THERE is something pathetic in the spectacle of a noble locomotive, whose speed capabilities are so wonderful, lying with its wheels in the air, or sunk to the hubs in mud or gravel. Kindred sights are, a ship thrown high and dry upon the beach, away from the element that gives it power and beauty; or a monster whale, the leviathan of the deep, lying stranded and helpless upon the shore.

Few engineers have run many years without getting their engine off the track in some way, — over the ends of switches by jumping bad track, or getting into the ditch through some serious accident, collision or otherwise. Most of them have felt that shock of the engine thumping over the ties, and momentarily wondered in what position it was going to stop; doing all in their power, meanwhile, to stop, and prevent damage.

Of course, an engineer's first duty is to conduct his engine in a way that will avoid accident so far as human foresight can aid in doing so; but, when an accident is inevitable, his next duty is to use every exertion towards reducing its severity. The most common form of serious accident occurring on our railroads is a collision. Rear-end collisions occur most frequently, although head-to-head collisions annually claim many victims. When an accident of this kind is impending, the engineer generally has but a few seconds of warning; but these brief seconds well utilized often save many lives, and impress the principal actor with the stamp of true heroism. Rounding a curve at a high speed, an engineer perceives another train approaching. Quick as thought he shuts off steam, applies the brake, reverses the engine, and opens the sand-valves and the throttle. This will take about ten seconds time; and, if the engine is running thirty miles an hour, the train will pass over forty-four feet each second. Assuming that no reduction of speed has taken place till all the appliances for stopping are in operation, four hundred and forty feet will be passed over as a preliminary to stopping. With the automatic Westinghouse brake, application and retarding power are almost simultaneous. Until he has applied all means of reducing speed, an engineer rarely or never consults his own safety, however certain death may be staring him in the face. But after the brakes are known to be doing their work, aided by sanded rails, and steam working against the piston, personal safety is considered. A glance at the position of the two trains tells if they are coming violently together; and the engineer jumps off, or remains on the engine, as he deems best. This applies to trains equipped with continuous brakes.

With freight trains where the means of stopping are not immediately under the hand of the engineer, he must call for brakes on the first indication of danger, and do all that a reversed engine can achieve to aid in stopping the train. Where a driver brake is used, the engineer will have to watch the reversed engine; because the wheels will soon begin sliding, even on thick sand, and their retarding power will be seriously diminished. To prevent this, the engineer should let off the driver brake, and open the cylinder-cocks, till the wheels begin to revolve, when the brake may be applied again. Working and watching in this way greatly assist in stopping a train, and preventing the flattening of wheels.

Should the engine get into the ditch, the engineer's first duty is to save the engine from getting burned, unless saving of life, or protecting the train, demands his attention. If the engine is in a position where the flues or fire-box crown will be left without water, the fire should be quenched as quickly as possible. Sand or gravel thrown over the fire, and then saturated with water, is a good and prompt way of extinguishing the fire.

It can be understood in a few minutes after derailment whether or not the engine can be put back on the track without assistance. Sometimes a pull from another engine is all that is required: again, nothing can be done without the aid of heavy tools to raise it up. In this case, no time should be lost in sending for the wrecking outfit. It often happens that an engine gets off the track while switching among sidings, and sinks down in the road-bed so as to be helpless. In an event of this kind, jacking up a few inches will often enable the engine to work back to the rails. Before beginning to hoist with the screw-jacks, some labor can generally be saved by putting pieces of iron between the bottom of the driving-boxes and the pedestal-braces. As the wheels begin to rise out of the gravel, pieces of plank or wooden wedges should be driven under them to hold good every inch raised. Where the attempt is made to work an engine on the rails by means of wrecking-frogs, wooden filling should be laid down crosswise to prevent the wheels from sinking between the ties, should they slip off the frogs. Where jacking up has to be resorted to, there is often difficulty experienced in getting up the engine-truck; as raising the frame usually leaves the truck behind in the mire. The best plan is, to jack up the front of the engine to the desired level, then with a rail well manned pry up the truck, and hold it in position by driving shims under the wheels. An engine will generally go on the rails easiest the way it comes off.

When a derailed engine is being pulled on the track by another engine, the work should be done carefully, and with proper deliberation. When every thing is made ready for a pull, some men act as if the best plan was to start both engines off with full throttle; and this often leaves the situation worse than it was at first. When truck-wheels stand at an angle to the track, it is often necessary to jerk them in line by attaching a chain or rope to one side. A wrecking-frog should be laid in front of the wheel outside the rail, and blocking before the inside wheel, sufficient to raise the tread of the wheel above the level of the rail. Then move ahead slowly, and the chances are that the wheels will go on the rails. Sometimes the easiest way is to open the track at a joint, move it aside to the line of the wheels, and spike it there, then draw or run the engine on.

Having an engine off the track, is a position where good judgment is more potent than a volume of written directions.

The driving-wheels, axles, boxes, frames, with the trucks and all their attachments, are somewhat dirty articles to handle. The examination of how they are put together, and how they are hanging together, is pursued under soiling circumstances. Perhaps this is the reason these things are studied less than they ought to be. To creep under a greasy locomotive to examine wheels, axles, and truck-boxes, is not a dignified proceeding by any means; but it is a very useful one. The running-gear is the fundamental part of the machine, and its whole make-up should be thoroughly understood. The builds of trucks are so multifarious that no specified directions can be given respecting accidents happening to them. There is, therefore, the greater need for an engineer's familiarizing himself with the make-up of his running-gear, so that, when an accident happens, he will know exactly what to do. Disraeli said: "There is nothing so likely to happen as the unexpected." This applies very aptly to railroad engineering. Industrious accumulation of knowledge respecting every part of the machine is the proper way to defy the unexpected.

