Pushers and helpers

Well, never got a good answer on this question on the Trains website, so thought I would try here.  With mid-train helpers and end train pushers, forgetting about the communication angle, how did  the the engineer determine how much to push?  With diesels, does he watch the traction motor currents? On hilly curves where he can not see what the train is doing, how does he know he has not caused the train to double up  on itself in the curve due to too much push?  How did engineers determine how much to push in the steam era?  What were the indicators, or did they just push for all it was worth until they didn't need it anymore?

Original Post
CALNNC posted:

Well, never got a good answer on this question on the Trains website, so thought I would try here.  With mid-train helpers and end train pushers, forgetting about the communication angle, how did  the the engineer determine how much to push? 

He/she is VERY familiar with the territory he/she is operating over.

With diesels, does he watch the traction motor currents?

No.

On hilly curves where he can not see what the train is doing, how does he know he has not caused the train to double up  on itself in the curve due to too much push? 

Again, he/she knows their territory.

How did engineers determine how much to push in the steam era? 

3rd time, they knew their territory, and operated heavy trains over it day in and day out. Comes down to LOTS of experience.

What were the indicators, or did they just push for all it was worth until they didn't need it anymore?

Pretty much yes, i.e. their only "indicator" was knowing their territory and corresponding speed.

 

Simple, use the same Lionel engines or  install ERR boards.  Have WIDE radius curves.  Use Command Control.

https://youtu.be/RH1nABsbY0o

https://www.youtube.com/watch?...amp;feature=youtu.be

Actually, I've wondered the same thing.  How are real engines equipped to run together with so much distance apart, weight and terrain changes. 

I've been able to my trains to do this, but ..... MY trains are toys.

Looking forward to seeing the answer. 

 

Harry736 posted:

Simple, use the same Lionel engines or  install ERR boards.  Have WIDE radius curves.  Use Command Control.

https://youtu.be/RH1nABsbY0o

https://www.youtube.com/watch?...amp;feature=youtu.be

Actually, I've wondered the same thing.  How are real engines equipped to run together with so much distance apart, weight and terrain changes. 

I've been able to my trains to do this, but ..... MY trains are toys.

Looking forward to seeing the answer. 

You didn't like my answer, above?

 

 

Well, the touchy feely, familiar with the territory might be an answer, not sure if it is accurate though.  When you watch the video on getting down the Saluda grade with midtrain and pushers, watching the dynamic brake current  would seem to indicate watching traction motor current going up hill would be important too.  Somewhere in the operating procedure, there has to be a method to follow other that if it feels good do it, or learn it from your journeyman engineer.  Maybe touchy feely developed by practice and demonstration was the way, not sure how it would hold up in an investigation though.

CALNNC posted:

Well, the touchy feely, familiar with the territory might be an answer, not sure if it is accurate though. 

So,,,,,,you have lots of experience on various railroads that use helpers and/or DPU (Distributed Power Units)?

When you watch the video on getting down the Saluda grade with midtrain and pushers, watching the dynamic brake current  would seem to indicate watching traction motor current going up hill would be important too. 

That all depends if those were maned helpers, vs DPU operation. However, one still can not learn how to handle freight trains in mountainous territory, just by watch a video.

Somewhere in the operating procedure, there has to be a method to follow other that if it feels good do it, or learn it from your journeyman engineer. 

Again, do you have lots of experience training engineers on DPU operations?

Maybe touchy feely developed by practice and demonstration was the way, not sure how it would hold up in an investigation though.

Really? Been involved in lots of "investigations" also?

 

As a train driver I can tell you that it is really not that complicated at all. When you are up front you have control of the back of the train either through the computer (distributed power) or via radio to the back crew (conventional). Knowing the road (speed limits and terrain) is part of the job. You try to keep the power reasonably balanced throughout the train. No problem. Cheers, Paul.

Big Jim posted:
CALNNC posted:

Well, the touchy feely, familiar with the territory might be an answer, not sure if it is accurate though.

It is replies like this that make me just turn around and walk away!

Certainly makes one wonder, doesn't it? Why bother to ask questions, and then question the answers, without any knowledge or experience related to the subject?

