GETTING READY FOR THE ROAD.
RUNNING FREIGHT TRAINS.
By far the greater proportion of American locomotive
engineers are employed on freight service. On most roads, the
freight engines constitute from seventy-five to ninety per cent
of the whole locomotive equipment. On this kind of service, locomotive
engineers learn their business by years of hard practice in getting
trains over the road as nearly as possible on time. On the best
of roads, there is much hardship to be undergone, working ahead
through every discouragement of bad weather or hard-steaming engines.
The man who brings the most energy, good sense, and perseverance
to his aid, will come out most successfully above these difficulties.
Every department of locomotive engine running has difficulties
peculiar to itself. Every kind of train needs to be handled understandingly,
to show the best results; but, I think, getting a heavy fast freight
train on time, over a hilly road, having a single track, requires
the highest degree of locomotive engineering skill. Therefore,
I have selected that form of train as the first subject of description.
The engine that takes the train over the road weighs 35 tons,
and has 1,100 square feet of heating-surface for generating steam
for cylinders 17 by 24 inches, which, through the pistons, transmit
power to wheels 60 inches diameter. The engine is an ordinary
eight-wheeled bituminous coal-burning American type of locomotive,
built by one of our best makers, and well adapted for pulling
any kind of train over a Western railroad.
This consists of 20 loaded cars, making an aggregate
weight of 450 tons.
The physical character of the country, which is rolling
prairie, makes the road undulatory, up hill, then down
grade, with occasional stretches of level track. Some of the gradients
rise to sixty feet to the mile, extending over two miles without
sagging a foot. Sound. steel rails, well tied, are supported by
a graveled road-bed, making an excellent track, and presenting
a good opportunity for fast running where high speed is needed.
The train is run on card-time, stopping about every twelve miles.
Like all other Western roads, the stations are unprotected by
signals; and the safety of trains is secured mostly by vigilance
on the part of the engineer and other train-men.
When the engineer gets the signal to go, he drops the
reverse lever into the full forward notch, gives the engine steam
gently, with due care to avoid breaking couplings, and pulls the
sand-lever. A slight sprinkling of sand only is dropped on the
rails, which keeps the engine from slipping while getting the
train under way. A clear, level fire is burning over the grates
before the start is made, and this suffices till the most crowded
switches are passed: so, when the signal to start is given, the
fireman closes the fire-door, and opens the damper; these duties
not preventing him from keeping lookout for signals.
HOOKING BACK THE LINKS.
As the engine gets the train into motion, the engineer
gradually hooks up the links. This is not done by a sudden jerk
as soon as the engine will move, with the steam cutting off short.
He waits for that till the train is well under the control of
the engine, hooking up gradually. Some men think that it is best
to get the valves up to short travel as soon as possible, without
reflecting that it is better for the motion to let the engine
be going freely before hooking up short. I have often seen men
coming into terminal stations with a heavy fire and the safety-valves
blowing, and the engine toiling slowly along with the links hooked
up to eight inches cut. In cases of this kind, a runner may better
work the engine well down, so that the valve will travel freely
over the seat. By doing so when the engine is working slow and
heavy, there will be less wear to the valves, and less danger
of breaking a valve yoke. It is only in cases where there is an
advantage in saving steam, that benefit is derived from working
the engine close hooked back. There is a right time for all things,
and working steam expansively is no exception to the rule.
WORKING THE STEAM EXPANSIVELY.
At the right time, our engineer gets the reverse lever
notched up; for he knows, that to obtain the greatest amount of
work out of the engine, with the least possible expenditure of
fuel, the links must be hooked back as far as can be done consistently
with making the required speed. Some engines will not steam freely
when run close back if they are burning coal that needs a strong
draught. This is the exception, however, and most engines will
steam best in this position; and many of those that fail to steam
well cutting off short are not properly fired, or the draught
appliances need adjusting. Most firemen who run with a heavy fire
fail worst with engines that steam indifferently when hooked up.
