Every railroad man is full of stories, and loves to tell them. I'm no exception, so this page is reserved for my stories.
SOLUTION TO THE PUZZLE FROM ISSUE 54
A and B cross the bridge together (2 minutes)
A returns with the flashlight (3 minutes)
C and D cross the bridge together (13 minutes)
B returns with the flashlight (15 minutes)
A and B cross the bridge together again (17 minutes)
THE GREAT LOCOMOTIVE FIRE
For several years, I held Q420 as a regular assignment. Formerly known on Conrail as SEBO, the Q420 was a Selkirk to Beacon Park (Boston) freight train. It was usually a heavy train of 8,000 tons or more; most of the train would be dropped at Framingham, and a handful of cars would continue on to Beacon Park. Today, the Q420, as well as “Beacon Pahk Yahd” are long gone.
On March 19, 2003, I was pulling up the hill east of Palmer and got a hit on the high car detector at West Warren. The detector informed me that the clearance defect was near axle 16, which would be the third locomotive in my consist. I looked back and saw a thick column of smoke coming from the third unit. I assumed that the smoke was coming from the stack; a common problem with older General Electric units.
My conductor looked back and told me that the engine was on fire. He was a relatively new employee, and I explained to him about the thick exhaust. “No, it’s on fire, come see!” he replied. I went over to his side, and sure enough, the side of the engine was engulfed in flames. I contacted the dispatcher, who instructed me to stop where the fire department could get to us.
The fire department arrived promptly and extinguished the blaze. After the fire was knocked down, we discovered that the locomotive fuel pump was still working and squirting a stream of fuel oil out the side of the locomotive. I pressed the emergency fuel cut off button to stop the pump, but the fire had damaged it and nothing happened. It was necessary for someone to enter the smoke-filled cab and open the circuit breaker.
While the firefighters had air packs, they explained that they wouldn’t know what to do, so it was up to me. I climbed onto the nose, took a deep breath, entered the cab, knocked down the entire panel of breakers and exited as quickly as possible. We informed the dispatcher that the fire was out and we were now ready to continue.
We had been stopped there about three hours, and the dispatcher was concerned about whether we could make the hill at Charlton with only three engines. I told him that we should make it, but getting to Boston with the time we had left was out of the question. We dragged over the hill and were relieved in Worcester.
While all of this was happening, the Q168, a hot intermodal train was stuck behind me. The engineer was the senior man on the division and a rather dour soul. Because the dispatcher was afraid to stop me in Charlton to get him around me, he had to follow me all the way into Worcester. He was never happy about getting stuck behind a heavy freight (usually me), and after this, he called me “the turtle” until the day he retired.
As for the rest of the story, a photo of the burned engine parked at Worcester was posted on the “CSX sucks” website the very next day. The photos below were taken by a bystander I was talking to at the scene. When he found out I was the engineer, he graciously offered to send me copies of the pictures. As for the locomotive, it was repaired and put back in service; I spotted it that August, none the worse for wear.
KNOCKING DOWN A BRIDGE
On September 22, 1987, I was called out of the hotel for TV-401 at 9:00PM; a northbound stack train with three engines and thirty-one cars. At 12:55 AM, as we were operating through a thirty MPH temporary speed restriction in Nyack, we felt a lurch and the train went into emergency. It felt as though we’d gotten a knuckle and I looked at my engineer in disbelief. There is little slack in a stack train, and I’m sure the engineer was as puzzled as I was.
As I was preparing to inspect the train, my engineer reset the air brake, and the air began to restore on the rear of the train. Well, that ruled out a knuckle, and my engineer discussed whether we should just continue our trip. (This was known as “long-pool rules back in the day). I had a weird feeling about it, so while my engineer notified the dispatcher, I began the mile-and-a-half walk to the rear of the train.
I’d gotten about two cars back when the dispatcher called to tell us that the local police had called him to report a derailment. I told him I didn’t think I was a derailment as the air brake had restored. However, this didn’t reassure him, and every couple of car lengths he would call and ask: ”Did you find anything yet?”
