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Friday, 14 November 2008
A local run on the U&RM
Topic: U&RM RR

By Brian Eckard

All through the night the sound of rain pounding down on a tin roof with a rhythmic and hypnotic tapping sound. By day break, the rain had stopped. There was a cool breeze that caused the damp air to feel colder than it really was. George, a huge bulky man who stood about six feet tall, shuffled out of the crew shanty at the Moscow yard. He headed over to the round house to get his locomotive prepared for the morning's activities.

During the rainy overnight the engine servicing crew had been working on the locomotive, finishing up with starting a fire in the firebox so that a good amount of steam could be generated in time for the scheduled local run to take place.

As George entered the roundhouse he looked around at the dingy, dirty work area. He thought about not too long ago when it would be full of dirty, noisy, steam engines all hissing and churning, waiting for their next run on the mainline. This particular morning, only his steam engine remained. The other locomotives had been distributed across the railroad, and the extras sold for scrap. The Utah and Rocky Mountain was in the midst of transition from steam to the much cleaner diesel locomotives.

The roundhouse was dimly lit and there was coal dust all over the place which added to the dinginess of the place. Over towards the back wall were workbenches with tools of every kind and size, used by the mechanics to work on the large steam locomotives. In the far right corner was a makeshift shop with lathes and welding equipment. All the equipment needed to make parts for the aging steam locomotives was available. Over on the left side were more workbenches with all the tools and equipment needed to service the new diesel locomotives.

"Hey George!" yelled a man from behind. George quickly turned to see his Fireman, Joe, rushing into the building. "I have our train orders, and Bob is goin' to meet us over by the crummies!" He continued. George replied, "Sounds good to me, Joe." Looking over at the break room he turned to Joe and blurted out, "Goin to git my coffee Joe, you get up dar and make sure our pressure is good to go!" Smiling, Joe responded, "I'll see you up there. I've got my coffee with me."

George headed over to the break room to get his coffee. He had to have his morning brew. There's nothing that beats running train with a good cup of coffee. Joe liked his coffee black, and the stronger the better. It made him feel like a man to drink coffee that most people would try to avoid.

George entered the break room, a typical place where guys meet. A large table was at the center of the room with chairs around it. Over in the corner was a smaller table with a radio on it. Jazz was playing on the it with a catchy beat resonating in the room. At the table were engine crews who were waiting for their train orders. Every few moments, laughter would erupt from this group of burley men dressed in overalls and covered with dirt and grime from a busy day out on the line. George looked at the group, their faces dulled with grime and sweat. "Hey dar guys! How you doin?" The group replied, "Hey George! Come on over and join us!" "Nah," replied George, "I got my orders and I got to git goin. Runnin a local today up to Cour and back!" George headed over to the coffee pot and got his brew.

Joe grabbed the grab irons on the locomotive, and hoisted himself up into the cab. He was a medium sized man about five foot eight inches. He had sandy brown hair, dark eyes, and for a fireman, wasn't really that athletic or strong looking. Upon entering the cab he placed his coffee thermos over on the left side of the cab where his seat was located. He then walked back to the tender and grabbed his shovel. He turned, took a scoop of coal and then flipped around kicking the fire door lever. As he came around toward the firebox, its door swung open letting out a blast of hot air. He shoved the coal into the orange glowing firebox. Releasing his foot on the door lever it slammed shut.

Glancing up Joe looked at the steam pressure. It was almost at the needed level so that they could leave. The water was looking low, but they could stop at the water tower to fix that issue. Joe went back to his shoveling so that he could continue to build up the steam pressure.

By this time, George arrived and put his coffee mug on top of the firebox. This kept it piping hot for him. He had fashioned a fastener up there so that the mug would stay in place even with the rocking motion of a steam locomotive barreling down the tracks. He glanced at the gauges to check the steam pressure and water levels. Then, he glanced back at the tender and noted to himself that they would need to stop not only at the water tower for more water, but also the coal tower get more fuel for the morning's activities as they made their way to up to Coer d'alene.

Charlie climbed up into the cab. He was a smaller man of about five feet, heavy set wearing dirty overalls smeared with coal dust and grease. He wore blackened, dirty gloves. "Hey George! You guys ready to git outta ere?" he said in a raspy voice that sounded as if he had heavily smoked for years.

George responded, "Yup, it looks like she's up to steam naw." George stepped away from his seat and went over to the Joe's seat and sat down. Joe stood at the center of the cab leaning on his shovel, resting from his toil. A grimy sweat caused his forehead to shine in the dimly lit cab. Charlie sat down and took the throttle. Charlie was an engine hostler, His job was to move the locomotive out of the roundhouse onto the turntable where it could be turned to face the direction of its intended travel.

