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garden railways.chap7.html
The ongoing Saga of the Toenail Ridge Shortline

Uploaded May 26,1998

A Man's gotta Do....

Chapter 7

With the passage of time, the steam locomotive has gained an aura of romance and power that may in fact be undeserved.
What has been forgotten by those millions of people who think of this form of mechanical transport as glamorous and romantic is the dirt, the noise, the heat, the hard toil, the long hours, the danger, the risks. Steam requires heat and water, and everything associated with its production involved heavy, dirty machinery and back-breaking labor.
Maintenance on these machines could take more time than actual operating time. An engine that was required at dawn would have men readying it hours before, getting its fire going, watering and fueling it, oiling its myriad bearing surfaces, topping its sand dome with traction assistance, inspecting moving parts and load-bearing surfaces, emptying ash pans, cleaning firetubes and smokebox.

Unlike machinery driven by internal combustion, steam engines possessed idiosyncracies peculiar to themselves, with the result that it often took a skilled and knowledgable hand to get the best, or even the average, out of a particular locomotive. Engines identical in specification would have radically different steaming patterns and control was often more by gifted insight on the part of the engineer than by experience or training.

Such a gifted operator was Woody Woodard.

Woody was the engineer of No.9, the 10-wheeler loco that was most commonly assigned to haul the freight cars on the Toenail Ridge Shortline. He could make this cantankerous old engine sing when other drivers had called it every name they could lay their tongues to and walked away from it in disgust and disgruntlement. No.9 had started its life before the turn of the century as a polished and painted high-stepping passenger locomotive in the South-East of the United States. How it came to the Toenail Ridge is a story in itself, but suffice to say that its best days were no longer in front of it and if it had not been for Woody it would have yielded to the scrappers torch years before.

Woodard had learnt his trade in the bilges of steam ships in the Port of Tacoma. He served his time gaining knowledge of the power and intracacies of steam during the hey-day of trans-Pacific shipping between the US and China, when new steamers and the dated sailing clippers exploited the newly opened markets of the Far-East.

He had transferred his knowledge to railroad engines when he followed a lovely young Iowa girl to the valley, where she had gained employment in the office of a thriving lumber-yard. Now he was well established on the Shortline, being regarded as senior engineer. He and his wife Tessie had a little cottage on the outskirts of Selbyville where they raised vegetables and dogs and children.

Steam engines have numerous variables, by altering one setting it is possible to negate the hard-won benefits of another control. When it came to balancing the needs of No.9 against her wants, Woody was a prodigy. He could coax the old girl on slippery rail when she wanted to spin, on bitter still days when she wouldn't draw, when she bucked at poor coal or hard water. He could get her over the Ridge with that extra ton when all she wanted to do was bog down and fail.

It wasn't unusual for an engineer to treat his particular machine like a member of the family, coddling it, chastising it, calling it by pet names or imprecations, depending on its behaviour.

However, regardless of how good and gifted a driver, there are those rare times when all of the Fates conspire to have everything crop up at the same time, and nothing will encourage the recalcitrant locomotive to participate.

Such an occasion just had to occur when No.9 was hauling loaded reefers to the cheese factory at Selbyville. The temperature had reached a near record low for the valley, hovering just above freezing point, a viscious wind was gusting out of the north, misting sleet was making visibility close to non-existent and the last load of coal brought in was more dirt than anthracite, so that the old girl was making hard work of just maintaining a draw through the stack. Twenty minutes out of Toenail Ridge the line takes a long curve to the right and then immediately it runs onto the Whibley truss bridge that spans part of Lake Wallace. Unbeknownst to Woody or his fireman, that very day Tony Cotton had trundled the Porter 0-4-0 switch-engine to Selbyville with a hot box on the tender.

A hot-box is a wheel bearing that is running hot and dry due to lack of lubrication, or just wear. The tender on the Porter had been added long after the engine itself had been built. The loco was originally a side-tank oil-burner but had been drastically modified to a coal-burning tender loco in the Toenail Ridge workshops. Unfortunately the trucks used under the tender were probably old enough to vote when the tender designer was born. This tends to happen a lot in back-woods lines, if it's lying around and fits, use it. If it doesn't fit, leave it lying around some more until something it fits comes along.
Some of us may have sheds full of things like that. This is know by psychologists as "Come-in-handy- one-day" pre-emptive purchasing, and the waiting handy items have the official name or "Never-know when-you'll-need-its." These are often stored with, or in fact can form an undifferentiated conglomeration with "get-around-to-its."

