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.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Optimism, or Just Plain Nuts?

You see all those fuzzy spots in this image I took the other day while watering the batteries in The Van?

If you think they look like the result of a really dirty lens, you're right. Only problem is the dirt isn't on the outside where I can get at it, but rather on the inside where all I can do is look helplessly into the black-hole of the 50X zoom lens at the bits of dust and debris that have collected in there.

I tried smacking the side of the lens rather briskly, probably more briskly than is good for it, in an attempt to shift the crap over to the edge where it wouldn't be so obvious, but no luck. That junk, collected over years of less than ideal conditions, was stuck tight.

So I did what any reasonable, (desperate) modern man would do. I went hunting on YouTube for a fix, and I found one! Though it starts off a little shaky, but then again my camera has been out of warranty for - well, I don't know how many years, so I continued on.

But frankly things weren't getting any better. . .

Except that the camera was pretty much useless in the state it was in so how much worse could it get?!

I don't usually watch videos because of our limited monthly allotment of satellite internet bandwidth but I made an exception this time. If I run out of bytes I (and The Wife) will just have to suffer pre-2000 connection speeds until the end of our billing period.

First I watched the video straight through from start to finish.

Then I taped a piece of leftover Tyvec to the workbench to give me a clean, bright surface to work on and gathered all the crap I was going to need for this operation, including a handful of clean, never been out of the bag, micro fiber towels.

The notebook is for labeling everything as I went, the storage drawers are for keeping the larger bits sorted as I proceed, and a couple of smaller, divided storage boxes, out of frame to the right, are for screws (Oh so many screws!) and assorted teeny bits.

The black and red jumper wires each have one end clipped to separate legs of a lamp-plug and will be used to discharge the flash capacitor (through the lightbulb in the lamp) when I get to that point. Having worked with electricity all my career I know first hand that getting zapped hurts! Getting zapped by a big cap hurts even worse!

I also, using a trick I often resort to, turned my little Philips screwdriver, the one that will be used exclusively for disassembly, into a magnetic tip that hangs onto the teeny-tiny screws. I've got stacks of assorted sizes of rare-earth magnets and I grabbed one of the smaller ones and just let it hang there on the side of the screwdriver.

The video is 30 minutes long, the first 18 or so being disassembly, the rest re-assembly. It took me one hell of a lot longer than that, starting and stopping the video every step of the way, sometimes backing up and going over it again, to eventually get my camera broken down to it's multitude of component parts. (The drawers are loaded from top to bottom in disassembly order. The little compartments in the tiny storage boxes are loaded with screws from left to right, front to back, one assembly per, also in disassembly order.)

At this point there is a big lens at the end of the barrel to the left, a small one at the end of the barrel to the right, and yet another lens on the funky-looking bit just above the right-barrel that sits just over the sensor, which is that bit of white you can see on the back of the funky-bit.

None of these lenses went easily into the night. I had a struggle getting all the dust and debris off of each one, and since I don't exactly have a clean-room to work in, keeping it off was no picnic either.

Now came the moment of truth! Or rather the hour and half of truth, as I worked my way through the second half of the video and put my camera all back together again.

This was where I would find out if I was buying a new camera next week, or if I could leave the emergency fund alone for just a little while longer.

So did it work??

Once I finished the reassembly with no parts and only 2 screw left over (There are a LOT of screws inside this tiny camera! I think some of the parts and assemblies in there were put in place just for fun, to hell with function! and was it really necessary to use 8 screws to secure a 1.5 inch by 1.75 inch metal plate in place??) I took a long break before I worked up the nerve to put the battery back in and turn it on.

My initial reaction was "CRAP!", or something to that effect. . .

But it was just a setup screen that I'm not used to looking at. Once I put in the time, date, and timezone I was looking at the normal screen, which was good. Really good.

Even better was the camera taking sharp, clear photos at various degrees of zoom.

