Working the lead tracks.

  • This is a discription of working for a class 1 railroad in the 50s through the 80s. in this istance its the Western Pacific RR. The Shop is a 18 stall roundhouse builtin the 1920s with four stalls added for the new diesels of which were EMD FTs. Western Pacific was one of the first roads to dieselize and was known for many modification to up date engines to keep up with the diesel technology.


    The round house had fair to poor lighting, with engings running at idel the smell of diesel was heavey, watering the eyes when the house was full with 2 engines per stall. The four tracks ajacent to the hous was called the garden, usualy engines waiting to be called up. ( Called units were locomotives that were listed on the call board ) The call board consisted of The engine #, called time out, lets say units F7's 920 a b c d and gp7s 701-704 call time 12 K (midnight) for the SWG (a train running from Santa Fe, Western pacific then on to Denver and Rio Grande)) the opposite east to west is the GWS) and the engenerrs name.


    The employees working the lead track start work in a side room of the roundhouse called the "Engine room". This is where all the engine legers are kept for maintainance, oil sample area, a few picknick type tables and benches along the wall. They copy the call board and take notes of which incomeing locomotives will be set on the next train called, note any add ons to be done on the main or dead units arriving in the yard and cut and brought to the shop., and what service each will need so they dont waste precious time on working a unit that will be back shoped and not need for the day.


     The compleat roundhouse crew is assigned to what engings or tasks they will accomplist during this shift, perhaps to a locomotive to change out a head piston and liner, drop pit, rebuilding traction motors, perhaps changing out a coupler pin and bushing. 


    The forman assigns two machinist and an apprintice (if available)  to work as teams. on various units (locomotives) The apprintice also afer being qualified to work on his own, can and will be assigned to work vacanacys, sick leaves, and vacations. on all shifts.


    The lead crew ( employees workin the inbound and out bound tracks ) consists of machinist (locomotive repairmen) electrishion, pipe fitter and locomotive inspectors, both machinist and electrical.


    The hosteler moves the engines as like an engeenerr would, the hosteler helper (usualy a laboror) will walk ahead of the unit being moved giving signals to the hoseler, will operatet the turntable and spot where the unit is to taken too. The helper also sands and sometimes fuels engines.


    The laborer (usualy intry level personal ) wash locomotive windows, change out cab cooler water jugs, wipe the the sides of the prime mover and mop up oil around the engine floor, and remove debrie from the F units, clean  the head and steam clean locomotives. There were several women hired during WWII whom were laborers, these ladies workered very hard and had life time jobs. A young man had to prove to them he could work and keep up with them, once accepted as a good worker, he was accepted, if not they left or had a very tough time.


    The  machinist called the "turn man"  will do light repairs on the lead, change brake shoes, adjust brakes, tighted binder bolts and is usually qualified to be a locomotive inspector. as he adjusts and changes brake shoes he will also look for other defects. After he finishes up will compare notes with the inspector, this is a good saftey check and where one misses a defect the other will note it,


    The locomotive inspector starts by inspecting from the coupler knuckle and down each side, and back to the same coupler knuckle.  checking for loose bolts, worn shoes, missing wear plates, bolts, tread profile and if a wheel looks close to being probmatic, will get the hosteler to slowley move the unit,  he leans into and over the truck getting a good view of the turning wheel and inspects tread wear, hi flange, flat spots. spalling.  and of course eyeball the exhaust for color of smoke. main tools he carries are two wheel gauges, one a hi tread and the other a thin flange gauge. He also is noted for carrieying a long ball pien hanner about 18 inches long. The head of this hammer is six inches long, for cheching coupler knuckles (go no go ) and marked on the side in various lenghts, for various meausuring of defective parts, its use in this way for measuring  like a ruler. Aprintices make thier own and take a lot of personl pride trying to make theirs more unique then any others. This is usualy therir first experience using a lathe.  


    Then will climb up and open all doors and check for water leaks, weird sounds indicating a problem, air and crank case covers, air in the fuel glass, fire extinguisher pins, of cours he is taking notes of defect to write up in the engine ledger. He will then check with the turn man and compare notes.


    It is easer for two men to adjust brake shoes, hears why. The truck air cutout is only on one side of the unit, units can move at any time on the lead track, The locomotive is very loud and there is no way to shout and be heard. The machinist on the truck air valve side ( when air is off the brakes will not work) . the valve side will hit the ftame "one time"with his wrench letting the man on the others side know he is ready to turn the air off, only when he hears a reply of one rap will he turn the air off, after they both get the adjustment done he will rap twice with his wrench, hearing a two wrap he cut the air back in. If 3 inch travel is correct the will again rap twice so they both will move to the nest truck, if another adjustment is needed he raps one and the proceedure is done again. Its very safe doing this way and if one messes up cutting the air the wronge way, it usually very up front and personal face to face stuff, one can lose fingers and I retired with oll of mine, , my personal saftey as well with whom I work with is paramont,


    Hope you enjoyed this blog, have a great day...and be safe 



  • Derek Key and Donald Miller like this
  • Donald Miller
    Donald Miller Well I see the air brake management is very similar to a semi truck. The air system in a semi truck will keep the brake applied until that air pressure reaches 60psi. They will automatically cut on if the pressure drops below 45psi. The standard pressure...  more
    November 12, 2011
  • Derek Key
    Derek Key Don, the ones we used had 7/16" (or 3/8", don't remember for sure) heads on them, released the park brake (of course make sure the wheels are chocked), tighten them down all the way and then back of till about 1/8"-1/4" gap between th...  more
    November 12, 2011
  • Donald Miller
    Donald Miller Well I never had m guys measure any distances of how far the shoes were off the drum, I always had them seat the shoes until the s-cam adjuster couldnt be turned without forcing it, then make a 1/2 rotation on the rear slacks and 1 complete rotation on th...  more
    November 12, 2011
  • John  Warren
    John Warren I have also been involved with truck air systems and pullin the duals to changing out brades. On a locomotive a shoe is change in a matter of minits, first set the brakes and eyeball the tenght of the air brake piston arm, then release air and adjust toh ...  more
    November 12, 2011 - 1 likes this