Table of Contents; Page 181; Page 188; Index


* The following observations on Locomotive Driving were prepared by John H. Jallinga, Mechanical Engineer, Chicago.

Acquaintance with Route of Prime Importance. To the casual observer a locomotive runner has a fairly easy billet. Perhaps not one person in a hundred of those who see him sitting in his cab, complacently awaiting the signal to start his train, has any idea of the multiplicity of his duties.

Of course, as a prerequisite to all his other functions comes the care of his engine, either standing or under way, but interwoven with this knowledge are other matters of detail, for example, an intimate knowledge of his time table as it applies to the different parts of his-run. This he must have learned so thoroughly that he can instantly say how long it should take to travel on schedule time between any two points in his run. To be able to accomplish this it is absolutely essential that the engineer know the grades, the curves, the switches, the sidings, the crossings, the stations, and the semaphores he will have to go over or pass en route. This means that he will have to know them thoroughly, both backward and forward, for having completed his run today he will have to return by the same route tomorrow, in which case all these items will come to him in reverse order.

These features have such an important bearing on the successful performance of his duties that were he ever so skillful in the care of his engine, he would be quite incompetent to take his engine and train over another route which was unfamiliar to him. This statement may seem somewhat paradoxical, yet it is absolutely true and in our development we will try to make the reason clear.

Regulating Steam Supply. There is no type of boiler which has to supply such an abundance of steam on short notice as that of the locomotive. Nevertheless, with all its capabilities, conditions frequently arise during the run which test its capacity to the limit and make it absolutely necessary to conserve the boiler resources.

Preparing for Grade. Thus on approaching a heavy up-grade, the skillful engineer will see that his fireman so stokes his fire that there is a thick bed of fuel on the grates and will himself pump water into his boiler to as high a level as can be carried with safety; all this must be accomplished just before the engine arrives at the foot of the grade. While climbing the grade the feed water is shut off, the furnace door is kept closed, and the throttle opened just far enough to enable the engine to mount the grade on schedule time, making it without unnecessary strain or labor.

If these precautions are neglected, the fireman will have to shovel fuel so hard during the climb that he will become exhausted before the summit of the grade is reached; this drawback, coupled with the large losses in steaming capability due to opening the furnace door for the purpose of stoking, will prevent the engine from maintaining the requisite head of steam for making this part of the run on schedule time.

Good Firing Practice. Theoretically, no air should be permitted to enter the furnace that does not pass through the fire but in practice this cannot be accomplished, because every time the fire door is opened it admits a large volume of cold air which passes over (not through) the fire directly into the tubes, tending to cool the water and decreasing the boiler's steaming capacity, For this reason, the stoking should always be done a very few shovelsful at a time and the fire door quickly closed to give the fire a little time for recuperation before re-firing. Another very essential duty of the fireman in stoking is to watch for holes in the fire. For various reasons, some portions of the bed of fuel will burn out quicker than the rest, and wherever this occurs it leaves a hole through which air will pass in greater volume than through the rest of the fire; as this air is comparatively cooler than if it had forced its way through the burning fuel, it has the same effect on the steam-making power of the boiler as the open fire door, though not to the same extent. Hence, the skillful fireman, on opening his furnace door, will look for these holes and fill them with fuel when he fires; if more of them appear than he can fill at one time he must stoke more frequently.

The bed of fuel should be kept, as far as possible, at a uniform thickness of about 10 to 12 inches although some engines are designed for a heavier bed than this. The coal is usually broken into pieces of 2½ to 3 inches and enough for one stoking is laid on the deck of the engine before the fire door; the shovel is also heaped full and held ready before the fire door is opened, thus accomplishing the firing as quickly as possible.

Taking Advantage of Downgrade. It will readily be seen from the preceding description how essential it is that the driver and his fireman should know the exact location of the grades and the necessity for due preparation. Of course on the return trip the same grade will have to be retraversed but with all the running conditions reversed. In this case the throttle should be closed, the train running down hill without steam, and the reverse lever should be thrown forward into the last notch of the quadrant; this gives the cylinder valves full stroke in order to equalize the wear on the valve face as much as possible, for at this time the absence of any lubricant between the valve and cylinder face is liable to cause more rapid wear than under ordinary working conditions. Under such conditions in former days, it was a part of the fireman's duty to walk out on the foot board and tallow the valves, that is, to introduce a lubricant through a tallow cup in the steam chest cover. Today, most engines are fitted with sight-feed lubricators which feed cylinder oil constantly to the valves and cylinders while the engine is in motion under steam.

