HOW LOCOMOTIVE ENGINEERS ARE MADE.
RELIABLE MEN NEEDED TO RUN LOCOMOTIVES.
LOCOMOTIVE engine running is one of the most modern
of trades, consequently its acquirement has not been controlled
by the exact methods associated with ancient guild apprenticeships.
Nevertheless, graduates to this business do not take charge of
the iron horse without the full meed of experience and skill requisite
for performing their duties successfully. The man who runs a locomotive
engine on our crowded railroads has so much valuable property,
directly and indirectly, under his care, so much of life and limb
depending upon his skill and ability, that railroad companies
are not likely to intrust the position to those with a suspicion
of incompetency resting upon them.
DIFFICULTIES OF RUNNING LOCOMOTIVES AT
NIGHT, AND DURING BAD WEATHER.
In the matter of speed alone, there is much to learn
before a man can safely run a locomotive. During daylight a novice
will generally be half out in estimating speed; and his judgment
is merely wild guess-work, regulated more by the condition of
the track than by the velocity his train is reaching. On a smooth
piece of track, he thinks he is making twenty-five miles an hour,
when forty miles is about the correct speed: then he strikes a
rough portion of the road-bed, and concludes he is tearing along
at thirty miles an hour, when he is scarcely reaching twenty miles;
since the first lurchy spot made him shut off twenty per cent
of the steam. At night the case is much worse, especially when
the weather proves unfavorable. On a wild, stormy night, the accumulated
experience of years on the footboard, which trains a man to judge
of speed by sound of the revolving-wheels, and to locate his position
between stations from a tree, a shrub, a protruding bank, or any
other trifling object that would pass unnoticed by a less cultivated
eye, is all needed to aid an engineer in working along with unvaried
speed without jolt or tumult. On such a night, a man strange to
the business can not work a locomotive, and exercise proper control
over its movements. He may place the reverse lever-latch in a
certain notch, and keep the steam on; he can regulate the pump
after a fashion, and watch that the water shall not get too low
in the boiler; he can shut off in good season while approaching
stations, and blunder into each depot by repeatedly applying steam;
but he exerts no control over the train, knows nothing of what
the engine is doing, and is constantly liable to break the train
in two. A diagram of his speed would fluctuate as irregularly
as the profile lines of a bluffy country. This is where a machinists
skill does not apply to locomotive-running until it is supplemented
by an intimate knowledge of speed, of facility at handling a train,
and keeping the couplings intact, and of insight into the best
methods of economizing steam. These are essentials which every
man should possess before he is put in charge of a locomotive
on the road. The great fund of practical knowledge which stamps
the first-class engineer, is amassed by general labor during years
of vigilant observation on the footboard, amidst many changes
of fair and foul weather.
As passing through the occupation of fireman was the only way
men could obtain practical knowledge of engine-running before
taking charge, railroad officials all over the world gradually
fell into the way of regarding that as the proper channel for
men to traverse before reaching the right-hand side of the locomotive.
KIND OF MEN TO BE CHOSEN AS FIREMEN.
As the pay for firemen rules moderately good, even
when compared with other skilled labor; and as the higher position
of engineer looms like a beacon not far ahead, there is always
a liberal choice of good men to begin work as firemen. Most railroad
companies recognize the importance of exercising judgment and
discretion in selecting the men who are to run as their future
engineers. Sobriety, industry, and intelligence are essential
attributes in a fireman who is going to prove a success in his
calling. Lack in any one of these qualities will quickly prove
fatal to a firemans prospects of advancement Sobriety is
of the first importance, because a man who is not strictly temperate
should not be tolerated for a moment about a locomotive, since
he is a source of danger to himself and others; industry is needed
to lighten the burden of a firemans duties, for oftentimes
they are arduous beyond the I conception of strangers; and wanting
in the third quality, intelligence, a man can never be a good
man in the wide sense of the word, since one deficient in mental
tact never rises higher than a human machine. An intelligent fireman
may be ignorant of the scientific nomenclature relating to combustion,
but he will perfectly familiar with all the practical phenomena
connected with the economical generation of steam. Such a man
does not imagine that he has reached the limit of locomotive knowledge
when he understands how to keep an engine hot, and can shine up
the jacket. Every trip reveals something new about his art, every
day opens his vision to strange facts about the wonderful machine
he is learning to manage. And so, week by week, he goes on his
way, attending cheerfully to his duties, and accumulating the
knowledge that will eventually make him a first-class locomotive
A youth entirely unacquainted with all the operations
which a fireman is called upon to perform, find the first trip
a terribly arduous ordeal, even with some previous experience
of railroad work. When his first trip introduces him to the locomotive
and to railroad life at the same time, the day is certain to be
a record of personal tribulation. To ride for ten or twelve hours
on an engine for the first time, standing on ones feet and
subject to the shaking motion, is intensely tiresome, even if
a man has no work to do. But when he has to ride during that
period, and in addition has to shovel six or eight tons of coal,
most of which has to be handled twice, the job proves no sinecure.
