The Steam Engine Driver

Posted 49 months ago|5 comments|974 views
Convaying goods and Passengers by Rail
Written by
Paper Tiger
Early on a cold and frosty morning a loud knock from his frount door starts the day of the average engine driver.

This is done by the 'knocker up' detailed for this special duty to ensure that the driver is not late for work.

He keeps knocking until he secures a satisfactory response from within.

His round of the homes of drivers and firemen is made at least one hour before they are to sign for duty.

Meanwhile, inside the engine sheds, the locomotives are being overhauled and serviced by staffs of machanics, fitters and cleaners ready for their respective runs.

While dressing the driver takes care to select warm underclothes, for the temperature in a locomotive engine cab is conditional upon extreams of heat from the firebox and the cold from the constant draughts of fresh air which are sucked into it when travelling at speed.

A greatcoat would be an encumbrance, so the driver must wear good warm clothing beneath his overalls.

As he breakfasts, his wife prepares the food he will need for the day, and this includes an ample supply of tea, for driving is thirsty work.

His first consideration on reaching the engine sheds is to sign on; then he proceeds to the many notice boards from which he learns the trains allotted to him for outward and return journeys.

If the journey is over two hundred miles it is very likely that his return run will be scheduled for the following day. From the same board he learns who is to be his fireman for the trip.

All the train arrangements for which a shed happens to be responsible are linked up into weekly rosters. The most experienced men are in the 'top links' with the most important runs.

Other notice boards will give miscillaneous information which is necessary for efficient running.

There are notes of bridges or sections of track under repair, where a 'slack' speed restriction, has been imposed. There are also warnings of new signals which may have been erected, with a list of special instructions.

Such is the road which all drivers travel; a hard road, and a long road. It has no short cuts but it makes foe efficiency and confidence.

When an engine leaves its shed it passes under a great coaling tower to receive the fuel that will be needed for the day's run. This may amount to as much as nine tons, and it is dropped by automatic gear from the storage bunker overhead into the tender.

When, at last, they are ready to move off, the driver climbs into his cab, a light touch of the drivers hand upon the regulator sends his mighty engine gliding forward to the point of exit on the main line.

For a few moments a danger signal bars the way and one can sense a snort of impatience from the engine, as it waits for the arm to fall so that it can move on towards the terminus.

The tender, piled high with coal, is leading, and both driver and fireman are leaning out of the cab's side windows so that none of the signals on a busy stretch of line are missed.

Then from a cluster of electric colour lights ahead, the driver picks out one small light which tells him that he is safe to back on to his train.

There is an art in backing on to a train so that scarcely a passenger detects the engine's arrival. Enthusiasts massed upon the platform can appreciate the nicety of judgement, and to take train numbers.

While the driver smiles to this admiring gallery, the fireman slips down between the tender and train ans 'couples up.'

After correcting the train lamps to form the head code this time to indicate an 'Express Passenger.'

As the driver tests the brakes, the guard arrives, note-book in hand, to record the number of the engine and the names of the crew.

The platform inspector, who is in charge of all departures from the terminus is not far away.

Departure time comes. The engine safety valves lift with a roar, for full pressure of two hundred and fifty pounds to the square inch has been attained.

The fireman leans out of his side window and looks back down the platform intently, while the driver holds his hands poised upon the polished regulator.

At the platform's end the starting signal light changes to green, and a succession of lights beyond, strwching as far down the line as the eye can see also switch through orange to green, indicating that the driver has 'got the road.'

The guards penatrating whistle is heard behind and the green flag is waving as other hands relay the 'right away' along the crowded platform.

'Right away', calls the fireman, and the drivers's arm stiffens and the regulator is opened. The driver eases the regulator gradually, for a gentle shudder from the locomotive tells that the wheels are slipping slightly on the smooth rails.

The sanding gear is put to work and a steam jet is blowing fine sand beneath the wheels. The driver glances at his watch 'on time' he notes and gives a nod to his crew.

He refers to his watch many times throughout the journey, for he is scheduled to pass all important intermediate stations and junctions at defonate times.

Smoothly and easily the one-hundred and sixty-ton engine and tender and the sixteen coaches, which weigh over five hundred tons, move away.

The exhaust steam is shooting straight up out of the funnel, with a staccato, quickening beat. Soon the driver begins to ' notch up,' which meansan adjustment of the valve-gear of the engine to alter the precise point in the 'stroke' of the pistons through the cylinders at which the admission of live steam is cut off.

The driver makes adjustments until the cut-off has come down to perhaps 15% or so, and for the remaining six-sevenths of each piston stroke the steam is doing its work by expansion.

Weather conditions can make difficult and worrying work but they would be the first to admit they enjoy it.

Working trains is a hard and skilled job, teams of people must work togather so everthing is done safely and smoothly.

A railwayman will tell you he has the hardest job there is, but he will never change it.
49 months ago: Gosh, that IS romantic. Gosh.

But there is the problem, too. Steam engines create a good deal of atmospheric pollution. At some times of the year, China's atmospheric pollution is visible on satellite photographs as the cloud of it wafts toward India.

It is possible for mankind to create a planet where life is scant, where oxygen is thin, where plants have little opportunity to grow because of various pollutions. This is within mankind's ability.

Other kinds of powerful rail engine have been developed that pollute much less.
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
49 months ago: Hi Terryeo

The old pot calling the kettle black eh?

You leave my little old train alone and I wont go on about your nations carbon sashsquash boot print.
49 months ago: T you should have stopped at the first sentence. I believe it was more of a historical piece than a tale of current events.

Liked it. Got anymore?
Paper Tiger
Paper Tiger
49 months ago: Hi Six
I have worked for the railway in my time, and execpt for the engine the language and the culture is still the same. The 'knocker up' is gone but little else.

I helped in the privatization of our railway system, but hey thats for another day.
Eugene, OR
49 months ago: I agree that it is romantic, but I can't believe that England is still using the old Coal engines. I think the US is probably behind the rest of the developed world but even we have oil/electric hybrids.

The acrid coal smoke especially going through tunnels was terrible.

Today with the new high speed trains more and more of the functions are done by computer which is probably a good thing.

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