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My experience as a fireman-2

"When I drew

a Mikado,

I was lucky"


artwork/THE AUTHOR

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BEFORE DAYLIGHT the callboy came to my bedside and made me sign the book. Now, callboys were quite an institution. They were the telephones of the period. They found you or you missed the trip, and you weren't missing any more trips than you could help. On the extra board you worked when the boy caught you, but not every day. So all your off hours weren't your own only the 8 hours when you were entitled to rest after you got in off the road. The boy knew your haunts and found you wherever you were. You signed the book when the boy wanted to be in the clear in case you didn't show.

I was called for the "Duluth Log.” On the Duluth & Iron Range, Endion station in Duluth was Mile 0, Knife River was Mile 20, and Two Harbors with its ore docks was 27 on reports. The engine that day was one of the 50's "Blind Goats," little Consolidations with small fireboxes and large cylinders. The 2-8-0's were slippery and notoriously poor steamers. The vertical boilerhead reached to the back of the cab, and the engineman couldn't see the water glass without crawling out of his seat. He just gave the glass an instantaneous look. The water at that time might have been forward in the boiler - it didn't matter to him. He filled her up.

My engineman was, I think, after what I read in the papers later, having family troubles and was not in a good humor. I don't remember his name; I'll call him Bill. We were to pick up logs at Knife River, Mile 20, the terminal of the Duluth & Northern Minnesota, a logging railroad operated by the Alger Smith Logging Company and usually called the Alger Line. At this time the Alger Line ran a first

class train. The line has long since been abandoned. No trace of it is left.

At Knife River we talked with a trainman who was wrought up over a recent accident. His engine had turned over in a bog and the engineer had been killed. Since the pop valves were deep in the mud he had been afraid the boiler would explode, not realizing at first that since the throttle was not closed, the spinning wheels would release the pressure.

The logs we picked up here were delivered to a mill in West Duluth. There we turned on the wye, ran around the logs, and with caboose just back of the engine, began backing the logs up onto the unloading dock on a considerable grade. One brakeman was on the caboose, another on the logs farther along. Both were visible to Bill and to me, but the curve was on my side. Both men gave washout signals and I yelled, "Dynamite!" My engineman argued with me "Why?" - and didn't stop. One of our logs, loaded too high, caught and damaged an overhead footbridge. (Just after we left with the empties, the mill attempted to shore up the footbridge and one of the men fell and was killed. There never was an investigation.)

After getting clear of the damaged bridge, we shoved the loads up on the docks. Bill would yank the throttle open and the drivers would slip. This happened over and over. I was disgusted and just sat there. I thought that if the steam pressure got low enough the engine couldn't slip and we could get up on the docks. Finally Bill noticed the lack of pressure and yelled, with some verbal trimmings, "Get some steam on that boiler!" So I did, and we made it. Finally we got our empties and headed back for Knife River. We had no timecard on the

Northern Pacific and held up a passenger train or two getting through Duluth.

At Knife River the engine was turned on the Alger Line's armstrong turntable, and we started back with another string of logs.

Since I had no lunch with me, my friend on the other side of the boiler offered me a sandwich, which I didn't want. These circumstances had taken away my appetite; besides, I was proud. But Bill yelled, "Eat that sandwich!" That was an order.

The firing still wasn't going too well. When we got to the top of the hill at Lakeside for the second trip to Duluth, Bill had her full of water and I had her full of coal. Since there was no more room for cold water she howled all the way through Duluth. I don't think the pops ever closed.

That night we limped into Two Harbors with the caboose and the 16-hour law on our tail. This was a classic example of how not to build an engine, fire an engine, or run an engine.

Next day I got a letter from our Mr. Jones, Traveling Fireman, asking why I hadn't taken the white flags off the smokebox when we got in.

Two weeks later, Bill, who was having a running quarrel with the towerman at the crossing at Knife River, ran through a derail and spilled several carloads of logs over the station platform. He was pulled out of service for two weeks. That's all.

