Monday, July 1, 2019

Downhill to Three Creeks: 17:51 – 18:29

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

October 20 1954: 17:51 – 18:29

With a train consisting of engine, boxcar, and house-car, weighing in at only 275 tons, the trip down the East Pass Grade is simple and without drama – well, almost without drama.

Before they leave Downhill Tom reminds Jake not to call Dean in.

Partly because he is being extra careful and partly because, regardless of what he gets up to, Dean is a member of their crew, Jake pulls extra-long when he whistles off, then is slow to start feeding steam.

Still, even he has to agree it’s pretty funny to see (well, in his case, over in the right-hand seat now, imagine.) Dean come flying out from behind the buildings to the north and hurdle clear over the tracks of the Baily spur with his jacket flying from one frantically pumping hand as he races desperately after his train with the crew unloading the boxcar cheering him on. Even the taciturn Ronald gets into the act, urging Jake to pull a little more throttle as Dean slowly gains on them.

Fortunately for Dean the tracks curve to the left as they head east out of Downhill and he is able to cut the corner, shortening the distance he has to run, but no sooner does he make a desperate, and successful, grab for the handrail on the rear vestibule of the house-car, does he have to drop right back off again to properly re-line the switch for the main after the house-car clears. Of course this means more running to catch back up to the receding train.

According to Otis Dean doesn’t even have the breath to cuss the rest of them out as he finally tumbles into the house-car and collapses on the floor, out the cost of one new Kroner because apparently he lost his hat in the rush in the rush.

Since, once they clear the switch on the east side of Downhill, the 9.5 miles from here to Three Creeks is all downhill Jake lets the engine coast. Tom gently reminds Jake to feed enough steam to prevent the cylinders from sucking air, and along with it dust and other grime, as the weight of the train nudges them down the hill.

As they clear the pass and make a long left-hand turn to the north, rounding  the shoulder of North Peak, which may be on the north side of the pass but is actually the southern-most peak of the basin,  the panorama of the Six Peaks Basin starts opening up before them.

First Milly’s Teat, the northern most peak of the east-facing basin, comes into view, it’s upper reaches just tipped by the last of the twilight, then shortly after that, from about 7 miles away, they can see the surprisingly reassuring lights of Three Creeks nestled there at the lower end of the basin.

Since they are coasting downhill Tom doesn’t have a whole lot to do as the fireman except keep an unobtrusive eye on Jake’s every move over there in the right-hand seat. Once the fire is set up near the top of the grade he barely has to touch it until they roll into Three Creeks.

He does use the injector to fill the sight-glass to the top. Normally he wouldn’t do this because with the engine tipped forward on the downgrade there’s more water in the boiler than the sight-glass shows, but about halfway down the grade he’s going to blow-down the boiler.

When they get to the right spot he does this by opening the blow-down valve located low on the fireman’s side of the boiler. With an almighty roar a stream of 375 degree water at 188 pounds of pressure blasts out of the boiler, most of it flashing into steam though some rains down trackside.

The water from Rockhouse is sweet, the water from Three Creeks isn’t too bad, but the water from Goat Crossing is another story. That water is filled with minerals. Minerals that eventually precipitate out in the harsh environment inside the boiler. Here on the DP the solution is to use the blow-down valve while coasting down the East Pass Grade on upbound trips and down the Big Timber to Appleford grade* on downbound trips to purge the minerals which have concentrated low in the boiler, especially when the engine isn’t working hard and stirring up the water.

*They used to do this on the grade between Appleford and Goat Crossing but because of the noise and mess of a boiler-blow-down it’s best done in a remote spot where it won’t affect people and lately that area is becoming more populated as highway access has allowed developers to sell off “ranchetts” along there.

With his hand on the valve-control Tom watches the sight-glass and when it gets down to the half-glass point he shuts the blow-down valve, abruptly cutting off the roar. With a half-glass of water he doesn’t need to add anymore to the boiler for the rest of the trip down to Three Creeks.

It helps, especially when going down Mesa Hill, that the top of the firebox, the vulnerable crown-sheet, is flat on these Consolidations rather than a barrel or curved crown that sticks up higher inside the boiler as these barrel topped fireboxes are more prone to ‘going dry’ by having no water covering them when running downhill.* If that happens, with boiler pressure pushing on one side and heat chewing at it from the other, the crown-sheet will eventually fail, blowing the engine, and crew, all over the countryside. Railroaders, with the same macabre humor solders, cops, and ambulance crews use to survive the nastier parts of the job, call this a ‘boiler ascension’.

*The bottom of the sight-glass is just above the level of the crown-sheet when the engine is sitting level, but with the engine steeply tilted there’s less water over the crown-sheet than indicated. You definitely never want the glass to go empty when the boiler is under pressure!

Jake controls their speed by giving the brakes a set of 8 pounds, releasing that when they slow on the flatter spots to about 10 MPH.  He is letting the retained boxcar hold them back while the train-line recharges, but clearly Jake is content to run the train a little slower than Tom would, only letting the train pick up speed to about 17 MPH, before setting the brakes again, but it’s Jake’s train so Tom just goes about his job as fireman and says nothing.

That last part, letting the train pick up speed while giving the trainline time to recharge, is where a hesitant, fidgety engineer tends to make too many applications too close together, dangerously depleting the air in the brake system. Tom is pleased to see that Jake has the nerve and patience to let the train-line recharge fully before pulling the next set on the brakes.

If his train handling in other situations is as good as this, if and when he decides to qualify as an engineer Tom is going to be comfortable giving his recommendation. You don’t stand on the left foot-plate for as many years as Jake has without learning something about handling the right hand seat, but not all firemen are cut out to be engineers.  But it looks like Jake is, and with a bit of seat time to fine tune what he’s learned, he will soon be ready to become a hogger. 

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