Friday, April 19, 2019

Blame it on The Wife!


There I was, minding my own business during one of our city shopping trips, all prepared to spend what was necessary, and only what was necessary, on organic produce when The Wife mentioned she wanted to stop in Hobby Lobby (There's one near our Whole Foods)  and pick up some nice ribbon to dress up a card she would be sending soon.





























Well naturally, being the brutish clod I am, I soon bored of the rack of pretty ribbon and wandered off on my own.

First destination was the puzzle aisle because - well, what's an addict supposed to do?

With my just-got-to-have-it find in hand I then wandered towards the modeling section and found a display of something called Metal Earth which I thought was interesting enough to warrant a browse.
Predictably, I ended up walking away with yet another just-got-to-have-it find. After all, I needed something to occupy my other hand didn't I? And it's a train!

The Wife's ribbon cost a few pennies, my crap cost quite a bit more than that. . .


So, (he says, ignoring the hit to the budget) just what is Metal Earth? The back of the box answeres that question.

Sort of.


But until I opened up the box (Which, like a kid at Christmas, wasn't all that long after we got home again. . .) I had no concept of the level of detail etched into those 5 metal sheets (Unlike this boxed set, many of Metal Earth's models consist of a shingle metal sheet with instructions, all packaged into little more than a stiff envelope.) nor the complexity of the finished model.

Fortunately the clearly written (drawn?) instructions include a map of the metal sheet and point out the various parts with numbers that match the assembly instructions.

For a glimpse of what your finished product should look like (And when it comes to models, should and does are often two separate things.) Metal Earth's website includes 360 views of the finished model.


Eager to try this new stuff out, the next morning I wheeled my modeling station over to the east end of the barn where the light was good, and got started.


As advertised, it takes no glue or solder to assemble the model, but dang! some of these parts are a bit on the small side!. (Can you see the bolt detail etched into the central square?)


Such as this one that represents the brake-valve. Yep, even the bottom of the model is detailed with laser-etched brake rigging and applied reservoir, brake-valve, and brake cylinder.

The metal is surprisingly stiff and measures just a little less than 1/64th of an inch thick. All the bend or fold lines are etched so I got crisp, clear bends; but just, as the instructions warn, don't bend a joint more than twice or it might break. (Don't ask!)

Bends are best done with tools and not just fat-fingers. The box says tweezers are the ideal bending tool, and they are,just as long as its for small parts and tabs. For larger bends of the surprisingly stiff metal I found needle-nose pliers to grip one side and the flat side of a small file to fold the other side into the proper bend worked best. (This project pointed out to me that all of the half dozen needle-nosed pliers I have tucked around in various places are pretty much crap when it comes to fine work like this. Oh well, something else to spend money on. . .)

The slots are cleanly cut and the tabs used for holding everything together fit nicely, and in most cases a simple twist of the tab once it's inserted into the slot tightens the parts up nicely.


A couple of hours later I had something that bore a passing resemblance to the images on the web site. And I had three more cars and an engine left to build!


With limited impulse control, over the next couple of days I built two more of those cars before I could stop myself.

But stop I did.

Because the un-assembled model itself is just a thin sheet or two of metal and a page of instructions, and it only takes a small assortment of tools to build one of these, I re-purposed the box the set came in, which is only slightly larger than a CD case, and now everything I need to do some modeling is tucked away in The Van just waiting for my next trip.

Because their packaging is so compact there's room in the box to add quite a few additional models and I've been poking around the web-site to see which ones I want to tackle after I finish this train.




Monday, April 15, 2019

Appleford: 05:35 – 06:26


Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad


 

 

October 20 1954: 05:35 – 06:26

Three minutes behind schedule, the train rolls slowly through the switch one car at a time until the entire consist is on the Appleford siding. As when they took the main at Goat Crossing, the slow speed gives Dean time to drop off the house-car, reline the switch for the main, and catch back up so he can ride the house-car rather than have to walk half the length of the siding.

When the railroad first came through here Appleford didn’t exist. There wasn’t even a siding. It was just a place the rails passed through on their way to the logging grounds around Big Timber.