Given a free steamer and good coal, a trip could be very pleasant. The 215 ¦ was a free steamer, and strange to say, I liked the 215. It was a Consolidation similar to the 90's, with cylinder valves, a tank which held 6000 or 7000 gallons of water and 12 tons of coal.

Do you want to know what a trip on the 215 was like?

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There was little trouble to record. The 15 miles to Highland took about 111⁄2 hours at 10 mph. The water in the tank got low (on one trip it got so low that the injector broke when we stopped), and we filled the tank. The conductor and brakeman came out of the station and reported, "Out of here at 9:45." It was 9:50 then, so we could exceed the permissible speed of 25 mph to the next stop and still keep the record clear.

Drifting into Allen Junction I shook the grates and blew out the ashes. We stopped first for coal, then at the water plug. The engine was already on the crossover to the left-hand northbound track to Fayal. This was where the mistake had occurred which had caused the head-on collision mentioned earlier. Someone had not lined the switch properly and the crew had failed to notice it. The northbound extra, taking water, was already headed into the southbound track. Not one of the five men of the northbound crew had noticed that they were on the wrong track during the 4 miles they ran. Men just aren't as alert during the small hours of the night.

My engineman went into the lunch

counter at Highland. I stayed in the cab and swallowed my lunch. Steam pressure held right on the mark until we left.

Leaving Allen Junction I opened the firedoor and some of the grates were bare! I yelled to the hogger to take it easy. Fortunately, there was good coal handy, in lumps, and in a matter of seconds the grates were covered with burning coal.

The 215 steamed so well that it was possible to keep the first pop (there were two, possibly three) open all the time while working steam. This, of course, was not a practice popular with the company.

At Fayal we turned and took on more water and coal. One tallowpot, while he was taking coal at Fayal, had the coal chute stick open, and coal continued to cascade onto the tender until it was completely covered.

While we were pulling out of the hole with loads at Fayal an air hose broke and delayed us. The D&IR was meant for small-wheeled Consolidations; it had a series of grades on which speed was from 5 to 10 or 12 mph. One hogger I was with walked

alongside to look over the gear. I thought that was unfair and said so; he should have stayed with the outfit.

We took water and coal at Highland, and more water at Fairbanks. The traveling engineer ran the engine from Highland to Fairbanks, and the regular hoghead caught the caboose. I kept the needle right on the white mark. It would creep to the upper edge and the pops would begin to sing, just ready to open, then it would drop back to the lower edge; that called for another fire.

D&IR enginemen were required, since we ran on the left-hand track, to blow two short blasts on meeting another train, if the opposite track he had just passed was clear. One engineman we met failed to reply. No doubt he would be called on the carpet.

The retainers were turned up (or down) at Highland, whence we dropped down the hill. We didn't use the train brakes to stop now, just to slow us on the hill. Then the engineman said, "You weigh the train" which meant drag the loads over the scales slowly.

The weighbills were fouled up, and

I got a backup signal. Why these unprecedented situations kept happening to me I don't know. I didn't know what was behind me or where the crew was. I was too cautious, and the engine almost stopped on the scales. Had it stopped, obviously I couldn't have opened the throttle then without damaging the scales.

At this point I hasten to add that I didn't make all the blunders on the D&IR. It was just that so many mishaps could occur:

At Two Harbors a crew left a caboose standing on the Duluth track, which crossed the rail where the ore came down the hill. The caboose started to roll, the conductor thought the brakeman was aboard, the brakeman thought the conductor would stop it, and by the time they realized that it was on its own neither could catch it. It crashed through the heavy gates guarding the ore track and rolled past the roundhouse and the YMCA, gathering speed. It ran past the station, where at that period there was usually a car of cinders since the platform was being rebuilt; past a number of switches which by chance were perfectly lined; past the pumping station where there was usually a car of coal, but not this day; and jumped off the end of the track into the lake.

