From the Archives SRS 145 Part 17
- Thanks for the positive comments from all of you. I have enjoyed the
commentary from professional railroad folks who handled the Sperry Car.
Thier perspective is interesting.
Well we were testing the Harrisburgh Main and as I said it was a very
different world. Long distances in between small towns. Now this part is a
little vague in my mind so feel free to make corrections. We were headed
south and tied up in Port Allegheny Pa. This is just north of a big grade
something on the order of a hill six miles long up one side and then down
the other side. The thing about this part of the world is you could wake up
and it would be somewhat chilly and the dew would be heavy. I recall
.....let me start with how one woke up on the Sperry Car.
I think we all understand my social position onboard. I was "junor" and the
job, whatever it was, usually fell to me. Of course I had not dropped the
testing carriage on the frog, I always did whatever needed doing and that
included setting up the car in the morning, I was studying the Sperry Manual
and taking the tests and of course I always had my crayon. Other members of
the crew seemed less interested in the job and frankly at times I think it
was easier to do the job myself rather than try to work around the other
guy. So we would know what time the railroad guy would be aboard in the
morning. If the railroad said they would be there at 7 am I would be up
front in the seat engineman's position at 6:55. All engines would be
runninng and the car was in operating condition. This meant that someone
would have to get up at six. First things first. Start up the rear engine.
Usually I got up, draggd a pair of jeans on, MADE MY BUNK UP (yes that is
correct you had to make your bed. Ivan insisted that this be done every
morning because it was reflected on the Sperry Car if someone should look in
the room) and then put on my workboots. I tried going back to start the
engine in stocking feet acouple times. It just was not the kind of
environment for feet without shoes. Besides the floor was cold.
I also learned that you really had to tie your shoes. Dragging around with
the long laces undone was just not safe.
Common sense you all say but some days............
Anyway after startng the rear engine you could now move on to the second
task which was the most important one. Making the coffee. This was only
second because of our lack of an Onan generator. Next I would disconnect the
electric tie up which meant you simply pulled it out of whatever electric
box you had tied onto. Then you took water. I generally took water the night
before but if there was a late shower or just using the bathroom and sink
you could be down a few gallons and I was taught to top off the tank
whenever possible because you could not always count on getting a tie up
with water. Climbing up to the top of the Sperry car was not difficult but
in the cold summer dew it was easy to loose your footing. I once reached the
top of the car and as I began to stand up on the roof I lost my footing on
the slippery dew and cracked my knee on the side of the curved roof. You did
not want to fall off of the Sperry Car.
Next was the paint pot. Sometimes you added paint and a little diesel. Then
it was mainly a walk around the car to make sure everything was in the right
place, nothing was leaking or hanging off the car etc.... By this time the
coffee ought to be done so you got a cup (travel mugs had not been invented
yet so you used a real coffee mug) and then went back to the detector room.
We always opened the side door so that the railroad personel could climb
right aboard and of course they were always welcome to enjoy a cup of coffee
in our kitchen. One time I think one of the railroad guys brought us
dougnuts. Breakfast was not a big affair.
The next thing you had to do was go about setting up the detector room and
"calibrating " the computer. I remember setting some dials but not much else
about the process.
So now we were basically ready for another day of testing. Usually we waited
until the railroad guy showed up to remove our lock from the switch. We did
not use a blue flag nor a camp car flag we just put our lock on the switch
so no one could shove anything down on top of you.
So this fine morning we start testing the Harrisbugh main out of Port
Allegheny and I recall that we were testing south. This was big time pusher
territory over some moutain that I do not think I ever knew the name of. So
we test up over the top and then back up onto the siding. This was a long
siding something on the order of several miles. I believe i was testing when
we went over the first time. But once we got behind the signal on the main
and waited for the switch to go over and go in on the siding I was sent up
front. Testing going up the hill was easy. Nothing in particular to see just
trees and trees. At times the ROW dropped off steeply and you wondered how
far "down" it might be.
