Preparing a Meal Railroad Style

Not so long ago I travelled down to Montreal by train and I happened to go to the snack counter for a sandwich.  As I sat enjoying the scenery and munching my food I began to wonder if the engineer was hungry.

On British locomotives there is a small two ring electric stove just under the windshield on the fireman's side.  It is very handy although it can have its disadvantages - if the locomotive lurches badly the fireman could finish up with a can of hot tea in his lap! All in all, however, the modern engineer has much easier ways of heating up his food than the steam locomotive engineer.  The chore of cooking on a steam locomotive is a branch of culinary art that is seldom explored.

Take one standard coal shovel, preferably new, insert it through the firehole and hold in this position for two minutes.  Withdraw the shovel, which by this time is quite hot and immerse in cold water.  The sudden cooling cleans the shovel like a new pin and we now have a combination frying pan/saucepan.  Fried egg and bacon is quite simple - just place on the blade of the shovel and reinsert into the fire until cooked to taste.  Boiled eggs are a little more difficult.  The technique here is to pour water into the cavity at the top end of the shovel and balance the shovel by the foot of the handle on the firehole ring. This requires a steady hand to avoid spilling the water.

Baking or grilling can be accomplished by hanging up the food from one of the projections from the backplate.  One of the engineers I worked with once hung up a pair of kippers from one of the injector steam valve handles.  Not only did this produce an excellent meal but the aroma of kippers pervaded the cab in a most pleasant way.

There are, however, one or two rules to this game of what I will call "ferrovian haute cuisine".

There is no more sure way of ruining your food than cooking with the blower on or the throttle open.  Air gets drawn in through the firehole along with dirt, coal dust etc.  (Isn't there something in the rules about keeping a look out at all times when the engine is in motion?) Albert was a very keen fireman and at the time I knew him, he was just about to be made an engineer.  One day he was assigned to a turn with a veteran engineer.  It was an easy job and the engineer was firing to give Albert some practice at driving.  They had finished some switching and then had about an hour before leaving the yard - nice time to have breakfast.  Now although Albert was pretty knowledgeable about engines he didn’t know much about cooking la locomotive and he was fascinated watching his mate prepare the shovel and then start to cook his breakfast of liver, bacon, fried egg and fried bread.  The bacon was just beginning to smell good when Albert noticed that the shunter was signaling him to pull forward.  Albert, who was still sitting in the engineer's seat, asked his mate:

"He wants us to make another move.  Shall I take her down?”

"He's had all morning, let him wait until I’ve cooked my breakfast."

Seconds passed and the shunter became more frantic.  "He’s still waving, I think he's getting angry."

"Never you mind, I’m going to cook my breakfast first."

Time passed, until at last Albert could stand it no longer.  He grabbed the throttle and pulled it open.  His mate heard the sound of steam as the throttle was opened and tried to withdraw the food.  Too late!  The engine which was in full forward gear gave a big puff and a blast of air was sucked through the open firehole door - and with it went the lovely fried egg and crispy bacon.  The engineer just managed to get to the cab window to see his breakfast emerge from the stack - very well cooked indeed?

The trip back to the depot was accomplished in a rather strained silence!  Needless to say Albert was relegated to the coal shovel and although it was normally an easy job his mate was really heavy on the lever so that Albert had to move more than twice the usual amount of coal.  It was most certainly a lesson learned the hard way.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, April 1972.

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