Cornelius Ford was a surveyor for the Daylight Pass Railroad, but before that he grew up in and around his grandparent’s mid-west orchards.  While pulling down a paycheck from the railroad for tramping around the wilderness finding potential routes for the Daylight Pass, laying out the location and heights of trestle footings, and ensuring newly-laid track was in the proper alignment, Cornelius was also seeing the potential in the land and the climate up here above the basin floor. Perhaps because Edward Bishop wasn’t a Midwesterner he didn’t see what Cornelius did and Cornelius was able to purchase a significant tract of land from the US Government who was holding it in public trust for the then Territory of New Mexico.

It was a decade before the first apples started coming out of Cornelius’ orchards, a decade he funded by cutting the abundant hay in the area and shipping it to a stockyard down in El Paso. By the time another half-decade had gone by he had built the cider mill/packinghouse, the railroad had added a siding and two spurs, and a small village was growing up around him populated by orchard workers and railroaders. And, since the highway was put in, also by residents that work down in Daylight but commute back and forth to Appleford to live in the milder climate here above the basin floor.

Again, when Tom eases the train to a stop on the siding at Appleford he does it with a light touch of the independent brake, bunching up the slack. This time he’s not thinking of starting the train so much as his is of taking the pressure off the coupling pins, because now the work starts, and they could have used those lost 3 minutes because there’s a lot to get done before the Express rolls in at 06:16.

He has stopped with the last car, the empty boxcar destined for Appleford Packing, sitting short of the points of the switch to the packing house spur. With all forward motion stopped, and despite the time-crunch, he waits a moment to make sure the tank car has settled down because he isn’t using the car’s brakes, only the engine’s brakes, here in order to speed up the work, though he doesn’t have to look back to know that Otis is standing on the vestibule of the house-car cranking in the hand-brake.

Though it’s a lot of work, what with the stopping and starting and reversing and coupling and uncoupling that all the switching requires, one of the things Tom likes about holding this freight-job is that for most runs he has the same crew with him, and it is a good crew that knows what needs to be done and works well together.

With Tom keeping a close eye on him, Dean briefly disappears between the boxcar and the empty gon in front of it to close the angle-cocks on the rear of the gon and the front of the boxcar and gets back out from between quickly.  From a relatively safe position beside the cars, he then gives the cut-bar on the gon a quick jerk, which pulls the pin that has been preventing the coupler-knuckle from pivoting open.

At this point Tom whistles off, releases the brakes on the engine, and eases forward slowly. Once the slack is pulled out the un-locked coupler knuckle swings open, the air-hoses between the uncoupled cars stretch out, and then, as designed, separate at the glad-hands with loud pop. Because Dean closed the angle-cocks on both cars the air in the train-line under the moving cars as well as the section under the stationary box and house-cars is contained and keeps the brakes from setting, which will make a couple of the next moves easier.

Trapping the air under the cars left behind is called ‘bottling the cars’.  Because it’s inevitable that either the pressure in the train-line will eventually leak down enough to set the brakes, or the air in the reservoirs will leak out making it impossible to set the brakes, this is only done if the cars are going to be sitting there temporarily and with enough handbrakes cranked in to hold the string, which in this case is only two cars so requires just one set of brakes cranked in.

Tom continues to ease the train forward until the gon is no longer fouling the switch to the spur, then stops and repeats the throttle off, reverser centered, to safe the train.

While Dean ties down the brakes on the gon and the flatcar to hold this five-car section of their train, Ronald uncouples the tankcar, and with it the remainder of the train, from the tender by closing the angle-cocks on the tender and the tank car and pulling the pin on the tankcar.

When they are finished and standing clear Tom whistles off once more and eases forward. Again the glad-hands separate with a pop.

With the engine freed from the train Tom rumbles down the siding to the east switch where Ronald , who has been riding the foot-board on the tender, jumps down, runs forward, and lines the switch so the engine can take the main. Once Ronald has relined the switch for the main behind him Tom taps out his three shorts and starts backing down. As he comes by Ronald swings up onto the rear footboard of the tender again where he can be their eyes while the engine is backed all the way down the main past the depot where the unseen station agent has his feet propped up on his desk as he smokes his last cigar of the shift. Tom doesn’t stop until he’s clear of the west switch where Ronald has dropped off so he can line it for the siding.

Rolling forward into the siding with Ronald riding the footboard on the pilot this time, (the switch is left lined for the siding at the moment) Tom eases down the track under Ronald’s guidance and Otis’s critical eye until the coupler on the front of 1428 kisses the one on the rear of the house-car.

