There Must be a Better Way

I wonder how many of our members on the 1201 trips have cursed having to lay out fire hoses to fill the tender after each trip?  I’ve often thought there must be a better way. Of course the railways used to use water tanks and many’s the time I’ve stood under one holding the chain and getting soaking wet in the bargain (the valves always seemed to leak).

Some engineers would never pass a water tank, I once worked with a man nicknamed “Snachadrop.”  Every time we came to a water tank I would ask:

“Shall we take water?”  To which he would reply:

“Yes matey, I think we’ll just snatch a drop.”

In Britain we used to make frequent use of water troughs (track pans). A long trough between the rails was filled with water which was forced into the tender by dropping the scoop into the water. The blade which was raised and lowered by a hand-operated screw type shaft on the tender would cut into the water - the faster you were going the more water you would pick up, I was on a Castle class 4-6-0 7005 “Sir Edward Elgar” one day going over Charlbury troughs on the 1:10 Worcester. We were three minutes late, trying hard to regain time and were going just a little over the 70 mph speed restriction over the troughs. The ride was always much rougher over water troughs because the track, which was being continually inundated with water was very difficult to maintain. There was a Trainmaster with us who decided to help out by operating the scoop.

The force of the blade cutting into the water requires a good deal of strength on the screw to lift it out of the water, especially at the speed we were doing. The technique is just to dip under the surface of the water making it easier to withdraw at the right time. This time the scoop was well in and the combination of rough ride and cold weather caused the handle to slip out of the Trainmaster's hands whereupon it promptly wound itself fully down.

The tender water gauge quickly rose towards "full" and the now inevitable consequence.I pulled up the fall plate between engine and tender and prepared for the flood by standing on my seat. When a tender is overfilled the excess water escapes with some force from vents which direct over the coal in the open tender towards the cab. Very soon a wall of black water had descended upon us and inundated the entire cab as well as the, by now, frantic Trainmaster. The two of us just stood on our seats enjoying the spectacle and surveying the ton or so of coal that had been washed back onto the deck.

No words were spoken as I handed the scoop and the broom to the Trainmaster who sheepishly made good his faux pas.

I grinned quietly to my engineer who remarked that it would at least keep the dust down.

So next time you're laying out fire hoses just think that there is indeed a better way but at least in this way we get just the right amount of water in the exact place it is needed!

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, May, 1980.

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