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.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Goat Crossing: 03:28 – 04:07

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

October 20 1954: 03:28 – 04:07

The tiny sliver of moon is high in the eastern sky, but its light too feeble to reach into the shadows between the sparse and scattered electric lights of Daylight. It will be well over an hour yet before the sky brightens enough to start defining the ridgelines and peaks to the east, nearly three hours until sunrise, and longer than that before the shadow of the mountain is chased back far enough for the sun’s rays to fall directly on the streets of Daylight.

From town the distant notch of Daylight Pass, some 40 plus crow-miles to the east, is visible and there are 2 couple-three-week long periods during the year when the sun rises in the gap of the pass,* sending early beams down to the streets, but late October is not one of those periods.

*Originally the pass, notching the mountains to the east, and town, nestled down on the edge of a wide, arid basin, were both named Gunsight but around the turn of the century an unofficial alliance of business and civic leaders that pretty much controlled things; back then called Bishop’s Hiccups after their titular if not official leader, and now, half a century later and still pulling strings, known as the Shifty Fifty; felt that such a name, especially here on the fringes of where the Lincoln County Wars took place not all that long ago, didn’t send the kind of message they wanted for their community so the names of both were changed to Daylight, though it took almost 10 additional years to change the official name of the post office.

In the pre-dawn of this Wednesday morning the streets are mostly deserted as Tom Kelso rumbles through town long before most of its approximately 7000 citizens have slapped blindly at their alarm-clocks, but he doesn’t mind the early hour – well, he doesn’t mind it too much anyway.

Rolling out of his bed at 03:00 six mornings a week three mornings a week to run the Daylight Pass Railroad’s freight train either up or back down the mountain, doesn’t exactly top his list of favorite things, but having a steady, predictable call-out sure beats working the Southern Pacific’s first in, first out, pool out of El Paso with its wildly unpredictable call-times and mix of assignments and routes, including mainline trips that often resulted in outlawing at 16 hours out on some remote siding or other and having to lay over for 10 hours to become legal again, catching whatever accommodation, and food, might, or might not, be available while he waited out his time and could mark up on the board again.*

*If lucky he might “deadhead”, or ride company provided transportation, road or rail, to his next assignment. Lucky because, though the time spent doing so counted as rest even though it was often far from restful, it also, by union agreement, counted as paid time. But deadheading only happens if it suits the company’s needs, which isn’t very often.

No, compared to that schedule, which he worked for 16 of his 21 years* with the Southern Pacific, his regular assignment on the Daylight Pass freights, train #420 heading up the mountain every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday and #421 back down again on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday, is his dream job.

*His first 5 years with the SP was spent working yard turns, hard work, same boring scenery every day, and with low pay, as he built enough seniority to get on the road pool.

Sure, compared to working the Southern Pacific, (SP) the Daylight Pass (DP) route is short and the engines light, both of which lower his pay quite a bit, but he still takes home more than the average working stiff, more than enough to satisfy his modest needs, and now he has a routine to anchor his life on, more routine than he’s had most of his working career.  

So that’s why this morning, hours before most will make their first shuffling, snuffling, and scratching trip to the bathroom, he’s content to roll through the peace and quiet of the night as he drives the orderly, north-south, east-west grid of Daylight’s streets, occasionally cut through by one of the shallow, rock-lined dry-washes that handle (most) of the monsoon rain runoff coming down out of the mountains.

He’s soon out of town and with window down and elbow propped he drives through the overnight calm of the basin, headlights boring a hole through the dark as he transits a shrinking bit of desert scrub on the nicely paved road. The rumble of engine, and whine of tires keeps him from hearing the night-sounds, but there is, after the long basin summer, an unaccustomed hint of chill to the air and a bit of sweetness has been added to the usual earthy smells carried to him by the wind wiping and snapping at the open window. Just as the lights of Goat Creek Yard come into view he starts passing the looming shadows of commercial construction sites and partially built tract-houses that mark the burgeoning village, a bedroom community they’re starting to call it, of Goat Crossing.

Before Edward Bishop, who would eventually be majority owner and president of the Daylight Pass Railroad, bought the failing concern just after the turn of the century, Goat Crossing was a ranch with its headquarters perched on a flat above Goat Creek. There was just enough water and feed in the area to support goats through the winter, as long as they weren’t too thick on the ground and moved to the summer range in the hills above when the basin dried up under the intense summer sun, but the remoteness and the falling demand for goat-meat in favor of beef, which the parched land couldn’t support, eventually drove the Goat Crossing Ranch into selling everything cheap.