You would assume, well at least I did, that with a zoom range of 24 to 1200 mm the lens assembly would be pretty damn delicate and finicky, but that's not the case. After being taken apart and reassembled by a rank amateur the image is still crisp at all zoom levels and over the years I have thrown this camera down on the hard at least three times, (Not on purpose but shit happens!) once hard enough to visibly distort the outer case around the lens assembly, but those sudden stops seemed to have no effect on the camera.

So, after a full afternoon hunched over with my face a few inches from the work (I see close up much better without my glasses but am significantly nearsighted so have to be really up close and personal.)  did I do any good?

Yes and no.

The debris inside the lens is, except for one small scratch off to the side of the larger lens, gone and when I point the camera at the sun I no longer have constellations of fuzzy spots looking at me.

On the other hand, now that the inside crap is gone, I'm quite aware of a tiny nick in the outside surface of the outer lens. It looks like a bit of white dust but no amount of cleaning will budge it. But then considering what that camera has been through, one nick near the outer edge of the lens isn't bad. Not bad enough for me to consider replacing the camera at this time anyway.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Getting the Train Ready to Roll: 04:07 – 05:00: Part 1

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

October 20, 1954: 04:07 – 05:00

The inspection takes a little longer than usual but the Foreman of Engines, who is also the overnight Roundhouse Foreman, doesn’t seem to mind even though it’s nearing the end of his shift. Probably because the paperwork he hands Tom shows that while 1428 was in getting that ruptured flue repaired the roundhouse crew went ahead and pretty much overhauled the aging engine. It’s probably in better shape now than it has been in years.

The lagging was stripped from the boiler and all bolts and fittings checked. The firebrick lining the firebox was replaced along with the brick arch above that protects the rear flue-sheet from direct contact with the fire. While the firebox was stripped several broken or badly corroded stay bolts were replaced.*

*On newer engines stay bolts, which tie the firebox to the shell of the boiler and prevent the pressure from crushing the firebox, have very tiny holes drilled down through most of their lengths so a broken one will make itself known by leaking, but on these old Consolidations the staybolts are solid and the best way to find broken ones is to tap the heads with a hammer. If it rings it’s good, if it tinks it’s broken. DP rules allow for a maximum of 4 broken staybolts across the crown-sheet, the most vulnerable part of the firebox, and then only as long as none of them are adjacent to each other.

The roundhouse crew also dropped the running gear (which, in the railroad’s basic shop without very many fancy bells and whistles, actually means lifting the frame and boiler with an overhead crane.) and replaced all the two-part white-metal axle bushings. They also replaced the main cylinder and valve piston rings, rebuilt the air-compressor, installed new brake-shoes and refurbished the generator.

And, of course, all the flues were inspected, repaired, and cleaned, so right now she has no plugged flues at all,* which is a welcome change. Finally, as a road test, she was used to make last night’s transfer run down to Daylight and back.

*Flues can be plugged with residue from the fire or a leaking flue can be deliberately plugged to seal it off at both ends. The DP allows up to 3 flues to be deliberately plugged as long as none of those are the larger, super-heater flues near the top of the boiler.

But regardless, As Tom walks up alongside 1428, sitting patiently on the track, panting slowly (The air compressor) and hissing quietly, he is still going to do a complete inspection before he accepts responsibility for the engine.

The first thing he does is toss his carryall, lighter now that he has draped his goggles around his neck, tucked his gauntlet gloves under the left strap of his overalls, and flashlight into his cavernous right pocket, onto the footplate, which on these small C-14’s is only about 6 feet above the rail, and climb up after it.

Next he and Jake both check the level in the sight-glasses (There are two of them, one of each side of the backhead, in case one fails.) then Tom watches as Jake opens and closes a couple of the adjacent gauge-cocks, which, depending on whether they are above or below the water level, dump steam or water into the pan below. This verifies that the sight-glasses are showing a true level, very important because undetected low water causes boilers to explode, usually killing the head-end crew.