At one time, BNSF tried to establish a process where the Engineer on the leading consist would tell the Engineer on the manned helper to increase or decrease throttle, sort of like verbal Locotrol.  Made me want to be physically sick.  I worked a lot of trains on Cajon Pass on the head end, mid-train, and cut in ahead of the Caboose.  Same on the undulating Fourth District and 2.2% Miramar Hill.  Never was radio used.

Common sense, though, now that's another matter.  If the ammeter on your engine is in the red, then you might want to ask the Engineer on the other consist whether he is in the same position.  Sometimes you have to double the hill.  If your engine is having a lot of slipping, you reduce one notch.

Tom

 

Superintendent, High Plains Division (O Gauge) 

The Panhandle & Santa Fe Railway Co.

Lone Star Hi-Railers

Santa Fe, All the Way

Having worked NS’s former Conrail/PRR Pittsburgh Division, I can tell you that Jack and Tom are right on.  Many/most of my trains had helpers at some point during the run, and other than communicating the adding/removal of the helper, signal indications, etc- there wasn’t much radio talk between the head end and helpers.  The helper engineers knew when to shove and when to back off because they knew the physical characteristics of the territory.  

-Mike

It seems obvious that technology was lacking during the steam era. The pusher and helper engineers would most likely be considered “artists” of their craft (operating locomotives). Through repetitive experience they developed “the touch” to know when to throttle up or down, depending on location on terrain and feel of load on locomotive. Their were most likely specialists in their craft. Hot Water’s explanation seemed spot on to me.

CALNNC posted:

Well, the touchy feely, familiar with the territory might be an answer, not sure if it is accurate though.

 

I'm going to go out on a limb and proclaim that this is likely the FIRST and ONLY time that ANYBODY has used the phrase touchy feely to describe ANYTHING Jack Whelihan has ever said.  Just saying. 

On a serious note, I'm sure a good engineer is just like a good farmer, heavy equipment operators, pilots or race car drivers.  The feeling they get through their butt tells them 75% of what they need to know about what's going on.  Big machines talk to you and tell you what they need, you just have to be tuned into what they're saying. 

 

Well, other than nebulous explanations, there were a few answers that were informative.  Something along the lines of this is what I was looking for, and it does not end up with only the need to know your territory:

OPERATION IN HELPER SERVICE

Basically, there is no difference in the instructions for operating the GP30 locomotive as a helper or with a helper. In most instances it is desirable to over a grade in the shortest possible time. Thus, wherever possible, operation on grades should be in the full throttle position. The throttle can be reduced, however, in instances where excessive wheel slips are occurring. For proper traction motor cooling, the locomotive should never be operated on grades below the 5th throttle position.

 

Hot Water posted:
Big Jim posted:
CALNNC posted:

Well, the touchy feely, familiar with the territory might be an answer, not sure if it is accurate though.

It is replies like this that make me just turn around and walk away!

Certainly makes one wonder, doesn't it? Why bother to ask questions, and then question the answers, without any knowledge or experience related to the subject?

Exactly. This is typical tolling behavior. He's not looking for knowledge or insight. Just looking for an argument.

Steve

 

CALNNC posted:

Well, other than nebulous explanations, there were a few answers that were informative.  Something along the lines of this is what I was looking for, and it does not end up with only the need to know your territory:

Nebulous explanations? Wow. The fact is that the need to KNOW YOUR TERRITORY is the #1 qualification for running a train over a particular piece of railroad.

You can read the book on how to operate a locomotive and get the instructions quoted in your reply, but that doesn't qualify you to operate a train over the railroad.

smd4 posted:

So...you should go fast over the grade, but you can reduce throttle if the wheels slip?

In other words...the locomotive is operated using the engineer's judgment?

 LOL - great response!

Gee....who would have thought that the engineers judgement and experience would be a part of this. 