Though Edward was already planning on his railroad, at this point he was keeping that information to himself while he bought up properties along the route a few trusted, and highly supervised surveyors had mapped out. Knowing the potential value of his mostly speculative properties closer to Daylight, still called Gunsight back then, he bought the somewhat remote Goat Crossing Ranch because the ranch headquarters was sitting on the perfect location for his main yard and service areas. He didn’t necessarily want all the extra land that came with the sale, but it was a package deal.

Though highly successful, not everything Bishop did worked out the way he anticipated, and this was one of them. But in this case it was a good thing. After tearing down the ranch headquarters and building the Goad Crossing Yard in its place, for decades he held onto the surrounding land that came as part of a package deal with the sale of the ranch and did nothing with it, mostly because everyone, including him, thought it was pretty much worthless, but with the population of the area growing amid the post-war economic boom Edward’s son and successor found himself sitting on highly desirable land with easy access to Daylight.

Slightly modifying the business model his father had developed for Lincoln Holdings, the real-estate arm of the family businesses, Charles had platted out a township and was selling off residential lots to home developers while retaining ownership of the commercial land and leasing it for development as shopping, restaurant, and other service-type businesses.

But that is of little interest to Tom who is headed to the Goat Crossing Yard this morning because the only scheduled trains that run the full length of DP’s Daylight to Three Creeks route are the Expresses. Four a day, two of them originating at the joint Southern Pacific & Daylight Pass Depot in Daylight and terminating 65.3 miles away and nearly 4500 feet higher at the mining town of Three Creeks, the other two simultaneously running the reverse of that route, one up and downbound pair in the early morning and another in the early evening.  All the rest of the DP’s scheduled trains, the Ore Turn, Pipeline, and Freight, originate or terminate at the Goat Crossing Yard, 5 miles outside of Daylight.

 Overnight the busy switcher, a 2-6-0 mogul with a low tender for improved rearward visibility, in addition to assembling or breaking down the various consists at the Goat Crossing Yard, also does the transfer run to and from the SP interchange track near the Daylight depot at around midnight,* during which it handles any other freight switching necessary in and around Daylight, though there usually isn’t much since most of that business is handled by the Class-1 Southern Pacific Railroad with its connections to the rest of the country.

*Because every railroad has to pay per diem on any foreign car still on their property at midnight there is always a mad rush to get any outbound cars to the outbound interchange track, the other guy’s property, before midnight, and at the same time the other guy is shoving cars onto the inbound interchange to dump them on you. It’s like a game of tag being played for money.

Seven nights a week the overnight switcher also shuttles the ore loads, left at Goat Crossing late in the afternoon by the Downbound Ore Turn, through town to the Fresnel Processing plant on the north side, dragging empty ore jennys back to Goat Crossing for #310, the Upbound Ore, to haul back up to Three Creeks in the morning.

And three days a week the day switcher hauls the empty tank cars brought down the mountain by the Pipeline, over to the Bayley Fuels terminal, also on the north side of Daylight, dragging loaded tank cars back to the Goat Crossing yard to be made up into the Upbound Pipeline which departs just before midnight on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, hauling the fuel needed for the Six Peaks Power Plant up there in Three Creeks.

* Mon, Wed, Fri   **Tue, Thu, Sat

At the end of his pre-dawn drive Tom leaves his 16 year old Ford pickup, once forest-green, now faded to more of a pastel lime with hints of russet around the edges, in the crew parking lot among a mixture of vehicles belonging to other railroaders. Because railroading is not a 9-to-5 job there’s always a mixture of vehicles here in the lot.

The truck was brand new when they bought it and cost almost as much as the El Paso house he and Mary shared.  The austerity of the nearly decade long depression was only just starting to ease at the time, so spending the money was a risky extravagance, but everybody that read a paper or listened to the radio knew war was coming and had heard the speculation that war would mean no new vehicles, at least not for civilians. Given the amount of time he spent away from home Tom didn’t want to have to worry about Mary trying to cope with their already old and mechanically sketchy car for that long as she shuttled back and forth to her teaching job at the elementary school on those days when weather, or her health, always a little touchy, precluded riding her bike, so they splurged.

