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Western Railroad Discussion > What did a fireman do?


Date: 09/08/11 11:23
What did a fireman do?
Author: Woodman

I have a picture of my dad, as a fireman, working on a yard switcher 2212, in ABQ December 1947. I pretty much know what a fireman did on a steam loco, but what did a fireman do on a diesel yard switcher? Would he ever have to function as a brakeman, joining or disconnecting cars, was he a look out on the other side of the engine, or something else? This is just a question that came to mind. Thanks for your help.



Date: 09/08/11 11:30
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: Out_Of_Service

the fireman in diesel days was basically a carry over of union contracts from steam to diesel which took the railroads quite a long time to eliminate ... some were qualified engineers holding fireman positions like qualified conductor holding brakeman jobs ... some were qualifying to be engineers and ran only when the engineer allowed



Date: 09/08/11 11:37
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: msdgbar

Don't hold me to this but i think a fireman was the one that walked the train and inspected the airhoses and couplers so on so on and so forth before the train left the yard and was the 3rd man on the locomotive.Conductor/Engineer/Fireman in that order of rank.



Date: 09/08/11 12:03
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: ddkid

When I started in the railroad industry (at a supplier, not a railroad) in the early 1970's there were five men on a train, in most cases: Engineer, fireman, head end brakeman in the cab, and conductor and rear end brakeman in the caboose. The fireman was often an engineer in training; when he had enough experience, and enough seniority, he could become an engineer. I always thought the brakemen were the ones who walked the train and made sure that all the hoses were hooked up, etc.

Back in the 1950's, IIRC, there was a big flap about what was called "featherbedding" in the railroad industry. One of the major issues was firemen; the assertion was that with no fire to tend, the fireman had nothing to do, and was just absorbing pay for no work. Not entirely so, but what had been a job requiring considerable skill (the fireman on a steam locomotive doesn't just shovel in the coal at random, or if he does he's not a very good fireman) was considerably reduced by the advent of diesels.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/08/11 12:08 by ddkid.



Date: 09/08/11 12:34
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: alamedafrank

msdgbar Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Don't hold me to this but i think a fireman was
> the one that walked the train and inspected the
> airhoses and couplers so on so on and so forth
> before the train left the yard and was the 3rd man
> on the locomotive.Conductor/Engineer/Fireman in
> that order of rank.


Well, you are close, except the fireman would never leave his seat unless the engineer wanted him to run the engine; and in order of rank, on the engine the Engineer is in charge of the locomotive, the Conductor is in charge of the train, and they are both equally responsible for safety.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/08/11 23:27 by alamedafrank.



Date: 09/08/11 12:54
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: josie

no way it worked that way

Gary Wamhoff
Laramie, WY



Date: 09/08/11 13:21
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: CasperLine

When I asked an old head here what the fireman did in diesel days he said " they held the engineers soda "

Posted from iPhone



Date: 09/08/11 13:27
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: tomstp

If a unit dropped its load the fireman would go back and see if he could get the engine running again. Basically that was it, except he would run the train when the engineer let him.



Date: 09/08/11 13:42
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: WestinAshahr

My girl friend asked the same question of a hoghead many years ago. His response: "He sits and waves."



Date: 09/08/11 13:42
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: UPNW2-1083

In today's terms, a fireman is really a student engineer. On the UP (at least in Los Angeles) the last true fireman (with only fireman seniority) took the job with him when he passed away back in the 1980s. Since then we only had student engineers but after the merger with the SP in 1996, we use the SP Western Lines Agreement which calls them firemen.-BMT



Date: 09/08/11 13:47
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: Woodman

Well thank you gentleman. Dad worked for AT&SF out of ABQ. In 1953 he passed the engineers exam on both steam and diesels. I know he drove the engine a lot in the yards before he passed the exam, but I didn't know if there were other things he did or not. All I know is that he sure came home dirty when he was on steam, and cleaner when he was on a diesel.



Date: 09/08/11 15:27
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: fredkharrison

This trio will fill you in...

Fred Harrison
Central Point, OR
CORPpower/JSS/EORS



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 09/08/11 15:31 by fredkharrison.




