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Railroaders' Nostalgia > "But Charlie, how do you know?"


Date: 04/24/20 13:16
"But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: cewherry

After spending my entire adult life (save my visit with our Uncle Sam) on the railroad I look back and
recall events; some difficult, some dangerous, some comical and some downright absurd.

This is about the last two in my aforementioned list, the absurdity of a situation and my attempt to add 
a bit of levity in an effort to gently nudge "the powers that be" to reconsider their words.

In the mid-1990's I was working on Burlington Northern's Seattle-Vancouver, Wa. route. The traffic mix over
this piece of two-main track, CTC railroad was quite diverse and included lumber products from Canada and
the Pacific Northwest headed east and south to California, coal trains destined to a power plant north of Centralia
and unit grain trains destined to the Kalama, Wa. area for transloading to ships headed across the Pacific to Asia.

These last two commodities, coal and grain required lots of horse-power and the cycling of these trains and their engines
between arriving with their loads and departure with empties headed back to the mine or grain elevators in the mid-west
meant that most of the time these locomotives would be away from a maintenance facility for several days. Inevitably situations
arose where locomotives would run out of fuel or get perilously close to running 'dry' before visiting a diesel pump. 

To address this situation BN issued written instructions that engineers on trains that were being left at outlying locations, before
departing for their tie-up point, would check the fuel levels of each of their charges and report those readings to the train dispatcher.
Not a bad idea. In fact, those words were incorporated in BN's, later BNSF's, cold weather protection rules on a systemwide basis.

Now here's the absurdity part. Not to be outdone, the management in charge, (read 'powers that be') at Vancouver Terminal, down
the road a bit from Centralia and Kalama, decided to issue similar instructions to engineers at their terminal. Again not to be outdone,
the Vancouver worthies added a requirement to their missive that made it mandatory for engineers taking charge of locomotives,
including the Vancouver service track, (where theoretically, at least, locomotive servicing personnel had just recently inspected,
tested and serviced said locomotives), to report the fuel readings of each locomotive in their consist to the "on duty" trainmaster. 

REALLY??, I mean, c'mon guys; have you no confidence in your own people? Now, I've always considered myself a rather docile,
don't make waves kind of guy so I resolved to "be a good Scout", "do my duty", "obey the Scout law".

The first occasion I had to comply with the instruction, I called the yardmaster on the radio after taking my 'readings'
and asked if he would please relay some info to the trainmaster. The YM, being naturally cautious when confronted with a 'new' situation,
seemed hesitant and unsure of my possible motives, but he took the numbers. I have no idea if he delivered the precious data
to the trainmaster or if he consigned it to the 'circular file'.  And so it went for the next few trips. Then I began to notice that others of
my 'brothers' were either unaware of the instruction or decided to make a conscious decision to ignore it. One day I met the "on duty"
trainmaster before heading to our train and asked him if he was 'getting' the numbers. The look of bemusement on his face spoke volumes.

(I should add for readers who have never been close to a fuel tank gauge, it is sometimes very difficult to decipher how much fuel is
in the tank and, for the most part, gauges don't show increments less than 100 gallons which allow us to hopefully see the following levity)

Now, for the 'levity'. 

After obtaining my 'readings' on the power I again called the yardmaster on the radio and asked if the trainmaster was available.
"Go ahead, he's listening", came the reply. 

"On the first unit we have 2,628 gallons; the second unit has 2,482.7 gallons; the third unit, 2,753.62 gallons and the
fourth unit 1,976.442 gallons".

Silence. Then the TM's voice asked: "But Charlie, how do you know?"

Now, I pounce: "I used my hand-operated dead-weight tester that I always carry in my grip".

TM: "Thanks, Charlie. Trainmaster out". I saw the trainmaster a few days later and all he would say was; "Dead-weight tester....sure".

As far as I remember, the fuel reading's requirement remains in effect on the BNSF. 

Charlie


 



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/24/20 13:44 by cewherry.



Date: 04/24/20 17:45
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: Trainhand

SCL was too cheap to maintain gauges if the engine had one. EMD's were just the short sight glass, so a rock or spike on the tank gave a guesstimate, GE' had that half the length of the fuel tank glass, but they had had so much oil in them you couldn't see fuel, so back to the rock guesswork.



Date: 04/24/20 18:39
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: Railbaron

Or just wait until the engine dies and then you'll know how much fuel you have - you'll be out!!! 

When SP first got their SD70M's they tried running them through from West Colton to Eugene on the WCEUM. If everything went right they'd make it but if they had a lot of delay, or a heavier than normal train that required higher throttle usage, trains would crest over the hill at Cascade Summit and more than once the lead unit would die by the time you got to Abernathy or so. The fuel pickup was at the rear of the tank but when pointed downhill the fuel would flow to the front of the tank causing the unit to die - fun times. 