We crested the hill and began to drift down hill. I did not need to use the
power to go down hill. The phone rang. "Junor between 10 and 13" Ivan
I put on the air a little bit as we had speed up to nearly 15 MPH. I was now
very aware that the SRS 145 was trying to get away from me. At first I tried
to put on some air then back it off as a way to keep between the established
testing speeds of 10 and 13 mph. this did not work very well as it tended
tomake the ride a bit bumpy. At these slow speeds the air reacted quickly.
Then I tried to expand my operating speed and use less air. Just as we
looked like we would reach 14 mph I put on 10 pounds an it seemed to do the
trick but then brought the speed down to 9 mph. So next I decided just to
leave a little air on to constantly drag the car. This at least SEEMED like
a good idea. All of this took place over a forty five minute period or so.
And the problem was becoming more acute the futher we went. My difficulty in
keeping control over the Sperry Car did not go unnoticed in the rear. The
advice was not helping me get better control of the car. "Slow Down" etc did
not give me much train handling advice.
After some period of fairly intense hadling of the Sperry Car I waas getting
tense. There was no looking out at the trees. I was watching the speed and
the air. The phone rings. "Junor what are you going to do when we get to the
end of the siding ? The brakes are going to turn to mush and we won't be
able to stop!" "Take the air off !"
I think I replied but I am not sure what I said. Basically I think it would
be fair to say I did not know what I was doing and trying to do the best I
could at it (If I do not hear some thoughts on this one from you
professional railroaders I do not know what will get a comment). Here is the
problem. The sperry man wants to maintain a ridiculously low speed going
downhill. the sperry car on the other hand wants to go faster ad faster
downhill. The sperry man has only a few brake shoes to accomplish this with.
The Sperry Car has 75 tons of deadweight wanting to follow its friend
gravity to where ever the bottom of the hill is.There is no train behind me
to drag the Sperry car to a stop. So basically it is a case of putting the
air on and then taking the air off.
Now I can see the signal at the end of the siding. It is red. We want to
test right up to it if we can but at this point I have a much bigger
concern. Ivan was correct it seems as though the brakes are going away. 13
MPH 14, air 12 mph air off, 14 mph air , not much result, more air 12 MPH ,
then 13 mph 14 mph air. Nothing , more air okay slowing. Air off. Now we
are getting close to the signal. I have to decide where to stop because the
signal is red and I can see the switch is lined against us.
Now how could this possibly get any worse? Well suddenly I see maybe half a
mile off, a headlight rounds the bend at the bottom of the hill. Thats it.
"We can always test the last 100 yards by hand if we have to" I think. I put
on the air and give one to stop. The Sperry car slows but does not stop. I
dump the air and we slowly stop almost next to the signal. The brakes had
indeed gone away. The headend of the freight sped past us trying to make
speed for the uphill. Ivan came up from the rear and we exchanged some
conversation. Basically there is no magic formula for checking speed on a
long downhill grade. Ideally you would prefer to test only uphill but since
the SRS 145 is directional (while testing), that is not possible. You can
go backwards at great speeds but that is for another time
That was not the end of the day But I learned a valuable train handling
lesson. That evening I discovered that while I thought I was all alone up
front Ivan and Jimmy and the railroad guy were all watching every move I
made. They could see the air go on and how much I used and they were talking
about it and how I was doing. The difference was they knew I was in trouble
before I did. At one point they talked about sending Jimmy up front to take
over but apparently Ivan felt this was a much more valuable lesson for me.
Besides Jimmy did not necessarily have a whole lot more experience at this
moutain railroading thing than I did. I think everyone was relieved when I
I encourage anyone who might have a question to ask it. Unless you email me
off list, I will post your question to the lists along with my reply.
And that is yet another episode of the SRS 145 "From The
Archives"..............What's in your archives?
- I use to know couple of people that use to worked for Sperry.They told
me stories about being left on a siding out in the boondocks in a heavy
snowstorm for days and maybe a week before they can go on and continue.
- That is a scary thought. We rarely had more than a two day supply of food.
>Subject: Re: [FJGRailroad] From the Archives SRS 145 Part 17
>Date: Sat, 1 Apr 2006 21:25:04 -0500
>I use to know couple of people that use to worked for Sperry.They told
>me stories about being left on a siding out in the boondocks in a heavy
>snowstorm for days and maybe a week before they can go on and continue.