One Trip with 1201

Fifty pounds of steam and three quarters of a glass of water. "We've a good start," I think to myself as I climb down from the cab and make a quick visual check of my charge. 1201 is an ex-Canadian Pacific 4-6-2 which has been restored for excursion service by the National Museum of Science and Technology in Ottawa, Canada.

I check that the drifting valves and the cylinder cocks are open, the valves are centred in mid-gear and that one of the driving wheels is scotched. Stepping back I can admire this machine which is gently oozing steam to itself. Quite a difference between this black engine with a grey boiler and the green Halls and Castles which I once cleaned and fired. I always did think that 1201 would look better with a copper band around the stack (chimney) and a brass safety valve cover.

It's 0730 and Mike and Bill, the other two members of my crew arrive, driven by Norma, Mike's wife. We have a quick coffee together in the cab and Norma points out that it is her wedding anniversary and she hadn't expected to have to play second fiddle to a steam engine on this day of all days.

Suitably fortified, Bill takes off the stack cover while Mike and I examine the firebox and prepare to light the boiler. Blow the blower and atomizer lines down and light the flare and now comes the tricky part. I've known the flame to shoot right back through the firehole as far as the tender. The instructions say simply don't stand directly in front of the firehole while lighting up! This means that you have to be a bit of a contortionist but we get the burner alight, adjust the flame and secure the firehole door - not without a sigh of relief. If, for any reason the burner goes out without our noticing it, the buildup of fuel can ignite off the hot firebricks. Such an explosion can be dangerous and so Mike stays in the fireman's seat to keep an eye on things while I oil around.

Bill is already polishing up the brightwork and later on will clean the rods of the grease which we put on last night to prevent rust. Seems incredible that Bill has come about a thousand miles from Nova Scotia just for this one (unpaid) trip!

There's not too much oiling to do as the rods use a thick stick grease while the hundred or so nipple fittings were greased last night (no corks here!). I give the mechanical lubricator a few turns by hand to put lubrication to the air pump which we will soon be starting up. A glance at the stack indicates that Mike has started the lubricator heater (there's a thin tell-tale feather of steam). A little oil in the coupler pockets and I can get back into the cab to see how Mike is getting on babysitting the burner. 65 pounds of steam and we can try the injector. It breaks on the first try but picks up straight away on the second go.  At least we can get water in the boiler. Another ten pounds or so and we try the water pump. It starts up slowly but picks up after Bill closes the three drain valves on the pump engine. The water pump delivers hot water to the boiler and for this reason we normally use this in preference to the injector.  It causes less of a strain on the boiler.

It's now 0830 and 1201 is really coming to life. With 110 pounds on the clock we can now start the air compressor. The control valve in the cab is cracked open and steam is blown through with the drain valves open so that all of the condensate is forced out. With the drains closed pressure begins to build up slowly until the governor shuts off the compressor at 125 pounds. At last we have brakes: 1201 doesn't even have a handbrake and so I like to get the air on her as soon as possible.

I can now test all of the air operated fittings. Brakes, reverse, sander, bell, whistle and cylinder cocks. Mike starts up the dynamo and we have lights as well as that friendly reassuring hum. Bill helps Mike to check out all the electrical items (headlights, classification lights, backup light, cab lights, water glass and gauge lights).

150 pounds of steam and I am now ready to move the engine. Before doing so the cylinders have to be cleared of condensate. I enjoy this part the most because, in spite of all warnings, onlookers invariably stand too close. Apply the brakes, open cylinder cocks, open the throttle (regulator) and jockey the reversing gear backwards and forwards. The front of the engine is engulfed in clouds of very wet steam, A car has been parked too close and this is covered as well - bet that's the first time it has ever been steam cleaned!

I move 1201 back about half a turn to get those parts of the wheel rims that we couldn't get yesterday. I like to paint the engine and tender wheel rims white for each excursion. The painting finished, I can move back onto the five cars of our train. The Museum grounds are beginning to fill up with the families that are going to take the excursion and I prefer to move as early as possible because crowd control is easier, 1201 has a throttle with a good smooth action and I feel happy as I get the knuckle coupler first time, A couple of onlookers applaud my performance and I realise that the Canadian Pacific crew has  just arrived.

“So you've found out where the brake is now, have you?" is the greeting I get as Conrad Gratton and Russ Maclean join us in the cab. We have been doing this for a number of years now and there's quite a bit of friendly banter as we prepare for our ten o'clock departure.

The actual trip is quite routine - or at least as routine as any steam hauled excursion can be nowadays. Mike, Bill and myself all have a chance to ride the cab to note the performance and. to book any items that will need to be done before the next trip.

The day passes in a blur. Hoards of happy people waving at the locomotive, turning on the muscle powered turntable during the two-hour picnic break, taking water from the Gatineau River, greasing around and showing the customers through the cab.

We get back at 1600 and have to shut 1201 down. There's no fire to throw out so it doesn't take long but we generally like to wait a little for the crowd to thin out. It allows us to give it an inspection and, while we're waiting, we can answer the inevitable questions. It is important that people get as much as possible from an experience such as this. The excursions are aimed generally at the family so the questions can occasionally be somewhat bizarre but we try to answer each one seriously.

A man with a small boy comes up to me and says that his son wants to tell me something. He's only a little mite, can't be much more than two and he's half scared of my big, hot, noisy machine, I kneel down to talk to him.

"Thank you for a nice ride", he says with his hands over his ears and then scampers away to a safe distances

It is little things like this that make it all worthwhile. This is part of the reason while Bill comes up From Nova Scotia and why Mike gives up his wedding anniversary. It has been a long, hot and tiring day but, in our own small way, we have helped to impart to a new generation the mystique and magic of that near-human machine, the steam locomotive.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, May, 1977.

Extract from Supervisors Report

(concerning BRS work on the steam excursions)
BBS crew member (no name but former BRS president) was receiving instructions in the movement of locomotive 1201. Locomotive and train were backing up slowly along Museum Station platform. Bearing in mind the superior vantage point from cab of locomotive, supervisor pointed out well-endowed onlooker to crew member. Crew member became confused and placed air brake valve into emergency. Train came to a quick halt with cab immediately above well-endowed onlooker. Brake release took ages during which time onlooker was closely observed.

Crew member either:
Cannot handle girl watching and a steam locomotive at the same time.
Can handle the air brake with superb skill.


A new hand signal be thought .up. which means:
"Everything’s OK but just look over there." 

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, June 1978.

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