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The skill of the Engineman

Discussion in 'Steam Traction' started by Big Al, Aug 22, 2021.

  1. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    I remember those trains with the Duchess, 11 Mk1s plus the three coach wine and dine set from York. I once photographed it at Selside and I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a tower of clag from a Duchess since.
    As you say in steam days the driver would have to think of his fireman, unlike today, he would go home at the end of his shift and then have to come back and do it all again the following day. There were good reasons why the infamous Crewe North Perth lodging turn had the following day as mandatory rest day. I think the Water Orton -Carlisle Class C must have been equally challenging when it was worked by a hand fired Black 5. To set against that 21st century firemen are generally not as young as their predecessors.
     
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  2. Enterprise

    Enterprise Part of the furniture

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    Did not the investigation and subsequent report identify inadequate lubrication as the cause and concluded that failure eventually would have occurred at 75mph?
     
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  3. Cosmo Bonsor

    Cosmo Bonsor Member

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    The subject of thrashing comes up now and again here.
    It's another, I know it when I see it thing.
    As we know, you can extract extra power from steam engine by mortgaging your water. You are adding the the stored energy to the continuous output of your boiler. That underlies my point about P tanks. It's one of times we get close to how engines worked for real, apart from the speed part. On the other hand is, say using full gear and reg to shunt off a hill using 3/4 of a glass in 1/4 of a mile thrashing ? Or just a hard shunt. Then you have the issue of showboating. Yes, of course I've done it. Our visitors are paying for an experience. It's rare for me though. Some of my mates like more of a performance from their turns. I try just to operate the control's competently.
    I also think we have forgotten just how hard engines were worked. On another thread there was a question about engines being shopped after a few years. Holcroft gives about 3 1/2 years between shops for a C class from memory.
    We just don't use them like that these days. Rightly so. They are living museum pieces.
     
  4. 242A1

    242A1 Member

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    Bringing facts or reports into the equation - you can't do that. You must not challenge another person's preconceptions, not in the current enlightenment. You will be called out for being offensive, you might even get "cancelled" - which can be seen as an achievement. :rolleyes:
     
  5. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    That's a bit unnecessary....but moving on and avoiding any anecdote about what had to be done in order to get that magic 100 on the Tornado test.

    The 'living museum piece' comment by @Cosmo Bonsor has relevance in my view. True of a heritage line. Equally true of the main line where the conditions under which steam is allowed to operate constrain what a loco crew is allowed to do and might choose to do if they were given the freedom to make that choice.

    Trundling around in a path behind a stopping service is something that has to be lived with when the crew has to try and manage a fire so that it remains ready to produce steam when the loco is finally given a clearer road. But there remains the whole issue of speed in the right place for the right reason where 75 (or 60) limits can get in the way of the efficient operating of a steam locomotive especially if there is time to make up.

    I am not into criticising the national limits set for steam dependent on wheel diameter. They make sense and some loco owners may be pleased they exist. But I do find the fact that crews quite rightly respect these values is a little bit in conflict with the view that some express about how this may constrain their preferred way of operating.

    Aside from what loco owners expect when others drive their locos and line limits on the network there are obvious limitations. For example, the switchback that is the old LSWR main line west of Salisbury was designed in the expectation that speed achieved downhill would assist subsequent uphill progress. Speed to assist with the efficient operation of the locomotive as distinct from speed for speed's sake remains something that NR cannot get a grip of. And I guess we could then say "Why should they?"
     
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  6. Jimc

    Jimc Part of the furniture

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    Not to mention the inevitable human tendency to push the limits. Its a very human thing to interpret "75mph but you can go up to 85mph down appropriate gradients in order to rush the next bank" as "85mph". And the more complex the rules are then the less likely it is people will follow them.
     
  7. 30567

    30567 Part of the furniture Friend

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    Small price to pay for being allowed on the network from Penzance to Wick (or possibly Helmsdale). We have benefitted a lot from open access.
     
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  8. Johnb

    Johnb Resident of Nat Pres

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    The other aspect to consider is that wear and tear has to be paid for by the loco owner, often a volunteer run owning group with limited resources. The rate of component wear and speed are linked and the former rises on an exponential scale as the latter rises. I doubt if many owning groups would take advantage of any rise on the upper speed limit
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2021
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  9. dublo6231

    dublo6231 Member

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    Yes 100% agree - I think my pointing to the incident - was more to highlight a specific instance where it may of been deemed/thought that a locomotive had been pushed past its limit - being onboard the tour it didn't feel like it. Improvements were also made in other areas by the A1 Trust following the incident too.
     
  10. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Up to a point that is so. However, on a hilly route the mainline (and to a extent heritage line) requirement to run at near constant speed rather than near constant power output is harder than it need be on boilers. @Big Al point about the LSWR west of Salisbury is well made: in days past locos would have been driven less hard up the hills, knowing you could keep the steam on down the other side and let speed rise. Nowadays the same road would be series of all-out sprints on the banks followed by recovery back down the other side with speed kept in check. Enthusiast-friendly and probably better for pathing amongst modern traction, but lots of thermal cycles on the boiler. (And, as this is a thread about footplate crew experience, probably a harder job to manage for the fireman as well).

    Tom
     
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  11. LMS2968

    LMS2968 Part of the furniture

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    My (and others') theory is that the good driver tries to keep the steam demand on the boiler fairly constant, so again, allowing speed to fall on the upgrades and rise downhill. Maintaining high speed both up and down isn't kind to either the engine or fireman, despite Cecil J. Allen's and Ossie Nock's opinions on the subject.
     
