Firing Steam Locomotives

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dcottrill
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby dcottrill » Sun Dec 13, 2009 9:57 am

Gentlemen, I am the granddaughter of the fireman killed in May 12, 1948, and I am sad to think you could word you reply as " blew er up " etc. I am in more of a position to have the facts than you are and I can assure you that the fireman and the engineer were not in agreement but the fireman's job may have been threatened. I understand your discussion involves trading water for steam but lives were lost and there needs to be a certain amount of respect when addressing any comments made regarding the crewmen! Each of these men had families!

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Ed Selinsky » Mon Dec 14, 2009 8:41 am

DCottrill,
Welcome to this board and thank you for sharing your reactions to our discussions. One of the biggest reasons that many of us in the steam preservation field do what we do is to preserve the legacy of people like your Grandfather who spent their careers working to build and operate the infrastructure of railroads and steam power that fueled the Industrial Revolution and helped create the country that we are priveleged to inhabit today. Particarly in the heat of summer, as we give cab tours we will try to impress on our visitors that all the work that is required to operate these steam locomotive is something that was accomplished everyday by a lot of unsung heroes. This was particularly true during WWII when the railroad were moving maximum tonage with personnel groups depleted by the war effort and worn out machines. I apologize on behalf of our cohorts if you were offended by our remarks.

I read the article in the C&O historical Society magazine several years ago on your grandfather's last run. I would be very interested in hearing if you felt that was a fair asssessment of the event, as well as hearing if you would like to share any more details that you may have.

Thank you in advance.

Ed Selinsky

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Mark D » Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:43 am

Hi DCottrill and welcome to the Chaski Railfan Forums.
I'm the guilty party for the comment about blowing 'er up. I honestly meant no disrespect to anyone by the use of that particular verbage, but in looking back at it now, I can see how someone who doesn't know me personally can take that as a pretty cavilier attitude.
In effect, they did blow it up. Certainly not intentionally, but they did. I had not read anywhere that the fireman wanted to add water but apparently was not allowed to by the engineer. I guess I'd risk my job before my life, but that's easy to say from the armchair, so to speak. Being there in the left seat of the cab at that time was undoubtedly a bit different in perspective. I apologize for appearing to treat the incident lightly and will edit my post accordingly.

I would also truly appreciate any comments you might have regarding your Grandfather and his work with the railroad. We, here on Chaski, are interested in all things railroad, but seemingly oriented mostly toward steam and the steam era. Some of us have actually had what in these times is the rare privilege of actually operating and / or firing a large, main line steam locomotive. We are very interested in what those who went before us experienced during their times doing similar work on a daily basis.
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dcottrill
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby dcottrill » Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:52 pm

Gentlemen,
Thank you for your responses...I would like you to site the information that states my grandfather was in agreement with the engineer. There is always an untold story...

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Mark D » Mon Dec 14, 2009 6:20 pm

I'm not aware of an argument that the fireman was in agreement with the engineer. I had previously been under the impression that the two were working as a crew, and thus would be in agreement.
You did shed new light in saying that the fireman was in fear of his job, and implied that he did, in fact, want to add water but was ordered not to by the engineer.
I made a comment in my last post that I think I would have added water regardless of what the engineer thinks, regardless of my job. But, as I said, that is an easy thing to say from the proverbial arm chair. Being there would have been an entirely different thing, I'm sure.
From what you said, I conclude that the engineer had decided they had enough water to make it to the top of the grade, and then they would add water. He was probably concerned about stalling on the grade, and he knew that the engine would steam better with the water low. Unfortunately, he didn't allow the fireman to add water, and thus the engineer let the water get just a little bit too low.
This is a very interesting story, being true history, and is the sort of thing I like to delve into in order to understand what went on.
Mark D.
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dcottrill
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby dcottrill » Mon Dec 14, 2009 10:16 pm

I wonder how do you think the fireman would have added water?

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Fitz » Mon Dec 14, 2009 10:42 pm

Hello, DCottrill, I have been following this discussion with interest. First of all I am sorry to learn of your grandfather's demise while operating as a crewmember on a steam locomotive. As Mark has said, there were so many unsung heroes in steam operations which literally built this country. Second, as fireman, your grandfather would have had access to the two methods of adding water to the boiler, an injector, for certain, and possibly a feedwater heater. Maybe a second injector, I don't know as I am not familiar with that type of C&O locomotive. Usually, both the engineer and fireman had one of these devices available to add water, but also usually it was the fireman's responsibility to keep that water level above the crown sheet, which is the top of the firebox. If the crown sheet becomes uncovered, that is, no water above it, it becomes so hot that it melts, and causes the type of boiler explosion that your grandfather was so unfortunate to experience. :cry:
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby John Bohon » Tue Dec 15, 2009 6:26 pm