All the house-cars on the DP, even the little four-wheel bobbers used on the work and snow-removal trains, have steel frames. If they were wooden frames, as was the case in the railroad’s early days, Tom wouldn’t be allowed to push the boxcar into the spur with the house-car sitting between the engine and the box as crushing one of these wood-framed cars and turning it into trash by pushing too hard on it wasn’t unheard of.  Instead he would have to pull the house-car off the train and set it aside on the main before coupling directly to the box for the shove. But the steel-framed cars like this one don’t have that restriction which saves time and effort.

Since the angle-cocks have trapped the air in the train-line under the house and box cars preventing the brakes from setting there is no need to buckle the rubber. Otis just needs to unwind the handbrake on the house-car before they make the next move.

While Tom had been backing down the main Dean walked forward and lined the switch for the packinghouse spur so it is ready when Ronald, who is watching Otis to make sure the brakes are released, gives him high-ball Tom releases the independent brake, drops the Johnson Bar forward and gets the engine moving.

With Dean clinging to the ladder on the front of the boxcar he guides Tom down the spur until the car is spotted opposite the first set of loading doors at the packing house as the customer has requested.

The two-door railcar dock here isn’t near as busy now as it was before the highway made it through Appleford then all the way up to Big Timber, though calling the sometimes rough gravel track from Appeleford to Big Timber a highway might be a little optimistic.  Now most outbound loads of apples and apple products such as cider and pulped animal feed are shipped out on trucks and the new apple-boxes that used to come down from the factory in Big Timber by rail now make the short journey by truck along the new road. But once in a while, when there is a big enough load of apples or cider, or maybe both, going far enough, Appleford Packing will call on the railroads to get it there and when that happens the DP has a little piece of the action.

Because customers are rarely willing to pay the demurrage (which is a fancy way of saying rent) the DP charges for cars spotted at a customer’s location for more than 48 hours, (72 if they are spotted on a Saturday since there is no downbound service until Tuesday.) this car will probably be loaded by morning and they will be picking it up again with tomorrow’s Downbound Freight. Then the yard switcher will have it sitting on the SP interchange track down in Daylight before midnight.

This time Ronald closes the house-car angle-cock but leaves the one on the boxcar open while Dean cranks in the boxcar’s handbrake. With the boxcar tied down Ronald pulls the pin, and Tom backs away. When the glad-hands pop loose there is a roar and the hose on the end of the boxcar whips for a moment as the air escapes from the pipe under the car. This is called dynamiting the brakes and the air in both the auxiliary and emergency reservoirs* dump their contents into the brake cylinder, setting the brakes hard.

*On today’s consist only the gon and ore-jenny still have the older K brake system with no emergency reservoir, the rest of the cars have the newer AB brake system on them.

Both trainmen ride the house-car as Tom reverses back out of the spur, waits for the switch to be lined for the siding, and shoves the house-car back onto the end of the remaining consist, the open coupler on the rear of the gon just waiting for it.
 
Dean buckles the rubber between the house-car and the empty gon while Ronald uncouples the engine from the house-car and Tom backs west down the siding and onto the main. Once Ronald has lined the west switch for the main Tom, with Ronald casually riding the small footboard on the pilot with arms folded as if there wasn’t 70 tons of machine behind him that is just waiting to run something over and grind it up, runs forward past the depot again until just clear of the east switch, then backs through it into the safety of the siding as Ronald relines the switch for the main at 06:08. A full 8 minutes before the Downbound Express is scheduled to arrive.

Their final move here at Appleford, other than leaving once the Express is out of the way, is to back down and couple up to their train. Because the brakes were bottled it only takes a minute to pump the train-line back up to 70 pounds. Fortunately another terminal air-test is not required at this point since they have only dropped a car from the consist.

If you have been keeping track, this simple, single-car drop into a facing-point spur, has required running around the train twice, lining a switch 10 times, stopping or starting the engine 21 times, and coupling or uncoupling 7 times. A heck of lot of work to get done in a limited time.

But instead of kicking back and taking a break as they wait on the Express, Tom climbs down with his oilcan in hand and walks around 1428 topping up oil-cups, looking for loose or missing parts, and checking journals with his bare hand, looking for any excess heat.

While he is doing this Jake is turning on the blower and setting fuel-flow and atomizer to boost boiler pressure prior to their departure, then climbing up on the tender to look down the hatches and check the oil and water levels, Otis is updating his paperwork, and Ronald and Dean are back down the train cranking off the handbrakes and checking that the lashings on the flatcar are still secure.