Over those 16 years he has changed the oil 48 times, rebuilt the engine once, and replaced the clutch twice. And he will grudgingly admit that at higher speeds her running-gear is feeling a little loose and wobbly and the shifter is getting sloppy, but buying a new one, like some have suggested, especially fellow crew members catching a ride with him back to Daylight after completing a run, is something he is in no rush to get around to. When they bought the truck it was the first new vehicle for both him and Mary; and in the case of Mary, her last; so the thought of replacing the old green rattle-trap felt – well, disloyal. Like breaking his vows somehow. After all, he’d already given away much of their shared belongings and sold the El Paso house when he made the move back here to Daylight, so parting with the truck too just doesn’t bear thinking about. Not yet anyway.

Walking into the crew lounge tucked like an afterthought at the end of a hallway in the yard office, Tom drops his carryall unceremoniously on the worn and cracked floor with a heavy thud.

Calling this dim and stuffy space something as lofty as a ‘lounge’ might be gilding the pig since in reality it’s a cramped room that, in addition to a new floor, could have done with a coat of fresh paint years ago.

All it has going for it is one well-stained door, especially around the knob where work grubbed hands, bare and gloved, have left their mark, one window that looks out across the RIP track to the blank side of the roundhouse and only opens or closes with a well-placed thump from the heel of a hand, a groaning fridge that for the past year sometimes rattles like something inside has panicked and is trying to get out until someone gets up and gives it a good whack on the left side, a half-dozen miss-matched chairs, most with padded seats that have had the stuffing pounded out of them, one scared table that, despite its looks, has proven to be up to the abuse of several butts plopping down on it at the same time, (Sometimes there’s more people than chairs in here.) and an old gas stove with the ever-present coffee pot gradually distilling the liquid inside down to bitter mud despite being set on the smallest burner which is turned down as low as it will go without going out. (And for some reason, there’s always been an empty blue-enameled double-boiler pot with a ladle stuck in it sitting on the other back burner that, in the three and a half years he has been using this lounge, Tom has never seen anybody use.) In other words, a typical railroad crew-lounge not much different from the ones he used during the SP years.

For the moment there is plenty of seating since the crew of the Upbound Ore have just left to go get their train ready for its 04:40 departure. They have, in addition to a haze of cigarette smoke, left behind Jake Mills and Dean Short, both slumped with not-yet-fully-awake immobility in chairs pushed up against a wall.  Jake and Dean are part of the Freight’s usual crew, Jake being the fireman and Dean the rear trainman. (The fact that the head trainman, Ronald King, hasn't joined the crew in the lounge is not unusual. Ronald prefers open spaces.) This crew have worked together for quite some time now, (In fluid world of railroaders that means anything over three months.) though on the first run of the week, Monday/Tuesday, and the last, Friday/Saturday one or more of the regular crew will occasionally take themselves off the board in order to get a three-day weekend. When that happened someone off the extra board will be called to fill in, but it is almost always the core crew together for the Wednesday/Thursday run.

Ignoring the burnt coffee (The battered stainless-steel Stanley in his carryall is filled with his own hastily brewed concoction. True, at best it would be considered only halfway decent coffee, but it sure beats the crap out of the stuff in the crew-lounge!) he pulls one of the chairs up to the table and it squawks harshly against the floor as his weight settles into it. He shoves a couple overflowing ashtrays, one still emitting a thin streamer of smoke, to the opposite side of the table then flips through the paperwork Harold Sneed, the graveyard dispatcher, bock-operator,  and crew clerk all rolled into one wrinkled old package, (Harold has to be at least 80!) had handed him as he signed-on in the crew book.

As is his routine, he first checks the engine assignment and sees they have 1428 today. One of the C-14 class 2-8-0 Consolidations that are predominate on the DP. To a former Class-1 railroader the C-14’s seem like tiny little play-things with their diminutive, almost-pick-it-up-and-put-it-in-your-pocket, 46” drivers and compact 21” diameter cylinders, but with the DP’s sharp curves and light rail anything larger tends to tear the road up.

A month ago, while heading up the Downbound Pipeline, this engine had a flue failure right at the rear flue sheet.  Though it doesn’t really matter where it failed because the result of any kind of flue failure, as opposed to the more common and tolerable flue leak, is a doused fire and smoke, soot, water, and steam roaring with a sound only God could match, not only out the stack, but around the gaps in the firebox doors and through the peephole above. The fireman bailed out while the engineer slammed the throttle closed and grabbed for the brake, trying to push it through service and into emergency, even though there is no emergency on the DP’s old Consolidations.