Then they both climb back down to the ground with flashlight, hammer, and long-necked oilcan in hand and slowly walk around the engine. They are checking that all the bolts and keyways are in place, that the oil cups are full and the wicks adjusted, the tires ring clear when struck with a hammer, all the brake-blocks are solidly in place, the valve gear and reversing links are in good shape, and the smoke-box dogs are all tight. Then, while Tom opens the drain at the bottom of the air reservoir tucked under the right running board to make sure the tank is dry* before climbing all the way up on top of the boiler and shining his flashlight into the sand-dome, the dome just behind the stack, to make sure it is full, Jake climbs up the rear ladder of the tender and shines his light into the oil and water tank hatches.

*Right now they could get away with water in the tank, but a dry tank is especially important during the winter because if water gets into the train-line it can freeze, blocking the pipe and preventing the brakes from working.

Satisfied that the engine will probably get them from here to Three Creeks, that she is mechanically sound, steam pressure holding steady with no excessive leaking, both the tender’s fuel-oil and water tank topped up, air pressure in the engine’s main reservoir holding at 120 pounds with the compressor doing a lazy thunk-chuff every once in a while indicating no serious leaks, the oil in the hydrostatic lubricator reservoir at the full mark, spare oil, waste, and tools on-board, (Sometimes tools walk so it pays to check) and gauges working, Tom finally signs for the engine and tucks his carryall into the right-hand seatbox. Jake’s carryall goes into the left-hand seatbox (No fancy seats on 1428, just boxes with hinged and padded tops.) and the two of them set about readying 1428 to move.

The engine has been left on the ready-track at a simmer so Jake opens up the blower* to increase the draft. Then he increases the fuel-flow slightly, while simultaneously turning up the atomizers, steam-jets that are located near the mouth of the fuel delivery pipe to blow a mist of oil evenly across the firing pan. (Wood or coal burners have a grate instead of the firing pan and no atomizers.) Watching the color of the flame through the lidded porthole just above the fire doors he adjusts the damper.

*The blower is not a fan like you might think but a ring of steam-jets surrounding the blast, or cylinder exhaust, pipe inside the smoke-box and pointing upwards at the flared petticoat mounted to the base of the stack. The jets improve the draft inside the smokebox, helping to suck the gasses through the flues and eject them out the stack when there is no cylinder exhaust to do it.

Looking through the porthole into the iridescent hell that is the firebox, most people would see nothing but impossible heat, but any halfway decent fireman sees a whole range of nuances in that shimmering conflagration.

A little tweaking to get the balance of all these components right and Jake soon has a clean sheet of roiling, red-orange flame all the way across the firebox with a few little yellowish tendrils lifted by the draft. This hot fire, about 2000 degrees, will start raising the boiler pressure from the current 182 pounds while Jake and Tom keep an eye on the gauge, a big, round one set high on the center of the backhead where it can be seen easily from anywhere on the footplate. Their goal is to make sure the poppets, the safety valves, two of them mounted on the rear-most dome, just over the top of the firebox, start singing at 200 pounds. A stuck poppet could be bad news, such as boiler explosion kind of bad news, so best to find out now.

While they wait for the pressure to come up Jake checks that the valve controlling steam flowing through the fuel supply hose outer jacket then into the heater coils in the tender’s fuel-oil tank is set properly. If not kept warm the heavy Bunker-C oil used to fire the DP’s steam engines reverts to the consistency of tar, even in summer, which clogs everything up to the point where the fuel won’t flow and the fire dies, but at the same time, too much steam to the heating coils is a waste of water and fuel.*

*On a related topic, the heated oil helps keep the water in the tender’s adjacent water tank from freezing during the winter, but in extreme conditions, such as can be found up in Three Creeks where an engine may sit in the frigid temps and clawing winds for hours, a little extra heating may be necessary, especially in preventing the exposed supply pipe connecting the watertank in the tender to the injectors on the boiler backhead from freezing up. In this case closing the valve on the injector’s overflow pipe will prevent it from priming, so when the injector’s steam valve is opened the only place for the steam to go is backwards down the supply pipe where it then burbles through the water in the tender. But it will be several months yet before such measures are needed.