Then, the posture of his body while doing work is new; he is expected
and required to pitch coal upon certain exact spots, through a
small door, while the engine is swinging about so that he can
scarcely keep his feet; his hands get blistered with the shovel,
and his eyes grow dazzled from the resplendent light of the fire.
Then come the additional side duties of taking water, shaking
the grates, cleaning the ash-pan, or even the fire, where bad
coal is used, filling oil-cans, and trimming lamps, to say nothing
of polishing and keeping things clean and tidy. By the time all
these duties are attended to, the young fireman does not find
a great deal of leisure to admire the passing scenery.
POPULAR MISCONCEPTION OF A FIREMANS
A great many idle young fellows, ignorant of railroad
affairs, imagine that a firemans principal work consists
in ringing the bell, and showing himself off conspicuously in
coming into stations. They look upon the business as being of
the heroic kind, and strive to get taken on as firemen. If a youth
of this kind happens to succeed, and starts out on a run of one
hundred and fifty miles with every car a heavy engine will pull
stuck on behind, his visions of having reached something easy
are quickly dispelled.
Like nearly every other occupation, that of fireman has its
drawbacks to counterbalance its advantages; and the drawbacks
weigh heaviest during the first ten days. The man who enters the
business under the delusion that he can lead a life of semi-idleness
must change his views, or be will prove a failure. The man who
becomes a fireman with a spirit ready and willing to overcome
all difficulties, with a cheerful determination to do his duty
with all his might, is certain of success; and to such a man the
work becomes easy after a few weeks practice.
LEARNING FIREMENS DUTIES.
Practice, combined with intelligent observation, gradually
makes a man familiar with the best styles of firing, as adapted
to all varieties of engines; and gets to understand intimately
all the qualities of coal to be met with, good, bad, and indifferent.
As experience widens, his fire management is regulated accord
with the kind of coal on hand, the steam properties of the engine,
the weight of the train, the character of the road and of the
weather. Firing, with all the details connected with it, is the
central figure of his work, the object of pre-eminent concern;
but a good man does not allow this to prevent him from attending
regularly and exactly to his remaining routing duties.
A GOOD FIREMAN MAKES A GOOD ENGINEER.
There is a familiar adage among railroad men, that
good fireman is certain to make a good engineer; and it rarely
fails to come out true. To hear some fireman of three months
standing talk, a stranger might conclude that they knew more about
engine running than the oldest engineer in the district. These
are not the good firemen. Good firemen learn their own business
with the humility born of earnestness and they do no undertake
to instruct others in matters beyond their own knowledge. It is
the man who goes into the heart of a subject, who understands
how much there is to learn, and is therefore modest in parading
his own acquirements, that succeeds.
LEARNING AN ENGINEERS DUTIES.
When a fireman has mastered his duties sufficiently
to keep them going smoothly, he begins to find time for watching
the operations of the engineer. He notes how the boiler is fed;
and, upon his knowledge of the engineers practice in this
respect, much of his firing is regulated. The different methods
of using the steam by engineers, so that trains can be taken over
the road with the least expenditure of coal, are engraven upon
the memory of the observant fireman. Many of the acquirements
which commend a good fireman for promotion are learned by imperceptible
degrees, the knowledge of speed, for instance, which enables
a man to tell how fast a train is running on all kinds of track,
and under all conditions of weather. There would be no use in
one strange to train service going out for a few runs to learn
speed. He might learn nearly all other requisites of engine running
before he was able to judge within ten miles of how fast the train
was going under adverse circumstances. The same may be said of
the sound which indicates how an engine is working. It requires
an experienced ear to detect the false note which indicates that
something is wrong. Amidst the mingled sounds produced by an engine
and train hammering over a steel track, the novice hears nothing
but a medley of confused noises, strange and meaningless as are
the harmonies of an opera to an untutored savage. But the trained
ear of an engineer can distinguish a strange sound amidst all
the tumult of thundering exhaust, screaming steam, and clashing
steel, as readily as an accomplished musician can a false note
in a many-voiced chorus. Upon this ability to detect growing defects
which pave the way to disaster, depends much of an engineers
chances of success in his calling. This kind of skill is not obtained
few weeks industry: it is the gradual accumulation months
and years of patient labor.