Being a relatively light consist running slow on the gentle downgrade between Cutoff and Rockhouse, it didn’t take the train long to squeal, scrape, groan, hiss, shudder, and slide to a stop. The fireman, probably a little embarrassed that he bailed so quickly on his engineer, though no one blamed him because every engineman, whether they admit it or not, is scared to death at the thought of being steamed alive by a boiler failure, had to run around the head-end and climb the right hand ladder to pry the engineer’s hand off the brass lever of the brake whereupon he threw him unceremoniously off the footplate and jumped down after him. After all, there was still steam and hot water snapping and clawing around the edges of the fire-doors like an angry badger.

The engineer, protected by his gauntlet-gloves and heavy denim overalls and jacket, had some minor burns on his left arm and slightly more serious but not life-threatening burns on the left side of his face, (He wasn’t a pretty man in the first place so no big deal.) but was bleeding, a lot, from where his head hit the sharp ballast when he couldn’t keep his feet under him after being thrown off his own train. The fireman, despite jumping from a moving train, had nothing more than a sprained shoulder, and that was probably from trying to throw the hefty engineer like a baseball in his haste to get back off the engine.

The conductor, who had run up the train to find out why his coffee pot had been thrown clear to the other end of the house-car, quickly sized up the situation and had the fireman run back around the head-end to shut off the fuel flow in case the fire wasn’t completely doused and grab some fusee’s and the lantern from his seatbox. By now the steam was almost exhausted so the angry badger was reduced to a little spitting and some minor hissing.

With flagging equipment in hand the fireman headed down the track to protect the head end. (The pipeline operates with a four-man crew, so there was no head-trainman to do the flagging.) The conductor also sent the rear-trainman (The DP doesn’t have flagmen, switchmen, and brakemen, they’re all rolled into the single job title of trainman.) back up the track to flag the rear, while he himself tied down the hand-brake on several of the cars because the air-brakes, though set quite tightly right now, could eventually bleed down and release on their own if they were stuck here too long.

Fortunately the Pipeline, with its string of tank cars, dangerous enough at any time but most volatile when empty such as on this downbound run, not only stayed on the track during the hard stop, but is also scheduled during the midnight hours which made it the only train on the line for the next 5 hours, so traffic wasn’t tangled up too bad as a relief engine dragging a tool-car and some machinists was sent up from Goat Crossing* to get the crippled train down the mountain. But that was only after the conductor, now convinced the bloody engineer wasn’t going to die on him, walked the nearly two miles back to Cutoff to have the station agent call down to let the dispatcher know what happened.

*During the heydays of the 20’s and 30’s there would have been at least one helper engine sitting at Big Timber, along with a section crew which would have been much closer, but these are not the heydays of the Daylight Pass Railroad.

In the days of the telegraph he used to be able to scramble up the nearest pole, or more likely, send a trainman up the nearest pole, to hook onto the wire alongside the tracks and use his portable key to send and receive messages, but today, the age of the modern phone, that isn’t possible, at least here on the DP where portable phones have not been issued yet. Progress isn’t always for the better!

By the time the relief engine had gotten to the site and the machinists had removed the main rods and disconnected the valve gear so the crippled engine could be drug down to Rockhouse and shoved out of the way into the old Bishop Summer Estate stub track, most of that 5 hours had been used up, leaving just enough time for the relief engine to race back up to the stranded string of tank cars and shove them back to Cutoff where they could be tucked out of the way of the first of the morning traffic.

At Cutoff the engine could also be turned on the Y to run pilot-first as it worked the train down through traffic to the Goat Crossing Yard. They arrived nearly 10 hours late and it was two more days before the crippled engine was brought down to Goat Creek where it has been in bay 4 of the roundhouse since. Or rather, up until this morning.

Since it’s back on the active roster clearly the roundhouse crew have fixed 1428’s flue issue and have her road-worthy again, which on the one hand is good because it’s not like the DP has a surplus of spare engines on its roster, but on the other hand, Tom intends to do a more careful inspection than usual before signing for the engine this morning.

Otis Mann, thier conductor, walks into the crew lounge lugging his own, crisp and gleaming leather carryall, which makes Toms canvas version look even more shapeless and battered by comparison.