Fritz,

You may find it hard to believe but there were lots of engines where the fireman did not have control of either the injector or water pump on his side of the cab. Further, on most roads I am familure with it was the engineer who was responsible for the water. I have seen photos of engines with both injectors mounted on the engineers side. Of those running today I think L&N 152 was one such engine but when it was restored in the eighties an injector was mounted on the firemans side in addition to the 2 on the engineers side. Many roads, at least in the east, had the injector mounted on the engineers side and the water pump on the firemans side. Howerver, in the cab the valve controling the speed of the pump thus the amount of water going into the boiler was operated by a valve handle that ran accross the backhead to engineers side of the cab. This was accomplished with the use of universal joints like those on most long valve handles on nearly any locomotive. The Western Maryland was one such road. Of post steam operating locomotives I think N&W 611 and 1218 were converted from the engineer controling the water pump to the fireman.

The engineer is the boss of the locomotive. It was his decision on how the locomotive was operated. As I stated before the C&O was reportedly chock full of low water engineers. I know a man whose father was a fireman on a WM 2-8-8-2 climbing the 2 percent grade of Jacks Mountain between Gettysburg, PA and Hagerstown, MD. This engine did have a lifting injector on each side of the cab but the engineer refused to let the fireman start his injector. They were very lucky to have survived because when they topped the grade and cold water hit the crownsheet they pulled out 32 crown stays but the boiler did not blow.

I think the reason engines in the post steam era are being converted to the fireman watching the water or being responsible for the water is the engineers are being ask to operate engines on territory they do not know and have enough to watch for without watching the water too. At least that is the most likely thing I can come up with.

John Bohon

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Hogger1225 » Tue Dec 15, 2009 7:06 pm

How many of you were there????
I get paid for doing what you like to watch! LOL! (jk)

dcottrill
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby dcottrill » Tue Dec 15, 2009 7:29 pm

Well now gentlemen....seems Mr. Bohon is on to something. #3020' water control WAS on the engineer's side of the cab. I am quite sure he did not mean to put his crew in danger, he had 160 cars to pull on a wet incline....

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Fitz » Tue Dec 15, 2009 9:43 pm

Bill, obviously none of us were there. I have seen firemen operate the engineer's side injector, even on your locomotive.
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dcottrill
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby dcottrill » Wed Dec 16, 2009 4:55 am

The brakeman gave testimony. My father was there.

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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Mark D » Wed Dec 16, 2009 11:01 am

dcottrill wrote:The brakeman gave testimony. My father was there.


Your father or your grandfather? Or both?

I have to admit that in my own small world I was unaware that so many steam locomotives had water control access only on the engineers side. I have seen unmodified steam locomotives from the period, and all the ones I've seen had water access on both sides. So, naturally, my belief was that's the way it's done. It is certainly the way it should be done, because water is the most important consideration in a steam locomotive.

From what little I have read about the incident, I have always surmised that 1) this crew, or at least this engineer, had run similar loads up this same grade many times before. 2) He knew the engine would steam better if the water wasn't too high. 3) He wanted to make sure he didn't suffer the problems of a stall on the grade, and he knew the engine would definitely be worked to its limit, and beyond, until the crest is reached.
So, my assumption is that he had always been running up the grade without adding water, while at the same time making sure of the level just before starting up the grade.
Further, that this time, for whatever reason, the water uncovered the crown where there had been water over the crown on previous runs up the grade.
It would be apparent that there was no water showing in the glass, and if checking with the tri-cocks, even the lowest of the three cocks would, at this point, have been blowing steam only.
That is a very scary thought, to be running an engine wide open, fire as hot as it can get, and let the water be that low. No wonder the brakeman was talking about water the way he did.
Mark D.
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Charles T. McCullough
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby Charles T. McCullough » Wed Dec 16, 2009 1:39 pm

It is, I think, human nature to become complacent with dangerous things.

In my mind I am certain that many steam locomotives were run "on the hairy edge" of disaster many times. At first, there is worry, "Gee, the water is about an inch from the bottom of the glass, better add water soon." The next time it is noticed that the water is below that "inch to spare" the thought is, "Well, it was okay that last time or two when I was slow correcting the water level, so it was probably this low those times, it will be okay this time, I'll just have to get to the water a bit sooner."

By the fiftieth time, one believes he knows "this ol' girl like the back of my hand", and "she has water to spare at the bottom of the glass, I can get past this next curve and then add water."

By the thousandth time, one tends to forget the "Thoughts" and the required actions become "automatic", though possibly a bit slow.

It can also become more of a "karma" thing... "I have control of this situation and 'I WILL IT' to be safe. This ol' girl won't let me down."

