Hot Times on the Railroad Back When...

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Mark D
Conductor
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Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Hot Times on the Railroad Back When...

Postby Mark D » Thu Jul 06, 2017 9:23 am

I just read part of a thread on another forum where the heat in the cab of a steam locomotive was discussed with regards to how the crews handled it and stayed alive.
It was also noted that early diesel locomotives were pretty warm in the cabs in summer, but not like a steam engine.
Basically, though, it was about how people today can't stand that sort of heat anymore because we've all become a bunch of pansies.
Not so.
Back in the day nobody had air conditioning anywhere. Death rates from heat were accordingly higher. But also people were accustomed to the heat because of no air conditioning. Those who died early were most likely to be those who had other issues already.

I have lived the scene, though. I've been a fireman in the cab of a steam locomotive rolling down the tracks in 100+ degree air. Cab doors open, windows open, vents open made only a token of difference. I recall a hot box detector telling us we had a hot axle - #6 (that's the firebox it sees and we have a waiver for that) and it told us the outside temperature was 104 degrees. Well, I can tell you it was a lot warmer than that inside the cab because it was a lot cooler by the doors where a bit of air was coming. Yes, I know about moving air and evaporation and all that. This was different. It was cooler outside because of all the heat that radiated from the backhead of the boiler and all the steam pipes for the accessories mounted there.
We had two firemen in the cab - we always do. One shovels coal into the places the auger can't get it or to fill holes. The other runs the auger and injector as needed and watches ahead on the left side of the track.
I was the one manning the scoop. A good share of the time I am just standing in the center of the cab, just ahead of the vestibule to the tender. To make it easy to stand with the motion of the locomotive I would use one hand to hang onto some piece of the cab just to steady myself.
The metal in the cab was so hot that it only took about two or three minutes before my leather gloves were transferring heat to whichever hand was holding on. It became burning hot in less than that three minutes, but I would hold on as long as I could endure, than switch to the other glove. I kept trying to find a spot that was cooler, but it made no difference. This went on for several hours before we reached out destination.
This happened down in Kansas back in 1998. I haven't seen that kind of heat in the cab since then.
But the point is, it can be tolerated by people today just as back in the day. We aren't the feeble wooses some people think we are. It's just that we're smart enough to know how to not HAVE to endure those things under most circumstance.
But smart or not, I'd do it all over again in a New York second if the opportunity arose.

Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve

John Bohon
Conductor
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Joined: Sat Jul 23, 2005 9:30 pm
Location: North Carolina

Re: Hot Times on the Railroad Back When...

Postby John Bohon » Sun Jul 09, 2017 11:53 am

Just as Mark says, our generation grew up with virtually no air conditioning. The only time I felt AC when I was young was when we went shopping at some big store. My first car equipped with AC was bought in 1988. I think that because our bodies remember how to deal with heat or cold we can more easily adapt to the conditions. It is also pounded into our minds that anything someone else can take we can take. Weather may slow us down but it will not stop us.

Perhaps the worst conditions I have experienced on steam locomotives is hand firing shays on days when it was well over 100 degrees and the humidity was so bad you nearly drown just breathing. Just as I always do I was wearing jeans under my bibs and a heavy long sleeve shirt. Every time we stopped the engineer got down to oil around and I mostly stayed with the fire. The thing about a shay, especially one with a full load of coal, the cab is almost entirely enclosed so air flow is little to none. There is also no chance you are going to go fast enough to create much of a breeze even if you can get some of it into the cab. They were long days on the stupid end of a shovel but we got though it and did not go running for the AC in the depot.

Many of the younger people today simply do not seem to be wired the same way we are. On one of my past adventures the steam engine crew running the passenger train on a 100 degree day could not make it all day on the engine alone. I was ask to come in and relieve the fireman during the layover between trains with an engineer assistant. The other crew members were dressed in jeans and short sleeve shirts and as soon as the engine stopped they jumped off and took off for the AC in one of the nearby buildings leaving my engineer and I to handle the yard duties. They had taken all the heat they could stand until the next run an hour or so away. Dressed as I normally am I spent my time between trains outside dinking around with odd jobs on site but staying in outside. I worked outside then as I always have and know it is far easier to get yourself use to the conditions and stay in them than it is to run in and out with the temperatures going up and down like a pogo stick. The guys running the train were all office workers and had no clue how to adapt to the weather and no interest in doing so.

Of course there are always exceptions. TVRM has several employees and volunteers who are in their late teens or early twenties who can take the heat with the best of them. Actually that includes workers of all age groups hand firing a big 2-8-0 in all sorts of weather. Anyone who works outside is going to be able to take the elements much like the old timers did. What has changed, at least in my opinion, is so many people today simply will not go out into the elements if they can help it. TVRM has a tour that lasts 15 or 20 minutes on one end of the run and if it is hot or cold an amazing number of people will not get out of the heat or AC to go on the tour. Nearly all are relatively young and many would rather sit and play with their phones. Their seems to be no difference between male and female passengers in this respect. On the same trains there are people who ride the open window car and will not go in the AC cars. Many people today seem to think it is not worth it to inconvenience themselves unless absolutely necessary. I know a number of people who think it is a terrible thing to sweat, period.

In short what I am trying to say is that coping with the heat is as much a mental test as physical. If you keep feeding yourself fluids and go to the effort to at least make you body understand how to deal with heat nearly everyone can cope. If you simply have no desire or interest in coping then you will never will. Unfortunately there are a large number of people today who are perfectly happy running from the AC in the house to the AC in the car, to the AC in the store and will never make any attempt to deal with the heat. I think those people are missing a lot of good things in life but it is their decision. Those of use working on the railroad, either as employees or volunteers, have no option but to tell ourselves we can do the work and them prove it.

John Bohon

John Bohon

Mark D
Conductor
Posts: 2947
Joined: Fri Jul 15, 2005 5:01 pm
Location: Sort of between Litchfield and Forest City, MN.

Re: Hot Times on the Railroad Back When...

Postby Mark D » Mon Jul 10, 2017 6:37 pm

Precisely! If you just know you can do it, you will. If you think the discomfort will Keep you from doing your job, it will. Ignore the discomfort and prove you can do it. If others can do it, so can you - if you dig in and do it.
Mark D.
Mark D. - The bottom of the information curve


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