Right on time the Express, an RDC combine driven by a pair of 275 HP diesel engines slung under its belly, drifts on up to the depot. It sits there for 5 minutes as passengers board, (none) un-board, (one) or stay put, (three) and the operator tosses two express packages down to the freshly on duty day shift station agent.


At 06:21 the Express, with it’s toy-like horn, toots off and buzzes, baggage end forward,* away from the depot as it heads up into the woods on its way to Big Timber.

*One of the efficiencies of the RDC’s is that they can be operated from either end so they are always ‘pointing the right way’ and don’t have to be turned. Here on the DP they run baggage end forward on their way up the mountain and passenger end forward on their way back down as this give the passengers a slightly better down-mountain view..



Thursday, April 11, 2019

Asset Management or Idiocracy


All entities, from massive governments and multinational corporations, all the way down to the individual, have processes and procedures, a bureaucracy if you will, in place to manage their day-to-day as well as long-term operations smoothly and effectively.

On the individual level this starts each day, based on the amount of grocery store aisle-space dedicated to this single commodity as well as the number of business establishments that specialize in it, with a coffee of some sort, and finishes with a ritualized bed-time routine designed to make sure we take all our pills and brush all our teeth.

Though I'm standing over here pretty much on my own by not being part of the coffee-klatch, I too have my share of processes and procedures and one of them involves footwear.

In the spirit of the first of the three R's (reduce, reuse, recycle) I own a total of 3 pairs of boots and 0 pairs of shoes. (Unless my 2 pairs of slippers, one in the living quarters and the other in The Van, count as shoes. Which, according to The Wife every time I try to wear a pair beyond closed doors, they do not.)

One pair of boots is my high-topped snake boots, one pair is my go-to-town-and-serious-hiking boots, and the last pair is my hang-around-the-property footwear.



In the interest of asset management, (as well as the second R) that last pair are actually retired go-to-town-and-serious-hiking boots with the laces cut short and permanently tied off just above the instep to transform them into slip-ons.



But there just might be a flaw in this asset management process of mine.



As the log in the pre-loaded app on my phone shows, I do tend to rack up some foot-borne mileage. Eighty five miles in March and, as of noon April 5th (when I'm writing this post) 20 miles so far this month.



The majority of these miles end up being pounded out by my hang-around-the-property boots which were already tired when they became my hang-around-the-property boots.

Needless to say (Yet here I am saying it so just how needless could it have been?) while I'm waiting around for my lightly used go-to-town-and-serious-hiking boots to reach that not-acceptable-for-public-wearing stage so they can be moved down the list to the next level, these hang-around-the-property boots continue to be seriously abused on a daily basis.

Fortunately for me I am blessed with genes that give me tough feet. I've never been plagued with foot-issues, other than a few smashed toenails over the years, and have probably had less than a half-dozen blisters in my 65 years despite the abuse.

True, by this point these boots have virtually no ankle support left in them, the soles are worn down to the point of minimal balance assistance,



and the trails around the property where I do most my daily minimum walking (My goal is 3.5 brisk miles per day and I usually exceed that.) are mostly either up or down and generously salted with 1 to 4 inch rocks that roll like marbles when stepped on, but I actually consider all that to be an asset.

After all, a significant source of injury for old farts like me is falls. Walking this terrain with these boots ensures I'm constantly working on my balancing skills while building strong support muscles in my lower legs, strengthening my core, and keeping my staying-upright reflexes well honed.



Of course, all this is hell on socks. . .

(As for the 3rd R, by the point it's time to retire my current hang-around-the-property boots there's virtually nothing left to recycle. . .)



Monday, April 8, 2019

Goat Crossing to Appleford: 05:00 – 05:35


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.


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.



Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A Small Comfort


Last January The Wife's nephew was murdered.

He was trying to protect someone else by talking a gun-wielding man down, a man The Nephew had given a place to stay. The man shot The Nephew instead.

The Nephew was a complicated man who didn't do the best job of taking care of himself, but would give the shirt off his back to help others, including those the rest of us do our best to avoid.

Violent events like this can cut some of the fragile strings that keep us stabilized within our world and that's a helpless feeling, but The Wife, while casting around for some small thing she could do for her sister in the middle of dealing with all this, came across OandBstudios where Vlado will, for a very reasonable price, turn an audio file into a personalized soundwave print.