Engineers should give this their attention, and do every thing
possible to make the engine steam while working with the lever
as near the center notch as can be done while handling the train.
ADVANTAGE OF CUTTING OFF SHORT.
When the links are notched close towards the center,
the travel of the valves is so short that they close the steam-ports
shortly after the beginning of the stroke, at six, nine, or twelve
inches of the pistons travel, as the case may be, permitting
the steam to push the piston along the remainder of the stroke
by its expansive power. Steam at a high pressure is as full of
potential energy as a compressed spiral spring, and is equally
ready to stretch itself out when the closing of the port imprisons
it inside the cylinder; and, by this act of expanding, it exerts
immense useful energy, which would escape into the smoke-stack
unutilized if the cylinders were left in communication with the
boiler till the release took place. Suppose, for instance, that
a boiler pressure of ten tons is exerted upon the piston from
the beginning to the middle of the stroke, and is then cut off.
During the remainder of the stroke, the steam will continue to
press upon the piston with a regularly diminishing force, till,
at the end of the stroke, if release does not take place earlier,
it will still have a pressure of five tons. The work performed
by the steam during the latter part of the stroke is pure gain,
due to its expansive principle. If the steam is cut off earlier,
at a third or fourth of the piston travel, the gain will be correspondingly
great. With the slide-valve link-motion used on locomotives, the
steam can not be held to the end of the stroke; but the principle
of expansion holds good during the period the steam is held in
the cylinders after the cut-off.
The observing engineer of any experience does not require to
have the advantages of working his engine expansively impressed
upon his attention. His fuel record has done that more eloquently
than pen can write.
BOILER PRESSURE BEST FOR ECONOMICAL WORKING.
There is a close and constant relation between the
boiler pressure carried, and the useful work obtained from expansion
of steam. The higher the pressure, the greater elasticity the
steam possesses. The tendency of modern steam engineering is,
to employ intensely high boiler pressure, expanding the steam
by means of excellent valve-gear in steam-jacketed cylinders,
so that it is reduced to low tension before escaping into the
atmosphere, or into the condenser, as the case may be. Wonderfully
economical results have been obtained in this manner, results
which can never be approached in locomotive practice while the
ordinary slide-valve is used. But, while we can not hope to rival
the record of high-class automatic cut-off engines, their methods
can teach us useful lessons.
It is advisable to keep the steam constantly close to the blowing-off
point. During a days trip, considerably less water will
be evaporated when a tension of 140 pounds
is carried, than will be required with a pressure of 100 pounds
or under. And, where less water is evaporated, a smaller quantity
of fuel will be consumed in doing the work. Running with a low
head of steam is a wasteful practice, for several good reasons.
The comparatively light pressure upon the surface of the water
allows the steam to pass over damp, or mixed with a light watery
spray, which diminishes its energy; since the wet steam contains
less expansive medium than dry steam. It requires nearly the same
expenditure of fuel to evaporate water at the pressure of the
atmosphere alone, that it does to make steam at the higher working
tensions: consequently, the work obtained by the expansion of
the high-pressed steam is clear gain over the results to be obtained
by working at a low pressure. This is a very important principle
in economical steam engineering. Engineers who are accustomed
to making long runs between water-tanks, when every gallon is
needed to carry them through, know that their sure method of getting
over the dry division successfully, is to carry steam close to
the popping point, pull the throttle wide open, hug the links
close to the center, and see that no loss occurs through the safety-valves.
RUNNING WITH LOW STEAM.
There are engineers who habitually carry merely sufficient
steam to get them along on time, under the mistaken belief that
they are working economically. John Brown runs steadily, and takes
as good care of his engine as any man on the A. & B. road;
but he dislikes to hear the steam escaping from the safety-valves,
and prevents it from doing so by habitually using steam thirty
pounds below the blowing-pressure. The consequence is, that he
always makes a bad record on the coal-list, compared with the
other passenger men.
