Firing a cold steam locomotive

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Firing a cold steam locomotive

  • How is the fire started in the cold firebox of a steam locomotive that has been unused for a while?

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  • Before anything, the firebox interior must be inspected for broken staybolts and leaking flue pipes.

    Assuming there is some water in the boiler, and that it can be topped up during the initial firing, you can use a large kerosene tiger torch and run a small fan atop the stack to generate flow through the flues to the smokebox.

    Once the boiler has some heat and a few pounds of pressure, say 15 pounds or so, you can begin to heat the fuel oil if it is an oil burner.  If a wood/coal burner, you start the fire with kindling, old cottage chairs, broomsticks, or whatever you have, get a decent fire going, and then heap coal until you have a burning coal bed.  In either case, the actual fire lighting is accomplished with a burning piece of cotton waste or a rag held out near the hot fire or the atomizer and perhaps tossed down onto or near either of them.  Then turn on the atomizer....it isn't on already.  Oh, and stand back, too.

    Care must be taken not to get a few of the flues hot before the others because the differential expansion will strain the welds.  So the fire must be expertly started and then managed to get the crown sheet, rear boiler flue-sheet, and the flues warming very close to concurrently and evenly.  A big no-no would be to build a hot fire and forget to ensure that water inside the boiler was covering the crown sheet..  It gets very hot, and if cold water is suddenly injected into the boiler in large quantities, the crown sheet could become shocked and break.  That might not be a big problem with a largely cold and depressurized boiler that is still in the early stages of heating, but three hours later it would mean scalding, maybe death, maybe a massive explosion.

    That's about as much as I (think I) know.  Big Smile

    Crandell

  • Do a Googe Search for the phrase:

    How to boot a steam locomotive

    there are several places where people have written about it.  One of my favourite ones is:

    http://www.sdrm.org/faqs/hostling.html

     

    Semper Vaporo

    Pkgs.

  • That link is pretty much pure fantasy. Look at the aerial photos of yards and roundhouses in Trains magazine. Prominent in every one will be the power house. This produced steam, often for electrical generation but more often to provide heat for buildings, passenger cars waiting pick up, and for heating up steam locomotives. The boiler could be connected to house steam and gradually ( as it should be) brought to boiling. Locomotives would rarely be stone cold as the fairy tale describes, because it would  take days for such a mass to cool. If this occurred, the rapid heating described would cause irregular expansion , leaks, and broken staybolts .

    There's your answer. It rarely happened and when it did, it was a half assed, slipshod operation.

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • In his book "One Man's Locomotives", Vernon Smith had a good section on starting up an 0-6-0 iron mine switcher as a fireman in the late twenties. He describes starting a fire with "waste" and oil, then adding coal from bags kept by the enginehouse. Water was fed to the tank with a hose. In a few hours the fire would be hot enough to move the engine to a central location with a coaling tower and water tank.

    Stix
  • tdmidget

    That link is pretty much pure fantasy. Look at the aerial photos of yards and roundhouses in Trains magazine. Prominent in every one will be the power house. This produced steam, often for electrical generation but more often to provide heat for buildings, passenger cars waiting pick up, and for heating up steam locomotives. The boiler could be connected to house steam and gradually ( as it should be) brought to boiling. Locomotives would rarely be stone cold as the fairy tale describes, because it would  take days for such a mass to cool. If this occurred, the rapid heating described would cause irregular expansion , leaks, and broken staybolts .

    There's your answer. It rarely happened and when it did, it was a half assed, slipshod operation.

