Home Open Account Help 266 users online

Railroaders' Nostalgia > If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a bus!


Date: 12/13/16 11:46
If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a bus!
Author: TAW

Winter railroading in Chicago 40 years ago was generally normal, albeit sometimes a bit slower.

Switch heaters were effectively cans of kerosene with a wick. The heaters were placed under the switch points and lit by the gandys in advance when conditions requiring them. When conditions were expected that would overwhelm the kerosene heaters, gandys would be stationed in the towers, standing by to dig out switches. We called them snowmen. When I worked in Montana for BN, there were no towers. The snowmen were stationed on trains, managed by the train dispatcher. They would be set off of a train at a station where they were needed and picked up by another train. Yes, it took manpower, but winter takes manpower. Driving crews to and from (or wandering around looking for) stranded trains takes manpower too.

When the snowmen were on duty, they typically stayed in the tower bottom floor. They were expected to patrol the plant and keep it in operation. If things were really bad, the towerman would call out switches in advance so that the snowmen could have them cleaned out when that route was needed.

Something that did not happen was dead trains all over the place, blocking other traffic and making more crews die. Yes, Hours Of Service was 16 hours, but the quit jobs still got a quit, just not as much. The jobs that usually took 12 hours made it in. The jobs that were usually 16 hours were industry jobs and usually made it in at the last minute anyway.

Sometimes, things fell apart. Things would fall apart at other times of the year, but winter could complicate fixing the situation.

One afternoon in, mmmm probably early 1971, a big snowstorm hit Chicago and western Indiana and Michigan. I was 2d trick B&OCT Chief. The temperature was around zero, there was a strong wind and heavy snow. Things were slow, as would be expected, but the normal traffic was running. Then, part of it blew up.

Rockwell Street reported that No 6 (the Real Capitol Limited) came apart as it was crossing the CNW/PRR/B&OCT diamonds. Apparently the car knocker who tied on the power didn't make sure that the pin dropped fully. The trailing unit uncoupled, tearing up the steam line, the safety chains, and damaging the rear unit and the baggage car. The rear unit was damaged worse than the baggage car. I called the Lincoln Street roundhouse foreman. I told him what happened and asked about 9186. 9186 was a steam generator RS1 that had been the depot engine and after it was replaced with the (non-steam-generator) C&O 5256, was supposed to be the passenger protect engine. The foreman gave me some unfortunate news. 9186 had some rather inconvenient unauthorized modifications. Some genius decided that it would probably never be needed for passenger service and hooked up some Rube Goldberg arrangement to use the water tank for extra fuel. After some, let's leave it at negative, comments about the car knocker who was supposed to make sure that the joint had made, he gave me plan B.

He would be at Western Avenue (West end of Robey Street yard, the connection to the main and the Brewery Lead running through to Rockwell Street ( http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,1288084,1288124#1288124 Date: 11/26/06 20:59 Re: B&O Passenger trains out of CNW Station Question Author: TAW) with all of the tools, parts, and men needed to put No 6 back together again. Sure enough, five minutes later, Western announced a light engine for Rockwell. Fortunately, the main line hostler was at the roundhouse instead of out on the road, but this was B&OCT. The hostler being out on the road wouldn't have affected the rescue mission.

The operator at Rockwell said that the roundhouse had cut and removed the steam line on the rear unit and wanted the power wyed. From where they were, that would be running through the wye to 14th Street Jct, to Western Ave. Jct. to Rockwell, into the wye, and back onto CNW. By the time the power got back, he'd have the baggage car ready for the power to tie back on. The whole event was over in about an hour. No 6 was leaving town and the light engine was on the way back to the roundhouse.

That wasn't enough excitement, though. Streets were becoming impassable. Railroads didn't depend on streets, though. Back then, railroads were pretty much self-sufficient, including providing places for essential people to stay at the railroad or within walking distance when storms were expected. The CTA bus dispatcher called me. His south side radio was out and in the chaos, he was losing track of what his buses were doing. Could I do him a favor and ask trains to let me know if they observed buses anywhere so I could pass the information to him. I used to regularly tell the CTA bus dispatchers when there was going to be an extended blockage of a crossing on a bus route. There wasn't anything that he could do for me but, I never expected favors to be returned. We were both in the same business and helping out a brother was just a normal thing to do. I stuck out a message to No 6 at Brighton Park, telling the engine crew to let me know at Pullman Jct.

Meanwhile, the Chief in Grand Rapids called. They couldn't keep up with the lake effect snow between Porter (IN) and St Joseph (MI). He was going to annul No 8 (Chicago - Grand Rapids passenger, which was 708 to CNW, 608 to B&OCT, (I don't remember its number on CRIP) and 808 on NYC). I told him I'd arrange it. I gave my trick man the news, then called the CNW stationmaster and the Gresham train director. The C&O dispatcher told my NYC colleague by way of the operator at Porter.

There was only one detail: 63rd Street. All B&O and C&O passenger trains stopped at 63rd Street, but there was just a platform, not even a shelter. There was a station building at ground level (the tracks were on elevation for grade separations) with stairs up to the tracks. The station had been re-purposed and there was nobody around when 608 would be due. I called the C&O traimaster (a really good rail and good guy - the trainmaster in http://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,1295858,1295858#msg-1295858). The operator at 75th Street said the he hadn't seen any traffic moving on Western Avenue (parallel to and just west of the B&OCT and Pennsy, one of the mile-interval arterial streets). I told him about that and asked if he thought he could make it to 63rd and see if there were passengers waiting. Of course! It's just snow. Off he went.

