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My family moved from Illinois to Kansas, and here we were near the Missouri Pacific. Its track was really primitive. Without ballast, it was laid on slippery gumbo, which was heaped up between the rails to give drainage. When the ties slipped, which they frequently did in wet weather, stakes were driven in at the ends to keep the track in place.
A good share of the town's population met the trains and somebody carried the mail to the Post Office. Sometimes I was that somebody. (At the next station a dog took the mail to the P.O.)
My boyhood trains were exciting, and the fascination of railroading and railroads survives the years.
In the early spring of 1913, at Proctor, Minn., headquarters of the then Duluth, Missabe & Northern, a young fellow low in spirits and low in financial resources appeared to look for a job firing. I was that young fellow. Boomers and old-timers were there in numbers hunting for work, but "They're not hiring" was the usual reply.
I found I would have to spend an indeterminate time as a "wiper" before I could hope to become a fire
So I became a wiper.
The memories of that spring are all mixed up with the smell of steam. The atmosphere of a railway waking up from its winter hibernation was thrilling. Mallets were whooshing by, picking up speed into the yards after climbing the 7 miles of 2.2 per cent grade from the docks with empty ore cars, or easing by with loads, backing down to the docks.
These Mallets, numbered from 200 to 207, were built in 1910. They were hand fired. Their low pressure exhaust- a continuous roar-was either music or an annoyance to thousands of people in West Duluth for years. Since much of the 7-mile track was visible from most of West Duluth, the great columns of black smoke together with the exhausts left little doubt that there was a train on the hill. These engines worked almost exclusively on the hill for many years. I'm sure their ghosts can be heard still on a dark night.
Wipers in 1913, when I became one, didn't wipe anything but the spout of the oil can. The only wiping I ever did was to remove with waste a spot beneath the cab window so the engine number could be seen. Wipers filled the sand dome, filled the tank with water, the oil cans with oil; but principally they cleaned fires.
Wipers worked in pairs. Someone would poke his head into the dark sandhouse (the only warm place in the yards, with nice soft sand to lie
on) and shout, "Hog for Kelly!" Kelly and his helper would go out into the night and clean or "kill" the fire, leaving the grates clean and the boiler with enough steam to get the engine into the roundhouse.
Cleaning the fire consisted of pulling the good fire to the rear of the firebox, shaking the ash through the front grates. This often meant removing clinkers, great hot sheets which had to come out through the firedoor and be dumped overboard. By this time the far end of the hook, or rake, was red hot and so soft as to be useless. You took it out and pounded it over something till it was reasonably straight, and let it cool. Your end, which you had to handle, was pretty hot too. Gloves didn't last long.
The good fire was pushed forward and the rear grates cleaned. This left all the fire in the front of the firebox. It remained so, with additions of fresh coal, until the engine was called for service and the fireman took over and spread the bank.
Nobody on the Missabe worked on Sunday - well, hardly anybody. The wipers did: 12 hours. On Sunday the engines those not in the roundhouse -were spotted in long lines with their fires banked.
On my first Sunday I- who 48 hours before had never been on the deck of a locomotive - was given a long line of engines under steam to look after. The job consisted of going down the line, climbing up on each engine in turn, putting on the blower to raise steam, starting the injector to keep the crown sheet covered, and putting a few scoops of coal on the banked fire. After midnight Sunday
the engines began going out on the They went literally through the yards road again.
A wiper's job wasn't glamorous. After a few long, hot nights I began to feel I wasn't cut out to be a railroadman and pulled the pin. But don't go away. I'll be back soon with a scoop.
A FEW DAYS after I had quit railroading forever I turned up at Two Harbors, 27 miles from Duluth, headquarters of the then Duluth & Iron Range Railroad. I was looking for a job firing. And I got it.
By popular definition, a locomotive fireman was someone who needed a strong back and a weak mind. I qualified in part.
Next morning in the yards, I reported to an engineman named Vanvolkenberger (Vanvolk on the board) as a student fireman. I had one student day in the yards.
The following morning I showed up for work as the youngest man in point of seniority, and was promptly bumped from my one-day job and found myself scheduled to work nights.
I didn't start off very well the first day. We stalled with the first cut of loads to be shoved up onto the docks. How much it was my fault I'm not sure. Enginemen could beat you out of steam when you least expected it. It was a sort of initiation. They shouted to the world for someone who could really fire a locomotive all very embarrassing. The rest of the day passed without incident.
Nights were worse. The standard "day" in the yards was 12 hours.