Date: 04/24/20 20:41
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: TAW

Railbaron Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The fuel pickup
> was at the rear of the tank but when pointed
> downhill the fuel would flow to the front of the
> tank causing the unit to die - fun times. 

...and at least on an SD40, that was 250 gallons difference (if I remember correctly). In the early 80s when BN was going through their intentional power shortage just because phase, I regularly used that bit of information to determine if a unit would die on the way up to the Cascade Tunnel or on the way down. A standard part of my daily routine was to have the trick man ask any train on the road that was stoping to give me fuel and direction of every unit. There was lots of unit swapping on the road between Seattle and Wenatchee to keep things running more or less.

TAW



Date: 04/25/20 09:58
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: bradleymckay

Charlie, you're one of the best story tellers on TO. Keep 'em coming! BTW thanks for answering my questions too! I might have a few more after I mentally process all the info...

Allen

Posted from Android



Date: 04/25/20 14:48
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: ln844south

Remember back in the day when the gauge did not work on the L&N, taking a rock and tapping the side of the tank to try and guess the level. Keep doing down the side until the sound went from an echo to a thud!. Very scientific.

Steve Panzik
Chiloquin, Or



Date: 04/26/20 08:44
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: Searat

I encountered a similar situation on the SP when they 'starving down' the Coast line in the mid 80's.  They had shut down many roundhouse fuel tracks and we were being required to read the fuel guages on outbound trips.  I was called for the eastbound lumber train at Watsonville Jct., my away terminal, and immediately upon its arrival walked the consist to check for fuel levels.  Three of the four gauges were reading very low.  I reported this to the dispatcher by phone and suggested that we cut off and run over to the fuel track for a fill up.  He informed me that the roundhouse crew had been re-assigned that week and the RH was closed for good.  He advised me to "make a run for it."  I went back out and rechecked the tanks this time using the time honored system of clanking on them with a spike to hear where the fuel was.  Yup, the guages were right.  We left town running very low.  I reported that to the dispatcher on the radio to create a public record for 'CYA'. purposes. 
Several hours later, I requested helpers to meet us at Santa Margarita for the run up Cuesta grade, only to be informed by the DS that we had sufficient horsepower to make the grade unassisted and that he had tied up the helper crew and sent them home. I told him that without fuel, I doubted that we could count on the 'paper' ponies.
The rear unit died shortly after leaving Paso Robles, and by the time we arrived at the TO caboose/office at the west end of Margarita and started to tip upgrade, two more died.  Now there wasn't enough power to even pull up to the cross overs to cut in helpers.  The best I could do in run 8 was to drag the train to a stall halfway up the siding and tie it down.  We had the railroad plugged.  That was when we started to get some serious attention from the cheif dispatcher.  I was informed that they had just put in a call for a new helper crew on duty in San Luis Obispo and that they would be arriving at our location in three hours. I reminded him that we would be dead on the law by then and they should bring a relief train crew with them as well.  The train crew tied down the entire train with handbrakes as required on the grade and I tied down all the power. 
We were tying up in the yard office in SLO when the extra crew arrived, and we told them what to expect.  We played it 'by the book' 100% because I knew that by now we were famous and as the BLE greiver, I didn't want to become 'infamous.'  That consist had run past fueling docks at Roseville, Oakland, and San Jose before arriving empty at Watsonville.  You know that some one was going to get an investigation or at least an interrogation.
It was about ten years later when I had joined Charlie on the BN up in Seattle, that I recieved that same fuel check memo with some bemusement, having already gone through  all that.  I had always done very complete engine checks including fuel tanks after that rodeo.
Mike
  
 



Date: 04/26/20 11:57
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: TAW

Searat Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
>  You know that some one was
> going to get an investigation or at least an
> interrogation.

The Chief I worked for in Bakersfield, Frank Bannister, would have canned the trick man and the chief for at least a few days for that screwup. There is no excuse for that. The theme in his office was even if it wasn't technically your job to prevent it, if it screwed up your railroad, it was your job.

TAW



Date: 04/26/20 13:34
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: tehachcond