I got the train weighed on the second try, then we eased over the edge of the hill. I watched the signals. At Two Harbors two horizontal red lights on a high tower guarded the Duluth crossing. Four long blasts on the whistle, and the lights moved to diagonal and we rolled into the yard through the heavy gates that were against us a moment before. A man yelled the number of the track we were to head in on. I managed to remember to remove our white flags, and put in my time check - $6.22. I had 8 hours until they could, if they wanted, call me again.

THERE were two double-track ways down the hill. The older Drummond Line, well ballasted, was not used. Drummond no longer appears on any map and the portion of the line not used is lost in the forest.

I now became a fireman on a name train! I was called for the "Freezer," which ran with only a caboose northbound and paid a higher rate for bringing a single southbound freezer at the end of the usual loads of ore. At the junction to the Drummond Line I took off our white flags and we ran to Drummond and return as the weekly first-class train, operated to hold the franchise. No passengers.

While I was working a Merry Widow job I noted a stiff grade up to

Aurora. We were approaching this grade with a train of coal, so I put in a heavy fire, forgetting the slow order at the foot. The engineman shut off for the slow order and the black smoke rolled, smothering the train. Guess who was in the cupola of the caboose? Mr. Jones.

Late in the summer we had much fog, especially in the mornings. Frequently we hit a couple of guns. There was no way of knowing when they had been placed. The trainman in the cab was a blessing at times such as these. He had nothing to do but watch for three red lights ahead, which meant a caboose in front of us. (Iron Range cabooses carried a light on top of the cupola too.)

Once after drifting into the sag at Brimson my hogger opened the throttle and I hopped down to put in a fire. There was no scoop! I hesitate to tell this because there was a Post cartoon which depicted this same sit

uation, but it did happen to me. The coal gates were out, and I raced up over the coal onto the tank. A battered old scoop, thank heaven, was there. It looked mighty good to me.

One memorable trip took place on one of the 90's with D valves. We made the whole trip with the reverse lever down in the corner all the time. And my hogger never entirely closed the throttle even when drifting, which made it difficult to fill the boiler or to raise steam when running downgrade. Just possibly he had orders to try to wear the valves flat. More likely, he refused to fight the Johnson bar. With D valves the reverse lever was hard to control and could be dangerous, but I think he owed me an apology. However, he never explained. The astounding thing is that it wasn't a particularly hard trip. Moreover, the engineer was said to have made, in the past, a "coal record."

A pleasing change was the night I


was called on the "Ridge Log," on one of the Twelve-Wheelers. We took water at Allen Junction. Two big tool boxes on the tank appeared in the dark to be flat with a plank between to stand on. I gave the water spout a good shove so it would lock in place and I stepped out on one of the boxes. It proved to be round on top. I pinwheeled over the side, grabbed the side of the tank with one hand, pulled myself back on the tender, and said nothing about it.

The odor of damp logs at Ridge was good, and we came back at dawn with a big box of blueberries on the running board. When we tied up at Two Harbors my hogger remarked, "When you're going to do those gymnastics off the tender you might let me know, so I can watch."

When I drew a Mikado, I was lucky. On my first trip with one I had a boomer brakeman who was familiar with Mikados on other roads, and he

taught me how to fire one. With good coal, one could carry a very thin fire which danced over the whole grate area, and it was beautiful to see. You almost had to stay on the deck, though, and feed it one scoop at a time.

Our first four Mikados came from Baldwin, Nos. 300-303. One of the new Mikados, the 302, was on the incoming track one morning with the left cylinder head blown out. This was repaired, the 2-8-2 made a trip on ore the same day, and I was marked up on her at 11:30 that night.

These engines were superheated and carried only 165 pounds pressure because valve oils to withstand higher superheat temperatures hadn't been developed. The Mikados had electric lights, air bell ringers and reverse, and Butterfly firedoors. The hook hung under the tank where it couldn't be reached.

