Saturday, November 21, 2009

Winds of Change - Switches, Meters & Electrons

Canadian National Railways, Prince Rupert, October 1957. In my previous entry, I tell of the “Winds of Change” crossing Canada. Highly accomplished steam locomotive engineers found themselves sitting in a locomotive cab with valves and gauges replaced by switches and meters.

When we arrived in Prince Rupert in late 1957, the process of replacing steam power was just about completed. Steam had been pulled from all road freight operations. The scene at the engine servicing facility tells the story better than words.

Here we see CNR 5152, the last of the 4-6-2 class running the varnish out of Prince Rupert, flanked by a GP-9L 4208 and a “B” unit that will handle the evening time freight, and the 7242, an SW-900, which had recently given the pink slip to the 7536, a 0-6-0 yard goat.

Another transition issue: Fuel. Tank cars carried oil for the remaining steam, passenger only, while newly installed tanks, just off camera, store diesel fuel.

And a Mechanical Instruction Car was parked next to the station, with engine crews and maintenance workers learning about amperes, short time ratings, flash-over and dynamic braking.

A few years later, my buddy El Purington and I got to spend some time up in the cab of SP&S 300 and her sisters being serviced on a wild wet cold winter day down in Auburn. (See Spokane Portland & Seattle.)

I asked the hostler, a pretty outspoken elder gent, how he liked the new generation diesel locomotives. He was not shy telling us his feelings. The gist of his remarks to us:

“I started out [with the NP] as a fire builder. A man took pride in building good fire. These damn things all look alike. They have no personality [like a steam engine.] I don’t even know where to turn the damn heater on on this damn thing …”

You know, when you get to thinking about it, there were earlier changes imposed on steam locomotive engine crews. Remember? Back as early as 1895, when the Baltimore & Ohio began experimenting with electric locomotives.

For many years, big name railroads ran electric locomotives for one reason or another. Remember the high tech Ignitron-Rectifier electrics that the Virginian ran? And how about the GG-1’s.

I found a very interesting document concerning the remaking of a Milwaukee Road steam locomotive engineer into an electric locomotive engineer, written by W.F. Coors, a traction engineer with General Electric. He talks about everything from the engineers image of being a "motorman" to road assignments.

His observations were published in an article that appeared in the September 1917 edition of the General Electric Review. Highly recommended reading, especially for "students of the Road."

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