Freight Train Crews

This one's for you, Hot Water.  And...yes...I did Google it...but I did not get a satisfactory answer.  I am no expert on trains.  So...since this is a forum...and I respect your extensive knowledge and experience...maybe you would know the answer to this.  In the steam days (let's say circa 1950)...besides the engineer and fireman...how many would make up a freight train crew?  Was there a conductor?  Brakeman?  Rear Brakeman?  Any help would be greatly appreciated.  Matt#1 Train 432 Westside Line with Beans

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Back in the "steam days", and depending on the state, a normal "full crew" for a main line road freight would have been:

1) Conductor, on the rear in the caboose.

2) Engineer

3) Fireman

4) Head Brakeman, in the cab of the steam locomotive.

5) Rear Brakeman, on the rear in the caboose.

 

Depending on the state, as some states required an "extra Brakeman", who could have been in the locomotive, or on the caboose. In such instances, that "extra Brakeman" would have been picked-up at the state line of said state requiring such, and then dropped-off upon leaving that state. 

boin106 posted:

Thanks...that was very informative.  What was required in the state of California?  Matt

I don't know, since I didn't have any delivery/riding assignments, back in the 1960s or 1970s, and not growing up in California, I had no exposure to the "steam days" on the SP or AT&SF.

A 5-man crew was pretty standard in the steam days.

  • The Engineer, Fireman and Head Brakeman would ride the engine.
  • The Conductor and the Rear Brakeman (sometimes called the Flagman) would ride the caboose.

The term "Flagman" came from his duties if the train made an unscheduled stop. He was the guy that had to go back a mile or two and "flag" oncoming trains to prevent a rear-end collision.

When they stopped the engineer would "whistle out the flag" which was a whistle signal for the flagman to start walking. When they were ready to go, he would "whistle in the flag" which was a whistle signal that told the Flagman to head for the caboose. The engineer would give him a certain number of minutes to get to the caboose before he would whistle off (2 shorts) and start moving again. All with no radios or cell phones.

The extra brakeman required in some states (such as Washington before the mid 60's) was commonly called the Swing Brakeman. He rode on the head end, in the tender "doghouse" if provided, or in a trailing unit of a diesel consist. He was especially useful in the steam era to help set the air brake retainers for downhill grades. He was also usually the lowest seniority train service employee, so he got many of the grunt jobs. 

From a practical point of view (i.e. not because of regulation) a five-man crew with a head brakeman would be needed on a long freight, especially if it had to pick up or set out cars along the way. A shorter train, say on a branchline or a shortline railroad, could get by with four: engineer and fireman in the cab, conductor and brakeman in the caboose. (Of course, passenger trains had a conductor and brakeman too.)

One thing that makes it difficult to discover the correct way things were done 'way back when' is that so much rail regulation was actually done by the states, not the federal government. Back before states had a DOT (Dept of Transportation) they had an agency that specifically regulated railroad rates, work rules, abandonments, adding or removing passenger trains from the schedule, etc. (Here in Minnesota it was the "Railroad and Warehouse Commission", and if I remember correctly, it's members were elected, not appointed.) This means there could be great variation in how a multi-state railroad operated in any particular place.

- Stix

Santa Fe used Swing Brakemen on the First District (Cajon Pass).

They went on duty at San Bernardino and rode eastward to Victorville, where they got off the train.  (The Engineer, Fireman, Conductor, and two Brakemen went on to Barstow.)  They caught a westbound train, first in, first out, and there was a swing Brakeman for every 15 cars (at least that's the number I remember).  They had to ride out on the cars from Summit to San Bernardino.  They turned the handles on the required number of retaining valves to High Pressure position as the train passed through Summit, going from car to car on rooftop running boards.  Coming into San Bernardino, they turned the handles on the retainers back to Direct Release.  Sometimes the Swing Brakemen would use an empty ice bunker on an empty reefer as shelter in winter.

Retaining valves retain a certain amount of air pressure in the brake cylinders of cars when the brake pipe pressure increases (which would normally release all brakes).  In the days before dynamic braking, trains had to descend from Summit on 7 miles of 3.2% grade and 20 miles of 2.2% grade, on air brakes alone.  And the early dynamic brakes were better than none, but nothing like the dynamics they have today.  Additionally, steam and early diesel locomotives were not equipped with pressure-maintaining brake valves, so the brake pipe pressure was always slowly leaking down and increasing the braking effort when the brakes were set for a long time, as on long mountain grades.  Eventually, the train would stall if the braking effort were not reduced periodically.

The Engineer, because of the retaining valves being in use on the cars, could move the brake valve to Running position and recharge it, reducing, but not releasing, the train brakes,  Then he would reapply the brakes.  Setting and releasing in cycles ("cycle braking") was possible only due to the retaining valves, and thus the Swing Brakemen had a definite purpose.  