Vlado works with you, collecting the necessary information and sending samples for approval or revisions, to turn your audio clip into a customized high-res JPEG that you can then have printed on paper or canvas. (He includes two separate JPEG's in the final product, one is for a standard print the other has an additional 1.5 inches on each edge for printing a museum-mount canvas.)

While hunting for an audio file The Nephew's other Aunt located an MP3 of him singing a song he was working on while accompanying himself with guitar. It was a work in progress and now progress has been halted, but in the song, which he titled Our Shining Light, The Nephew sings "Can you see my shining light." which seemed fitting for the circumstances.

(I wanted to include the MP3 here but it turns out that is complicated and involves creating yet another site on an external host, which I'm not inclined to do since I already have more than enough of an on-line presence to feed my paranoia.)





This is the customized image of The Nephew's own words in his own voice.

We sent the JPEG off to CanvasPop to be printed and mounted. Everything went off without a hitch and The Nephew's mother now has it hanging in her hallway.




Sunday, March 31, 2019

Getting the Train Ready to Roll: 04:07 – 05:00: Part 2


Running #420, the Upbound Freight, on the Daylight Pass Railroad




October 20, 1954: 04:07 – 05:00

A hiss lets Tom know that the hoses are connected and Ronald has opened the angle-cocks.  The compressor tucked under the left running-board of the engine soon jumps from its lazy chuff to a rapid thump-hiss-thump as air rushes out of 1428’s main reservoir and starts charging the train-line that runs the entire length of the coupled cars through the service brake valve which Tom has left in the run position so the regulator can govern the final train-line pressure.

 Since the cars have been bled* and all the auxiliary and emergency reservoirs on each car have to be filled with air it is going to take a while, even on this short cut, to bring the train-line up to the required 70 pounds. Meanwhile Dean and Ronald are going car to car and cranking off the handbrakes while Tom is holding the cut in place with the independent brake.

*Bleeding cars, or releasing all the pressure in the brake system, is done in yards and other places, such as the ore loader in Three Creeks, to make it simpler to move them around. A bled car’s brakes won’t set so, as long as the handbrake is off, the car will roll freely without having to hook up the train-line and wait for enough pressure to build up to get the brakes to release. On the other hand it means the auxiliary and emergency reservoirs on each car need to be filled back up through the train-line by the compressor on the engine before the brakes will function normally and this takes time.

The tracks around the Goat Creek Yard are flat, but it doesn’t take much, just a little wind from the right direction or a bump from another car, to set even loaded cars to rolling, so the bible (The DP’s rule book.) requires handbrakes be set on cars that are sitting on their own for any amount of time, whether they have been bled or not.

The air-compressor is still thump-hissing rapidly because the pressure in the train-line is only up to 47 pounds  when Tom gets the all-clear from both trainmen, but he eases the consist forward anyway, knowing that the independent brakes on the engine/tender will be enough to control the cut as long as he keeps his speed low, which he better do here in the yard or he’ll have the yard foreman jumping down his throat!

He moves the engine forward down the yard-lead, snaking their consist out of the yard track behind him with intermittent zinging squeals from flanges as they negotiate the curves and heavy metallic thunks as wheels hit the switch-frogs. This time it takes more power to get everything moving, but still he eases into the load carefully, stretching the slack* one coupler at a time without jerking any of them too hard.

*In addition to side-to-side play so cars can go around curves, the coupler pairs that connect the cars together also have 12 to 18 inches of linier play in them which is called slack. On this 6 car train that means that when the slack is bunched the train is as much as 9 feet shorter than when the slack is stretched.

The draft-gear, the drawbars and couplers at each end of each car, is supposed to be rated for about 360,000 pounds of pull before they break, but even this short consist of 6 cars, some loaded, some not, weighs in at over 500,000 pounds.

Of course the beauty of steel wheels on steel track is that the rolling resistance of the consist will be significantly less than that, about 6,700 pounds at the tender coupler at 5 MPH on flat, straight track, (At that same speed this jumps to nearly 40,000 pounds on the DP’s steepest grade!) but first they have to be moving and a hard jerk on a stationary string of cars can create a whole lot of tensile force on the draft-gear as the slack is stretched.

Even so, this small engine usually won’t create enough force to actually break a sound coupler, but some of these cars could still have war-era equipment on them and Tom has seen the imprint of nuts and bolts and even ghostly outlines of wrenches in the fractured faces of broken draft-gear that was, in the wartime rush, cast before the scrap-metal had been given enough time to fully heat and homogenize.

