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I always enjoyed going to work on the 11pm yard engine and #79, the 9pm freight to Louisville, Ky. when steam was still king. I say this but must make it clear, this was during the summer months. The months from June through August in Indiana are usually balmy with a light southwest wind at night.
Climbing on the yard engine, an 0-8-0 the 7612, I opened the blow down on the water glass to make sure the water level in the boiler was correct, then put my jacket and lunchbox in the seat box. The seat box was just that, a box with a cushion on top and on most seats a back. In the seat box was fusees (flares), and waste (cut up cotton cloth). Waste was used to wipe and clean with and also used as packing in the wheel bearings on freight cars. Before I forget, on steam engines you did not carry coffee in a thermos. I used a glass Log Cabin Syrup bottle for my coffee. You set the bottle in the drip pan on the boiler above the fire door and surrounded it by waste to keep it warm.
Back to the job at hand. Before starting on the fire, I check both injectors (this takes water from the tender and puts it in the boiler). Opening the front valve starts the water flowing through the injector. You then open the steam valve and the steam flows through the injector, picking up the water, forcing it into the boiler past the boiler check valve. The check valve is used to keep the water from flowing from the boiler to the injector. After shutting off the injector you wet down the back of the boiler and the floor and wiped down the seat.
Turning up the blower I take the #4 scoop shovel and start building the fire. Starting with a few scoops spread over the fire box for a good bed of fire, you start building a heel (a large of pile of coal) in the corners of the fire box. You then proceed along both sides working to the front. The last part was building the heel in front of the fire door. In order to retard the fire and keep down the smoke, the squirt hose is used to wet down the coal. The purpose of this is to get the coal to coke on top, causing the coal to burn below the coke layer, keeping down smoke by slowing down the burning of the coal.
During this time the engineer had come out and handed up his lunch box in exchange for the oil can. Finished with the fire, I tidied up the cab and engineer finished the walk around and we are ready to move back and blow the silt from the boiler. The cabs on these 0-8-0 yard engines are not spacious nor do they need to be. The smell of a steam engine is hard to describe but I will try. The soft night breeze mixes with the smell of coal and smoke, wet steam and valve oil. A smell that must be experienced rather than described by words. After blowing down the boiler, the switchman lets us out of the engine house track. We back down to the yard office and the ground crew gets organized.
If you watch cars being flat switched, you would think it was complete chaos but it was orderly. Each track had a purpose, one track for the north local, one for the south local, one for the south bound through freight, etc. These cars came from inbound trains or cuts set off by B-line trains. Trains had to be lined in station order, in order to keep down switching time on the road. A good ground crew was a pleasure to work with.
During the 8 hour tour, there might be a few cars to weigh, a caboose to put on and the rip track set up for the next day. These were the other jobs beside the switching on the ladder track. As an engineer, after working with a crew you become almost a part of the man. By this I mean you must adapt to the switchman's thinking. In doing this you can anticipate, by the way he gives a signal, how far you are going, this coming from learning the work routine of the crew. This learning curve also applies to locals and switch runs and to an extent to through freight.
When I was working at Greensburg, In. 1955-57, as a fireman, you ran the engine half of the time and this gives you plenty of practice. During the summer the local brought 40 cars of stone from St. Paul 5 days a week. Every car had to be weighed and boys at Greensburg weighed every car. One man operated the scales, one called the weight painted on the side of the car and the other spotted the car on the scales. The scales had the platform to weigh the car. On each end, on both rails, were what was called deadrails. These deadrails separated the normal track on each end from the scale. The deadrails at Greensburg were longer than most, leaving only 8 inches of spotting room to have only the car weight on the scales.
This is how we weighed these cars at Greensburg. Taking about 15 cars, we pulled west of the scale and then backed up on the scale track, spotting the first car to be weighed. When the brakeman gave the signal to spot the next car, with the H-5 mike, we would bring the throttle out as far as we could without the engine slipping and get 3 good exhausts, close the throttle and apply some brake on the locomotive. Meanwhile the brakeman that reads the weight to the conductor lifts the coupling lever and cuts the first car off. The other brakeman meanwhile is spotting the next car. This is how we did it for the 40 cars, 5 days a week. The train and engine crew worked so well at this that only about 3 or 4 cars had to be re-spotted out of the 40. The Greensburg yard engine also worked at night and had that cool night air blowing from the south.
I would rather work on the road than in the yard but yard engines are a very important part of railroading. To work with a good ground crew is almost a lost art and is not taught in conductor school.
Maurice worked the Michigan Division from 1947-1981. He then worked on the Bee Line from 1981-1992. From 1947 until august 1950, he worked on the section at Shirley and Markleville. In 1950 he started firing on steam and then on through the diesels. Maurice said, "I had the pleasure of working with C. C. Staley and Ron Buser many times."