The yards at Two Harbors were unique. The tracks fanned out to the five docks (now reduced to three).
and through a confusion of red and green switch lights where a half dozen other engines were working. You shoved a cut of loads on whose head car a switchman stood with a light one light among many. You watched that one light weaving through the yards and hoped you kept on watching the right one.
The loads had to be spotted exactly right over the pockets in the docks. The pockets were the same length as the cars, and the cars were slowly pushed ahead until the first car was over the last pocket. Then the switchman pulled the air. This was an emergency application and it was hard on the docks, so the practice had to be stopped. Then it was much more difficult to spot the cars correctly.
Much of a tallowpot's duty was relaying signals to the engineman. "Back up," "Go ahead," "Kick 'em," "Easy," "Three cars," "Two cars," "One car," "That'll do." Farm boys said, "Whoa" - which wasn't good, even if it was an iron horse. "Stop" was too much of an order. You don't order an engineer to stop; you sort of ask him to stop. So "That'll do" seemed best. Except, of course, in an emergency, when it was "Dynamite!" or "Big hole!" When you referred to an emergency stop later, you said he "wiped the clock."
PERHAPS this is a good place to describe the world of a fireman of 1913. Working extra. You caught a different job, a different engine, and a different engineman nearly every trip. And the trips depended on a regular man laying off, which might be for a variety of reasons. This meant
There was the caste system. engineman's seat was softer than the fireman's, but the head brakeman's folding seat, just ahead of the fireman's, was the hardest. And I'll say a good word for the head brakeman. Many of them had wide experience, were good firemen, and if you were really in trouble they would put in a few fires. Enginemen sometimes would do that too.
Now the fireman's equipment.
In front of you was the firedoorimportant. There was a chain on the firedoor. There was the scoop (and, let's hope, another one back on top of the tank), a coal pick, a rake, a broom, and a jug. You'd better fill the jugwith water, too!
Removable sectional wooden coal gates were between you and the coal, which was banked against the gates head high. You soon had to remove those gates and pull coal forward so you could reach it with the scoop.
Over the firedoor on a shelf was the engineman's long-spouted oil can, a can of valve oil, and the engineman's torch. In the left-hand seat box were two lanterns, spare water glasses, matches, torpedoes (guns), flares, sticks of hard grease for the rod bearings, and perhaps an extra pair of canvas gloves for an emergency. Better take a lunch.
On either side of the boiler was an injector. The injector could deliver upwards of a quarter of a ton of water a minute. The flow could be cut to half that amount. The injector had to be on steadily whenever the throttle was open on the road. To boil that much water required up to 100 pounds of
coal per minute. Sometimes you used both injectors!
There was the blower, to blow up the fire while standing, and a hose coupled with the injector (with which you washed the deck).
The lights burned oil and the cab lights usually went out when you backed up. If you forgot to light the headlights and markers just before dusk while standing, you went out and lit them while running, which wasn't easy. You used matches, lining them up so each head would ignite the next one. Used up quite a lot of matches. When you were in the hole, meeting another train, you put out the headlight by moving a sheet of metal from behind the light to a slot in front of it, or you could hold the scoop in front.
The bell was rung regularly approaching road crossings or wherever people were about. It was heavy, and ringing it was a chore in itself unless it had been recently oiled. To do that, the bakehead crawled up on the boiler with the oil can.
The water glass on many of the engines was still the simple exposed glass tube which was dangerous and broke frequently. You cracked the valve below it to see if it was telling the truth, and checked the water level with the pet cocks.
Day or night a record of a fireman's work was written on the sky. In the daytime the very color of the smoke was diagnostic. Anyone in the know, anywhere within sight, could tell whether or not you had a good fire. If the stack was clear they could count your scoops of coal by the black puffs in the sky. To look back and see them was good. At night, if the bakehead
was "fanning the fire" the number of scoops of coal could be counted by the glare of firelight on the sky. That could sometimes be seen for a long distance.
I'll try to describe "fanning the fire." The trick was to get the coal in without the firedoor being open much. An open door cooled the fire and, in excess, resulted in leaky flues. Personally, I think putting in your 8 or 10 scoops as fast as you could was just as good, but it wasn't the approved method. You got a scoop of coal, pulled it toward you, grabbed the chain with the left hand and yanked the door open, threw in the coal, grabbed the chain and yanked the door shut. The trouble here was that the chain, gyrating madly, sometimes was not there when you grabbed for it. If you had plenty of coal where you could reach it, a variation was to put in your scoop of coal, grab the chain, yank the door shut, hang onto the chain with the left hand, yank the door open again, and by that time you had swung the scoop around with the right hand and had another scoop of coal ready. I think this was right. After all, it's been 48 years!