While he’s doing that Tom checks the valve settings on three-legged Detroit hydrostatic lubricator mounted on the backhead just to the right of the boiler-pressure gauge.

This device is filled with a special high-temperature oil and capped with a heavy threaded plug. The steam pipe is then opened which pressurizes the lubricator, including the oil inside so it can be forced into where it needs to go against the boiler pressure. Some of that steam condenses and the oil floats on the resulting water, rising above the mouth of the feed tube.

Tom has already made sure the upper sight-glass, just to the left of the oil-fill plug, is showing a full glass of oil with no water showing in the bottom of the thick, round glass. If the sight-glass fills with water the lubricator needs to be refilled with oil. If this happens en route the engine must be stopped and the pressure and water in the lubricator drained. Once it has been refilled with the oil, sticky and thick until it is heated, and sealed the steam is turned back on then it’s a waiting game until there is enough condensate to lift the oil up to the feed tube. (Bubbles stop flowing out the feed nozzles.) Even then it sometimes takes some fiddling around to get oil to flow down the feed-tube and through all three feed nozzles again.  Not a procedure he wants to mess with while out on the road.

Because the engine has been sitting for a while the metering valves, the ones on the bottom of the lubricator, on the two outside legs that feed the main cylinders, are closed down, otherwise oil is being wasted since the cylinders are not working and need no lubrication. But the air-compressor is running and Tom makes sure that a drop of condensate shimmers up through the water in the sight-glass of the center leg about every 20 to 30 seconds. This is enough to keep the relatively small cylinder of the air compressor operating happily.

Since they are about to move he also opens up the metering valves on the two outside legs and initially tunes them so a drop of oil slips up through the sight-glass about every 10 to 15 seconds. If that isn’t enough the piston rings riding on the valve and cylinder walls will start to groan and he’ll increase the oil-rate accordingly.

Newer steamers have positive-displacement oilers on each side near the crossheads that are mechanically pressurized by the reciprocating action of the valve-gear and keeping them filled with oil is just a matter of opening the cap and pouring in more oil since the oil reservoir is not pressurized. These usually have many more legs on them with low-pressure legs that oil the journals and bushings as well, eliminating the need for individual oil-cups. But these old Consolidations still use the hydrostatic lubricators and individual oil cups, all of which must be watched over carefully.

Satisfied that the lubricator is ready to go Tom opens a valve to let steam start spinning the generator mounted on top of the boiler just ahead of the cab.

In his earliest days as an engineer, back when he was often assigned to the oldest engines, he would have to climb up the smokebox, fill the headlamp’s reservoir with kerosene, usually spilling some of the oily fuel on himself because of the awkward perch, polish the reflectors and glass, trim the wick into an even arc above the double-sided metal button he pinned through it to spread the top of the wick wide for more flame, (a trick not in the manual but taught to him by the old-timers that were still around) then light the thing. And on a windy night that, the lighting it part, could be tricky.

Now all he has to do is wait for the generator to spin up to speed then turn the lever on a big, heavy rotary-switch to light up the headlamp. On the DP, ever since the engines were ‘electrified’ the Company Bible, the rulebook by which all employees live by, calls for lit headlamps anytime an engine is moving, day or night.

Another valve sends compressed air from the main reservoir out to the actuator that swings the clapper inside the fixed brass bell. Steam engines are surprisingly quiet when moving slowly, easily sneaking up on the unwary, so the bell must be used anytime the engine is moving within yard limits and before the air-powered actuators came along someone, usually the fireman or head-trainman, had the annoying job of constantly tugging at the bell-cord.