It was a dark and foggy night and visibility was poor. About twenty-five cars back I smelled the scent of burning rubber and my foot hit a large timber that was lying on the ground. It took a moment, but I finally looked up and discovered that the timbers were from a small bridge that we had knocked down. When I notified the dispatcher, the pandemonium began.
The police arrived in short order and blocked off the road, while I inspected the rest of the train. Happily, it was all on the rails. Apparently local residents had heard the noise and called the police, who notified the railroad, and somewhere along the line, somebody just assumed it was a derailment. The top division officers “J1” and “J2” came all the way from Philadelphia that night. And a host of car inspectors and trackmen were on the scene as well.
When I finally got back to the engine, I noticed several water bottles on the ground underneath the engineer’s window. Apparently, like me, he was concerned about taking a urine test, but we were never given one. Everything was “good to go” at 5:55 AM, and we took the train to the siding at Haverstraw. We waited three hours for our relief while the car department went over the train with a fine-tooth comb. We were finally off duty at 12:05 PM.
After an incident like this, there is a period of anxiety while you wait for a certified letter informing you of the formal investigation.
However, if there was an investigation, the train crew wasn’t invited. To this day, I still don’t know exactly what happened. One possibility is that an overweight vehicle crossed the bridge while we were going under it, as the bridge rubbed across the top of several containers before collapsing. Another possibility is that the track department may have raised the track. They had been working on it the day before, which was the reason for the thirty MPH speed restriction. I can’t help but wonder what would have happened at the normal fifty MPH speed!
It took a while, but the bridge was finally repaired with a metal span in the middle.
I WAS ONLY FOLLOWING ORDERS!
On August 16th, 1991 I was called out of the hotel for OISE-7X out of Oak Island at 6:00 PM. I examined the paperwork and noticed that we had a car with a height of 17’ 11”. There were two routes get to the River Line from Oak Island and each route had a tunnel. The first route was through the Weehawken tunnel which had a height of 17’9”, while the other route was through the Croxton tunnel which had a height of 19’.
I called the dispatcher to let him know that were had to go via Croxton as we had a car that was two inches too high for the Weehawken tunnel. He was not pleased to hear this as we had cars to pick up in North Bergen, and going through the Weehawken tunnel allowed us to make the pick up without tying up the main line. We had an animated discussion about this as the dispatcher was determined to send us through Weehawken. He finally ended the conversation by telling me that my paperwork was wrong and we were going through Weehawken!
As we exited the Weehawken tunnel and entered North Bergen yard the dispatcher called us on the radio and instructed me to “call him on the phone”. When we got to the north end of the yard, I went into the yard office to use the phone. He told me that he was sending a car inspector to examine the car, and to call him back to let him know what we found.
What we found was a bi-level auto rack loaded with small two-axle military trucks and trailers. The car inspector, brakeman and I climbed to the upper level to check the damage. The hoops used to support the canvas in over the bed were damaged; the wooden ones had splintered and the metal ones had been bent. I don’t know if the trucks originally had the canvas tops, but there was none aboard the car. We took the hoops off of the trucks and threw them over the side. In addition one of the trucks had a large wooden crate which had had a hole ripped in the top. The car inspector looked in the crate to see what was inside. If it had contained weapons or munitions he would have had to report it, but it was full of MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).
I went back in the yard office to inform the dispatcher of the situation. I would imagine he was waiting rather anxiously for my call. He was relieved when I told him the trucks were secure and the evidence had been removed (Except for the crate, of course), The dispatcher instructed us to carry on, so we made our pick up and departed for Selkirk. Naturally, because of the delay, we outlawed in Coxsackie, and were on-duty for fourteen hours and twenty minutes.
I was fairly confident I wouldn’t get in trouble as I was only following the dispatcher’s orders, but I spent the next few weeks wondering if the mail carrier was going to bring me a certified letter inviting me to an investigation.