Anyway, the Porter tender had one axle bearing that was in its last stages of use, and was vocally protesting its imminent departure from useful life. So vocally that its noise masked the sinister sound of the broken drawbar of the oil-tanker parting, leaving hundreds of gallons of kerosene sitting dead on the track in the middle of the Whibley bridge and un-missed by the Porter crew as they struggled to get their crippled little loco the extra few miles to Selbyville.

The rules governing movements on the Shortline made it very clear to all crews that no transport or movement of freight cars would occur unless the consist was completed by a caboose inhabited by a brakeman.


A crew may move a single car, at the discretion of the yard-master in conjunction with the engineer, from one station to the next on the line, for maintenance-of-way purposes or for humanitarian reasons, provided that all agree that the move is safe and the line is clear. And Joe Dempsey, the surly and rum-sodden station-master at Selbyville had insisted that he had to have kerosene to maintain the temperature in his station or his old, frail mother was in danger of shuffling off her mortal coil because of the bitter cold.

Woody Woodard had finally managed to get No.9 to take a decent draw and was getting some headway on his train as the locomotive exited the last curve and stepped onto the bridge. The bridge ran straight and true for over 500 feet, supported at each end by butresses and in the middle by a brick pillar. He opened the throttle and gave the engine her head in an effort to pick up time. Finally the old girl behaved herself and began to surge ahead as the fire drew properly and increased the heat to the steam-tubes. And then an interesting but well- documented phenomenon occurred.

Anyone who has lived in a really cold climate will have noticed that cold affects different surfaces in different ways. Most noticeable, perhaps, is the way that soil retains heat when artificial surfaces are deeply chilled. The rails up to the bridge had been absorbing residual heat from the ballast, thus keeping their temperature slightly above that of the air. The steel ribbons on the bridge, however, were exposed on all surfaces, their bases sitting on wood which was sitting on frigid air. So the bridge rails were coated with a fine and glittery and above all, slippery coating of ice.

And locomotives hate ice. They express this extreme distaste by refusing having anything to do with the underlying steel.
They begin to slip, spinning their wheels as their tyres lose traction.
And spinning causes heat by friction, which melts the ice in the immediate vicinity, which means that the wheels are now spinning in a little film of water, so they spin even harder.

The only option an engineer has with a slipping locomotive is to decrease power to the wheels, in a effort to regain traction. A speeding slipping engine will continue speeding as the same lack of forward momentum that causes the slip is the also the lack of friction to slow the consist down.
But an engine that is not strongly underway is rapidly impeded by the weight of its train behind it. So Woody, with much bad language and with extreme frustration, worked like a slave to restore forward momentum to his train. And found, regardless of his efforts, that his charge was quickly losing way. And looked ahead, and saw the oil-tanker slowly approaching until finally its rear coupler kissed the cow-catcher of No.9 as the loco was draw to a standstill by its train.

"Where in God's name did that come from?" said, Ken, the fireman.
"I have no idea." said Woody, shaking his head and wishing that he hadn't given up tobacco.

The hot-box on the tender of the Porter finally siezed completely as Tony brought the engine to a standstill outside the Selbyville station. As he swung down from the cab he was staggered to see the lack of tanker where his charge should be. By now the misty rain was beginning to freeze, falling as horizontal sleet. Visibility faded to invisibility within twenty feet. Tony groped his way down the side of the tender past the steaming axle-box on the wheel-truck and stood scratching his head at the empty track right behind him. With the realization that it was probably going to cost him his job, he turned toward the depot to report the missing car to Dempsey, knowing that the station-master would use his usual sarcasm to demean the driver.
But it had to be done so he faced into the driving freezing wind and strode across the boardwalk outside the ticket-office and shouldered the door open.

