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Maurice Lewman

Wabash Hill

On an earlier post I described taking a train up the hill at Wabash, In. with steam loco L-4 4-8-2, 3115 (All in a Days Work). This story will be using covered wagons 1600-1800 and GP7-9, 5600-6000. It did take a talent although different from steam to lift a train out of Wabash with these early diesels.


Wabash Hill # 2

The last time we told how we pulled trains out of Wabash with steam locomotives. We will now tell how we handled the trains with early diesel locomotives. With the diesel you had full horsepower from the time the throttle was in #8 wide open position. With the steam locomotive full horsepower was not developed until somewhere around 50mph. Steam locomotive horsepower and tractive effort also depended on driver size, piston size and stroke.

The 1600 series EMD diesel with 1300 HP handled 1300 tons on the hill. The 1700-1800 series with 1500 horsepower handled 1500 tons. The GP-9 with 1750 HP handled 1800 tons. These are all single unit ratings. The 1800 series was later updated to the 1750 HP engines. Using the same tonnage as the previous article on the north hill with the steam locomotive, 3200-3400 tons out of Wabash we will use the diesel.

With the yard engine on duty they would give you a shove with the 600 HP yard engine or the yard crew would use the locals engine if one was available. Also this train has two units, a 1700 and an 1800 with the 1750 HP engine. The tonnage has to be based on the tonnage rating of the 1700 or 1500 tons. This means an overload of 200 to 400 tons. The two road units would probably handle this train without a helper but if anything happens, lack of sand on the second unit, more tons than figured, etc. we would not make the hill.

With the steam engine or the diesel, the engineer must be like a fighter pilot. You have to put the engine on, wear it, become a part of the locomotive. This is not only when pulling trains up steep grades but also when handling trains over the road. With the yard engine on the rear and a highball from the rear end, the engineer comes out on the throttle to the first notch. If the unit does not move, come out another notch and with the yard engine shoving, the train starts moving. The throttle is advanced one notch at a time.

During this time the sander is on preventing wheel slip or if there is wheel slip, the throttle is lowered a notch or two and left in that position until speed increases or if on a curve, until straight track is reached. After going under the Wabash RR the track curves to the right and up the 2% grade. You must be very aware of wheel slippage because with the road units dropping their load with the wheel slip, this throws all the load on the helper. If the helper has a wheel slip, that unit drops its load, in the meantime the road units have started pulling. As you can see it is like stretching a rubber band in and out and sometimes the rubber band breaks. This is why the units must be run as smoothly as possible. After the turn to the left and the flatter grade, speed increases to around 15-17mph and with the helper, the rest of the hill was made showing around 1000 amps.

We now are going to work the hill with three 1700 covered wagons. With the 1500 rating per unit 4500 tons is the limit to keep the 950 amps rating per units. With the normal overload we will have around 5400 tons. We will use 2 or 3 examples of problems on this same train. We start at the north end of Wabash yard after setting off and picking up. We have the train moving in #8 throttle pulling 1100 amps, sanders on all units, feeling the traction on the lead unit. At high amperage full wheel slip can break a knuckle or worse, pull a drawbar.

Going under the Wabash RR, the curve to the right with the 2% grade, the amps are going to 1250-1300. The units are doing good, wheels gripping the rail. Suddenly one or both trailing units get a wheel slip and drop their load. Instantly you reduce the throttle maybe 3 notches. This gives the slipping units time to settle down and not come back on line in throttle #8. When these units throw all of the load on the lead unit it would probably get a wheel slip, throwing the load back on the other two and round and round we go. While you are getting the units settled down, the speed drops to 2 or 3 mph and the slipping starts again and the train stalls.

The conductor on the rear end will listen for 3 blasts of the whistle informing him we are going to back up and make another run for the hill. The operator has the block signal clear for a southbound move. You slowly release the independent brake and the train starts down the hill. You start opening the throttle to get the slack bunched, start applying the air brake and stop near the depot. Notice the action and response when the units were slipping? This is what I meant by putting on the unit.

We now feel that the 3 units will pull the train over the hill and with the extra speed by starting at the depot. We hit the curve, this time we are running about 25 mph. This will put us past the 2% grade. The units will pull 1300-1350 amps on the steepest part of the hill and about 1150 amps on the rest of the hill.

We are about 30 car lengths past the curve at the top of the 2% and the Ford Meter Box factory switch is located here. The units hit the frog and switch points and start slipping. This was because the yard engine has been here earlier and had a scrap car and was leaking oil on the rail. We lose speed due to the slipping and lay down on the hill. The units will take the train over the hill from this location. With this in mind, I whistle the back up signal and let the train start rolling backward, applying 10 lbs. of air, start coming out on the throttle to bunch the slack and with the sand running on the oil slick rail. With a full service reduction of the brakes the train comes to a stop, slack bunched. With the older AB control valves on these cars (until about 1973) I would count the release.

What I mean by counting the release is this. When you place the brake valve in running position start counting, 1-2-3 etc., not the 1001 for a second, just a tad faster. While counting, have the throttle in the #1 position. Upon reaching the count of 13 or 14, release the engine brake and lively but not roughly, take the slack out of the head 40 cars which is about how many would be released when you started pulling. You have the front half of the train moving and the brakes are releasing as you are pulling on the rear end, one car at a time, and start the cab almost with a passenger train start. By having the sand on coming back, our slipping problem is under control and I will run with reduced throttle after the hill is made due to the high amperage to let traction motors cool. The next stop for work is Claypool.

The next example required a train that was slightly under tonnage. Say a unit died and of course the train stops. You are again beyond the 2% grade with the power and you can hold the train with the engine brake. Until the 7600's and the 3000's the reverse drum reacted with the position of the reverse lever. If the reverse is in neutral and placed in reverse the drum instantly rotates to the reverse position and you can open the throttle and have power. On the 7600's and newer units you went from neutral to reverse and the drum did not turn until the throttle was opened to #1 position. This delay in the reverse was why you could not do with newer units this little trick we did with the older units.

We have the units started and back on the line but we would like to have just a little bit of slack to get the engine and train moving. If you try a straight hard pull and one of the units slips you could pull a knuckle or drawbar. You place the lever in reverse, place the throttle in #2, release the engine brake, the unit moves backward quickly, close the throttle, throw the reverse in forward, pull the throttle out to #3 or 4 and feel for the slack or movement of the train and go down to #1 or 2 until you can feel the train moving and continue on up the hill in higher throttle position. All these moves must be fast, very fast.

I hope this explains what I meant by wearing and putting on the engine. This same theory is also used when working the air and general train handling.

Maurice Lewman

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."

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