Next he squeezes the release handle on the Johnson-Bar which is sticking straight up by his side with a notched quadrant near its base to hold the bar in whatever position it is left, and eases it from neutral (straight up) to full forward, or in ‘the corner’. (All the way towards the front of the cab.)

You have to watch these Armstrong (manual) reversers and make sure you’re braced before squeezing the release-handle which releases the bar from the notched quadrant, otherwise the weight of the gear will jerk the bar forward and try to throw you right out the front of the cab. In fact there is an angled metal plate fixed to the footplate just forward of the Johnson-Bar so he can brace his foot against the pull.

One of the DP’s engines, 1421, has a screw-reverser that relies on a follower on an acme thread rather than a quadrant, and this holds the gear wherever it’s left at. Another advantage of the screw-reverser is its infinite adjustment which allows dialing in the perfect valve-cutoff for the conditions as opposed to being limited to the detent positions of the quadrant. But 1421's pretty much perpetual assignment to the Pipeline, where there is very little switching involved, suits Tom just fine because cranking the reversing gear from forward to reverse to forward again, and again; and again; during the switching moves that are a natural part of a freight’s daily grind can be a lot of work and he prefers the heavier but fast-acting Johnson-Bar’s.

Finally, after releasing the independent brake by pulling the lower of the two handles (2) on the brake pedestal back to the run position, Tom gives two one-second pulls on the whistle-cord to signal a forward move and opens the throttle, a lever anchored to the upper left side of the backplate and  terminating in a shoulder-high handle near his left side with linkage through the boiler to the valve on top of the steam-pipe. This, which technically is called a regulator since it regulates how much boiler-steam is released into the steam-pipe, is also held in place by a notched quadrant.

To wake the engine up he opens the throttle by four or five notches, which gets steam flowing into the steam pipe, through the super-heater tubes, and finally into the cylinders. He holds the throttle there just long enough for steam to reach the cylinders then quickly shuts it back down and lets expanding steam do the initial work. Since the running gear is always quartered on a steam engine which puts each side 90° out of sync with the other, at least one of the valves will be positioned to admit steam into its cylinder, no matter which direction the engine is supposed to go in.

Tom carefully watches the ground below the side window, right now lit by a flickering orange light from the fire seeping out through slots in the damper. He looks for the first sign that the engine is moving then opens the throttle back up by a couple notches, noting that the throttle is moving slickly with no sticking, not always the case on these old Consolidations.

He holds the throttle there for just long enough to get the engine rolling with enough speed to coast through the switch at the end of the ready-track where Ronald, the head trainman, is waiting. Once he judges he has enough speed he closes the throttle down again and lets the engine drift. But 1428 quickly reveals that it’s moving a little stiffly and he notches back out by just a little to help it along. Hopefully it’s because of new bushings that haven’t run in yet. If so they will loosen up after some time out on the main.

The primary purpose of the cylinder cocks, small valves at either end of both main cylinders, is to allow incompressible condensate that might have collected inside the cylinders while the engine was sitting, from causing damage once the piston starts moving. The hostler left them open when he parked the engine on the ready track earlier this morning because their secondary purpose is to ensure that the little bit of steam being injected into the valves, and from there into one of the cylinders, from the lubrication system doesn’t build up and potentially cause the piston to inadvertently move.

But now it only takes a few strokes of the pistons, or, with the C-14’s small diameter drivers, about 8 feet of movement along the ground in either direction, to clear the cylinders of most of the condensate* so Tom closes the air-operated cylinder cocks before the engine passes Ronald. No need to blow steam and wet dust all over his head trainman.

*Any remaining condensate will quickly be boiled off as the incoming steam heats the cylinder up.

Once the engine drifts through the switch Ronald relines it and trots along the track to catch up to the receding tender where he swings himself up on the rear footboard.

