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Railroaders' Nostalgia > the Natural


Date: 12/07/18 19:57
the Natural
Author: atsfer

By the time I finally made it into the cab of a locomotive to begin training as an engineer, the golden days of railroading as far as passenger trains went, was over.   Amtrak had taken over all the passenger business, all the glory trains on the Santa Fe like the El Capitan, Super Chief and so on were gone.  But, the men who had ran them, were still around.   I would be lucky enough to finally train under one who would teach me (or at least try) how to run trains so to give the whole train, and especially the conductor on the rear a good smooth ride.   Stories were told of engineers who would run trains so tight on schedule that they would pass the time apply point by less than 30 seconds after the minute....going 90 MPH.   
     At the time, Santa Fe still supplied the crews for Amtrak, so I was lucky enough to once in a while catch a firemans turn between Newton, Kansas and Kansas City working train 3 and 4 which paid pretty well at the time....about $90 one way.   My job then was to assist the engineer and to keep the boilers for train heat operating....HEP was not in use yet.   The engineers job on these trains was a preferred job due to the pay and the regular hours, providing the trains were on time.  So, this is where some of the old heads that had been on the crack passenger trains would gravitate to.  
     On one  trip, I worked with such a man, who was named Huck.  He ran the train with his chin in one hand slouched against the cab window seemingly almost bored with a 90 mph trip across Kansas.  The locomotive we had was (I believe) an SDP40F which rode rough and was equipped with Chicago Pneumatic speed recorder which was had been around since the steam era.  It had a wax tape in it, and they were not always reliable.   And, this speed recorder was defective in that it would stick, and the needle would not show speed reductions.  So, we were flying along at 90 mph, and approached a station called Elinor where we would cross over through turnouts that were rated for 40 mph.  
     We passed a flashing yellow signal meaning that the crossover was indeed going to happen, but Huck kept plowing along.  We rounded a curve where a red over green indcation meant we were indeed going to hit the switches.   Huck applied air brakes, our speed slowed I could tell, but the needle on the speed recorder stayed at  90.   The signal grew closer and closer, more air, and then finally just as we passed the signal Huck released the brakes, notched down the throttle, and then stood up and hit the speed recorder.   The needle fell from 90 to 40....exactly 40.
We slid through the switches at exactly the right speed.....my jaw slack.  "I pass the mile post at sixty, under the signal at fifty, and then I know I'll hit the switches just right" he said.  
     For a newby at running engines, I was  still not in formal training and over a year away from promotion to engineer.....the impression was profound.   He ran his trains the way most of the old guys then did, by markers, setting the air here, being at this speed there, releasing the brakes at this point here.   I had heard this guy was called "The Natural" by other engineers, now I saw why, and that for him, a speed recorder was an ornament. 
 



Date: 12/07/18 20:47
Re: the Natural
Author: ATSFSuperChief

Great recollection about the way the Santa Fe did it.
Don Allender



Date: 12/08/18 00:22
Re: the Natural
Author: tbdbitl

Indeed it was a great insight - Thanks for sharing.

JWL
 



Date: 12/08/18 10:42
Re: the Natural
Author: ACL3042

When I worked in passenger service, I was the flagman. Of course, I was on the other end of the train. I never had any contact with the engine crew. I probably knew Huck by sight. But, I can not recall him. He was on the wreck on No 4, east of Topeka. Most hoggers could run a train with a blind fold.  Great story.



Date: 12/09/18 07:33
Re: the Natural
Author: LocoPilot750

I too fired on 3 & 4 with Huck Graham, he really knew his business, which is good, because I didn't yet. I was only working with him because I was the low rested Fireman in Emporia when they needed somebody for that job. I would DH to Newton in my car, work from there to KC, and stay at the Continental Hotel down town. I only worked it when the Regular fireman was on vacation, or laid off a trip. After I worked with him a few trips, he let me run a little in places where we could put away the miles with not much to do. I was working it with him just a week or so before they changed the timetable and ran it via Topeka, resulting in the derailment in Lawrence. He told me he was firing on steam engine, and got side swiped by a shifted load of pipe hanging off a gondola on a passing train, at Matfield Green I think. The pipe scraped along his side of the boiler, came through the cab window, and hit him and the back of the tender, injuring him.



Date: 12/13/18 07:28
Re: the Natural
Author: Bob3985

That is an excellent story pointing out how a career railroader can tell his speed and conditions "by the seat of his pants" after years of operating the trains.
Passenger trains were usually pretty easy to work with a uniform brake system as long as the leakage wasn't too bad. Although that could be worked with too.
I did spend most of my career on freight trains and, with the equipment we hauled being inconsistently uniform, each train was it's own personality.
When I was first assigned to the steam program we would deadhead with freight equipment and then either display or pull passenger equipment specials. So it was quite a variety of experiences there. What I did find out was that the power of steam was amazing, especially when we pulled the 143 car APL doublestack train replacing 4 EMD's.
In my years, when asked, I would always tell the questioners that an engineer can tell what his train, power and cars, is telling him and he reacts accordingly.
Keep up the great stories here. It is always good to hear other fellow railroad employees, active and retired.

Bob Krieger
Cheyenne, WY



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 12/17/18 12:28 by Bob3985.