With two short blasts of the whistle he slowly eased the throttle and the locomotive started to move forward out of the roundhouse and onto the turntable. George began ringing the bell to warn his fellow workers that there was a locomotive in motion in the shop.

The steam engine emerged from the roundhouse and Charlie centered it on the turntable. He then climbed down and went over to the turntable controls. The locomotive was turned so that it faced appropriately for a northbound trip from Moscow to Coer d'Alene. Meanwhile, George moved over to his proper seat and Joe finally sat down for a brief rest.

Charlie gave George the signal, and the steam locomotive slowly moved off the turntable and went over to the coaling tower.

The locomotive came to a stop so that the tender was lined up with the coal shoot. Joe climbed up on top of the tender and then reached up for the shoot chain. Pulling it caused the coal shoot to lower down to the tender, and coal began to fall down, filling it up. Once the tender was filled to the brim, Joe released the chain causing the coal shoot to go back up, stopping the flow of coal down into the tender. He yelled down to George to go over to the water tower.

George coaxed the locomotive slowly over to the water tower and stopped. While the locomotive was changing its position, Joe walked over to the water tank lids of the tender. He opened them just as the locomotive came to a stop. Joe stood up and grabbed the water flume. He pulled it down and aligned it over the water tank opening on the tender. He then grabbed the water tank chain and pulled it. Water immediately started to gush through the flume and into the tender. Joe allowed the water to flow freely, watching the level inside the tender as it came slowly up to the opening. He released the chain when the water came flowing out of the opening across the top of the tender and over the sides to the ground.

Joe carefully moved the flume up and away from the tender, water dripping down to the ground as it returned to an upright position. Joe then walked over the top of the tender, then coal and down into the cab. He glanced up at the steam pressure, there was still enough for them to move over to the waiting cars on the departure track, so he sat down and started ringing the bell to warn yard workers that there was a locomotive moving. With two short blasts of the whistle, George eased the locomotive into moving. They moved over to the departure track.

Earlier, the switcher had assembled the cars that were headed north from the yard tracks onto the departure tracks. It had also run over to the local Moscow industries and picked up the loaded cars that were ready and headed for Coeur d'Alene. These cars had been added to the consist sitting on the departure track in Moscow. Finally, the caboose had been attached--all that was needed was a locomotive to make it into a train.

George eased his locomotive back to the cars slowly. Joe stood by the first car waving George on. When the locomotive was about to connect, George skillfully slowed the huge beast so that it would gently couple with the car. Slam! Clunk went the coupler, and the locomotive came to a stop. Joe quickly connected up the brake line and then signaled to George to test it. The hiss of air showed that the system was working. After passing the test, Joe climbed back up into the locomotive. They had to now wait for the Conductor to give them the highball to proceed on their day's work.

Back in the crummy, Bob, the Conductor was at his desk busily studying the waybills that would make up the day's work. He was attempting to organize them to facilitate the most efficient means of picking up and setting out cars based on the direction the train was traveling, and based on the order of cars that had been assembled into his consist. The yard switcher had done a good job of getting the cars into the right order. It was now his turn to get the paperwork into the same order.

The caboose was warm from the coal stove over in the corner. The air was filled with the aroma of fresh coffee. On top of the stove sat a percolator that was hissing and churning with the boiling water that was rapidly becoming a fresh pot of coffee.  The room was dimly lit with oil lamps, and on Bob's desk was a brighter lamp that lit up his work.

In the middle of the caboose were two bay windows that allowed him, and the brakeman to sit and watch the train for any signs of problems. They would spend countless hours watching the landscape slip by while keeping an eye on their train for smoking journal boxes, or any other sign of trouble. When a train passed by, their attention would immediately focus on the passing train to see if there were problems over there. If there were, a quick radio transmission to the other train would alert them to any immediate danger.

Once all of Bob's paperwork was finished, he stood up and went over to the stove. He picked up the freshly brewed pot of coffee and poured himself a mug. Walking past his desk, he set the mug down on it. The coffee smelled good and it was hot, steam rising from the mug. Bob grabbed his jacket and went outside. Climbing down to the ground Bob walked up towards the front of the train.

George was sitting back relaxing, reading a book when Bob climbed up into the cab. He pulled out a copy of the train's manifest and handed it to George. "George, here's today's work, and the order that we'll drop and pick up the cars. Take a look and let me know if you have any questions."

George looked over the manifest and switch list. Everything appeared to be in order so he responded, "No questions here, Bob...looks good!" George put his copy of the switch list on his clipboard, that was hanging on the side of the cab. He then turned and started to prepare to pull out of the yard with his train. Bob climbed down from the cab and walked back to the caboose. He climbed up and then grabbed the lantern. Swinging it, he signaled to George that he was clear to leave the yard and begin the day's work.

--More to come


Posted by woodbrdge at 5:09 AM PST
Updated: Friday, 14 November 2008 5:10 AM PST
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