For me, who was a little too short on one end, it was too far between the coal and the firedoor treadle. When my foot slipped off just as I was aiming a scoop of coal for a front corner, there was a bit of janitor work to do!

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Vanderbilt tenders, carrying 15 tons of coal, were supposed to have about enough, without refilling, to make a round trip. But we didn't run fast enough to shake down the coal, and there was a solid irremovable wall between me and the coal and no good way to climb over and no time to do it. Tenders were later equipped with coal pushers.

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For lack of steam we stalled on the grade up to Allen Junction. Next trip same 302, same engineman, same grade we were 20 minutes ahead of the passenger at Aurora. Consultation: should we go ahead of No. 2 to Allen Junction? The engineman said, "We can make it if the tallowpot can keep her hot." I said, "Let's go." We made it in plenty of time.

After stopping one night behind another extra at Allen Junction my engineman left to walk forward to the lunchroom, saying, "You bring it in." A green tallowpot but too proud to admit it, I took over. How did I release the air? I remembered a phrase from a book I'd read years before: "Don't forget the kickoff." So I didn't. And I brought in the train.

My last train order on the D&IR I remember well, except for engine numbers. ENGINE



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THREE YEARS later, in 1916, my name was last on the list of tallowpots on the Duluth, Missabe & Northern. That honor entitled me to the least desirable job, which was working not on but around and below the ore docks at West Duluth. I had a room at Proctor, headquarters of the road, and my day started at 4:30 a.m. when the callboy routed me out of bed. After breakfast I waited in the yards for the next Mallet with empties dropping down to the docks.

I rode the engine going down, got off at the land end of the docks, and walked five or six blocks to pick up my engine-a between-the-drivers Consolidation. Once we took 402, a passenger Pacific, down from the shops

de luxe commuting, with pay too. The work consisted, in part, of loading coal and taking it to the steel mills at Morgan Park near by. Once

we handled a shipload of manganese ore that was loaded and locked in box cars. We weighed it on the scales which were too short for a box car three times, the last time by spotting one end of one car on the scales, with the cars on each end uncoupled and moved away. A long job.

The air pump in our engine groaned horribly. This could be stopped for a brief time by putting a little valve oil in the top of the valve oil can, which just fitted over the air intake. When the pump inhaled, I slapped the cover - with the oil in it over the intake and the oil was sucked in. If my timing wasn't good, oil was spat all over me!

At 7 p.m., after a 12-hour day, I was waiting at the docks for the next train of empties up the hill. I tried for the caboose. The Mallets had stokers, but they didn't work too well, and if I were in the cab I might feel obliged to help the fireman. I'd already shoveled 6 or 8 tons of coal and I'd been up since 4:30 a.m. In railroad service, as in the Army, it pays to use your head. If I got a train within a few minutes, I had only an hour more until I got home — in plenty of time to get up at 4:30 the next morning. That was the life!

The only 0-8-0 I ever worked on I fired one Sunday in the yards at Proctor. The occasion was notable only because the ashpan filled up and we had to crawl under and quickly drag the ash from below the grates with the hook. Burned grates were frowned on by the company.

One afternoon a hurry call came; the 309 was off the track across the St. Louis River in Wisconsin. We were to get the 306, which was in the roundhouse with only 40 pounds of steam on it, and take the Big Hook


It took a long time to raise steam." The blower was weak. At 80 pounds we took her out over the table and got the wrecker.

From where the wrecker was working in Wisconsin, the brakemen wanted to go down to the Northern Pacific crossing to get oil for their lanterns from the towerman, so I ran them down. Coming back I couldn't get my injector started, so I hurriedly shut, I thought, the lubricator valve. Instead I opened it wide and it was empty. We borrowed oil from the wrecker crew whose oil wasn't recorded. Railroading was full of pitfalls.

We left the 306 and took the Hook back to Proctor and the crippled 309 to the shops. I didn't know it then, but these two engines were to figure heavily in the balance of my railroading.

