1057 on the Mile Hill
My last trip to Wakefield last year was on September 1st. We had a tender full of Alberta coal which had a much lower heat value than the West Virginia coal we used last year. In simple terms the fireman has to bale more coal.
Just how much more I was to find out a little later on but it was with some trepidation, that I surveyed the dust in the tender and watched the pyrotechnic display of sparks from the stack as we went through the Dows Lake tunnel.
Things went well through Hull and by Laman the fire was in good shape, well built up at the back corners, with steam pressure just below blowing off point. The cut off was lengthened to get a run at the hill and the blast began to attack my fire. I quickly put on about 15 scoops full and looked into the firebox to see the effect of my efforts, the firebed was bare! I put on another round of coal and again the firebed was bare and if anything even worse than before!
I then realized that I would have to shovel coal like this all the way up the Hill. I bent my back into a steady rhythm of 20-25 scoop fulls a minute (which is fast by my standards). The crossing bells for highway 11 were barely audible above the din in the cab. No time to pause and wave to the traffic today as my whole concentration was confined to the space between tender, the firehole and the firebox.
Hearing the blast get even sharper, I looked up at the engineer who was lengthening the cut-off even further. We were now well on the grade and the heavier blast was beginning to tear my fire to pieces. I kept bailing coal as fast as I could but the draught was gaining on me and the bank around the back corners was beginning to disappear. I had found some small lumps of coal among the others and had been saving them for an occasion such as this. The blast on the blade of the scoop was so heavy that I had to tighten my grip to avoid it being pulled out of my grasp. I made a mental check that we did have a second scoop on board should this one land up in the firebox.
On and on we went. As I shovelled for dear life I thought back to the first trip, when with a greasy rail, the engineer had had to fight for every inch on this part of the grade. At least on that trip we had had plenty of steam. I was brought back to the present with a crash as the scoop hit the firedoors which had only partially opened. The co-ordination with the foot pedal must be getting bad as I am getting tired. My arms get jarred again as the same thing happens on my next swing, A closer examination reveals a small piece of coal jammed under the footpedal.
A quick glance over my shoulder. 175lbs, half a glass of water and the injector is running. Not too bad. Even the fire began to look better although my wrists were aching with the battle against the blast. The frantic shoveling continued to steadily improve the fire and I realized that I was beginning to win. A feeling of jubilation crept through me and as I redoubled my efforts I shouted out loud “I’ve beaten you, you ****.” The noise in the cab was so great that I do not think anyone else heard - I hope not!
The engineer was notching up and, looking out for the first time since Laman, we were approaching the site of the old Chelsea station. We had made it up the hill and I was happy to let somebody else take over for a bit.
Looking back on this afterwards I wondered why I had not let one of the other willing hands present in the cab spell me for part of the climb. It is very difficult to explain and I probably don't know clearly myself. It is all tied in with my fascination for the steam locomotive and its one way I have of doing my own thing. I find that this battle between man and machine is an intimate emotional experience while my elation at the top of the grade was similar to that others feel climbing a mountain or scoring a touchdown.
The steam locomotive, that most human of man’s mechanical creations, is a dying breed and the opportunities to experience a feeling of “oneness” with such a living machine are becoming few and far between. Each occasion becomes a precious moment. A moment to be savored, not because of the physical effort but because of the mental uplift, (the "charge") that it produces. A moment to be savored through the winter in pleasant anticipation of similar moments to come next year.
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, April, 1975