LEARNING TO KEEP THE LOCOMOTIVE IN RUNNING-ORDER.
As his acquaintance with the handling and ordinary
working of the locomotive extends, the aspiring man learns all
about the packing of glands, and they should be kept so as to
run to the best advantage: he displays an active interest in every
thing relating to lubrication, from the packing of a box-cellar
to the regulating of a rod-cup. When the engineer is round keying
up rods, or doing other necessary work about his engine, the ambitious
fireman should give a helping hand, and thereby become familiar
with the operations that are likely to be of service when he is
required draw upon his own resources for doing the same work.
Of late years the art of locomotive construction been so highly
developed, the amount of strain and shocks to which each working-part
is subjected has been so well calculated and provided against,
that breakages are really very rare on roads where the motive-power
is kept in first-class condition. Consequently, firemen gain comparatively
small insight on the road, into the best and quickest methods
of disconnecting engines, or of fixing up mishaps promptly, so
that a train, may not be delayed longer than is absolutely necessary.
A fireman must get this information beyond the daily routine of
his experience. He must search for the knowledge among those competent
to give it. Persistent inquiry among the men posted on these matters;
observation amidst machine-shop and round-house operations; and
careful study of locomotive construction, so that a clear insight
into the physiology of the machine may be obtained, will
prepare one to meet accidents, armed with the knowledge which
vanquishes all difficulties. Reflecting on probable or possible
mishaps, and calculating what is best to be done under all contingencies
that can be conceived, prepare to act promptly when a breakdown
METHODS OF PROMOTION ON OUR LEADING ROADS.
In the method of promotion of firemen, considerable
diversity of practice is followed by the different railroads.
On certain roads, with well-established business and little fluctuation
of traffic, firemen begin work on switch engines, and are promoted
by seniority, or by selection through the various grades
of freight trains, thence to passenger service, from whence they
emerge as incipient engineers. A more common practice, and one
almost invariably followed in the West, is for firemen to begin
as extra men, in place of firemen who are sick or lying off. From
firing extra, they get advanced, if found competent and deserving,
to regular engines. Then, step by step, they go ahead to the best
paying runs, till their turn for being "set up" comes
round. Passenger engines are not fired by any but experienced
men, but the oldest firemen do not always claim passenger-runs.
For learning the business of engine-running, freight service is
considered most valuable; and ambitious firemen prefer the hard
work of a freight engine on this account.
NATURE OF EXAMINATION TO BE PASSED.
When a fireman has obtained the experience that recommends
him for promotion, on nearly all well-regulated roads he is subjected
to some form of examination before being put in charge of an engine.
In some cases this examination is quite thorough. The tendency
to require firemen to pass such an ordeal is extending, and its
beneficial effect upon the men is unquestioned. The usual form
of examination is, for officers connected with the locomotive
department to question the candidate for promotion on matters
relating to the management of the locomotive, and how he would
proceed in the event of certain mishaps befalling the engine.
Parties belonging to the traffic department propound questions
relating to road-rules, train-rights understanding of time-card,
and so on.
A common practice among progressive railroad companies is to
subject their firemen to an examination, with questions and answers
similar to those given Chapter XXVII of this book. The questions
and answers are given to show to the candidate for promotion the
scope of knowledge he is expected to possess. The prevailing practice
in carrying on the examination is to vary the questions enough
to find out that the fireman has not merely committed the words
of the answer to memory without understanding the subject. A careful
study of this book will give a candidate for promotion good sound
knowledge of all the questions that will be asked, and will enable
him to prove to the examiners that his acquaintance with the working
of the locomotive is sufficient for dealing with all difficulties
likely to arise.
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