In addition to his thermos, Tom’s carryall holds pretty much the same as what’s in Otis’. Copies of the DP rulebook and timetable, the Alco RS-3 ring-bound operator’s manual, (Otis probably doesn’t carry this.) flashlight with spare bulbs rubber-banded to its barrel, extra batteries for the flashlight, (Otis uses one of the signal lanterns carried in the house-car instead of a flashlight.) goggles, heavy gauntlet gloves, a handful of glad-hand O-rings, a small bottle of aspirin, a big bottle of Tums, two PB&J sandwiches – heavy on the PB – just in case, clean shirt, socks, and underwear.

Like Tom, Otis is another SP transplant, only he moved over to the DP from the faraway Sacramento Division so the two of them never worked the same trains together until the DP.

Since the war the SP has been seeing an exodus of railroaders. Much of that has to do with the attitude of the new president who has been hiring Yale business grads, who know nothing about railroading, to fill all the supervisory positions while making it clear that he considers train crews a necessary evil to be used up and squashed-n-tossed like cigarette butts. But for both Otis and Tom a contentious management wasn’t their primary reason for leaving.

Whereas Tom’s motivation in coming back home to Daylight three and a half years ago was to escape the memories and get his life moving again, Otis came to Daylight right after the war to be close to his grandkids whose father was now doing something secret out here in the desert for the Army, or maybe it’s the Air Force.

Otis is plenty old enough to retire, but enjoys working the trains, though he does often take himself off the board on Fridays and Saturdays to spend more of the weekend at home with family. And arthritis is making filling out his reports a chore lately. His signature, once bold and flowing, is now labored and cramped to the point where it embarrasses him.

But he always shows up for work in his crisp and distinctive conductor’s uniform, complete with white-shirt, blue tie, and gleaming brass ‘Conductor’ badge on the front of his freshly brushed hat, as if he was assigned to a named passenger train slicing across the country on Class-1 rails rather than a slow freight on the largely unknown Daylight Pass short-line.

He brings an air of respectability to the job not always seen since most the other crewmen on the DP, including conductors, wear coveralls and flannel shirts under heavy denim jackets, and after a few hours out on the road don’t look much different from the ‘bos that might also be riding the train if the DP went somewhere, which it really doesn’t.

Fortunately for both Otis and Tom, the pool of railroaders in the Daylight area is shrinking.

Despite railroads being considered critical to the war effort, exempting its workers from military service, the war lured many of the younger men away anyways. This gave them a taste of other parts, and when it, the war, was over not many of them came back here. This left a preponderance of older men running the railroad, men that are, since the urgency of war has long faded, looking to take their retirements. And even for the Class-1 roads let alone a short-line like the Daylight Pass, the golden age of railroading is a thing of the past and attracting new talent isn’t easy.

Because of this the DP has allowed both Otis and Tom to carry half of their SP seniority over to the Daylight Pass (And for Tom, all of the 4 years he initially worked at the DP as a young kid before switching over to the SP) rather than making them start all over again. Though it did create some resentment from those that suddenly found these newcomers higher on the seniority list than them, this doesn’t give them enough seniority to successfully bid on the best job, the Ore Turn, but it is enough to allow them to hold down the freight job. This keeps them off the extra board where they would be picking up a variety of runs here and there. Of course this also lets them avoid the low-paying Pipeline.*

*As a through-unit train with no stops or switching, the Pipeline only takes about 4 hours to complete each of its six nights a week run. Add in an hour of ‘on-duty’ time at either end of the run and that means it only pays about 72 hours every half (two weeks.) and almost never any overtime. On top of that, like the freight, which at least pays better, the Pipeline crew has to lay over in Three Creeks three nights (days) a week. For this reason the Pipeline doesn’t attract many regular crews is often crewed off the extra boards.

Otis scrapes a chair up next to Tom and they compare their paperwork. Their orders are simple, their warrant (authority to be on the track) is the timetable which sets departure times and meeting points. Next they check for slow-orders, scheduled track-work, or any other changes from the norm. Today there is the long-standing speed-restriction when crossing trestle 39.6,* plus a slow-order because of a track-gang clearing brush between Mile Posts 48 and 54.

*Features such as bridges, trestles, culverts and the like are identified by their mile-post position. On the Daylight Pass MP 0 is at the depot in Daylight and MP 65.3 is the end of the mainline in Three Creeks.