If you had a good thin fire, and the engine was well drafted and a good steamer, you could often see the whole fire. Or you could hold the scoop in the firedoor, directing the draft to one side, and see some of the coals.
Most of the coal was burned along the sides or the rear corners, but if a good clear fire wasn't sufficient to supply enough steam, then you had to overfire, which resulted in a less efficient fire requiring still more coal, and usually in a bad fire. The surface of a bad fire was hard to see. since
air from an open firedoor created a brilliant flame. (Better keep one eye shut at night, so both wouldn't be fireblinded.) The hook was called the "joy prong" because raking the fire would bring up the steam pressure. But the use of the hook also caused clinker. You couldn't win!
Some engines formed clinker just as a matter of course, even if you did have a good fire to start with. Actually I didn't have much trouble with clinker on road engines. My difficulty was in overfiring light engines working a light throttle. I just didn't have the patience to wait for the fire to burn.
That reminds me of a favorite railroad story, published many years before TRAINS was born. It told of a boomer fireman fighting an assemblage of scrap iron in passenger service. When it got too much for him on a grade, he put on both injectors, threw the hook and the coal pick and the broom and the scoop in the fire, and when the engine stopped he climbed down and walked away into the woods!
A tallowpot's pay for a round trip on ore ran from $5 to a little over $6, depending on time and miles: standing time (10 miles per hour) plus a rate for actual road miles. The pay was flat; there were no deductions for retirement funds or fringe benefits. There was no featherbedding. But the company had a scheme of its own. A worker starting the first of the month wasn't paid until the middle of the following month. If my calculations are correct, the company had my money an average of three weeks before I got it, and drew interest on it. This was possibly because of a delay
in figuring what was owed us. Except that if you quit or got fired, your money up to the second would be ready in a matter of minutes.
The company, rightly assuming that I was broke, didn't bother about watch inspection until I'd had a payday. Then for $28 I bought a watch with a nickel case which passed inspection. I still have it.
I had been warned about watch inspection. But nobody had warned me about Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones was the traveling fireman. Mr. Jones hated all firemen and possibly everybody. He was just chock full of discipline. He didn't want firemen to burn so
much coal. And as a matter of fact, firemen didn't want to burn so much coal either. There should have been no trouble.
One day I was called to fire the roundhouse goat (an 0-4-0), No. 14. When I got aboard there was hardly enough coal on the tender to get us to the coal dock; there might have been four scoops. I had the tender filled with perhaps 4 tons. I didn't know that Mr. Jones was watching
the records that every estimated pound of coal that was put aboard the engine while I was there was charged against me.
Those in the know who were firing 14 took only enough coal to last them that day, since the engine wasn't going more than a few hundred yards from the coal dock anyway. Which accounted for the empty tender. The previous fireman had been smart; he had guessed well.
All that day we sat around, loading scrap iron with a crane and magnet. My engineman was elderly and held this job by preference since it didn't call for much action. He spent
the day picking ingrowing hairs out of his face with tweezers, and I burned perhaps a few hundred pounds of fuel. But Mr. Jones by letter accused me of burning more than 4 tons of coalhe didn't subtract the 3-plus tons still left in the tender that night.
AFTER a few uneventful nights in the yard, I deadheaded north at night on the Highball, a mixed consist with one coach and a caboose. Ely was at the north end of the main, Mile 127. Crews all over the mining and lumbering area worked what were called "Merry Widow" jobs. The jobs consisted of "loading stockpile" (spotting empties to be loaded from stockpile ore with a steam shovel). This was a spectacular operation, especially at night. The steam shovel too had glamour, crawling along on its own bit of movable track. Trains of ore or lumber were made up, cars were delivered to the mines, and loads picked up. Some of it was mainline work. Engines were usually Twelve-Wheelers.
The mines at Ely were underground and even at that early date some of the work-out mines had caved in, resulting in great holes. We left 10 loads on a spur with air on them, but with no handbrakes set a mistake. Next morning the cars were in a heap off the end of the spur.
One of our jobs was sorting the circus train and unloading elephants. Weighing the Ely ore was also on the list.
A call came one afternoon while I was asleep in Two Harbors. I was to deadhead north on the passenger train. There was no time for me to eat and no food on the train. Boats were in and the next day was a holiday at the mines. They proposed to load stockpile.
