You Can't Do This on a Diesel
(Notes from a BRS member on an earlier steam trip.)
I'm firing 1201 on the Barry's Bay trip with Mark Merriman, CN engineer. A CN engine service brakeman, Walt, is riding a steam engine for the first time.
245 pounds of steam and two thirds of a glass of water. My eyes are doing their usual shifty four step dance;
- check the road ahead.
- check the colour of the exhaust from the stack.
- check the steam pressure.
- check the water level.
then back outside again.
My brain is continually checking these four vital signs about once every ten seconds. As we round a left hand curve I look back and check the train. There, is no sign of smoke or any other problem so I nod the highball to Mark.
Walt tells me that we have about two miles to go to Killaloe. There is a piece of drama coming up and I have to be on top of things. Cranking the water pump open a little I compensate by giving her a little more oil. The stack darkens but not enough to worry about. Mark watches me out of the corner of his eye and grins to himself. Both water level and steam pressure rise. 249 pounds on the clock. The safety valves don't lift until around 253 pounds so I have a little leeway.
On the approach to Killaloe, Mark shuts the throttle and I cut back on the oil. There is a small puff of black smoke and then the stack clears.
Everybody's come down to wave at us.
Left hand curve over the bridge. I stop waving and watch Mark. He grasps the throttle with both hands, stands up, puts one foot on the backhead for better leverage, looks at me, grins and hauls the throttle open. I'm ready for this and immediately advance the oil and water flows.
1201 leaps forward, barking from the stack as we attack the grade right up through Wilno and almost to Barry's Bay itself. My eyes click into a five step cycle:
- road ahead
Each time Mark gives her more throttle I give her more oil, checking that combustion is right by watching that the exhaust stays a light grey. Any delay on my part will quickly see the needle on the steam gauge dropping back.
245 pounds and three quarters of a glass of water. That's a false water level because, with the engine going uphill there is less water at the front of the boiler. Actually, there's less than half a glass but this doesn’t pose a problem.
The noise is deafening. The engine is throwing me from side to side. I relax my body and just: roll with it but I know I shall be bruised tomorrow.
Walt is first horrified, then astounded, and finally exhilarated.
So it goes on as 1201 is being worked to the limit; but she seems to enjoy it. Fuel and water are being used at a phenomenal rate but the stack is only a little darker than normal showing good, efficient, combustion.
During my five step eye dance I notice Mark looking across. He knows I can give him all the steam he can use. We exchange grins. I wave nonchalantly to the motorcade which has formed. I shouldn't do this as it spoils their movies. I concentrate fiercely on the road ahead.
Using sign language, Mark signals his intention to close the throttle. As he does I cut back on the oil but keep the pump open to fill the boiler. On level track again the water gauge, although bobbing up and down a bit, gives a true reading of around half a glass. Filling the boiler allows me to drop the steam pressure to 230 pounds so we can keep 1201 quiet while in Barry's Bay.
Mark speaks for the first time in many miles.
"We did pretty well, didn't we?"
As the sound level drops a little Walt is still trying to recover his wits He's never experienced this sort of thing on a diesel.
As 1201 gallops into Barry's Bay I too am trying to calm down. It's not every day that one can be part of an intimate two man, one machine team. The feeling of togetherness, the feeling of being at one with a machine, is overwhelming.
Walt is quite right. You can't do this on a diesel!
Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, April, 1981, reprinted October 2014.