Five miles out of town, on the bridge, Woody and his fireman Ken had squeezed past the oil-tanker and discovered the broken draw-bar, so its presence was explained, if not excused, although as an experienced engineer Woody could understand the circumstances combined with the weather that would allow a driver to lose his train. It couldn't happen with the two big locomotives of the Toenail Ridge Shortline, as they were both fitted with Westinghouse safety brakes.
These brakes worked on a vacuum principle, and if a car parted from its train, its brake hose separated and caused the brakes in the whole train to be applied. But Woody knew that the little Porter had mechanical brakes only, and it didn't take too much thought to realise the whole situation. He and Ken coupled the oil-tanker to the front of No.9, pumped up the brake system and tried to get under way. The brake-man, Tiny, down in the caboose hadn't made an appearance during all this time but that wasn't too unusual. He was probably sound asleep, this being the usual way he passed the trip. Woody gave three blasts on his whistle and gingerly reversed the train off the Whibley truss bridge.
They backed up for half-a-mile and then he slowly began to pull forward, increasing speed as the locomotive gained traction and momentum. This time when the engine rounded the curve and began to cross the bridge sheer speed carried the whole consist along and across the span. In a matter of minutes they gained the outer marker for Selbyville and Woody began to apply the brakes in preparation for the arrival at the station. He glided the locomotive to a halt with its tender water-hatch perfectly aligned with the spout of the water tank next to the track.
What he didn't know, due to the shocking visibility, was that the front end of the oil-tanker had gently nudged itself against the rear buffer beam of the stationary Porter.

By the time Ken had filled the water tank, the yard man at the cheese factory had thrown the switch to the spur. Woody had uncoupled the oil-tanker from the cow-catcher of his locomotive and then hearing the whistle of his switchman, pulled the loco's reversing lever and slowly backed the consist into the spur.

Inside the station, Tony had been called every kind of fool and idiot by Dempsey. The station-master then brusquely shoved past the Porter's driver and stormed outside to view the damage to the little engine.

And saw the oil-tanker nestled comfortably in its correct position right behind the tender.

Following behind him, Tony's mouth fell open, his eyes gaped and he uttered expressions that he hadn't learnt in church.

Dempsey went through every level of fury from mild irritation at being hauled out of his warm building to sheer thundering fury that Tony would dare to play such a practical joke on him. So angry was he that he became apoplectic, gasping for breath and turning a brighter shade of maroon. Clasping his head he crumbled to the ground, losing consciousness as his blood-pressure rocketed.
Tony quickly knelt over him, firstly to make sure he was alive, and then to make sure he was unconscious. He ran into the station, grabbed the rum bottle from its drawer in Dempsey's roll-top desk, and darted back to the recumbant station-master, who was starting to show signs of reviving. Tony quickly emptied the bottle over Dempsey's head and clothing, threw the empty container far over the roof of his engine and then bent to revive the fallen man.

Now it's well know that a person who has a fit for whatever reason, can suffer a bit of memory loss, so when Joe Dempsey found himself sitting on his station entry in sleet and in reeking wet clothes, he had no idea how he gotten there. All he realised was that Tony was being solicitous and caring and making vague noises about maybe just a drop too much of the liquid refreshment, Mr. Dempsey, sir.

The fireman on the Porter, young Karl from Utah, had been sent by Tony to fetch Grant Alexander from the Selbyville yard workshops to repair the siezed bearing. About now he returned with the yard-master in tow, both of them head down in the face of the biting wind and sleet.
The two of them rounded the corner of the station to see Dempsey being assisted to his feet by Tony, and since they were down wind of the pair, the rum made its olfactory presence particularly noticeable. Grasping his opportunity on seeing the two, Tony said in a carrying voice " Mr. Dempsey, what ever where you doing outside here, man? I was just on my way in to tell you we'd arrived!"

The three men got the station-master inside to the warmth of his station, and sat him down alongside of his kerosene stove to recover and dry. Alexander had long dis-approved of the drinking habits of the officious agent and made noises about reporting the incident to the head-office in Rowell. Tony, with the diplomacy of a vote-seeking politician, began whispering in his ear, giving him the jist of an idea that a Dempsey controlled was possibly better than a Dempsey dismissed and perhaps the situation could lead to a better life all around, both for the crews and the yard workers. Surely three witnesses to behaviour of which the surposed perpetrator had no memory at all was a strong inducement to seeing things the other fellow's way.

And that's how the day ended. Dempsey never remembered what had happened, but he did know that he had permanently lost control over many of the men working on the Shortline.
Alexander shook his head at the incredible odds that a draw-bar would break just as an engine squealed to a halt at its destination with a frozen bearing.
Tony kept his mouth very, very shut, except for when he ordered a case of fine sipping Canadian whiskey from Chuck Parker at the saloon and hand-delivered it to Woody Woodard after hearing about the rescue of the oil-tanker from Ken, the fireman. Ken found that the major dollars that he owed Tony from poker were suddenly won back the next time they played, and for the rest of his life would boast of how he had once won five straight hands with a pair of twos.

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Chapter 8 continues the Saga of the Toenail Ridge