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Railroaders' Nostalgia > On the Back of That Fireman


Date: 02/20/19 07:05
On the Back of That Fireman
Author: birdman

My father related this story to me many years ago.  It is nostalgic and perhaps some career railroaders might chime in.  It tells why my dad did not take a job on the railroad.

It was June of 1917.  My father had just been graduated from West Philadelphia High School when my Irish grandfather asked him a question. " Lad, would you be having a job yet?"  My father replied that he had appied for a job as an electrician's apprentice and another job as a fireman on the Pennsyvania Railroad.  My grandfather said, "Lad, be coming with me!"  My grandfather walked my father to a bridge over the PRR tracks and waited for a westbound freight train to pass.  There was a stiff grade westbound out of Philadelphia to Paoli on the main line and the locomotive was working hard.  Most of the PRR locomotives of that era did not have stokers.  After the train passed, my grandfather said to my dad,
"Lad, that train just climbed that hill on the back of that fireman!"  My dad said that he got the message and went the next day to accept the electrician's apprentice job.  In retrospect, it was a good decision as my dad, after working very hard and taking a lot of night school classes at the Spring Garden Institute and Penn State University, eventually rose to the position of Plant Engineer at the I-T-E Circuit Breaker Company.



Edited 5 time(s). Last edit at 02/20/19 09:03 by birdman.



Date: 02/20/19 16:53
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: PHall

Pennsy didn't adopt mechanical stokers until they HAD to. 



Date: 02/20/19 18:13
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: co614

My grandmother told me the story of how she would send grandpa off to work with a dinner pal loaded with 4 sandwiches ( his favorite was sardines with onions and limberger cheese) and apples when he was a fireman on the CRRofNJ. They worked 16 hour days then and all his yard engines were hand fired. Grandma said he'd come home very tired and immediately go to bed ready to get up 6 hours later and go off for another 16 hours. Them were the days !!!

   Ross Rowland 



Date: 02/20/19 18:54
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: johnambrose

I remember my grandfather told me back in the 1920s he hired out as a Fireman for the Rock Island out of Little Rock in Arkansas. As a newbie he said his engineer kept blowing the whistle (more steam needed = more coal shoveling). After a few words and maybe a threat between him and the engineer.... well that was the end of his RR career

Posted from iPhone



Date: 02/20/19 19:01
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: tomstp

A friend of mine was a teenager in the land of the PRR.  At the age of 17 he got a job firing for PRR in the summer..  At that time new fireman were usually assigned to passenger trains.  There would be 2 fireman because there was no stoker..  The railroad used water pans on his runs so they did not stop for water and stopped very little in towns.  It took 2 young men to keep up with the coal needed to be thrown in he firebox since it was constant due to the fast speed of the train.    He stayed with the PRR for two weeks and then quit.  He said he never wanted another railroad job because that one damn near killed him.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 02/20/19 19:09 by tomstp.



Date: 02/20/19 20:27
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: ATSFSuperChief

And yet people in the higher up areas of the railroad companies beef about the unions! GMAFB!

Don Allender a retired maritime union steam engineer



Date: 02/21/19 12:10
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: retcsxcfm

As most young men at the time,I wanted to be an engineer.
Before that you had to be a fireman.I applied at the SAL
division office in Tampa.I was told I had to weigh at least
150 lbs. I weighed 128,therefore,I was never an engineer.
Ended up as a carman.In later years I weighted 259 lbs!

Uncle Joe
11 Miles East of Tampa.



Date: 02/21/19 12:36
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: Trainhand

In Savannah there was a SAL fireman, I knew hin as a SCL engineer. The Seaboard told him he was not big enough to fire. His answer, I could do what the Marines asked of me,I can do what you want me to do, if I can't do it,fire me. They gave him a shot, he did the job for over 40 years. He was a very good engineer and better man. I still don't see how he fired steam engines.



Date: 02/21/19 17:57
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: eminence_grise

Today, BC Highway  5 is a vital part of highway network across the Coast Mountain Range between Vancouver and the rest of Canada. The western slope is the subject of Discovery Channel's "Highway through Hell" reality show. Some of the locations get their name from sidings along CP's Coquihalla Subdivision, abandoned in the eary 1960's.

This piece of railway formed the western connection for the Kettle Valley Division of the CPR, a route that connected mines and smelters across southern BC.

The eastbound grade out of Hope was an unrelenting 2.2% ,and most of the steam locomotives were not stoker equipped. A friend told me that it was an extreme workout for a fireman, however such was the brotherhood amongst operating employees that the engineer and brakeman would often help fire the engine uphill.



Date: 02/22/19 08:56
Re: On the Back of That Fireman
Author: kevink

birdman Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> ... when my Irish grandfather asked him a question. " Lad,
> would you be having a job yet?" 

I married into an Irish family. Both of my wife's parents were immigrants (Co. Kerry and Limerick). So when I read the quotes from your grandfather, I could clearly hear the voices of any number of my wife's family.



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