it to Appleford on schedule he has to average 15 miles per hour over the 8.2 miles of uphill track between here and there, so he focuses his attention on the track ahead and starts letting out the throttle.
Initially the track climbs a gentle (For the DP anyway) 0.62% grade as it follows along the bank of Goat Creek, which is more of a dry wash most of the year along here, but a few miles out the track swings away from Goat Creek and starts climbing, With this heavy train there is no way he will be able to maintain any more than about 10 MPH on the 2% grade between MP 9 and 11.7, and then only with a good running start, so he needs to get his train moving fast while he can.
It’s not going to help with keeping the train on schedule, but the rules require a running brake test as soon as practical after getting underway so, before he gains too much speed, Tom drops the train-line pressure to set the brakes lightly* while bailing off the independent to keep his train moving. As soon as he feels the drag tugging at them he releases, confident that the service brakes are ready to do their job as he gets down to the work of getting his train up to speed.
*A 6 pound set is the minimum that the AB brake equipment of today, which has mostly replacing the K brakes which replaced the original Westinghouse brakes, will allow because, in an effort to make sure the brakes set quickly when called on the AB triple-valves, which can sense a pressure drop of as little as a pound and a half, immediately translate the initial drop into a 6 pound set. (The Westinghouse didn’t, and the left-over K brakes still in service don’t, have this feature.)
Ready to drop a little sand in case the drivers want to slip under the force of acceleration, after completing the running brake test Tom pulls the throttle back notch by notch until it is fully open.
Opening the throttle too quickly will send a heavy slug of steam out the stack, creating a sharp increase in draft which Jake can’t keep up with, ejecting black smoke and sucking cool air into the flues, both of which are bad for making steam.
As it is, Jake is scrambling to adjust the fire and keep the black smoke blowing out the stack to a minimum while the speed slowly but steadily climbs towards the DP’s freight-train max of 20 MPH as set by the time-table.* Once he judges that the train is doing just under 25 MPH (Sometimes it takes a little cheating to get the job done.) rather than easing up on the throttle to keep his speed from climbing any higher Tom starts notching the Johnson-Bar back towards the center position which advances the valve cut-off.
*There is no speedometer on 1428, or any of the DP’s steamers, but like all experienced engineers Tom is able to accurately judge his speed by the sound of the engine. And if he wants to confirm that he uses his watch to time himself against the mile posts.
It’s a balancing act between train weight, track conditions, boiler pressure, throttle, and Johnson-Bar that can’t be taught in a book. By notching the Johnson-Bar back towards center he is limiting the amount of time the valves allow steam to enter the cylinders. By leaving the throttle wide open he is allowing the full pressure of the boiler into those same cylinders.
When set up properly, during the first part of the stroke the boiler pressure is what is pushing on the piston, but after cutoff, the point where the valve stops allowing additional steam to enter the cylinder, the natural inclination of steam to expand as it seeks equilibrium with the atmosphere allows what is trapped in the cylinder to continue pushing, though with decreasing strength as the steam expands and the pressure lowers.
The trick is to get things set up just right to get the most work out of the least amount of steam while maintaining speed. When done properly the exhaust stops explosively panting as near full-pressure steam is released into the stack at the end of every stroke, and instead the stack starts barking sharply but quietly with a minimum of pant or whoosh.
At this speed it’s easy to see why his train has a speed limit. The DP’s rails are lightweight and the roadbed is adequate but not great, and in places the tracks get wobbly. If you were to get down and sight down the rail at these bad spots, (Preferably when there are no trains around!) which move to different places from week to week as the unending track maintenance clears up one section while wear and tear roughens another, you would see that the rail, subjected to expansion and contraction as the temperature changes as well as pounding from passing trains, not only undulates up and down, but also wanders slightly from side to side. With virtually no suspension to dampen the movement, at 25 MP not only is the engine tilting erratically as it follows the undulating track, (Both rails rarely undulate in sync.) but is also lurching side to side as it tracks along any wobbles.. Riding the footplate is like standing on the deck of a boat slamming through a confused chop while the rudder is randomly wiggled from side to side. And a quick look back shows that all the cars are doing the same dance. But that’s part of railroading on the DP, the crew just has to hope the lashings on that flatcar hold.
While Tom is setting up the engine for running Jake adjusts the damper, fuel-flow, and atomizers to keep an even, bright flame spread across the firebox but not lifted around the corner of the brick-arch. This generates maximum heat by completely burning the oil fed into the fire and giving time for the volatile gasses created by the fire to fully combust before they reach the flues, ensuring that as much heat as possible is available to transfer through the walls of the flues and into the boiler water. When set up right there is a light grey smoke coming out the stack, if set up wrong the smoke is thick and black.