In the interest of economy, the throttle-lever should
be kept wide open when practicable, and the speed regulated by
the reverse-lever. Experiments with the indicator have demonstrated
beyond a doubt, that running with the throttle-valve partly closed,
wire-draws the steam before it reaches the cylinders, whereby
the initial pressure is materially reduced, and its power for
expansive work seriously diminished.
MANAGEMENT OF THE FIRE.
The engine has moved only a few rods from the depot
when the steam shows indications of blowing off; and then the
fireman sets to work, not to pile a heap of coal indiscriminately
into the fire-box. That is the style of the dunce whose natural
avocation is grubbing stumps. Ours is a model train, and a model
fireman furnishes the power to keep it going. He throws in four
or five shovelfuls at each firing, scattering the coal along the
sides of the fire-box, shooting a shower close to the flue-sheet,
and dropping the required quantity under the door. With the quick
intuition of a man thoroughly master of his business, our model
fireman perceives at a glance, on opening the door, where the
thinnest spots are; and they are promptly bedded over. The glowing,
incandescent mass of fire, which shines with a blinding light
that rivals the suns rays, dazzles the eyes of the novice,
who sees in the fire-box only a chaotic gleam; but the experienced
fireman looks into the resplendent glare, and reads its needs
or its perfections. The fire is maintained nearly level; but the
coal is supplied so that the sides and corners are well filled,
for there the liability to drawing air is most imminent. With
this system closely followed, there is no difficulty experienced
in keeping up a steady head of steam. But constant attention must
be bestowed upon his work by the fireman. From the time he reaches
the engine, until the hostler takes charge at the end of the journey,
he attends to his work, and to that alone; and by this means be
has earned the reputation of being one of the best firemen on
the road. His rule is, to keep the fire up equal to the work the
engine has to do, never letting it run low before being replenished,
never throwing in more coal than the keeping up of steam calls
for. The coal is broken up moderately fine, a full supply being
prepared before the fire-door is opened; and every shovelful is scattered in a thin shower over the fire,
never pitched down on one spot. Some men never acquire the
art of scattering the coal as it leaves the shovel: and, as a
result, they never succeed in making an engine steam regularly.
Their fire consists of a series of coal-heaps. Under these heaps,
clinkers are prematurely formed; and between them spaces are created,
through which cold air comes, and rushes straight for the flues,
without assimilating with the gases of combustion, as every breath
of air which enters the fire-box ought to do.
CONDITIONS THAT DEMAND GOOD FIRING.
Roads that are hilly require far more skillful management
to get a train along than is called for on level roads, and the
greater part of the extra dexterity is needed from the fireman.
To get a heavy train up a steep hill, it is generally run at a
high speed before reaching the grade, so that the momentum of
the train can be utilized in climbing the ascent. Running for
a hill is a particularly trying time on the fireman; for the engine
is rushing at a high speed, and often working heavily. This ordeal
must be prepared for in advance, by having the fire well made
up, and kept at its heaviest by frequent firing. When the engine
gets right on to the grade, toiling up with decreasing speed,
every pound of steam is needed to save doubling, and steady watchfulness
is required to prevent a relapse of steam; but the danger of the
engine "turning" the fire is not nearly so great as
it was when running fast for the hill.
HIGHEST TYPE OF FIREMAN.
The highest type of fireman is one, who, with the smallest
quantity of fuel, can keep up a good head of steam without wasting
any by the safety-valves. He endeavors to strike this mean of
success by keeping an even fire; but it sometimes happens, that
the closest care will not prevent the steam from showing indications
of blowing off. When this is the case, he keeps it back by closing
the dampers, or, if that is not sufficient, opens the door a few
inches. Immense harm is done to flues and fire-boxes by injudicious
SCIENTIFIC METHODS OF GOOD FIREMEN.
It is not necessary that a man should be deeply read
in natural philosophy, to understand intimately what are actually
the scientific laws of the business of firing. Mr. Lothian Bell,
the eminent metallurgist, somewhere expresses high admiration
for the exact scientific methods attained in their work by illiterate
puddlers. Although they knew nothing about chemical combinations
or processes, they manipulated the molten mass so that, with the
least possible labor, the iron was separated from its impurities.