Date: 09/08/11 18:09
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: spnudge

Well, in 1970, the hoghead would call them a "Belly Robber". They took $4.00 a hundred (miles)out of the engineers pay. There was one hoghead in SLO that would jump up and down if he had a fireman. (Then it was $10 to LA) I was called one night for an LA and "Mortamer" was called for the peddler behind me. I had a space and and he had a fireman. I had the crew dispatcher to swap them out, Termite got into the cab, we flipped a coin to see who would drive to Santa Barb and who would to LA. I slept pretty good into LA.

The fireman was a hold over from the steam days. After diesels took over, the fireman would run the engine as noted above if the engineer let him. In that way he got the experience sitting on the right hand side. Back in the 60s & 70s we had a lot of old power and you were back there trying to keep them running. (dumping fuel filters in the sump to get the engine to run, restarting units from low oil or some other problem, putting paper cups or flag sticks in the transition or wheel slip relay to keep them loading, etc.)

On passenger a lot of times towards the end, early 70s, you were back there trying to keep the steam generator running, resetting the stack switch, keeping the trainline valve open, cycling the water fill, etc.

On the SP they cut most of the fireman off in the early 60s. Oregon had a full crew law so those guys kept working. Passenger, work train and lite engines had to have a fireman. At that time they had "Red Tag Veto" jobs that each terminal HAD to fill. Failure meant a huge fine so even if they had to call an engineer to fill it, it went with a body in it. In SLO it was on the west end and the afternoon goat. In the City there were a few goats and one job to Wat.Jct. There were also jobs where a restricted engineman would be the fireman on goats or helpers.

During heavy traffic times, they would set up promoted fireman to the engineers extra board and when the late 60s approached there were not any men left so the SP started hiring fireman. After a few years you were sent to the simulator and got an engineers date. (freight only, passenger you had to have 610 road timeslips before you could be qualified passenger) You would be set up in the summer, cut back towards winter and cut off when they didn't need you. You got your rocking chair money which wouldn't even keep you in beer, or you exercised your seniority on your district. I couldn't even work in the City in 69 but had to go to the City for the winter in 70. The 3rd year I stayed in SLO and worked under the table as an electrician until they called me back. I would be on the board for a week or two and cut off again. By the 4th year I was promoted and didn't have to worry.

The old heads used to "Loan Out or Borrow Out" on other divisions when they were cut off and the need for fireman were elsewhere. A lot of guys load out to Dunsmuir where the needed them on flangers, rotary or spreaders. Ray Ridgeway spent 5 days in Weed in the 50s before being dug out by a rotary. He never went back except as an RFE many, many years later. His brother Wes worked out of Dunsmuir in the 80s.


Nudge



Date: 09/08/11 20:37
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: switchlamp

You really summed it up Nudge, do you remember working with Dan Ridgeway at all ? I fired for him on the coast and the mountain pool to Bakersfield before he got rear ended while stopped on a helper in tunnel 1/2 at illmon by the Santa Fe .



Date: 09/09/11 00:17
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: Jim700

spnudge Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Well, in 1970, the hoghead would call them a
> "Belly Robber". They took $4.00 a hundred
> (miles)out of the engineers pay. There was one
> hoghead in SLO that would jump up and down if he
> had a fireman.

Yeah, spnudge, I remember those days well. On the SP&S there was a handful of hoggers who were fireman haters because the pay rates in all classes of service were $4.00 (later $6.00) per hundred miles higher without a fireman. One in particular stood out. Leonard (Lannie) C. Wood (fireman date 07/31/41, engineer date 12/15/52) lived two blocks east of me in Wishram. Later in his career he moved to Portland and primarily worked east to Wishram. He was a really nice guy off the job but he must have sucked on a dozen lemons before he went to work each trip. He was very vocal about "money stealing firemen" and generally made the trip miserable for any fireman who happened to make a trip with him. Because the jobs he worked were blankable for firemen, firemen tried to avoid his assignments and generally could until slow times of the year when it meant the difference between working or not working.

