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Running a steam locomotive backwards...

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Running a steam locomotive backwards...
Posted by Ulrich on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 10:55 AM

In photos of doubleheaded trains back in the days of steam one always sees both locomotives facing forward...why were steam locomotives never coupled so that the second locomotive faces backward (to eliminate the need to turn one of them at the other end)? Did they not run well backward or were there other reasons?

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Posted by tomikawaTT on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 1:26 PM

Steam locomotives did not track as well running in reverse, and were subject to speed restrictions when doing so.  Also, unlike diesels, each steam loco had its own engineer, who had to be in the right place (right-hand side of the cab) to see signals.

That said, I have several photos of Japanese locomotives where a 2-6-2T and a 2-6-0 were coupled with the smoke boxes out and the tender between.  They were running on a mountain branch line where the speed was already restricted and the mine at the end of the branch had no turning facilities.  I assume that they felt it more important for the engineer of the lead locomotive to be able to see the (lower-quadrant semaphore) signals himself, rather than rely on the fireman's call.  (Interestingly, the two locomotives were mechanically identical - C12 class 2-6-2T, C56 class 2-6-0.)

Chuck

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Posted by wjstix on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 4:33 PM

Diesels are really "diesel electrics", the diesel motors generate electricity that turns the wheels...it's really an electric locomotive with it's own generator. Since it's electric, you can plug as many diesels together as you need to run a train and one engineer can run all of them from one cab. When he moves the throttle to "Run 8" on the lead engine, all the engines go to "Run 8" at the same time. Steam had to have a fireman and engineer in each cab to control each engine manually.

Steam engines could run backwards pulling trains, but you'd normally only see it on like a slow-speed branchline or with an engine designed to work both ways like a tank engine (an engine with no tender). Pushing a tender left open the chance of the tender derailing, plus it blocked the view of the crew...plus the controls would be the wrong way around.

With diesels, when a consist is put together if possible railroads like to have the ones on the end facing away from the middle, so they don't need to turn the consist of engines for it's next run in the opposite direction.

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Posted by trainfan1221 on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 6:22 PM

It also looked weird.  But truthfully I am not sure all steam engines even had a front coupler, and the ones that did had them folded up.  Obviously they were only intended to be run in reverse if you really had to, at least with a train.  It was normal for them to do back up moves when leaving a roundhouse and such. I agree with what was said in the previous message also, this meant having to push the tender ahead of it, probably not something to do at speed.

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Posted by cx500 on Tuesday, March 03, 2009 8:19 PM

Ulrich

In photos of doubleheaded trains back in the days of steam one always sees both locomotives facing forward...why were steam locomotives never coupled so that the second locomotive faces backward (to eliminate the need to turn one of them at the other end)? Did they not run well backward or were there other reasons?

 

 The reasons already given by others are correct, most steam engines are designed to run forwards, and tracking at speed running backwards could be rough. 

Where the second engine was a helper locomotive in a helper district, usually at the top of the grade there would be a wye, occasionally a turntable, and the helper would turn around while it waited for orders or signals to return to the start.  (When the helper district was very short, sometimes the helper would back down to its origin at reduced speed.)

Where double heading was over the entire subdivision, recall that in the steam era run-through trains were less common and trains would typically be yarded.  The caboose (often assigned to each conductor) would be removed, and the engines would head to the shop facilities for coal, water, sand and the various other servicing.  A turntable was usually available, sometimes a wye.

So, there were many very good reasons for the locomotives to both face forward, and the physical plant was set up to make it easy to operate that way.

In today's bare-bone railroads, turntables are rare and many of the wyes have been removed.  Diesels don't care which way they face, so orientation depends on the operating needs.  Some railroads preferred to have at least two facing forwards so if the lead unit had to be removed for any reason, a second engine was immediately available.  If there are no turning facilities at the far end, at least one locomotive should face the opposite direction.  Otherwise the orientation may just depend on how they were facing at the origin. 

 John

 

 

 

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Posted by carnej1 on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 11:37 AM

IINM, NYC (actually their Boston & Albany subsidiary) had some 4-6-4 tank locomotives which were designed for bi-directional running in Boston area commuter service and I believe there were other examples of this practice both in the US and internationally..

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Posted by selector on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 1:25 PM

The Norfolk & Western routinely ran their Y6b Mallets backwards when there was no way to turn them.  I have video showing this, running on their main line, and moving at about 25-30 mph.  Not quickly.

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Posted by CopCarSS on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 3:11 PM

IIRC, Prairies (2-6-2's) that were built for logging railroads and such often made more use of the rear wheels as a "reverse pilot wheels" than as a support for the firebox (their more traditional role) as they saw a lot of reverse operation. As you can imagine (and has been mentioned already), the speeds for such an operation would be pretty slow.

