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.