    Well... yes and no... but tdmidget does bring up a good point.  Certainly, for a railroad of any size that had the facilities, it was normal practice to use a stationary boiler to heat up or even keep loco boilers hot while they received some repairs.  However, this link is a valid description of the process used to fire up a steam locomotive at a museum that operates somewhat infrequently.  This process would have been pretty similar to what you might have seen on a shortline or logging railroad when they fired up a steamer cold - say, if it had been down for repairs, or the monthly boiler inspection / washing, or if the railroad only ran a couple of times in a week.  These types of lines often didn't have the facilities to warm up the engine from a stationary boiler.  Admittedly, for a shortline that ran twice weekly, the boiler would probably still be warm but the pressure would still be nothing or pretty close to it... so the process would still be about the same.  Is it harder on a boiler than a gentle preheating from the powerhouse?  Sure... but you do what you got to do!  Plus, the kerosene burner described in the link probably doesn't put out anywhere near the heat that the boiler's atomizer is capable of under full load, so I don't think that the heat - or rate of firing described - is excessive (just my opinion, YMMV).  For instance, if the turrent was supplied with air pressure to run the blower and atomizer at full capacity from cold, then you would probably see problems due to thermal stress start to show up in the boiler.

    Not exactly the same size of boiler, but I used to fire a 1914 Case traction engine.  Even when we were running for several days in a row, we would let the fire go out overnight since we didn't have a hostler to babysit it.  The next day it would still be nice and warm, but pressure would be zero.  I would build a new fire and slowly get it up to pressure without any artificial draft until I could run the blower.  Since it was a farm engine, I'm sure this was how it was used through its life.  Still had the original boiler with no major repairs.  Again, not the same as a big locomotive, but just an example to show that a boiler doesn't have to be damaged if it is properly fired from dead cold without any preheat. 

    Anyway, just my two cents... I'm enjoying the discussion & link!

     - James

  • tdmidget

    That link is pretty much pure fantasy. Look at the aerial photos of yards and roundhouses in Trains magazine. Prominent in every one will be the power house. This produced steam, often for electrical generation but more often to provide heat for buildings, passenger cars waiting pick up, and for heating up steam locomotives. The boiler could be connected to house steam and gradually ( as it should be) brought to boiling. Locomotives would rarely be stone cold as the fairy tale describes, because it would  take days for such a mass to cool. If this occurred, the rapid heating described would cause irregular expansion , leaks, and broken staybolts .

    There's your answer. It rarely happened and when it did, it was a half assed, slipshod operation.

    You can count the number of present-day steam operations that have access to a power plant for preheating their locomotives on the fingers of your left elbow.  Even in steam's heyday, most locos that had to be fired from zero were not connected to an external source of steam first.

    Granger railroads frequently stored unneeded locomotives, stone cold with boilers drained, for months, only firing them for the rather brief period when the harvest had to be moved RIGHT NOW.

    In the hands of reasonably skilled, experienced engine men, firing a cold locomotive was NEVER a half assed, slipshod operation.  If Mark Newton (who had a number of cold firings under his belt) was still on this forum he would undoubtedly have some rather blunt comments about your choice of words.

    Chuck

  • tdmidget

    That link is pretty much pure fantasy. Look at the aerial photos of yards and roundhouses in Trains magazine. Prominent in every one will be the power house. This produced steam, often for electrical generation but more often to provide heat for buildings, passenger cars waiting pick up, and for heating up steam locomotives. The boiler could be connected to house steam and gradually ( as it should be) brought to boiling. Locomotives would rarely be stone cold as the fairy tale describes, because it would  take days for such a mass to cool. If this occurred, the rapid heating described would cause irregular expansion , leaks, and broken staybolts .

    There's your answer. It rarely happened and when it did, it was a half assed, slipshod operation.

    Is this fantasy?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q_o3-wNv7Ko

    ...or this....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6uxKCYu6aQ

    Both show cold, no-pressure boilers being fired.  Your description may have pertained to busy Class 1's where the locomotive may have been inside a roundhouse, or near to a stationary plant, but engines out in a parking track that needed to be hostled without being moved to a steam source first had to be fired this way.  Depending on the volume of water to be heated, and on the railroad's policies, and on the condition of the boiler, the process can be accomplished in as little as 5 hours and anywhere on up, probably not more than 12 hours.

    Crandell

  • "You can count the number of present-day steam operations that have access to a power plant for preheating their locomotives on the fingers of your left elbow.  Even in steam's heyday, most locos that had to be fired from zero were not connected to an external source of steam first.