Their rear trainman, Dean,* has already lined the next couple of switches and Tom eases the engine out of the ready track, around the slight curve and through the first set of crossovers which places him on the arrival track side of the yard lead. (The Upbound Ore Turn is currently occupying the departure track. Early mornings are a busy time in the Goat Crossing Yard.)

*Dean’s real name is Harold Winton Short, but one day he snuck off with a girl from school to see a new movie called My Friend Irma (The movie itself didn’t matter to Harold near as much as getting his female classmate into a dark place did.) she claimed he looked just like the dreamy Steve Laird character played by someone named Dean Martin that not only sang and looked good, but got the girl too. Harold decided that Dean was a much more fitting name, and image, for himself and quickly adopted it, as well as the man’s hairstyle, as his own, though his mother still calls him Harold, or worse, sometimes Harry.  

It only takes a slight application of the independent brake, which operates only the brakes on the engine and tender, by moving the lever all the way forward just long enough to lightly set them, then back to center to hold the set, to bring 1428 to a stop clear of the switch-points of that first set of crossovers. After grabbing the Johnson bar with both hands and hauling it back towards himself to the full reverse position, Tom sticks his head out the open side-window to make sure that the two switches behind him have now been lined for the yard-lead. Because he has a road tender which is too high to allow him to see anything down the left side, Jake is checking out his side to make sure things over there are clear for the reverse move coming up.

Three short whistles, no more than quick, practiced taps on the cord, signal his intent to move backwards and Tom releases the brake and repeats the notch-the-throttle-out, close-it-down, check-the-ground-is-moving, notch-it-back, and drift, sequence.

As it comes by Ronald swings up on the rear footboard of the tender again. This time he is facing backwards and begins wind-milling his lantern slowly to let Tom know to keep moving. It takes a slightly cracked throttle to keep 1428 trundling down the yard-lead to where Dean has already lined the switch for yard-track 3.

Tom closes the throttle several car-lengths before he reaches the switch and keeps his hand on the independent, carefully watching Ronald’s signals as the engine curls into the yard-track to fetch it’s consist.

Ronald starts reducing the circle his lantern is making until he has cut it down to just a slow curling of his wrist, which he finishes off with a final downward slash as he guides Tom back until 1428 kisses the coupler on the lead car, that loaded tank car Tom isn’t too keen on, with a metallic clang.

Tom then sets the independent and neutrals the reversing-gear by moving the Johnson Bar to the top-center detent. The next thing Ronald has to do is step between the tender and the tank car to buckle the rubber (hook up the air hoses) and, ever since flying and Dutch drops have been outlawed,* other than riding a cut down the hill in a hump yard, of which the DP has none, or negotiating the roof-walk on a moving car, (forbidden now by many union agreements and railroad rules) stepping between cars is one of the most dangerous things a trainman has to do.

*A flying drop was used to get a car into a facing-point switch without having to run the engine around the train to shove it in. With the car coupled to the engine the engineer would speed up, one trainman, riding the car, would lean over and pull the coupling pin, the engineer would race ahead with the engine and as soon as he cleared the switch another trainman would throw it and the coasting car would roll through the switch into the spur or siding with the first trainman, who by now has scrambled up the ladder, hanging on for dear life as he waits for the right moment to stop the car with the brake-wheel.

A Dutch drop, the reverse of a flying drop, was even more complicated and dangerous. In this case the engine would nose into the siding or spur, connect up to the car and drag it backwards. Once it was rolling fast enough the dangling trainman would uncouple it so the engine could race backwards through the switch which would be thrown as soon as the wheels were clear, then he would dart forward down the main to get out of the way and the switch would be relined to allow the rolling car to coast out onto the main behind the engine and, hopefully, be slowed enough by the handbrake that it didn’t crash into something.

To be continued 

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring! And Yet Another Chore

Yep, it's spring. The planet has been Equinoxed.

And with that, given our very wet winter, we have an abundance of wildflowers.

But, as with every equinox or solstice, around here that also means the ritual watering of the batteries.