While juggling the fire Jake opens the steam-valve on the injector to push water from the tender into the boiler. He uses his experienced ear to verify that the injector primes properly and the check valve has lifted to allow water into the boiler, at which point he closes the steam valve down a little to slow the flow of water. He wants enough water to replace what has been used since 1428 left the ready-track, but he’s careful to ease the water into the boiler slowly so he doesn’t cool it down and drop the pressure.
The C-14’s originally had feedwater pumps on them as well that would pump water from the tender directly into the boiler using atmospherically exhausted, positive displacement, steam pumps, but they had two faults. Shoving cold water directly from the tender into the boiler on these engines that had no feedwater heaters to pre-heat it was not only hard on the boiler, but also quickly reduced steam pressure. And as they aged the efficiency of the feedwater pumps, with their many moving parts to maintain, dropped to the point of being only marginally useful. So firemen stopped using them and eventually they were removed altogether.
The injector also uses steam from the boiler to move water, but uses the Bernouli principal through three carefully calibrated cones.
As it is squeezed through the first cone the steam speeds up. It speeds up so much it creates a vacuum (faster = lower pressure, the same principal that makes airplanes fly.) that sucks water from the tank in the tender up through the supply pipe. As the water enters the injector body it encounters the fast-moving steam which forces it into a second nozzle where the steam and water mix and are accelerated again. Exiting that second nozzle the fast-moving, and now hot, water enters the narrow end of a third nozzle. As this nozzle flairs outward the water rapidly slows, and since physics dictates that pressure and velocity have an inverse relationship, the pressure of the water increases significantly. (This is the same thing that makes your water-pipes bang around when you turn the tap off quickly, suddenly stopping the water-flow.) In fact by the time it exits the wide end of this last cone its pressure is higher than the boiler pressure so the water can flow through the check-valve and into the boiler.
With virtually no moving parts to maintain (There are a couple of shutoff valves and the check-valve) and cones that can be easily unscrewed from the injector body and replaced as they pit and wear under the tremendous forces, the injector is reliable, easy to maintain, and, except during the priming stage at the beginning of an injector cycle during which steam escapes down the overflow pipe as air is evacuated from the water supply pipe until the pressure in the final chamber is high enough to lift the check-valve, most of the heat of the original steam is returned back to the boiler, making it efficient as well. Its only drawback is that it is noisy, what with steam in the first cone and the steam-water mix in the second cone, being accelerated to such high velocities through tiny orifices.*
*Because it is so important to keep sufficient water in the boiler there is a second injector on Tom’s side, but his policy is to use it only when absolutely necessary, such as a failure of the fireman’s injector or a failure of the fireman to properly use his injector.
When the sight-glass is showing about three-quarters full, a judgment call based on experience what with the way the engine is jumping around, Jake closes down the injector. They are running on a slight uphill grade here, tilting the boiler backwards nearly a full degree, which means the actual water level is less than three-quarters of the sight-glass. But they will soon hit a 2% grade which will tilt the boiler even more and pile water up at the back end, filling the sight-glass nearly to the top nut, and he doesn’t want it getting above that or water could carry over, or siphon, into the steam-pipes for the air compressor and generator, which use saturated steam* collected from the dome on top of the boiler closest to the cab. Excess water through the turbine that powers the generator can not only eat away at the turbine blades but the exhaust blows out near the front of the cab where excess water can rain on the crew, but too much incompressible water in the piston powered air-compressor could actually blow it up.
*Like all the surviving DP Consolidations, the steam used to actually drive 1428 is not saturated but rather is superheated which ‘dries’ it. This steam is saturated, or full of water vapor, as it is drawn from the dome above the middle of the boiler, but then it is routed back through U-shaped tubes that run the length of some of the upper (hotter) flues, which “dries” it by heating it well above the vapor point. This gives it even more energy as it is finally routed to the steam-chests and into the main cylinders. What looks like a third dome near the front of the boiler is a container for the sand used for traction.
While all this is going on both men are also keeping an eye on the track ahead (For one thing the Ore is about 20 minutes ahead of them at the moment, but only assuming all is going well.) and Ronald has climbed back up onto the tender where he can keep an eye on the cars behind. There is a dog-house mounted on the deck of the water tank to protect him during bad weather, but though there is a definite chill in the air here at over 4000 feet where fall is getting underway and the sun has not yet risen, Ronald chooses to sit out in the open on the lip of the oil tank instead.