Dieselbob posted:
...I'm sure a good engineer is just like a good farmer, heavy equipment operators, pilots or race car drivers.  The feeling they get through their butt tells them 75% of what they need to know about what's going on.  Big machines talk to you and tell you what they need, you just have to be tuned into what they're saying.
EXACTLY. And how does one learn to understand what the machine is trying to tell you?
EXPERIENCE.

I think a lot of you folks think this is a much more precise process than it really is.

If a division requires helpers, it's because of a grade. Getting up a grade requires horsepower. How does a diesel locomotive develop its maximum horsepower? By putting the throttle in the 8th notch. If that's too much power, causing the wheels to slip, then you back off the power a little. It's not rocket science.

CALNNC posted:

Well, other than nebulous explanations, there were a few answers that were informative.  Something along the lines of this is what I was looking for, and it does not end up with only the need to know your territory:

 

On another online forum you were told repeatedly EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE, EXPERIENCE!

When are you going to learn?

I will say this:
We often pushed over the entire district, but mostly only over 2/3's of the district. As a pusher my job was to push. I pushed as hard as I needed to push...UP TO THE SPEED LIMIT that we were in. Otherwise, I pushed just hard enough to maintain the speed limit and keep the slack bunched and not to make things hard on the head end man in controlling the train. 

When he writes things like this:

"On hilly curves where he can not see what the train is doing, how does he know he has not caused the train to double up  on itself in the curve due to too much push?"

It makes me think he may be equating real trains to three-rail models, with their couplers attached to their trucks and tight curves.

But I have to wonder...how does the engineer in a helper or pusher "not see what the train is doing?"

Steve

 

Experience comes from learning and doing.  You  get it from having things explained on the hows and whys, then you perform what you are taught until you get it right.  Knowing your territory determines the hows and why to apply your experience, but  yelling experience says nothing but perhaps you don't really know.  While I have never 'investigated' a train wreck as one fellow asked, I have been involved with many private air craft wreck investigations over 38 years in that industry.  About a third of those wrecks were caused by pilots, not operating their fully functional aircraft properly, they knew the airport and the approaches, but did not operate the machine as they were taught, and 'flying by the seat of their pants' killed them.  There is more to it, as proved by Western Pacific's 1980 wreck caused by the pushers.

CALNNC posted:

Experience comes from learning and doing.  You  get it from having things explained on the hows and whys, then you perform what you are taught until you get it right.  Knowing your territory determines the hows and why to apply your experience, but  yelling experience says nothing but perhaps you don't really know.

Look, nobody has the space or time to write out or even teach you 40 years of experience! And since you question my experience, bye bye!!!

Dieselbob posted:

The feeling they get through their butt tells them 75% of what they need to know about what's going on.  Big machines talk to you and tell you what they need, you just have to be tuned into what they're saying. 

 I wanted to add to the others' comments about experience,  but wasn't sure how to relate my flying experience to being an engineer.  I think Bob said what I wanted to say.  I have over 5,400 hours with a lot of it flying formations.  The books tell you the mechanics of flying,  but experience makes you a safe pilot.  I like to relate how I learned more about flight dynamics and pilotage during my first typhoon penetration than all the reading and training leading up to it.

 

SMD4 posted:  I wonder if I could fly a plane solo after reading a flight instruction manual.

Yes you can.  For about a minute.

smd4 posted:
Hot Water posted:
Big Jim posted:
CALNNC posted:

Well, the touchy feely, familiar with the territory might be an answer, not sure if it is accurate though.

It is replies like this that make me just turn around and walk away!

Certainly makes one wonder, doesn't it? Why bother to ask questions, and then question the answers, without any knowledge or experience related to the subject?

Exactly. This is typical tolling behavior. He's not looking for knowledge or insight. Just looking for an argument.

 

Ron

 

TCA, TTOS, NCT, LCCA, PRRT&HS

 

Volunteers don't get paid, not because they are worthless, but because they are priceless!  Author Sherry Anderson

The type of experience your asking about doesn't come from books, so you're just not going to get some pat answer.