ENGINES of the Missabe in 1916 were huge Mallets, still compound and by now fitted with mechanical stokers. Some new Santa Fe's had mechanical stokers and grate shakers. The crossovers and wye curves were too short for these great engines and they wouldn't stay on the track. To avoid derailing, men with greasy rags on sticks lubricated the flange side of the rails on the wyes. Switches and crossovers which were too short were avoided if possible.

Nos. 319-350 were Consolidations with fireboxes over the drivers. By 1916 they had been fitted with generators and superheaters. The 300's, up to about 318, were 2-8-0's with between-the-drivers fireboxes, and they used saturated steam. There were perhaps three Pacifics and some smaller engines, Ten-Wheelers.

I caught the 332 for a turn of ore. My hoghead was, by reputation, a rapper. We left our empties and picked up 65 loads at the Hull Rust yard. Climbing out of Hull Rust without a helper was easy. I felt good, which was a mistake. When we got on the flat muskeg—the "hemlock drag". we didn't drag. We did something like 45, and those little-wheeled Consolidations weren't built for that. The firedoor was too big and too close to the deck and to the grates. The terrific heat burned my overalls and my left foot through my shoe. Worked at too long a stroke, that short engine had a superheated exhaust that was fierce enough to give me a bad headache. When the engineman patted me on the shoulder and said, "That'll take her in," the words were sweet. Next day I was sent, much to my relief, to the north end.

The engines of my experience on the north end were the 306, a free steamer, and the 309. After the 306 had been sitting for hours, a few scoops of coal would raise immediate pressure. One could have a thin fire of slack coal and still have plenty of steam. Once the draft very nearly cleaned the grates! The 309 was sluggish. She would heat up in time, and there was ample steam after the throttle was closed. She formed clinker quickly. A half hour after the fire had been cleaned the door would slam shut, showing that little draft was getting through the grates.

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grade was filled each day and sank 6 inches or so each night. Rail went up a steep little hill, over a high trestle, and on across a stop-and-start Great Northern crossing (on which the only wheeled vehicle I remember seeing was a bicycle).

We joined the northbound main facing traffic just south of the Hull Rust yard. The loads had to be pulled over the switch - southbound over the northbound tracks and I was the flagman, since the two brakemen were back on the train. The only clue to a northbound train was light on the sky beyond the hill to the south. Sometimes an extra showed over the hill while we were on the main, and since there were no signals I had to run out, light a flare, and hop back on as quickly as possible.

Backing in- always too fast - I would relay the lantern signals, which were on my side, to the runner. I was counting 50 car signals, which took a long time; and we rapidly closed the gap which ended in a long string of empties ahead on the track.

One dark night the conductor, who was walking down through the yards, asked us to pick him up when our work was done. With a caboose back of our tender, we backed much too fast down a track which looked clear to all of us. It wasn't. There were loads on it. Two brakemen were in the caboose. Fortunately, the conductor way down the track saw what was happening. He swung his lantern so hard that it went out, but the engineman saw it and stopped. It was a near thing. The brakemen could not possibly have survived.

This is a good place to say that the next year the Missabe started a safety campaign which was very effective, and cut reportable accidents to a fraction of the previous records.

October was usually a bad month for snow. Snow results in slippery rail much more so than with rain and when there is snow in the coal it won't slip off the scoop readily. Canvas was hung over the gangways and over the back of the cab. This had to be rolled up each time I put in a fire. As the weather got colder the check valve on one side had to be opened slightly to keep it and the water in the tank from freezing.

Early one morning a water glass broke as we were about to come in and tie up. The upper valve couldn't be closed entirely and filled the cab with steam and sound. The runner got a look at the steam gauge, which was going down rapidly, and he yelled at me to keep her hot. Which I did, but since you couldn't hear the pops, or see or hear the pet cocks to determine the water level, or for that mat

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