Because I have given up on expensive AGM's in favor of the old fashioned, but more cost effective wet-cells, even when factoring in their (supposedly)  more frequent replacement cycle, both of which live there under the gaucho, every quarter I top up the water in them, and for an earth-centric person like myself, what better markers to use as reminders than the stages of the sun?

Though it, the watering, is not a painless process, which makes skipping it tempting, but the motivation of extending battery life, therefore reducing replacement costs, usually wins out over my head-in-the-sand tendencies.

The first step is to prop the gaucho open,

because that's the only way to reach these two screws holding the tops of the battery boxes down.

The snap-off lids of those plastic battery boxes would certainly be simpler to mess with than these screws, but then the batteries wouldn't fit under the gaucho.

Life is one long series of compromises and sometimes it sucks!

Next I have to lower the gaucho seat back down then pull it out into the extended position intended for turning the gaucho into a "double" bed. This is pretty much the only time I ever extend the cushion like this. ( I highly endorse the side-gaucho layout for a single van-dweller as being incredibly handy and space-efficient, but for a pair of dwellers the narrow bed, all of about 43 inches wide, that results from this layout must be a misery.)

Pulling the cushion out like this, and rucking the rolled-up bedding out of the way without disturbing it so much I have to remake the bed from scratch, is how I gain access to the rest of the battery-box lid-screws.

But first I have to shove the cushion back in again to gain access to the cupboard where my distilled water is stashed because - well - as usual, I forgot. . .

Finally I can lay belly-down across the extended gaucho cushion (Though with my belly going proudly out in front as it does it's not really "lay" across the cushion so much as it is teeter-totter on my built in fulcrum.) and remove the rest of the screws.

The lids are not drilled symmetrically so only go on one way, and then only if it's the right box, (I guess you don't have to ask how I know this. . .) so I take care to lay out the box-lids in the same orientation they are in when mounted. (I'm not going to tell you how many times it took me to figure this out!)

 Finally I can get to the batteries and remove the caps (I find grabbing the caps from above with appropriately opened slip-joint pliers and rocking them as I pull upwards works a whole lot better than trying to pry the caps up with a screwdriver that doesn't fit into the limited space very well.)  so I can see just how much water has disappeared from under there since last time. (Over the course of a year I seem to go through  about a gallon of distilled water between the two batteries.)

I suppose I could make topping up the water a bit simpler with a proper battery-waterer.

Back before The Van I used 6V golf-cart batteries for my storage needs on a couple of rigs and owned one of these magical watering contraptions that you just press blindly over each cell until it stops gurgling. But it went with one of those earlier rigs when I sold it on to the next travelers and the only time I seem to remember I need to replace it is when I'm teetering there on my belly, who's excessive mass has compressed my lungs into something about the size of a small sandwich-bag, while trying to manage a funnel with one hand and the water-container with the other, at the same time struggling to see into the cell so I don't overfill it. But it seems that as soon as I finish the chore for the quarter I forget all about my desire for this handy appliance, which makes me wonder if maybe I am blessed with the attention span of a gerbil.

But eventually, in my crude way, I get the cells topped up to right at the lower edge of the skirt around each opening and they're good to go for another quarter.

Then I can close everything back up, get the blood that has been forced by excess body-mass contorted into unnatural positions drained out of my head where it has been threatening to blow a gasket, and walk away supremely satisfied with having piously attended to my duties yet one more time.

Except that I'm not quite done yet. . .

Somewhere along the way, in the middle of those contortions, I've managed to hook my boot onto the decorative trim on one of the adjacent cabinet doors and popped the damn thing right off.

Though I have to admit that this is not a singular event.

In fact it's so not singular that I carry the necessary stuff to effect repairs with me in The Van at all times.

OK, now the chore is finished and I can finally go lay out in a field of wildflowers getting stung by ground-bees and chewed on by fire-ants.