    Granger railroads frequently stored unneeded locomotives, stone cold with boilers drained, for months, only firing them for the rather brief period when the harvest had to be moved RIGHT NOW".

    Present day steam operations are certainly not representative of  how things were done in "steam's heyday" . By the way , how much of this "heyday" were you around for?

    You are saying that railroads like the CB&Q, Rock island,Milwaukee road and such had no facilities to maintain engines properly? A grain harvest is not a spur of the moment, impulse thing. If they did need to heat up a bunch of engines rapidly, it would certainly be cheaper to put them on house steam than have a man dorking around with one or two engines as described.

    First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • Find some photos of CB&Q, Rock and MILW locos in storage, several parallel tracks worth, usually several locos on each track.  Now, find the steam lines...

    First off, define, "Rapidly."  Unless you want to cause unnecessary problems, locomotives which have been in extended storage are fired up SLOWLY - twelve hours would be considered a proper start.  Anything less can cause stress due to uneven heating, which can lead to anything from leaky flues and broken staybolts to cracked boiler plates.

    In what way would it be cheaper to connect house steam, rather than pay one man to fire up several locomotives.  You'd still have the man - the firing, boiler filling, oiling around, etc. wouldn't do themselves just because house steam was available.

    I will admit that my own experience was with marine boilers, not locomotives.  Water tube boilers are somewhat more forgiving than the fire tube boilers in locomotives, but we still had a, "One degree F per minute," rule for changing boiler temperature.

    I repeat - locomotives were frequently stored where house steam wasn't available, and were fired from cold right where they stood.  And nobody was, "Dorking around."  The people doing the job knew what they were doing, how to do it, and why.

    Now I REALLY wish that Mark was still here!

    Chuck

  • Mark Newton is a rairoad engineer on an excursion railroad who drives both steam and diesel.  He is a certified boiler maker and steam boiler inspector.  He fires and engineers steam locomotives of several kinds.

    You can find his own words in this thread:

    http://cs.trains.com/TRCCS/forums/p/120824/1377567.aspx#1377567

    Crandell

  • Here is something to think about.  In the Attack on Pearl Harbor the USS Nevada was hooked to Shore Power at the Start of it Boilers were Cold and Dead all of them were off line she was getting power from the Base power plant.  45 Mins later She had to Steam up to Cut the lines and Move that means power for the Gdenartion of Power for the Electrical Genarotrs and the Turbines for the Screws.  This after taking Multiple Bomb and Torpedo hits.  The crew lit off 12 Boilers in less than 45 mins and got them all up to pressure in that time.

    Always at war with those that think OTR trucking is EASY.
  • Ed, in times of loss of life and limb, we do all sorts of things we wouldn't think of doing when times are good.  We get up and charge at machine gun nests.  We ride on plains in tanks silhouetted against the sky.   We throw our mates out of the way of a bus bearing down on us, except in doing so, we are left in the way of the bus necessarily by Newton's old laws.  Many is the boiler that also obeyed those laws when it was heated inexpertly or carelessly.

    What did those sailors have to lose?

    Crandell

  • Considering the conditions, a lot of normal procedures are tossed out the window (or porthole, or pumped overboard with the bilge water) during combat.  The USAF had a War Emergency Checklist that, among other things, cleared an aircraft for flight with one set of operating instruments.  So if the pilot had a working altimeter, and the flight engineer's airspeed indicator was functional...  You get the idea.

    That does NOT mean that such actions are generally acceptable.

    By the time U.S.S. Nevada was grounded on Hospital Point, boiler damage was the least of the C.O.'s worries.  Bomb and torpedo damage was a lot higher on the priority list.

    We seem to have gotten away from firing a cold locomotive, but that's understandable.

    Chuck (Past USMMA engineer cadet, retired USAF maintenance superintendent)

  • Yes, this has gone WAY beyond what the original question was, so, maybe  if  J. David Conrad, Lynn Moedinger, Steve Sandberg, Steve Lee, or any of our modern day steam experts are reading this, maybe they can weigh in on it and tell us how it's done.  I'm sure they've all had to do it at one time or another.