Next is the switch-list showing them were to leave the various cars they will be dragging up the mountain today. And finally the way-bills, one for each car that shows where the car came from, where it’s going, and its weight. They have a 3 X 3 consist today, three loads and three empties, an unusually heavy train but not unheard of.

For loads they have a flatcar with machinery for the small sawmill in Big Timber, a tankcar for the Bailey Fuels depot in Downhill, and a 40’ boxcar of assorted goods for the Coop Warehouse in Three Creeks. The empties are an insulated boxcar for the packing house at Appleford, a gon for the quarry track at Rockhouse, and an ore-jenny to drop for the Jackson Brother’s mine at Cutoff. They have no pickups today, not a big surprise since most pickups up there on the mountain are made by the Downbound Freight

Including the engine and the house-car they have a train of about 365 tons, which in Class-1 railroading terms doesn’t sound like much,* but the DP is not a Class-1 railroad. It is a short-line with an average grade of just over 1.5% and a killer of a maximum grade, a knuckle whitening 3.1% around Wild Woman Loop on Mesa Hill.

*In railroad-ese the question ‘how many M's?’ is asking how heavy a train is. An M is 1000 tons. On the Class 1’s, especially those with flat territories where keeping the cars moving is easier, it’s not unusual for a train to weigh in at 10 or more M’s, 10,000 tons. Here on the DP the heaviest train will be about 1.2Ms and today’s freight is just barely a third of an M!

In the construction years, 1907 through 1911, the DP, a standard gauge railroad, was built to narrow gauge standards with light rail spiked down without tie-plates on untreated ties resting on dirt, as it was shoved quickly up the mountain. Since those days the line has been upgraded significantly. Now the entire mainline rests on a proper roadbed topped with treated ties and the rail is mostly ballasted and spiked down through proper tie-plates. But the curves are sharp, the grades steep, and the rail is still light, 60 – 65 pounds (per yard of length) compared to the 100 – 110 pound rail of the Class-1’s.

On top of that their motive power is a 50 year old steamer weighting in at a measly 70 tons.* Tom has seen a photo of 1428 in the railroad’s main office across the street from the Daylight depot taken when it first arrived on the DP sitting in front of the original ore-loader up in Three Creeks. Back then it had a wooden cab, old, pointy ‘cow-catcher’ style pilot, a kerosene headlamp, slide-valves, and a small, switcher-style tender. Since then, not only has the ore-loader been replaced, (The original used to sit where the Six Peaks Power Plant is now.) but on the engine a larger air-compressor has been added, along with a steel cab, electric headlight, (With generator of course) the original slide-valve cylinder assemblies have been replaced with more efficient piston-valve versions, and a proper road tender with larger water and oil tanks has been tagged on her. But none of that makes the engine any more powerful.

*Railroad engines, using slippery steel wheels on slippery steel rail, rely on weight for traction. The heavier the engine the more tractive effort it can lay down. In comparison the Union Pacific’s Big Boys used to hump freights up Sherman Hill weigh in at 594 tons.

Fortunately they will be dropping two of the cars, one empty and one load, before taking on Mesa Hill. With the train cut down to 230 tons they have a fighting chance at pulling the steep grades of the hill, especially up through the Wild Woman Canyon section.

Included in Otis’s paperwork is the order that the overnight yard-crew placed the cars when they built the consist and he confirms that all three empties are at the rear, which is where they belong because trying to pull a train around the DP’s sharp curves, especially the rail-kinking 20° curve (About a 285’ radius) of the steep Wild Woman Loop, with empties ahead of loads is a receipt for pulling lightweight empties, held to the track by a puny little 1” flange, sideways right off the rails as they are stretched between the pulling of the engine in front and the tugging of loaded cars behind. Besides, if they have to make a quick stop with an empty ahead of loads, the empty could end up being squeezed out of the consist like a popped pimple. Even with the cars in the proper order, load and empties wise, Tom still isn’t too keen on having that loaded tank car tagging along right there behind his tender. He’d rather they put the more beguine boxcar destined for Three Rivers in there instead, giving him a little more distance from the volatile fuel in the tank car, but then he’s just the driver.

Finished with the paperwork Tom and Otis compare their watches, both set this morning to the clock above the dispatcher’s desk, the clock that rules the railroad, to make sure they agree before going their separate ways. Otis to visually verify the consist sitting on yard-track 3 with the paperwork in his hand, then find his house-car and make sure it’s stocked up and ready to go. And Tom to the ready-track with Jake, his fireman, to inspect 1428.