The complacency sets in and we cease to pay attention to the details, but due to the hundreds of variables that we do not know about, disaster can jump up and bite us.

I think we also assume that we will see disaster approaching and be able to somehow avert it. As though it will chase us first, as a warning. But all too often, disaster is sudden and unforeseen at all. Yes, maybe they should have known they were flirting with disaster and "Seen it coming", but that complacency says that they had done so before without problems so they can do so again, up to the point where something bad happens and then they would know not to go beyond that point the next time. Unfortunately, in this instance, the point where something bad happened did not allow for averting it nor provide a second chance to practice the lesson learned.

Any and all of the crew members can be "blamed", but they are no different than the rest of us. We all have done things that "could" lead to disaster and gotten away with it and so now have a certain complacency about about it.

Ever driven on slick roads and though deep snow and made it home okay? Does that mean you will every time?

Ever driven through low water in the road? Fall into that uncovered manhole? NO? Does that mean the next time you won't? (I had driven that road many thousands of times (daily for years) and I don't remember ever even seeing that manhole, but even after a couple thousand dollars of repairs the front end of that car was never quite right!)

My Mother had done "cold packing" (a form or "home canning") for years without problems. Then one time, she checked on the jars in the oven as she had always done and she now says that "they didn't look right" so she closed the oven door and went to get Dad to see what he thought. As she left the kitchen, the door of the oven was blown off and green beans and glass coated the floor of the back porch, having exited the kitchen via the windows in the opposite wall. The next week there was an article in the newspaper that "Ball Jar, Co." was warning people not to do "Cold Packing" using glass lids. They had apparently changed the formula for the glass and that was a variable Mom didn't know about. We have often wondered what people would have thought and said if that disaster had occurred a few seconds sooner or maybe a minute later. What would they think Mom or Dad had done to cause it?

Maybe this locomotive (#3020) boiler explosion was the result of a change in the usual circumstances that the crew didn't know about... Maybe a flue leak was causing a loss of water that they could not, in the usual 'automatic way', take into account and that contributed to the water being lower than what they "thought", given the last time they saw water in the glass?

All the crew will shoulder a portion of the blame, regardless of how beloved or hated they were by the other crewmembers, fellow employees, the company, friends, or family. Unless it can be proven otherwise, the Engineer will shoulder the major portion because he is the person in charge of the operation of the locomotive. The Fireman a lesser level because he is the extra set of eyes and ears of the Engineer and must make him aware of the circumstances... even the head brakeman has a responsibility to put his two cents in (which he claims to have done). So too, the Road-Foreman and Dispatcher, and all the way from the Engine Wiper to the CEO of the company.

Hey, all you folk that run these things today... stay safe! Work safely, be aware of things, report unusual circumstances, warn of dangers, and be as emphatic as you need to be. Know the operating rules and follow them. And be prepared for disaster to strike when you least expect it.

Hey, all you folk that DON'T run these things... stay safe! Work safely, be aware of things, report unusual circumstances, warn of dangers, and be as emphatic as you need to be. Know the operating rules of the things you do run (car, drill, microwave oven...) and follow them. And be prepared for disaster to strike when you least expect it.

I'd tell you how to prepare for these "ultimate disasters" but we are not supposed to bring religion in the forum.
Semper Vaporo,
Charles T. McCullough


Pkgs.

dcottrill
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Re: Firing Steam Locomotives

Postby dcottrill » Wed Dec 16, 2009 5:11 pm

My grandfather was on the train. He was the first to die.His brother's son, an adult at the time, drove my grandmother, my father and aunt to the hospital in Chillicothe. The engineer and the brakeman were in the same ward at the hospital. The brakeman talked with the adult male and my father was there to hear the story. A clean up train was sent out of the Russell, Kentucky yard and another of my grandfather's brothers ( a fireman as well ) rode on that train to the accident site and went on to the hospital from there. Yet another brother, ( an engineer ) was headed back to Russell from Columbus and their train was stopped behind another train ( headed south as well ) until the pipes had been cut from the tracks. He was unable to be released from his duty on the southbound train as there was no one to relieve him.

Much discussion has taken place over the years. Not blame but more regret. My grandfather's brother and the engineer had had this discussion many times. They were in total disagreement on whether or not it was even possible to cause the explosion...doesn't matter who was right or wrong, just regret. I only state that my grandfather was aware of the danger and attempted to alert the engineer...I am sure they had probably had this discussion on previous trips.

I agree the days goes by and we become creature of habit. We probably narrowly miss tragedy everyday and are not even aware.I am just proud that my grandfather was willing to go to work to support his family, possibly ignoring the danger to keep his job. I never met him but I wish I had.

Can anyone explain the term " dropping fire?"


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