In a similar way, firemen skillful in their calling have, by a
process of induction, learned the fundamental principles of heat-development.
By experiments, carefully made, they perceive how the greatest
head of steam can be kept up with the smallest cargo of coal;
and they push their perceptions into daily practice.
If an accomplished scientist were to ride on the engine, observing
the operations of a first-class fireman, he would find that nearly
all the carbon of the coal combined with its natural quantity
of oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, thereby giving forth its
greatest heat-power; and that the hydro-carbons, the volatile
gases of the coal, performed their share of calorific duty by
burning with an intensely hot flame. He would find that these
hydro-carbon gases, although productive of high-power duty when
properly consumed, were ticklish to manage just right, for they
would pass through the flues without producing flame if they were
not fully supplied with air; and, if the supply of air were too
liberal, it would reduce the temperature of the fire-box below
the igniting-point for these gases, which is higher than red-hot
iron, and they would then escape in the form of worthless smoke.
Our model fireman manages to consume these gases as thoroughly
as they can be consumed in a locomotive fire-box.
THE MEDIUM FIREMAN.
John Barton is considered a first-class fireman by
some men. He works hard to keep up steam, and is never satisfied
unless the safety valves are screaming. He carries a heavy fire
all the time; and, when the pop-valves rise, he pulls the door
open till they subside, gets in a few shovelfuls more coal, closes
the door till the steam blows off again, and repeats the operation
of throwing open the door. This man has learned only the half
of his business. He has got through his head how to keep up steam,
but be has not acquired the more delicate operation of keeping
it down wisely and well. Training with an intelligent engineer
anxious to make a good fuel-record, will, in a few months, improve
Barton wonderfully. Barton is the medium fireman.
THE HOPELESSLY BAD FIREMAN.
Behind him comes Tom Jackson, the man of indiscriminately
heavy firing. Toms sole aim is to get over the road with
the least possible expenditure of personal exertion. He tumbles
in a fire as if he were loading a wagon, the size of the door
being his sole gauge for the lumps. When the fire-box is filled
to the neighborhood of the door, he climbs up on the seat, and
reclines there till the steam begins to go back through drawing
air: then he gets down again, and repeats the filling-up process,
intent only on getting upon the seat-box with as little delay
as possible. His firing is regulated by the appearance of the
smoke issuing from the stack. So long as it continues of murky
blackness, he reclines in happiness: when the first streaks of
transparency appear in the smoke, he becomes unhappy, but gets
up, and suppresses smoke-consumption by smothering the flames
with green coal. If by any chance the engine steams so freely
that the safety-valves blow, the door is jerked wide open, and
kept there till she cools down. So the round goes. A hot, scorching
fire, which heats the sheets and flues to their highest temperature,
is continually being interrupted by the sudden cooling from a
heavy load of damp coal, or a chilling current of cold air. No
wonder, that, with such treatment, leaky flues, weeping stay-bolts,
and pouring mud-rings, make their own protests, often reiterated
on the pages of round-house work-books.
WHO IS TO BLAME FOR BAD FIRING?
The destruction inflicted upon the heating-surface
of locomotives by the changes of temperature due to bad firing,
should be charged to the engineer. The fireman commits the havoc,
but the engineer is more to blame for allowing it to be done.
Engineers often permit firemen to do their work badly rather than
have words about it. But this is mistaken policy. A little firmness
in the start will convince the worst of firemen that they must
strive to fire properly, or quit; and a man who is indisposed
to do his work well, deserves his walking-papers without delay.
There is no kindness in retaining a hopelessly bad fireman on
an engine. As a fireman, he is a continual loss to his employers;
he is no credit to his fellow-workmen; and if, by the mistaken
forbearance of engineers, he ever reaches the right-hand side,
he will be a reproach to the engineering fraternity.
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