cewherry Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> After spending my entire adult life (save my visit
> with our Uncle Sam) on the railroad I look back
> and
> recall events; some difficult, some dangerous,
> some comical and some downright absurd.
>
> This is about the last two in my aforementioned
> list, the absurdity of a situation and my attempt
> to add 
> a bit of levity in an effort to gently nudge "the
> powers that be" to reconsider their words.
>
> In the mid-1990's I was working on Burlington
> Northern's Seattle-Vancouver, Wa. route. The
> traffic mix over
> this piece of two-main track, CTC railroad was
> quite diverse and included lumber products from
> Canada and
> the Pacific Northwest headed east and south to
> California, coal trains destined to a power plant
> north of Centralia
> and unit grain trains destined to the Kalama, Wa.
> area for transloading to ships headed across the
> Pacific to Asia.
>
> These last two commodities, coal and grain
> required lots of horse-power and the cycling of
> these trains and their engines
> between arriving with their loads and departure
> with empties headed back to the mine or grain
> elevators in the mid-west
> meant that most of the time these locomotives
> would be away from a maintenance facility for
> several days. Inevitably situations
> arose where locomotives would run out of fuel or
> get perilously close to running 'dry' before
> visiting a diesel pump. 
>
> To address this situation BN issued written
> instructions that engineers on trains that were
> being left at outlying locations, before
> departing for their tie-up point, would check the
> fuel levels of each of their charges and report
> those readings to the train dispatcher.
> Not a bad idea. In fact, those words were
> incorporated in BN's, later BNSF's, cold weather
> protection rules on a systemwide basis.
>
> Now here's the absurdity part. Not to be outdone,
> the management in charge, (read 'powers that be')
> at Vancouver Terminal, down
> the road a bit from Centralia and Kalama, decided
> to issue similar instructions to engineers at
> their terminal. Again not to be outdone,
> the Vancouver worthies added a requirement to
> their missive that made it mandatory for engineers
> taking charge of locomotives,
> including the Vancouver service track, (where
> theoretically, at least, locomotive servicing
> personnel had just recently inspected,
> tested and serviced said locomotives), to report
> the fuel readings of each locomotive in their
> consist to the "on duty" trainmaster. 
>
> REALLY??, I mean, c'mon guys; have you no
> confidence in your own people? Now, I've always
> considered myself a rather docile,
> don't make waves kind of guy so I resolved to "be
> a good Scout", "do my duty", "obey the Scout
> law".
>
> The first occasion I had to comply with the
> instruction, I called the yardmaster on the radio
> after taking my 'readings'
> and asked if he would please relay some info to
> the trainmaster. The YM, being naturally cautious
> when confronted with a 'new' situation,
> seemed hesitant and unsure of my possible motives,
> but he took the numbers. I have no idea if he
> delivered the precious data
> to the trainmaster or if he consigned it to the
> 'circular file'.  And so it went for the next
> few trips. Then I began to notice that others of
> my 'brothers' were either unaware of the
> instruction or decided to make a conscious
> decision to ignore it. One day I met the "on
> duty"
> trainmaster before heading to our train and asked
> him if he was 'getting' the numbers. The look of
> bemusement on his face spoke volumes.
>
> (I should add for readers who have never been
> close to a fuel tank gauge, it is sometimes very
> difficult to decipher how much fuel is
> in the tank and, for the most part, gauges don't
> show increments less than 100 gallons which allow
> us to hopefully see the following levity)
>
> Now, for the 'levity'. 
>
> After obtaining my 'readings' on the power I again
> called the yardmaster on the radio and asked if
> the trainmaster was available.
> "Go ahead, he's listening", came the reply. 
>
> "On the first unit we have 2,628 gallons; the
> second unit has 2,482.7 gallons; the third unit,
> 2,753.62 gallons and the
> fourth unit 1,976.442 gallons".
>
> Silence. Then the TM's voice asked: "But Charlie,
> how do you know?"
>
> Now, I pounce: "I used my hand-operated
> dead-weight tester that I always carry in my
> grip".
>
> TM: "Thanks, Charlie. Trainmaster out". I saw the
> trainmaster a few days later and all he would say
> was; "Dead-weight tester....sure".
>
> As far as I remember, the fuel reading's
> requirement remains in effect on the BNSF. 
>
> Charlie

Charlie, I always knew you were a "dynamiter."
>
Brian Black
Castle Rock, CO
>
>  



Date: 04/26/20 14:18
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: Searat

TAW:  "Roger that!" 



Date: 04/29/20 17:45
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: LocoPilot750

We used to have to call in fuel readings leaving Wellington eastbound. That meant a walk around the consist looking at the gauges. If we had Feromex engines in the consist, they were in liters not gallons, so that's about all I could tell the DS, I'm sure he had away to convert it to gallons. Everything on those units was metric or spanish.

Posted from Android



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 04/29/20 17:46 by LocoPilot750.



Date: 04/29/20 20:32
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: chakk

3.78 liters per US gallon



Date: 05/05/20 19:58
Re: "But Charlie, how do you know?"
Author: CCDeWeese

Whilt working for the NYC as an operator, 1959-1963, I recall a westbound train on the Indianapolis - St Louis line calling from Nash, a few miles west of Indianaoplis, that their engines had died from lack of fuel.  The dispatcher asked the engineer what he had leaving Brightwood, and the engineer said that he had told the roundhouse foremen at Brightwood that the consist was low on fuel and the roundhouse foreman told him to take the engines.  The NYC chief at Mattoon got a fuel truck to the train. 



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