There are usually one or two spare coupler knuckles, the part that a crew can replace out on the road, on board, tucked behind the rungs of the rear tender ladder or stowed in the house-car, but replacing a 75 lb. knuckle still takes effort and time, and then there’s the paperwork to be filled out, so Tom handles the train as if it is full of passengers just sitting down to dinner.

Clear of the yard-lead switch Tom lets the cut drift to a stop with a light touch on the independent brake, a very light touch so the slack runs back in gently, and with Dean guiding from 6 cars back, reverses the train and gingerly eases back down the round-house lead to the house-car track and couples to Otis’s car as gently as his skills will let him. It would get the run off to a bad start if he were to crash into the house-car and upset Otis’s coffee-pot!

There is this romantic concept of the engineer heroically standing at the throttle, his square jaw and commanding profile lit by the fire beside him, as he guides his train through the stormy night, but the reality is that the engineer just drives the train, it’s the conductor that’s the boss of the train, and it’s best not to upset the boss.

Unlike some railroads, on the DP the conductor is not assigned a specific house-car that he keeps no matter what train he is assigned to (There is no official standard, but the DP follows the SP practice of calling what many railroads call a caboose a house-car, the PRR calls them cabins.) and instead takes the first house-car on the track in a last-in, first-out assignment sequence. This greatly simplifies switching of the house-cars but does occasionally result in some heated exchanges since each train crew (conductor and trainmen as opposed to engine crew which is engineer and fireman) is responsible for leaving the house-car clean, stocked, and ready for the next trip, and some crews are not as good at this as others would like.

There is a bobble in the train-line pressure gauge as Dean connects up the house-car. The bobble has plenty of time to settle back down again as Dean cranks off the handbrake. Another, stronger bobble of the gauge along with some clattering from brake rigging tells Tom that Otis has used up some of the air in the not-yet-full reservoirs by testing his dump-valve, a valve he can use to dump air from the train-line to put the train into emergency if necessary without having to wait on his engineer, way down at the other end, to do it.

Finally Tom is signaled to ease forward again. The Upbound Ore has whistled off and is just now clearing the departure track as it heads out onto the main so Tom’s (Otis’s!) train can roll straight out onto the departure track now. He eases the train on down and stops it just short of fouling the east switch to the parallel arrival track.

By the time they are rolling towards the departure track the pressure in the boiler is up and they have verified that the poppets, at least the one on the left which lifts first,* are functioning properly, so Jake trims blowers, atomizers, damper, and fuel-flow back slightly. No sense in wasting steam by keeping the poppets singing unnecessarily.

*On the C-14 class’ small boilers one poppet is enough to hold the pressure down under most circumstances, but for safety reasons there’s two poppets. Since it’s very difficult to get the valves adjusted to exactly the same release point some engineers insist on the fireman climbing up and tying the first one down after it releases to allow pressure to build back up and ensure the second one will also release. Tom is not one of them. He figures there are other ways of getting pressure out of the boiler if he has to.

There’s enough air pressure in the system now that Tom could stop the train with a light application of the service brakes, a 6 pound reduction, which sets the brakes on each individual car, while ‘bailing off’* the independent brake and actually pulling with the engine to keep the slack pulled out as the train squeals to a stop. This would keep the slack stretched out and smooth the ride for Otis back there in the house-car, but it also means that when they leave he would have to start the entire train, this heavy train, all at the same time.

*In addition to the independent brake valve, the engine/tender brakes are also tied to the service brake such that a service brake application also sets the engine/tender brakes, but by holding the independent brake lever down against a spring, or ‘bailing off’ as it’s called, the service brakes can be applied to the train behind without also setting the engine/tender brakes.

The alternative is to use the independent brake to bring the train to a stop which will allow the slack to run in on the free-rolling cars. With the slack run in he can start the train again one car at a time, getting the tank car rolling before the slack is pulled out between it and the boxcar, then starting the boxcar, and so on. The trick when stopping with the independent is to judge things just right so that the train is halted at the proper spot but does so gently enough that the slack doesn’t run in too fast. If he miss-judges then the slack on the first car, that tank, runs in with a gentle nudge, the second car a little harder, and by the time it gets back to the house-car, with an almighty crash.