I read all the books on firing steam locomotives (the ICS Courses, both old and newer, The Science of Railways, etc.). I knew all the theory. Then I started firing a real steam locomotive. Some of the book reading was helpful in that I had a theoretical understanding of what I was supposed to do, but on every trip I had a certified engineer or fireman behind me, telling me what to do and when. And you know what? Out of the four or five guys teaching me, they all had different ideas about what to do and when. And boy, was it hard. I made all kinds of mistakes--like turning off the water to the injector before I closed the steam valve. Talk about something that'll shape your day up--and guess what? That wasn't in the books.

I had to take their ideas, the ones that worked best for me, and synthesize them into my own technique (which I am currently passing along to the next firemen).

When I started firing solo, I still had the occasional issues. But what really helped me was knowing the profile of the railroad. Knowing that I could add water up until we passed the lone poplar tree on the right, and that would give the water enough time to get hot before we started climbing. Or knowing I had a mile to the end of the line after we crossed the trestle, and that my water and pressure had better be perfect as we crossed it, so that we could make it to the end of the line without me having to add water. Knowing the railroad made it so that, at worst, I could keep the pressure fluctuating within 10 pounds--although 5 was always my goal.

Now, as I start engineer training, there are new challenges for me that aren't in the book--like having to bail off the independent brake after I make a train brake application, or not touching the throttle as the engine crosses the trestle.

I know you're talking about diesel engines, but I bet there's even less written about train handling technique than there is for steam. It's basically inside knowledge that is passed down from experienced crews to less experienced crews. It's how it's always been done, and likely how it always will be.

To quote Captain Aubrey, "Not everything is in your books, Stephen."

Steve

 

This has been a hysterical read so I figured I'd pile on too.

I think it would be correct to state that in any profession you need a little bit of knowledge to start, the willingness to learn, and then lots of experience both good and bad.  As an architect, we call it a practice because only through experience do you ever truly learn to apply your craft and will never perfect it.  Yes we reference lots of books.  Knowing what book to find it in and how to apply the information is critical.  However ultimately drawing upon your own experience to make the best qualified decision in a very subjective profession is the only way to succeed. 

The best information I ever got in my profession was from peers who knew more than I did and passed it down to me.  

When it comes to knowledge of the real railroaders on this forum I always defer to them.  Experience, experience, experience is the only answer that ultimately makes sense even if it can't be empirically defined. 

Jonathan Peiffer

 

CALNNC posted:

...I have been involved with many private air craft wreck investigations over 38 years in that industry.  About a third of those wrecks were caused by pilots, not operating their fully functional aircraft properly, they knew the airport and the approaches, but did not operate the machine as they were taught, and 'flying by the seat of their pants' killed them...

I am a commercial pilot with multi-engine and instrument ratings. I currently fly two King Air B200 turbo-props on a day rate basis for their owners. I'm also type rated in the King Air 350 and fly one on a regular basis on a retainer. That's the 350 behind me in my Avatar.

I am also a licensed and experienced locomotive engineer with a lot of time in both diesels on freights (including some heavy pusher service) and with steam locomotives on passenger trains running NKP 765.

If there was ever an "apples and oranges" situation it is the difference between flying an aircraft and running a train.

  • AIRCRAFT - light, agile, fast and the pilot controls movement in all 3 dimensions - forward/backward, left/right, up/down.

  • TRAIN - heavy, cumbersome, slow and the engineer controls movement in only one dimension - forward/backward.

They are not even in the same universe, and a valid comparison is impossible.

"The helper engineers knew when to shove and when to back off because they knew the physical characteristics of the territory." 

I fail to understand why the above simple truth isn't easily comprehended. Trying to explain how to be the Engineer running the helping set of engines (or engine) over undulating territory to, and up, the ruling grade to someone unversed in such is like trying to describe the color blue using only written word.

You simply HAVE to know the territory, the make up of the train, et al. THEN you have to "feel" what the train is doing so you can keep enough slack bunched to make it smooth for the head end. I haven't had the privilege of running the latest/greatest engines during my career, instead running older EMD (GP's/ up to SD 50's) and Alco's (C-4 series) in helper service... but I would think that two of the key principles would be the same for DPU: KNOW your territory, and KNOW the make-up of your train, then run it by feeling what's going on.

Andre

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