Around 1954, Westinghouse Air Brake Co. came out with a pressure-maintaining version of its 24-RL automatic brake valve, and a kit to convert older non-pressure-maintaining 24-RL brake valves.  So, by 1955, trains descending Cajon Pass could go down on a two applications*, which could be maintained for the entire distance, and the use of retainers was discontinued around 1960.  However, Swing Brakemen were required by union agreement, not by law, and that did not end in California until 1964.

*  One application from Summit to Cajon (3.2%) with a 10-minute wheel cooling stop at Cajon, (during which the Swing Brakeman turned some of the retaining valves back to Direct Release); and a second application on the 2.2% from Cajon to San Bernardino.  In reality it usually did not work that way because there were several passenger trains, both UPRR and ATSF, and a freight train hardly ever avoided taking siding at least once between Summit and San Bernardino.  But two applications would do the job under ideal circumstances.

Tom

 

Superintendent, High Plains Division (O Gauge) 

The Panhandle & Santa Fe Railway Co.

Lone Star Hi-Railers

Hot Water posted:

Back in the "steam days", and depending on the state, a normal "full crew" for a main line road freight would have been:

1) Conductor, on the rear in the caboose.

2) Engineer

3) Fireman

4) Head Brakeman, in the cab of the steam locomotive.

5) Rear Brakeman, on the rear in the caboose.

 

Depending on the state, as some states required an "extra Brakeman", who could have been in the locomotive, or on the caboose. In such instances, that "extra Brakeman" would have been picked-up at the state line of said state requiring such, and then dropped-off upon leaving that state. 

I recall seeing a magzine were trains pick up a caboose at a state line.While others were dropping caboose off and putting on a fred on the rear.I once saw a fred on the rear of a freight train.Thing is it was on the coupler of a caboose.

seaboardm2 posted:
Hot Water posted:

Back in the "steam days", and depending on the state, a normal "full crew" for a main line road freight would have been:

1) Conductor, on the rear in the caboose.

2) Engineer

3) Fireman

4) Head Brakeman, in the cab of the steam locomotive.

5) Rear Brakeman, on the rear in the caboose.

 

Depending on the state, as some states required an "extra Brakeman", who could have been in the locomotive, or on the caboose. In such instances, that "extra Brakeman" would have been picked-up at the state line of said state requiring such, and then dropped-off upon leaving that state. 

I recall seeing a magzine were trains pick up a caboose at a state line.While others were dropping caboose off and putting on a fred on the rear.I once saw a fred on the rear of a freight train.Thing is it was on the coupler of a caboose.

Please reread the original poster's question, as well as my response, above. We were/are discussing the "Steam Days"! There were NO "fred" devices back in the Steam Days!

Yes it was a steam era question, but the same 5 man crew existed on most all trains until the late 1980's, mid-90's in places.  Many engineers working today still have their fireman's seniority if they started before 1986, but after that no more firemen were hired, new engineers since then come from train service. There has been a tremendous productivity gain made by train crews since the 1980's. When I started as a fireman, we had a five man crew almost all the time, and even 6 if you count an occasional engineer trainee. We ran mile long, single stack trains over a single division with 5 men and a caboose. Over the years, that changed to 2 men, running across two divisions, with two mile long trains, one stacked on top of the other, and no caboose. Just the other day I saw a facebook video of a BNSF stack train running west out of KC, that was 16,000' long with remotes in the middle and on the rear end, with just the two men on the engine. How many men would it have taken in 1940 or 1980 to do that ?

OGR Webmaster posted:
...

When they stopped the engineer would "whistle out the flag" which was a whistle signal for the flagman to start walking. When they were ready to go, he would "whistle in the flag" which was a whistle signal that told the Flagman to head for the caboose. The engineer would give him a certain number of minutes to get to the caboose before he would whistle off (2 shorts) and start moving again. All with no radios or cell phones.

i have seen caboose whistles... were they typical or uncommon?  the SP caboose we used to have sitting at the Riverside Live Steamers compound had one.

Rule 99    1 long and 3 short engine whistle or horn... Flagman protect the rear of train.

 4 long.. flagman return from South and west (engine whistle or horn)

5 long flagman return from

 North or east...(engine whistle or horn)

Other whistle combinations for double track ETC.

Caboose whistles  sounded more like a cheap musical recorder. Not that loud  but better than nothing..  Both ends had a whistle along with a emergency valve next to the hand brake.

Side bar.... I worked a job that serviced a ship yard, we found a great whistle from one of great lake boats and installed it on our Van.... Really loud but unfortunately it didn't last long,someone got word of it and made us take it off... Fun for a few days.

Swing brakeman (actually brakemen).. you can see another towards the rear),  west bound Summit... Cajon Pass

FB_IMG_1440132523906

This famous photo has been posted many times in various publications on the Santa Fe (ATSF) and I want to say it's from Jack Delano. You can correct me if I'm wrong as that just popped in my head for some reason.

 

 

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