He manages to get the train stopped with only a gentle bump to Otis, though it sounds like a pretty loud bang in the pre-dawn hush left behind by the departed Ore. Once the tank car stops bumping them around* Tom opens the cylinder cocks (Because they will be sitting here for a few minutes.) and checks the train-line gauge, making sure it has a full 70 pound charge then he pulls out his watch and closes the hand-valve in the pipe supplying air from the main reservoir to the train-line.

*The liquid sloshing back and forth in a tank car often has enough force to shove a freshly stopped train several feet in one direction or the other.

He keeps a close watch on the train-line pressure gauge as the second-hand of his watch crawls around the face. The train-line, with all its parts and connections under pressure, will inevitably leak and Tom is checking to make sure it bleeds down by no more than 5 pounds per minute, the allowable maximum.* At the one minute mark, with the gauge showing a loss of about 1.75 pounds, Tom opens the hand-valve back up so the main reservoir can keep the brake system charged.

*Inside the guts of a triple-valve is a very small bypass channel that prevents small leaks in the train-line from unintentionally setting the brakes by compensating for the inevitable leaks in the train-line, but any more than a loss of 5 pounds per minute will overwhelm this and set the brakes unintentionally.

With the train-line pressure stabilized again Tom gives the service brakes a “full set”, dumping 20 pounds back out of the train-line by moving the top lever on the brake pedestal forward into the ‘service’ position, holding it there until he has dumped the pressure down to about 47 pounds. (Because of friction the escaping air encounters inside the pipe running the full length of the train the pressure at the far end of the 7 cars remains a little higher so by the time the pressure equalizes through the entire train-line it will be about the required 50 pounds.)  Because the triple-valve* on each car wants to equalize the pressure in the car’s auxiliary tank with that of the train-line, it allows enough air to escape from the auxiliary tank to reduce its pressure to 50 pounds. This released air goes into the brake cylinder which then pushes the brake-blocks (shoes) against the wheels.

*Actually, Westinghouse’s original triple-valve is no long used, having been replaced by designs that have improved function and reliability and are more properly called brake-valves, but the term ‘triple-valve’ has stuck around and is still commonly used..

When he gets the train-line pressure reduced to where he wants it Tom pulls the automatic brake lever back to the ‘hold’ position which will hold that pressure.*  A 20 pound reduction sets the brakes hard on all the cars and on the engine and tender as well.

*On this older-style brake valve there are four positions. Reading them from front to back they are: Service, which drops pressure in the train-line in a controlled manner to set the brakes: Hold, which stops dropping pressure in the train-line and holds it where it’s at: Run, which allows the train-line to recharge through a regulator, keeping the train-line and through it the reservoirs on the cars, all charged to the proper pressure: and Release, which allows the reservoir on the engine to dump directly into the train-line bypassing the regulator, the sharp, fast rise in pressure ensuring that the triple-valves will react quickly and release the brakes, but if held here too long the train-line can over-pressurize risking blowing out hoses or gaskets as well as causing  erratic brake action.

These brake valve positions can be confusing when compared to the newer-style brake valves found on many engines today, such as the DP’s new Alco RS-3’s, that have 6 positions. The Release, Run, and Service on both styles serve the same function, but on the new valve the Hold position means something entirely different. It actually releases the brakes on the cars while keeping the brakes on the engine set, or holding the train. What is called Hold on the old valve, which held the train-line pressure wherever it was, is called Lap on the new valve. And finally the new valve has an Emergency position which rapidly dumps the pressure in the train-line to set the brakes as quickly as possible.

An engineer has to pay attention to which valve he has in his hand!

With the brakes set hard Tom pulls a single long on the whistle-cord. At that signal the two trainmen walk the length of the train, one on each side, checking to see that all the brakes have set properly and listening for excessive leaks.

The only hitch was the last car, an empty insulated boxcar headed for Appleford that is sitting just ahead of the house-car. Its brakes have not set. But fortunately the fix is simple. The cutout valve, the valve that isolates that car’s brake cylinder from the braking system, usually used when something has gone wrong with its brakes so the car can be left in the consist long enough to reach the next set-out point, is closed. Opening the valve sets the brakes, though Dean and Ronald give them a good looking over just in case it wasn’t just kids messing around that closed the valve in the first place.