As expected, by the time they are partway up the 2% grade Tom has the Johnson Bar back in the corner, or fully forward.* Even so, the hissy-chuffs blowing out the stack get longer and slower and their speed drops as gravity fights them, trying to drag the 380 ton train back down the hill.
*This is called the company notch because the engine is working its hardest which means it is pulling a heavy train as fast as it can, and a fast, heavy train means more revenue for the company.
Even though they can’t see much of it yet, they can smell the difference here well above the basin floor. Even over the odor of oil and hot iron, the increased altitude means the land around them is changing and has a different smell to it. The rocky browns, tans, and gray-green scrub of the basin is giving way to grasslands and small trees and the air has a more earth - less dust, smell to it. Granted, this time of year the grasses are mostly tan or golden, but it is clear that the desert of the basin is being left behind. In fact, in addition to the apple orchards, the area around Appleford also produces a significant quantity of hay during good years which is sent all up and down the basin, some of it still by train.
By the time they pass MP 11.5 and the grade is just starting to show signs of easing, their speed has been cut in half and the water level in the boiler has dropped noticeably. Jake works the injector hard now because they only have another mile and half to go before they come to the west switch at Appleford and it’s always best to add water when the engine is working which keeps the boiler water agitating, (Taking steam off the top to drive the train causes the water in the boiler to churn and mix as bubbles of vapor form on the surfaces of the flues then break loose and push their way to the surface to replace what has been drawn off.) minimizing the strains of uneven heating on the boiler.
The injected water is hotter now than when it was in the tender, but compared to the water already in the boiler, it is cool and heavy, and if the engine isn’t steaming enough to keep things stirred up, it can pool in the bottom of the boiler, rapidly cooling the plates down there which stresses the metal shell and the fasteners that hold it together.
For the same reason, only a mile and a half to go, Tom only lets the train gain a portion of its former speed back before he starts easing up on the throttle, leaving the heavy Johnson-Bar in the corner because as the train slows that’s where it is going to have to be anyway.
Sure enough, they soon round the last curve and spot the west switch of the Appleford siding. Once they get a little closer and can make it out in the headlamp, they see that the green target on top of the switch-stand is facing down the track at them, which means that the switch is still lined for the main, which is no surprise.
The night-shift agent here at Appleford is nearing the end of his 12 hour shift, but even if it was the beginning of his shift, though he might very well be a decent enough man at home, around the depot he’s gruff, grumpy, and not inclined to do any more than his job requires, and that certainly doesn’t include tramping around to bend iron for train crews!
He used to have an assistant, an ambitious young guy, that would happily trot the 400 feet from depot to switch and line it for them, saving Tom having to stop and then restart the train and Ronald from having to climb down and throw the switch himself, but last spring, as soon as the young man had a little experience under his belt, he headed down the mountain to the greener pastures, metaphorically speaking anyway, of the SP. Since then the Appleford Depot has operated without an assistant night station agent.
Their time here at Appleford is limited and, pretty sure that 1428 can’t start their train without slack, especially here where they are still on a slight up-grade, Tom eases the train to a stop with the independent, letting the slack gather up behind him before holding it with a light application of the service brake. That way he’s not risking using up time they really don’t have by stalling out and having to get the handbrake on the house-car set so he can back into the train to get some slack for another try at starting her.
While he’s slowing Ronald climbs partway down the right hand ladder then drops off just before Tom eases the train to a stop, dropping a little sand as the drivers stop rolling. The sand will give them extra grip as he restarts the train on this slight uphill grade.
With a good trainman and the right timing it’s possible to keep a train rolling as the trainman drops off, runs forward past the moving engine, and lines the switch before it gets there, but that can be a risky move, both for the trainman and for the train.
First the trainman has to drop off a moving train, in the dark, run forward on uneven ground inches away from wheels that would slice right through him given half a chance, not to mention the pumping rods and cross-head just waiting to slam hundreds of pounds of moving steel into him, and then if the switch proves stubborn about being relined before the bogy-wheels under the pilot get there the engine could “pick a point” and break bogy or rail, or, in the worst-case scenario, put the engine on the ground.
Tom’s preference, after years of experience, especially in the dark, is to just play it safe and deal with a start once everybody is sure the switch is properly, and safely, lined. Even if that will put the drivers onto the switch’s frog, the most likely place for a slip, during the hard pull of a start.