  12. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Yes, which is my point about constant power (rather than constant speed). Constant power = constant steam demand - obviously at a level within the capabilities of the loco and fireman! That has to be preferable to an all-out assault on every bank.

    Tom
     
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  13. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    I agree. Current limits do the job in my view. But I doubt if many crews would object if they knew that something achieved over any limit naturally through run on downhill meant that any subsequent climb was less demanding.
     
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  14. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    And that is where there is, in my view, a direct conflict between what NR expects and what a good loco crew would wish to achieve. I distinctly recall the dragging of brakes down through Cockburnspath after a speedy topping of Grantshouse with the A1 once.
     
  15. ruddingtonrsh56

    ruddingtonrsh56 Member

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    Interesting anecdote, thank you for sharing. But how much colder is the fire and/or brick arch going to be after an hour and a quarter of sitting around at SP than it is going to be prior to the first train of the day?
     
  16. Jamessquared

    Jamessquared Nat Pres stalwart

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    Probably not a lot of difference - but that’s why I’m a fireman and the cleaner isn’t :) As a general rule, the second trip is normally easier to fire than the first, but on this occasion they were probably more equal on account of the long layover. But no two trips are ever identical.

    Tom
     
  17. Steve

    Steve Resident of Nat Pres Friend

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    Can you 'thrash' a steam loco? Depending exactly what you mean by thrash, I don't think so. What you can do with them is defined by the design and you can't exceed that in terms of tractive effort. You can exceed its boiler horsepower for a short period by mortgaging the boiler but that is not thrashing it in my opinion. With regard to overloading locos as referred to in the case of the Jubilee above, BR and their predecessors generally fixed the load limit on what a rundown loco could do with a mediocre fireman; there was no point in upping the game to a higher level of operation because for the most part, this would be a regular happening. In this respect, a Black 5, B1 or Standard tank were allowed 5 coaches without a pilot over what is now the NYMR. Today, these same locos take seven coaches day in, day out with no problem and take eight on an occasional basis. They aren't being thrashed and the task is well within their capabilities but if the loco is run down or the fireman poor, that soon makes a big difference.
    Drivers may not be able to thrash their locos but they can certainly thrash their fireman and there are those that do that. They can also mishandle locos but that is a different matter.
     
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  18. Cosmo Bonsor

    Cosmo Bonsor Member

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    Steve's question is key here. First we have to agree what thrashing is.
    On my line there are three signals on a 1 in 75. Two of those are home signals where you get stopped now and again. The up inner home at Horsted is on a bit of a curve. On test my Inspector wanted me to ''Use the full potential of the locomotive'' to start six coaches with a U class. I'm sure that phrase goes back to his time on BR steam. In this case it meant full regulator and full gear. Not a thrash, just doing what was needed. Back in the day, inspectors wanted to see that Drivers were not scared of the big stuff or felt sorry for the little ones.
    Similarly, shunting off the single line there with Bluebell once, it failed to start, so the answer was to get it blowing off hard, roll down the hill a bit, smack into full gear, reverse as it happens and open the regulator fully. At first nothing, then a groan and a slow movement northwards. That used 3/4 of a glass to get back into the platform. Not thrashing.
    I think my definition would be something like 'working unnecessarily hard for the situation '. This is what I mean by showboating and it's not uncommon on heritage railways. This could mean blasting out of a level station with a lot of regulator and a big gear, then being slow to notch up. Unnecessary use of second valve or yanking the controller wide open on a diesel. Incidentally, I have never troubled second valve on a 9F.
    When I passed for driving, I wanted to be the 'Boring middle'. Just going about my day, quietly, unobtrusively and developing my skill. It's for others to judge if I have achieved that.
    Some as I say put on more of a show. They're the ones who people know and get on social media. Not for me.
    Edit: I should have said 'three signals on an uphill gradient of 1 in 75'. There's anther three home signals downhill.
     
    Last edited: Aug 25, 2021
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  19. Flying Phil

    Flying Phil Part of the furniture

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    This is a really good thread and a big "Thank You" to the drivers and firemen for their contributions - it highlights the thinking and actions behind, what appears to be, a "simple" job...which actually requires so much skill and knowledge.
     
  20. Big Al

    Big Al Nat Pres stalwart Staff Member Moderator

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    Fully agree. I had hoped that by starting this thread we might get a sensible discussion as I have become tired of 'commentators' suggesting that Nat Pres is full of opinionated people who know 'diddly squat' about anything, whether that is from their armchair or up front. Demonstrably that is not the case and even after a few pages some good myth busting is taking place plus an intelligent discussion that those with a little bit of insight can easily appreciate from the cushions.

    Whilst I wouldn't wish to comment on erstwhile recorders of loco performance whose names are historical I personally think that the current crop of people who record loco performance understand more than they are sometimes given credit for. But I would say that wouldn't I?!

    On the 'thrash' point, as an observer I don't think there is any confusion. Under some circumstances 'full and full' may be appropriate as @Cosmo Bonsor has illustrated. For me I interpret thrash as what I would describe as an unsympathetic combination of regulator and reverser setting against what it is doing to the water level and, importantly over a long period, in order to try and squeeze out an extra few mph, whether that is uphill. or even worse, on the level. It's a loco owner's nightmare.
     

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