The Locomotive Engineeer in the Cab
What boy has not thrilled at the sight of a huge locomotive!
What boy has not dreamed of someday becoming a locomotive engineer!
Poems have been penned, stories have been written and songs have
been sung about the engineer "with his hand upon the throttle
and his eye upon the rail." The locomotive engineer's job
is fascinating to boys and men of all ages because it is a job
of action, where things are happening constantly and where one
must be on the alert at all times.
Under the expert control of the engineer, the big locomotive
leaps into life and performs prodigious tasks. A powerful, throbbing
piece of mechanism, the steam locomotive is a symbol of dynamic
energy and strength.
The locomotive engineer must not only know how to run his engine,
but he must also know a great deal about how it is built and how
each part works, so that he will know what must be done if anything
goes wrong while the engine is out on the road. Therefore, one
who aspires to become a locomotive engineer usually starts as
a machinist's or boiler maker's apprentice, or in some other beginner's
job in a shop or roundhouse where locomotives are repaired. His
next job may be that of a hostler, who runs the locomotives in
and around the shops and repair yards but who does not drive an
engine in main-line service, or his next job may be that of a
locomotive fireman. The fireman's job furnishes the final training
ground for the job of locomotive engineer. Every locomotive engineer
is selected from the ranks of firemen.
When a man becomes a locomotive engineer, his first job is
usually running a switching engine, pushing and pulling cars back
and forth and making up trams in railroad yards. Then he is assigned
to a local freight run, and finally, as he gains experience and
seniority, he gets a fast or long distance freight or passenger
run. Sometimes he may work during the daytime; sometimes at night;
for railroads never sleep. Trains must be kept running at all
Because the efficiency and safety of railway operations depend
upon the skill and care and reliability of those who run the trains,
the locomotive engineer and every other member of the train crew
must not only be carefully trained for his job but he must also
be sound of body and have good eyesight. He must be a man of good
habits. He must possess an alert mind, and he must be dependable
and trustworthy. The punctual operation of trains and the safety
of passengers and express, mail and freight depend upon the reliability,
intelligence and vigilance of those who operate the trains.
Before the locomotive engineer is allowed to run a locomotive,
he must pass a rigid examination to prove that he is thoroughly
familiar with the technical details of locomotive operation, air-brakes,
signals and so on, and also that he is thoroughly familiar with
the rules of railroading as published in the railroad rule book.
And he must be acquainted with all the features of the road on
which he operates his train. He must also pass a physical examination
To insure against over-fatigue, neither the locomotive engineer
nor any other member of the train crew is allowed to start his
day's work unless he has been off duty for at least eight hours.
Locomotive engineers and other train service employees are
assigned to the different runs on the basis of seniority, the
man with the longest service record having the first choice, the
man with the second longest service record having the second choice,
and so on.
Sitting on the right side of his cab, the locomotive engineer
keeps his eye on the track ahead of the speeding train, as he
is doing in the picture, to note the position of every signal
and to see that the track is clear for the passage of the train.
As the train approaches each signal, the engineer notes carefully
what message it conveys and checks his observation with the fireman
to make certain that he has read it correctly. The engineer and
fireman also watch the train to the rear to see that it is intact
and to note any signal from the conductor or brakemen.
In a steam locomotive, the engineer's cab is situated behind
the boiler and firebox. It contains all of the controls required
in the operation of the locomotive and trainthe throttle,
the air-brake controls, the sand controls, and several gauges
and indicators which tell the engineer and his assistant, the
fireman, how well the locomotive is performing. Many locomotives
are equipped with automatic stokers whereby coal is conveyed by
machinery from the tender into the locomotive firebox. The mechanism
which controls the operation of the stoker is also in the cab.
In the picture, the engineer's left hand is on the throttle,
by which he controls the flow of steam into the cylinders. To
start the engine, he releases the air-brakes and pulls the throttle
slowly toward him. To stop the engine, he applies the
air-brakes and moves the throttle in the other direction.
The lever with the little black spot in the center, under the
engineer's hand, controls the air-brakes which extend the entire
length of the train. In an emergency, air-brakes can be applied
The smaller lever, just under the engineer's wrist, controls
an independent brake for the locomotive only. Brakes are as important
to a railway train as they are to an automobile.
The two short upright valves, directly to the left of the independent
locomotive brake, enable the engineer to release sand from the
sand dome when it is needed to prevent the wheels from slipping
on the rails.
The mechanism which enables the engineer to reverse the engine
and drive it backwards is next to the wall of the cab behind and
below the engineer's forearm.
The several cloak-like dials above the engineer's hand are
gauges which tell the engineer and fireman the steam pressure
in the boiler, and other important facts about the condition of
The long hammer-like shaft above the engineer's head near the
top of the picture is the steam turret valve handle which enables
him to open or close the valve through which steam is supplied
to auxiliary devices, such as injectors, air compressor, blower
and the steam heating system.
Just above the engineer's hand in the picture is the whistle
cord by means of which the engineer signals the train crew and
sounds warnings upon approaching crossings, stations and persons
or animals on the track. When the train is approaching a station,
the engineer sounds one long blast. On approaching a grade crossing,
he sounds two long, one short and one long blast. Several short
toots are sounded to warn persons or animals to get off the track.
The engineer also has several whistle combinations for communicating
information to the conductor and other members of the train crew.
On a passenger train the train crew communicates information
to the engineer by means of a signal cord extending through the
entire length of the train and attached to a little whistle beside
the engineer in the cab. When the train is standing, two short
pulls on the signal cord tell the engineer to start the train;
three shorts tell him to back up; four shorts tell him to apply
or release air-brakes. When the train is in motion, two short
pulls on the bell cord signal tell the engineer to stop at once;
three shorts, stop at next passenger station; four shorts, reduce
Since freight trains are not equipped with signal cords, the
conductor and trainmen signal the engineer by means of hand, flag
and lantern signals.
The locomotive is a wonderful machine. It performs tasks which
thousands of men working together could not do. It pulls heavy
passenger and freight trains for long distances at great speed.
But it would be helpless and useless without the locomotive engineer
and his assistant, the fireman. They give it life and strength
and direct its energies to the service of man. Under their direction
it becomes one of our great and valuable servants.
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