At Eveleth the engineman and I, still without food, relieved the crew on one of the Twelve-Wheelers (the 60's, 70's, and 80's were TwelveWheelers with long between-thedrivers fireboxes - it was just about as far as you could throw!).
A few minutes after we started the two front pairs of drivers stepped off onto the ties on a crossover. Trying to rerail, we soon had all the engine wheels off the track. Two other engines with full crews came to help. There followed a futile night: rerailers slipped, then we would get some of the wheels on the rails, only to have them slip off again. The 68 got weaker and weaker; water was almost gone. Finally after daylight, I found a way to wedge a piece of rail into a frog in such a way that it couldn't slip, and the two engines pulled the 68 back on the rails.
I claim credit for this, and I don't
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
TRAINS' pages through the years have been graced with the articles, photographs, and artwork of Francis Lee Jaques. But he is best known the world over for his portrayal of wildlife. After World War I he did commercial art in Duluth, then joined the staff of the American Museum of Natural History as a wildlife artist. His work with museums took him from the Arctic Ocean to the South Seas, the Galapagos, Newfoundland, and Europe. He has illustrated numerous books-his most recent, My Wilderness by U. S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.
One of Jaques' familiar scratchboards appeared on the cover of the April 1961 Missabe Iron Ranger, an issue devoted to the story of DM&IR steam. To the Missabe, which is proud of its onetime employee, he mented: "I can still hear the lowpressure exhaust of the Mallets on the hill over West Duluth. The passing of steam a great blow to me." Of Jaques' settings for his birds and animals it has been said that he "even paints the wind." Equally as skilled is he at breathing steam once again, in word and picture, in the vanished iron horse. I
think anyone at this late date will question me!
The 68 had been exhibited at the World's Fair in Chicago in 1893 as the world's largest locomotive at that time.
We limped back into Eveleth and on the way met another engine on a curve in a cut. Since everyone was on watch we didn't bump. This was yard track and nobody was in error. It just wasn't our night. In Eveleth, after finding something to eat, I was directed to the dirtiest boarding house in all my experience. I never found the proprietor, so it cost me nothing.
There had to be a report on our accident. Railroadmen are loyal to each other. They seldom report anyone doing anything wrong, or neglecting to do anything right, or doing anything which the company could possibly construe as wrong. So all the reports, except mine, went in "Don't know." The accident was caused, very simply, by a long rigid driver wheelbase, a curve, an uneven rail joint, and a worn, extremely sharp flange on the leading driver. Fortunately, this derailment, as most derailments about the yards, occurred at very low speed.
Three shiny black Pacifics came at this time and were sent up the hill with coal to break in. When they were put into passenger service I got one of the little Ten-Wheelers which had been bumped off the passenger jobs. It was in fine shape, a good steamer, and it had an electric headlight the first in my experience. This was probably the pleasantest engine I ever fired. That we stalled on the hill to Virginia and had to be helped by the branch line passenger was neither here nor there. Nobody knew the Ten-Wheeler's tonnage and somebody had guessed wrong.
Loading stockpile one morning my engineman needed sleep, or maybe he just didn't want to work. Nothing made a railroadman as happy as being paid for not working, even though this was long before the days of featherbedding as such. He said, "You take her. I'll be in the caboose." I didn't see him again till noon.
I've often wondered what enginemen thought of me. Did they accept me as a boomer who knew my way around? I knew I didn't.
The work was not very hard. Picking up a few ore empties; spotting them, three spots per car at the shovel; and, when they were loaded, putting them down on top of the previous loads. Nothing was involved but heaving over the Johnson bar, the throttle, and the "straight air" — all very simple. Except that I didn't know what I should do about the valve oil
- and still don't. Lubrication as of 1913 was a tricky business and required much attention. Valve oil was fed to the cylinders, literally a visible (through a glass) drop at a time. The company was close with its valve oil, and the oil left in the can was measured at the end of the day. One man was supposed to have made a record, using only a pint during a turn on ore I can't help wondering what this oil economy cost in repairs. When I hear of the hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil a diesel carries!
To be "on spot," just waiting around, was much to be desired. Sometimes there were hours when there was nothing to do. One night most of us were asleep. I myself never slept much; others were more fortunate. When we had to move there were a half dozen mining locomotives behind us. Every crew was asleep, and we had to wake all of them to get out.
Illness overtook me one night while I was working around Fayal (Eveleth), and rather than call another man the engineer ran the engine alone. It could be done on such jobs. He did admit that he had worked her too hard with the firedoor open and that had resulted in leaky flues. I