Date: 12/19/18 19:14
Re: the Natural
Author: MP683

I was able to run for an engineer that just recently retired with over 40 years. He ran the "fast forties" the turbines and everything up until last month.

When I was a cut back conductor, I'd run as much as I could.

When I caught him, we had a pretty decent "Z" train heading east, good for 70.

about 15 miles east of town, you crest a small hill, down a hill and into curves and track that is good for 55mph. Granted only semi small speed reduction but downhill at 70, that 55 curve comes quick.

Its .6 uphill, .8 downhill then immediately uphill .5 into the curve.

Power braking is not outlawed, but its not preferred for slowing a train per the rules, and most of the manifest trains we run, you don't want to do it.

So cresting the hill I was going to start backing off and go into dyno's as that would have been more than enough for this train. The engineer looked over and asked me if I've ever taken the curves at speed and if I wanted to. Very quickly I smiled and said I'd love to.

He told me to leave it in N8, bring it down to N6. Told me to grab 8lbs at some bush at the a certain spot. Did that - said notch off one or two.. grab two more lbs and release then grab a notch.

Now there is less than two miles, and doing 70 downhill (plus a crossing) things happen quick, and not quick enough.

The speed was coming down, but the curve was coming up.

You can feel the brakes grabbing and the traction motor whine change with speed. When he told me to grab another notch, we were still above 55.

Speed reduction board is coming fast, and they are placed only 2500ft ahead of the restriction.

As soon we hit that board, the speed was around 60. Hit the curve right at 55, and was able to finish the next couple of notches and matain it until hitting a steeper segment.

Another engineer whose father was an old school engineer runs the same way. One of the last trips I had with him, it was 70 all the way on junk intermodal trains. Grabbing lots of air, some notch reductions and doing 70 and wondering if you were going to hit a 40mph switch gets really interesting when your only a mile away.

Hit the restrictions right on the spot every single time.

Unfortunately PTC takes this away from you, but has made some operations much safer from those who tried above but were much less successful.



Date: 12/20/18 15:58
Re: the Natural
Author: tbdbitl

Great stories about the guys who knew how to run trains!  

Does make you wonder - must have been fun trying to figure these things out for the first one. 

JWL



Date: 12/21/18 08:00
Re: the Natural
Author: Trainhand

My question is what happens when Ptc fails and the engineer has to run the train. All he knows is to babysit the computer. Loosing the cab destroyed train handling, ptc will end how to run a train. I had to deal with trip optimizer and fight with yardmasters while I set it up. With the TO it would disconnect when it didn't know what to do so you at least had to pay attention and blow road crossings. The one thing I wanted the TO to do was tear the train in two. My answer to the road foreman was going to be take it out of service. 



Date: 12/21/18 15:31
Re: the Natural
Author: inCHI

Fascinating stories, thanks for sharing.

Posted from Android



Date: 12/22/18 23:07
Re: the Natural
Author: MP683

PTC doesn’t run the train.

You should know this.

Trip Optimizer can control power and dynamics but not air.

PTC intergrated Trip Optimizer only allows TO to “see” what the signals are doing and adjusts its speed/trip curve as needed.

You still start and stop the train.

Intergrated or standalone TO takes under one minute to setup, so not sure about “fighting with the yardmaster” would be all about.

Fireman still learn to run the train without enabling TO or LEADER. Most railroads allow cut back engineers to run the train without TO to keep their skills up. If yours doesn’t, that’s unfortunate.

If TO breaks the train in two, then cool. Letting it break the train will help the case that its just not 100% capable of being in the field.

Though one day it will be.



Date: 12/23/18 18:19
Re: the Natural
Author: Trainhand

I never dealt with PTC. EarlyTO took a couple of minutes to enter length sub- divisions into the system. The yardmasters wanted you to depart time you got on the engine. It didn't matter that you had to do a calendar day inspection. All they wanted you to do was get on the engine and go, problems you may encounter be damned.



Date: 12/24/18 18:51
Re: the Natural
Author: MP683

Not sure how your could have been setup. Since we had it introduced you entered your warrant number and all you had to do was verify the information.

IIRC the information is downloaded from the GE servers which has an interface to the railroads CAD system - and route and train information sent to the TO card.

With PTC, you set up PTC first, then the computer will send you warrant info to the GE servers and download it. You jest need to verify you loco information and go.

Pretty easy process.

If anyone asks us if we are ready to go, we just tell them we are setting up the computers and then go. Never had an issue about it since the company is all about it.



Date: 01/12/19 04:12
Re: the Natural
Author: engineerinvirginia

MP683 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Not sure how your could have been setup. Since we
> had it introduced you entered your warrant number
> and all you had to do was verify the information.
>
>
> IIRC the information is downloaded from the GE
> servers which has an interface to the railroads
> CAD system - and route and train information sent
> to the TO card.
>
> With PTC, you set up PTC first, then the computer
> will send you warrant info to the GE servers and
> download it. You jest need to verify you loco
> information and go.
>
> Pretty easy process.
>
> If anyone asks us if we are ready to go, we just
> tell them we are setting up the computers and then
> go. Never had an issue about it since the company
> is all about it.

TO is supposed to have all your info, but sometimes it's wrong or non existant and you have to fix it or put it in. 



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