Running a steam locomotive backwards...

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Running a steam locomotive backwards...

  • 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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  • 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

  • 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.

    Stix
  • 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.

  • 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

     

     

     

  • 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..

    "I Often Dream of Trains"-From the Album of the Same Name by Robyn Hitchcock

  • 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

  • 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.

    "A great photograph is one that fully expresses what one feels, in the deepest sense, about what is being photographed." ~Ansel Adams

  • 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.
  • 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....

    Stix
  • wjstix

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

    The UP's Big Boys had a similiar coupler.

     

  • One problem with running coal fired steam locomotives in reverse at speed is the hazard of flying coal dust to the crew.
  • 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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  • 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

    Timber Head Eastern Railroad "THE Railroad Through the Sierras"

  • 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