That part of the air-test complete, Tom holds the independent brake on by moving the lower lever on the brake pedestal forward one notch to the hold position and releases the car brakes by pulling the service brake handle all the way back to the release position. With a hollow hiss as air flows through the pipe, and a series of clunks rippling down the cars as the springs in the brake cylinders shove the pistons into the fully retracted position, the brakes release and Tom quickly moves the lever to the run position so he doesn’t overcharge the train-line.

The trainmen turn around and walk back down the train again. This time they’re checking to see that all the brakes released properly.

In the SP yards all this work, assembling the train, picking up the house-car, and performing the air-test, is done before the road-crew was handed the train, but here on the DP there just aren’t that many employees so road-crews generally put their own trains together and perform the federally mandated terminal air-test themselves.

All this work is completed about 9 minutes before their scheduled departure but rule 92 is pretty emphatic about prohibiting any scheduled train from leaving a station before its designated departure time, so the crew sits back for a short break before #420 starts its run for the day.

Tom, sitting sideways on the right-hand seatbox and leaning back against the cab wall just behind his large side-window, automatically slips off his heavy gauntlet glove and reaches under his coveralls for the pocket where he keeps his pipe, or rather for the pocket where he used to keep his pipe. Remembering that it isn’t there, he’s mentally shaking his head at his own foolishness.

The pipe is another trick he learned from some of the old-timers on the SP.

If he kept a heavy pipe in his teeth while he was steaming, it would thump its way down his chest if it were to fall from his mouth and thus act as a little extra insurance against falling asleep at the controls, which was easy to do given the near constant state of sleep-deprivation resulting from all the crazy hours a train crew works.

On the SP a rumor periodically makes the rounds about an engineer from the San Joaquin Division that was handling a ballast train during the construction of the cutoff from LA to Colton. One night he fell asleep (Strike 1) while heading back to Colton at the end of a long day. Apparently, so the rumor goes anyway, prior to nodding off he was keeping the train of empty ballast gons stretched out on a slight down-grade with a light set on the brakes and the engine pulling. His illegal wedge (Strike 2 and if this talk of a wedge is confusing just hang on and it will be made clear later) must have jiggled loose from the independent brake handle, allowing the brakes on the still pulling engine to set. By the time he snapped out of his impromptu nap the brake-shoes had heated the drivers so much that the tires, that separate flanged rim of steel that actually runs on the rails and is press-fit over the cast wheels, had expanded to the point where a couple of them lost their grip and the wheels were spinning inside the tires heating them up even more. The crew had to try to bang the tires back into alignment before they cooled down and gripped the wheels again, (Normally this type of thing is done in the roundhouse where tires are expanded by heating them in a circular oven then pressed over the wheels on a jig that keeps everything in alignment as they cool.) and they were only partially successful. When things had cooled down a bit they got back underway but had to wobble down the track on the miss-aligned tires.

Tom never has found out for sure if the rumor is true or not, but he certainly doesn’t want to fall asleep while handling a train of his own!

Mary didn’t, still doesn’t in Tom’s mind, approve of him smoking so he just held the unlit pipe in his mouth, but when he made the move back to the DP the pipe didn’t come with him. Well, it did, but he soon got rid of it because it was one more reminder of a period of his life that is no more, a period that ended when Mary ended.

Jake, his fireman, is prone to spending time in his own head, and right now, probably thinking about fishing and fish stories which is what he spends a lot of his off-duty time doing and much of his on-duty time talking about, is elbows to knees, gazing unseeing at the tips of his heavy boots. Ronald, a competent trainman but, ever since the war, a loner that prefers his own company, (Ronald was in the Pacific Theater during the war but that’s all anyone knows for sure.) is perched up on the tender gazing out at – well Tom has no idea what Ronald is gazing out at, so Tom is only fooling himself when he smoothly diverts his hand mid-reach from his old pipe pocket to the pocket where he keeps his watch.

Many non-railroaders expect a railroader’s watch to have a cover over it that is snapped open with a practiced flick, but, among other things, the 1893 General Railroad Timepiece Standards specifically state that all railroad watches will be open-faced – in other words there is no cover to flick.

A quick check of the Waltham-Ball he has carried since the day he became a trainman and still passes the semi-annual inspections required of all DP employee’s timepieces, (Timepieces must lose or gain no more than 30 seconds per week) shows Tom he has 7 minutes until their scheduled departure.

A smooth morning so far and, judging by the clear, sparkly skies over the distant San Andres range across on the west side of the basin, it should be a fine day.