The running-gear of some engines is so arranged, that, in case a driving-spring breaks on the road, it can readily be replaced if a spare spring is carried. With the average run of engines, however, and the accumulating complication of brake-gear attached to the frames, the replacing of a driving-spring is a tedious operation, that would involve too much delay with an engine attached to a train. Consequently engineers seldom attempt to change a broken spring. They merely remove the attachments likely to shake out of place, and block the engine up so as to get home safely. When a forward driving-spring breaks, it is generally best to take the spring out with its saddle and hangers. Then run the back drivers up on wedges to take the weight off the forward drivers, and put a piece of hard wood or a rubber spring between the top of the box and the frame. Now run the forward drivers on the wedges, which will take the weight off the back drivers, and with a pinch-bar pry up the end of the equalizer till that lever stands level, and block it in that position by jamming a piece of wood between it and the frame. For a back driving-spring, this order of procedure should be reversed. A back driving-spring is often hard to get out of its position; and it sometimes can be left in place, as it is not very liable to cause mischief.

Where a spring drops its load through a hanger breaking, the mishap can occasionally be remedied by chaining the spring to the frame. Should this prove impracticable, the same process must be followed as that which was made necessary by a broken spring.

For a broken equalizer, all the pieces likely to shake off, or to be caught by the revolving wheels, must come out; and both driving-boxes on that side must be blocked on top with wood or rubber. Where good screw-jacks are carried, it will often prove time-saving to raise the engine by jacking up at the back end of the frame instead of running it up on wedges. Where the wedge plan is likely to prove easiest, it must be adopted only on a straight track; and then too much care can not be used to prevent the wheels from leaving the rails.

The breaking of an engine-truck spring which transmits the weight to the boxes by means of an equalizer, requires that the equalizer should be taken out, and the frame blocked above the boxes. This blocking above the boxes is necessary to prevent the two unyielding iron surfaces, which would otherwise come together, from hammering each other to pieces. Wood or rubber has more elasticity, and acts as a spring. Whatever may be the form of truck used, if the breaking of a spring allows the rigid frame to drop upon the top of one or more boxes, it must be raised, and a yielding substance inserted, if the engine is to be run even at a moderate speed, and the engineer wishes to avoid further breakage. Sometimes truck-springs, especially with tanks, are so arranged that the removal of one will take away the support of the frame at that point. In such a case, a cross-tie or other suitable piece of wood must be fitted into the place to support the weight which the spring held up.

A broken truck-frame can generally be held together by means of a chain, and a piece of broken rail or wooden beam to act as a "splice." Should a truck-wheel or axle break, it can be chained up to enable the engine to reach the nearest side track where new wheels may be procured, or the broken parts fastened so that the engine may proceed carefully home. The back wheel of an engine-truck can be chained up securely to a rail or cross-tie placed across the top of the engine-frame. If an accident happens to the front wheels, and it proves impracticable to get a sound pair, the truck should be turned round when a side track is reached. An accident to the wheels or axle of a tender-truck can be managed in the same way as an engine-truck, but the crossbeam to support the chained weight must be placed across the top of the tender. A bent axle or broken wheel that prevents a truck from following the rail, can be run to the nearest side track by fastening the wheels so that they will slide on the rails.

Accidents of this nature often disable the engine entirely; but sometimes the breakage occurs in such a way that the engine can run itself home, or into a side track, by good and careful management. Driving-axles generally break in the box, or between the box and the wheel. When this happens to a main driving-axle, or when any thing happens to the forward driving-wheel or tire of such a serious nature that the engine can not be moved until the wheel is raised away from the rail, the engineer's first duty is to take down the main rod on that side, and secure the piston, then to take down both of the side rods. Cases could be cited where engineers have brought in engines with broken axles without disconnecting anything, but these men did not take the safe side by a long way.

The rods being disconnected, run the disabled wheel up on a wedge or block of wood, and secure it in the raised position by driving blocking between the axle-box and the pedestal-brace. To get the box high enough in the jaws, it is sometimes necessary to remove the spring and saddle from the top of the box. A wheel may break and not fall to pieces, but still be dangerous to use, except for moving along slowly. A tire may break, and yet remain on the wheel, only requiring the most careful handling. On the other hand, the breaking of a wheel or tire may render the wheel useless, when it must be raised from the rail the same way as was recommended for a broken axle, and the same precautions in regard to stripping that side of the engine must all be taken. In the event of an accident happening which disables both forward drivers, they must both be raised from the rails, and the engine pulled in, the truck and hind drivers supporting the weight. Both side rods must come down.

The breaking of back driving-axles, or accidents to wheels or tires, is very difficult to manage; because the weight must be supported in some way. The first act when such a mishap occurs, is to take down both side rods. If the engine can be moved to the nearest side track without further change, take it there; now jack up the back part of the engine, and fasten two pieces of rail by chaining or otherwise to the frames of the engine, their ends resting on the tank-deck, so that, when the jacks are lowered, the tank will help to support the hind part of the engine.

I have seen a case where one piece of rail was pushed into the draw-bar casting, and it held the engine up through a journey of seventy miles. If one of the back driving-wheels can be used, it lessens the weight that has to be borne by any lever contrivance. When one wheel is disabled, it must be blocked up in the jaws; and, should both wheels be rendered useless, they must both be held up, so that as much as possible of the weight may be thrown upon the forward drivers.

Contents Page | Table of Contents

Do you have any information you'd like to share on this subject? Please email me!
The Catskill Archive website and all contents, unless otherwise specified,
are 1996-2010 Timothy J. Mallery