Home  

A Locomotive Taking on Water

Like a human being, the big steam locomotive must "eat" and "drink" to be strong and capable of performing its work. It has an unquenchable thirst and a ravenous appetite when it is busy. It consumes large quantities of coal or fuel oil and water. The heat generated by the fuel turns the water into steam, and the steam enables the engine to pull great loads at high speeds.

Freight locomotives pulling heavy loads, usually consume more fuel and water for each mile of travel than are consumed by passenger locomotives. Of course, the quantities consumed depend upon the size of the locomotive, the train load, the speed, and other factors.

The railroads use from one-fifth to one-fourth of all the coal mined in the United States, and most of this is consumed in locomotives. Loaded 55 tons to a car, the coal required to run the railroads in a single year would form three solid trainloads each reaching from New York to San Francisco, and a fourth train reaching from New York to Salt Lake city.

It is estimated that around 100,000 mine workers are employed throughout the year to keep the locomotives of this country supplied with coal. Other thousands of workers are kept busy producing fuel oils, and many more are employed to quench the thirst of the powerful engines.

The railroads of the United States use enormous quantities of water for locomotives and other purposes. It is estimated that the railroads consume around 80 billion cubic feet of water each year. This is enough to fill a reservoir 1,000 feet wide, 10 feet deep and 1,515 miles long.

Attached to the rear of every steam locomotive is a "tender." The tender is the locomotive's "dinner pail and thermos bottle" combined. Without the tender the locomotive would be of little use. The tender has a compartment for coal or oil and a compartment for water.

The great majority of steam locomotives burn coal for fuel, but in some parts of the country where oil is plentiful and coal is scarce, the railroads operate many oil-burning locomotives. Oil is also used for fuel in Diesel-electric locomotives employed in passenger and freight service.

Before a steam locomotive starts on its run its tender is filled with fuel and water. At certain points along the railroads fresh supplies of fuel and water may be taken on.

In this picture the locomotive fireman is seen filling the tender tank with water. The water comes through an underground pipe from a big water tank located somewhere in the terminal. The vertical pipe which carries the water to the side of the locomotive is called a water column or standpipe, and the water is conveyed into the tender by means of a spout.

When the locomotive stops for water, the fireman moves the spout into position over the tender and opens the valve which releases the water into the tank of the tender. At many points on the railroad a water tank or a water column and the coaling station are located side by side so that coal and water can be taken on at the same time. A modern coal-and-water station can load a tender with 24 tons of coal and 15,000 gallons of water in as little as four minutes. Many tenders are large enough to carry sufficient coal (or oil) and water to enable the engine to run for hundreds of miles without replenishing the supply.

When a locomotive stops for fuel and water, while out on the road, it is the locomotive fireman's job to see that the tender is filled. The fireman also "feeds" the engine with fuel and water from the tender.

Some locomotives are equipped with mechanical stokers, which convey coal from the tender into the firebox of the locomotive. On locomotives which are not equipped with mechanical stokers the fireman shovels the coal from the tender into the firebox. He also watches the water gauge. If it indicates that the engine needs more water, he turns the valve that transfers water from the tender tank into the engine's boiler.

The fireman has many other duties, such as checking the signals with the engineer, reading train orders, oiling and otherwise attending to the locomotive and helping to keep it in good condition while it is out on its run. The locomotive fireman's job is a training ground for that of locomotive engineer.


I've Been Working on the Railroad | Contents Page

Home
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