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Posted by trainfan1221 on Wednesday, March 04, 2009 4:59 PM
And lets not forget the SP Cab-forwards, though they were actually set up specifically to run that way.  And the tender was where it should be.
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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, March 05, 2009 3:02 PM

trainfan1221

It also looked weird.  But truthfully I am not sure all steam engines even had a front coupler, and the ones that did had them folded up.  Obviously they were only intended to be run in reverse if you really had to, at least with a train.  It was normal for them to do back up moves when leaving a roundhouse and such. I agree with what was said in the previous message also, this meant having to push the tender ahead of it, probably not something to do at speed.

All steam engines would have front couplers. How could they doublehead without a front coupler?? Even before knuckle couplers, the old 4-4-0's with their long cowcatchers had a long metal pole that could be raised that had a link on the end for the link and pin couplers.

A few engines, like say a New York Central Hudson, would have "swing down" coupler in front. The UP Challengers had/have a front coupler that rotated around. Otherwise all freight and switch engines, and most passenger steam engines, had fixed knuckle couplers in the front.

If you look carefully, you can see the "rod" in the middle of the cowcatcher that this engine would use to couple using link-and-pin couplers....

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Posted by Dakguy201 on Friday, March 06, 2009 8:07 AM

wjstix

 The UP Challengers had/have a front coupler that rotated around. 

The UP's Big Boys had a similiar coupler.

 

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Posted by tutaenui on Saturday, March 07, 2009 2:45 AM
One problem with running coal fired steam locomotives in reverse at speed is the hazard of flying coal dust to the crew.
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Posted by cprted on Tuesday, March 10, 2009 11:01 AM

If a steam locomotive was assigned to helper service it would oriented so the nose is facing uphill, thus making it easier for the fireman to keep water over the crown sheet.  This is the same reason why logging locomotives that were never turned were always oriented facing up the ruling grade.

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Posted by THE.RR on Thursday, March 12, 2009 11:36 AM

The Santa Fe (2-10-2) was invented by the Santa Fe (railroad) for use on Raton Pass.  They had        2-10-0's for the job, but they were too slow backing down hill.  The trailing truck was added as a guide for the long backing move, not to support a larger fire box.  It did not make the back up move FAST but fastER.

Other early 1900's Santa Fe (railroad) helpers, especialy the 2-10-10-2's, went so far as to have headlights and pilots on the tenders for the reverse move.

Phil

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Posted by ndbprr on Thursday, March 12, 2009 1:43 PM

There are many pictures os PRR steam engines in helper service on horseshoe curve running in reverse.  Granted this was a slow speed short distance of about eight miles but it saved time at Cresson and Altoona much the way diesel lashups have the last engine facing the opposite way to eliminate turning

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Posted by BigJim on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 9:25 AM

cprted

If a steam locomotive was assigned to helper service it would oriented so the nose is facing uphill, thus making it easier for the fireman to keep water over the crown sheet.  This is the same reason why logging locomotives that were never turned were always oriented facing up the ruling grade.

Now that is an "Urban Legend" if I ever heard one!

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Posted by Kootenay Central on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 4:12 PM

.

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Posted by selector on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:25 PM

BigJim

Now that is an "Urban Legend" if I ever heard one!

Which part?  The water over the crown sheet on grades is certainly not an urban myth.  If the grades get steep enough, and the engine is running nose first down grade, with a slightly inattentive crew, the crown sheet has a much higher chance of being bared from the cooling water of the boiler. When next the water sloshes over the now orange-hot crown sheet....KABOOMM!!  Early twentieth century metallurgy meets 13 billion year old H2O.

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Posted by cprted on Tuesday, March 17, 2009 11:47 PM

BigJim

cprted

If a steam locomotive was assigned to helper service it would oriented so the nose is facing uphill, thus making it easier for the fireman to keep water over the crown sheet.  This is the same reason why logging locomotives that were never turned were always oriented facing up the ruling grade.

Now that is an "Urban Legend" if I ever heard one!

Umm nope.  In fact not a urban legend.    Anyone with experience working on steam locomotives will back me up on this.
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Posted by BigJim on Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:44 PM

Which part? 


The part where you think that pusher engines only go UPHILL! You are not taking into account that many a pusher district has ups and downs and definately are not all uphill 100% of the time.

Now here is the really really funny part:

The Norfolk & Western routinely ran their Y6b Mallets backwards when there was no way to turn them.  I have video showing this, running on their main line, and moving at about 25-30 mph.  Not quickly.

-Crandell


N&W engines would push over Blue Ridge going east and then wait on the other side to push another west.
What's the difference???

Think about gentlemen!
More likely it was due to being able to see which way they were going, the train ahead of them and to see the brakeman signal when the pin was pulled to cut the pusher loose than worrying about the water level in the boiler, which by the way they had to worry about anyway when they topped the hill!.