I had never worked with him but always knew it was bound to happen someday. That day came on 05/19/68 when, because the Portland engineer's extra board was exhausted, Lannie made the mistake of answering the telephone on his day off and the crew board clerk shanghaied him to fill the engineer's job on the weekly 42-mile round trip steam-powered passenger train on the Vernonia branch. I was the regular fireman assigned to the weekly job because I was the only SP&S fireman working who was steam qualified. We were called for 1145 to report to the Hoyt Street Yard Office in Portland to deadhead via auto to Banks for 1300 to work a single round trip Banks to Vernonia and then deadhead back to Portland. I elected to drive my own car to Banks and I arrived at the engine perhaps five minutes after Lannie had boarded. Because of his reputation on the job, I definitely wasn't looking forward to the day. As I threw my grip up into the gangway he started right in about "money stealing firemen". It suddenly dawned on me that I had the perfect opportunity to call his bluff and I shot back at him "Lannie, there's two sides to this locomotive today; now you can run it or both run it and fire it at the same time and I really don't care which". You know what? It actually worked! He calmed down and we had a great day working together. That was the only time I ever fired for him; I never did work with him on a diesel.






Date: 09/09/11 06:24
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: galenadiv

When I was working on my Boy Scout railroading merit bade in the 1950s, one of the questions was, "What are the duties of a fireman on a modern diesel locomotive?" I asked my dad, an Illinois Central trainman. He replied, "Sits, reads comic books, sleeps."



Date: 09/09/11 09:02
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: GP30Frank

Nudge: What a priceless explanation that was. Thank you.



Date: 09/09/11 09:45
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: truxtrax

Jim700 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> spnudge Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Well, in 1970, the hoghead would call them a
> > "Belly Robber". They took $4.00 a hundred
> > (miles)out of the engineers pay. There was one
> > hoghead in SLO that would jump up and down if
> he
> > had a fireman.
>
> Yeah, spnudge, I remember those days well. On the
> SP&S there was a handful of hoggers who were
> fireman haters because the pay rates in all
> classes of service were $4.00 (later $6.00) per
> hundred miles higher without a fireman. One in
> particular stood out. Leonard (Lannie) C. Wood
> (fireman date 07/31/41, engineer date 12/15/52)
> lived two blocks east of me in Wishram. Later in
> his career he moved to Portland and primarily
> worked east to Wishram. He was a really nice guy
> off the job but he must have sucked on a dozen
> lemons before he went to work each trip. He was
> very vocal about "money stealing firemen" and
> generally made the trip miserable for any fireman
> who happened to make a trip with him. Because the
> jobs he worked were blankable for firemen, firemen
> tried to avoid his assignments and generally could
> until slow times of the year when it meant the
> difference between working or not working.
>
> I had never worked with him but always knew it was
> bound to happen someday. That day came on
> 05/19/68 when, because the Portland engineer's
> extra board was exhausted, Lannie made the mistake
> of answering the telephone on his day off and the
> crew board clerk shanghaied him to fill the
> engineer's job on the weekly 42-mile round trip
> steam-powered passenger train on the Vernonia
> branch. I was the regular fireman assigned to the
> weekly job because I was the only SP&S fireman
> working who was steam qualified. We were called
> for 1145 to report to the Hoyt Street Yard Office
> in Portland to deadhead via auto to Banks for 1300
> to work a single round trip Banks to Vernonia and
> then deadhead back to Portland. I elected to
> drive my own car to Banks and I arrived at the
> engine perhaps five minutes after Lannie had
> boarded. Because of his reputation on the job, I
> definitely wasn't looking forward to the day. As
> I threw my grip up into the gangway he started
> right in about "money stealing firemen". It
> suddenly dawned on me that I had the perfect
> opportunity to call his bluff and I shot back at
> him "Lannie, there's two sides to this locomotive
> today; now you can run it or both run it and fire
> it at the same time and I really don't care
> which". You know what? It actually worked! He
> calmed down and we had a great day working
> together. That was the only time I ever fired for
> him; I never did work with him on a diesel.

Oh My God, Jim it looks like you're not old enough to shave yet!!

Larry Dodgion
Wilsonville, OR



Date: 09/09/11 10:03
Re: What did a fireman do?
Author: Jim700

truxtrax Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>
> Oh My God, Jim it looks like you're not old enough
> to shave yet!!

Yeah, Larry, we all change a bit, don't we. But I thought I was really in the chips making $20.19 a hundred!



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