Over an hour later, when he got back to Rockwell (the C&O yard) he called to tell me what happened. There were close to a dozen people standing out there on the platform braving the blizzard, waiting for 608. He told them the situation and offered alternative transportation, a bus, for anyone who wanted it. Passengers thanked him and started walking off the platform and down the stairs to the parking lot. One of them stopped to say If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a bus! I'll catch the morning train.

The rest of the night was just another winter night on the Mad Line.

TAW



Date: 12/13/16 12:04
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: dbinterlock

Another great Railroading story. Brrr. I can't imagine ANY of this happening present day, steam heat or not.



Date: 12/13/16 15:16
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: cabsignaldrop

Greatly enjoy all your stories, TAW. I can imagine the scene!

Posted from Android



Date: 12/14/16 06:24
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: icemancne

Here is a photo of one of  those "Old School" switch heaters.  We still use them for the Happy Holidays RR at IRM.

Have a great and safe day,

Frank D.




Date: 12/14/16 08:56
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: Grande473

We still have these at Mariposa Yard on RTD-Denver light rail.



Date: 12/14/16 08:59
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: Grande473

Regarding those old-fashioned switch heaters at Mariposa Yard more than once passengers have banged on cab doors to tell us we had tracks on fire.



Date: 12/14/16 09:45
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: krm152

I spent a week in Chicago in mid-late December 1971.  I remember the temperature became bitter cold and there was a major snow.
ALLEN



Date: 12/14/16 14:54
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: usmc1401

Just last night 12/13/16 ABC news had a railroad shot from Chicago. Showed lots of snow and fire burning along the rail.



Date: 12/14/16 15:10
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: ghemr

icemancne Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Here is a photo of one of  those "Old School"
> switch heaters.  We still use them for the Happy
> Holidays RR at IRM.

Isn't that called a "smudge pot" or something to that effect?
 



Date: 12/14/16 15:18
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: ghemr

TAW----based on your story regarding #6 you forgot to mention how many Trainmasters, Asst Supt's, Road Foremen, MTO's, DTO's, Division Managers, etc. helped you through this ordeal?

Oh wait a minute---I reread your story and that was 40 years ago...............



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/14/16 15:19 by CSX_ENG.



Date: 12/26/16 13:26
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: Brasspounder

CSX_ENG Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> icemancne Wrote:
> --------------------------------------------------
> -----
> > Here is a photo of one of  those "Old School"
> > switch heaters.  We still use them for the
> Happy
> > Holidays RR at IRM.
>
> Isn't that called a "smudge pot" or something to
> that effect?
>  

Looks like it's operation is similar to the smudge pots used in orchards, just smaller.

Posted from Android



Date: 01/16/17 12:31
Re: If the train can't get through, I sure don't want to be on a
Author: TAW

rantoul Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> How were the snowmen protected from a switch
> movement while working?  Blue flag to the levers?

Blocking on the levers was red, not blue. It might be a can-looking thing over the lever grip or a collar that slipped over, leaving the grip exposed. In both cases, it was built to keep the lever from moving. The real name was blocking device, but we called them reminders. Why CTC manufacturers decided to make blocking blue on graphic computer displays is beyond me. I suppose if everything is color coded, blue was about all that was left.

In towers, we might use them or maybe not, depending upon the conditions. If the snowmen were working in the plant just in general, we would watch them. They moved around the plant and there was no instant communication, so reminders was an ineffective way to deal with them. If we needed to get their attention, some towers had a siren or whistle. Others had a megaphone, y'know, the cone-shaped thing you yell into. In a mechanical plant, we might get their attention by working a switch or derail near where they were working. If it moved it back and forth a couple of times, they would look up to the tower to see if you wanted them. There was generally a phone somewhere near the home signals. If we couldn't convey what we wanted by hand signs, we would give them a phone sign - left hand in a fist next to your ear like holding a phone receiver and right hand opposite in a cranking motion. It is amazing what rails could do before radio.

If we rousted them from the coal stove downstairs to go free up a specific switch, we knew they were there and probably couldn't run the next train until they freed it up. If the foreman said that they needed to work on a specific switch that was going to be a problem, then a reminder would do it - one on the switch and one on each home signal governing the switch. On a mechanical machine, it might be just pulling the latch and moving the switch just out of full in or out of the machine position. That would prevent signals from being lined, and the part-pulled iron would be the reminder itself.

In CTC before track & time or its equivalent, the gandys would call from a location and tell the dispatcher (or operator in operator controlled CTC) that they were going to work on a switch. In the days before dual control switches, they would ask for the switch normal or reverse then call back for the other way. If it was busy and they were out working in general, we'd put a reminder on the switch and signals. If we sent them because there was a train waiting, we'd generally just pay attention. That was the way that we handled them when they were out riding trains. Have them on a train to a point where a meet or pass would be occurring, have them bail out and get the switch the train they rode on needed. They would say they were ready to throw the switch. If it locked, we would tell them if the were getting back on or not. If not, the train would pull by, the gandys would call, and we would have them clean both sides of the switch and be sure that there was drainage. For that, we would generally block the switches and signals. Some would use the blocking as a reminder of there the snowmen were. I always used the trainsheet for that so I could keep track of who was where, how long they had been out there without a break, and how long they had been out in the cold between train rides. Northern Montana is a pretty inhospitable place in winter. By tracking who was where when on the trainsheet, I could make sure that I could get everybody to a town between train rides to assignments.

Of course, it's all different now with radio, dual control switches, and permits (and 500 mile territories with fax machines and emails and no operators and and and and).

TAW



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/16/17 13:02 by TAW.



[ Share Thread on Facebook ] [ Search ] [ Start a New Thread ] [ Back to Thread List ] [ <Newer ] [ Older> ] 
Page created in 0.147 seconds