The attentive engineer will also take advantage of this opportunity to replenish the water in his boiler, if necessary, because he can pump up while not using steam and at the same time prevent the pressure in the boiler from rising to the blowing-off point. In the interests of economical operation, such a condition is to be avoided but may easily arise when no steam is being used and with fuel burning on the grate bars. For this reason the damper should be closed, care having been taken before reaching the downgrade to let the fuel bed get thin. On its way down, the fire can be cleaned and fresh fuel added in readiness to resume steam-making as soon as the level is reached again.

Curves. The exact location of every curve on the run must be known to acertainty, first, because it is essential, in order to avoid derailment and for general safety that the speed of the train be slackened below the normal while passing around curves. All curves are constructed with the outer rail some inches higher than the inner rail, the exact amount being determined by the radius of the curve and the speed with which the train should make the curve. This tilting of the train counteracts to some extent the centrifugal force developed in rounding the curve but this precaution must be supplemented by slackening the speed also. Again, many curves occur in cuts, that is, at places where it has been found essential, in making the roadbed, to cut through a small hill so as to preserve the uniformity of the grade. Sometimes a curve will occur in a woods or at the entrance to a forest, and it would be manifestly dangerous to approach and enter such a place without giving warning of the approach of the train. Hence it is the rule, when approaching a curve, to sound the whistle before arriving at the curve. This precaution is more especially essential if it be a single track road.

Switches. A knowledge and a clear remembrance of the location of all switches and sidings are necessary because of the liability of a switch onto the main line being left open through neglect or willfulness. Therefore, the driver on approaching a switch observes first of all the position of the switch target, next the position of the rails, never trusting to the target alone, for sometimes rods connecting the target with the track get disconnected or bent; the engineer can see very clearly whether the track he is running on forms one continuous line past the switch or not. He should, at the same time, assure himself that the frog and wing rails have not become misplaced. These are conditions that do not very often arise but when they do the consequences are so terrible, if not seen in time, that it pays to be on the lockout for them constantly. The main point is to have the train well in hand at all times, and to this end speed must be reduced when passing switches or the ends of sidings. All station yards have a number of switches, and it is customary to slow down while going through them, more especially if intending to stop there. But many trains pass through the smaller towns without stopping and must also frequently pass sidings at certain places on the line between stations and all these places must be watched closely by the driver. In order to do this properly, he must know beforehand when he is about to approach them.

Culverts and Bridges. The location of every culvert and every bridge must be known and a keen lockout kept for any derangement in connection with them. Swing and draw bridges are usually guarded by a semaphore, and it is the rule on nearly all roads that every train shall come to a FULL STOP about 200 feet from the bridge approach and await the dropping of the semaphore arm before proceeding, and then only at a slow speed until the bridge has been crossed.

Running Time. It is considered an unpardonable offense for an engine driver to arrive at a station ahead of time though some roads do allow one minute variation. This latter is not material, provided it is borne in mind and the rule lived up to; the idea is to have the right of way clear before the arrival of the train, for otherwise a very embarrassing result may ensue.

For these reasons it is very essential that the engine driver make himself thoroughly acquainted with his time table. He must not only know the exact time he is due at any station on his run, but he must know by rote just the number of miles between stations, mentally calculating the necessary speed of his train and seeing that his engine meets the requirements between stops. These speeds vary because of road conditions, and proper allowance must be made for grades, curves, conditions of roadbed, etc., otherwise it will be impossible for him to meet the requirements. Hence, the driver automatically registers in his mind certain landmarks along the road—a house here, a certain tree there, a hill, a stream, or a huge bowlder at other places—and he gets to know that he should pass each one of them at a given time going in one direction or the other. He also knows that a certain curve, a culvert, a siding, or a bridge lies one mile, a halfmile, or a quarter-mile beyond one or the other of his landmarks and by these indications he knows it is time for him to perform certain of the duties already described.

Block Signals. Many roads, especially in the older portions of this country where the traffic is heavy, use a double track extending for 80 or 90 miles outside some of the large cities and often all the way between important cities. Wherever double track is used, the block system of signals is installed, thus relieving the engine driver of many of the anxieties connected with running trains on a single track road and making the road safe for traffic.

It is not within the province of this article to discuss block signals except as to their effect on the duties of the man who watches over the destinies of the train committed to his care. Briefly, the right of way is divided into sections called blocks and at the commencement and end of every block there is a manually or automatically operated signal over each track; unless the driver sees that his signal shows the way is clear he must not enter a new block. On approaching a station, he must also look for the signals showing way clear and on arriving at a station must observe the semaphore arm projecting from the front of the station over the track; it may be that orders are awaiting him, which it is his duty to read and follow.

It will readily be seen from the above description of a portion of a locomotive driver's duties why it is essential to the proper performance of his work that he should know the road thoroughly.

Table of Contents; Page 181; Page 188; Index

Back to the FAQ Page

to the San Diego Railroad Museum
This page last updated 9/6/99