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Posted by selector on Thursday, March 19, 2009 12:47 AM

BigJim
What's the difference???

 

Somewhere between 3-8% grade?  There is a huge difference in operating considerations between a tank engine on a 6-9% grade, which the Baldwin 2-8-2T I rode in was purportedly capable of handling per the warning placard beside the sight glass, and the 2-3% grades that a Y6b would be required to negotiate, nose or tail first.  The metal placard had two lines on it with the uppermost the lowest level the water was permitted to fall in the boiler on grades near 9% and the lowest signifying the highest level that water could be permitted to be in the sight glass when going nose first down the grade.  Some companies must have had a policy that an engine would climb nose first because having too much water in the boiler isn't as bad as having too little.  You'll break the pistons or blow the covers of the cylinders in the former case, but you'll have a crown-sheet failure with the resultant deaths of all crew members if the latter happens.

But you quoted the entire statement above, which led me to understand that you didn't accept or believe any of it.  The history of crown-sheet failures, and the reasons, is well known.  This is one of them.

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Posted by BigJim on Thursday, March 19, 2009 10:42 AM

Did you ever stop to realize that all of these locomotives, road or logging, had to turn the hill ( crest the grade ) at some point? They can't always go uphill! Did you ever stop to realize that every single one of these locos were built to work safely going uphill or down?  The engine crew WAS ALWAYS concerned about the amount of water in the boiler. And, it was their responsibility to see that the proper amount of water was in the boiler when the locomotive did crest and turn over the hill.

Therefore the water over the crown sheet is a moot point and invalidates said poster's remark that water over the crown sheet was the sole reason locos were headed uphill!

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Posted by cprted on Thursday, March 19, 2009 11:37 AM

BigJim

Did you ever stop to realize that all of these locomotives, road or logging, had to turn the hill ( crest the grade ) at some point? They can't always go uphill! Did you ever stop to realize that every single one of these locos were built to work safely going uphill or down?  The engine crew WAS ALWAYS concerned about the amount of water in the boiler. And, it was their responsibility to see that the proper amount of water was in the boiler when the locomotive did crest and turn over the hill.

Therefore the water over the crown sheet is a moot point and invalidates said poster's remark that water over the crown sheet was the sole reason locos were headed uphill!

I was not suggesting that steam locomotives can only operate uphill, that would be ridicules.  What I was saying was that when orienting locomotives that operated over territory with significant grades and when those same locomotives did not get turned on that territory (a logging operation being the best example of this), locomotives were oriented nose-up the ruling grade so that--more often than not--the water in the boiler would be sloshed at the back of the boiler, not the front when operating on a hill.
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Posted by BigJim on Thursday, March 19, 2009 1:44 PM

cprted

BigJim

Did you ever stop to realize that all of these locomotives, road or logging, had to turn the hill ( crest the grade ) at some point? They can't always go uphill! Did you ever stop to realize that every single one of these locos were built to work safely going uphill or down?  The engine crew WAS ALWAYS concerned about the amount of water in the boiler. And, it was their responsibility to see that the proper amount of water was in the boiler when the locomotive did crest and turn over the hill.

Therefore the water over the crown sheet is a moot point and invalidates said poster's remark that water over the crown sheet was the sole reason locos were headed uphill!

I was not suggesting that steam locomotives can only operate uphill, that would be ridicules.  What I was saying was that when orienting locomotives that operated over territory with significant grades and when those same locomotives did not get turned on that territory (a logging operation being the best example of this), locomotives were oriented nose-up the ruling grade so that--more often than not--the water in the boiler would be sloshed at the back of the boiler, not the front when operating on a hill.


And if you will read the Red above, you will see that it doesn't really make any difference which way the loco is facing as far as the water is concerned. The engineer and fireman are experianced on their district and will very well know what level of water to carry in the boiler at any time. 
However, it does make more of a difference which way the crew the is facing in order to see trouble ahead, hand signals, etc.
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Posted by selector on Thursday, March 19, 2009 2:22 PM

BigJim
However, it does make more of a difference which way the crew the is facing in order to see trouble ahead, hand signals, etc.

 

Also moot, since steamers ran light in reverse often on most roads, or pushed that way where they had to be in concert with the head end and still managed to see signals and coordinate their effort with the lead engine.  I concede that the post to which you objected was apparently a blanket statement, and didn't necessarily apply, and certainly not in every instance. 

I was thinking more in terms of logging engines, which he mentioned, and in my own location where the Comox Logging Co. ran tank engines up 3-6% grades on a straight run (up one way, down the reverse...no undulations per se), it made a lot of sense to keep the engines facing up hill.  Cheap insurance as it were.

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Posted by cprted on Thursday, March 19, 2009 2:54 PM

Grade makes a huge difference as far as water is concerned.

I'm not interested in arguing about this anymore, because really, you can believe whatever you want.  It makes no difference to me.

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