FIRING AN ENGINE
Some of the Hardships of Locomotive Fireman's Life
His Lot is Not as Easy as Many Believe - The Amount of Fuel
Required to Keep an Iron Horse Going - Coal Must Be Supplied Very
"If people only knew the hardships of a fireman's life," said
one of the local leaders of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen to
a Chicago Evening Post Reporter, "they would not be so apt to wonder
that the men want to strike once in awhile to better their
circumstances. Their lot at the best is a hard one, and the pay is
poor when the skill required to be a fireman, the severity of the
work and the constant strain to which the men are subjected are taken
"Many people, probably a majority, consider that the fireman's
work is not skilled labor, but this opinion arises from ignorance of
the requirements of the calling. An unskilled fireman could no more
fire a locomotive on the road so as to keep up steam steadily and
enable the engineer to make good time than he could build the
"Take a green hand and put him on a passenger train, for
instance, and the chance are that the passengers will turn out and
mob the whole train's crew before the trip is half through. The
likelihood is that the train will come to a dead stop half a dozen
times before the trip is ended, and while the train is running it
will be making such miserable progress that all on board will have
their patience exhausted and be driven almost to distraction over the
way in which their valuable time is being frittered away.
"Firemen have to serve a regular apprenticeship to the work.
They generally begin as cleaners in the round-house, where they are
put to clean the locomotives after they come in from a long trip. In
that way they get an acquaintance with the several parts of the
engine and how and where they should be oiled when running. Their
next step is on the switch engine in the yards, where they learn how
to fire an engine and raise steam rapidly and keep up a constant
supply. This requires a good deal of practice.
"it is the easiest thing in the world to fire your engine in
such a way that though you have a big fire in it it will not be of
the kind to make steam. Too much coal is often as bad as too little.
If the fie is too heavy and burns too slowly, the inevitable
consequence will be the lowering of the supply of steam to such an
extent that thee will not be enough to keep the train running.
"If any kind of a fire would do, the fireman's lot would be an
easy one. He could then fire up, sit down comfortably in the cab and
take it easy until the fire burns out. As it is he has to keep firing
steadily, adding fresh fuel to the flames at intervals of not much
more than two minutes, so that while he is on a run he hardly knows
what it is to have a chance to straighten his back.
"He is constantly clambering half-bent from the box to the
gangway and from the gangway to the box, manipulating a heavy
scoopful of coal, and all this time he has got to keep a lookout
ahead, for it is his duty to watch out for danger as much as it is
that of the engineer. In a fifteen hours' trip he will often shovel
as many as ten tons of coal. Some heavy passenger locomotives eat up
about three-quarters of a ton every hour they run.
"An ordinary fire in four or five scoopfuls, and it must be put
in the fire box just so or there will be trouble. the fire box of a
locomotive is a peculiar piece of workmanship and it requires to be
thoroughly understood before it can be fed in such a way as to keep
things running smoothly.. It is from six to ten feet in length,
according to the size of the locomotive, and four of rive feet wide.
The grate is composed of movable bars so placed as to provide for
ventilation at the sides and ends.
" If you have ever watched a fireman putting in coal you may
have noticed that he hardly ever pitches it in straight. he turns his
shovel now to this side and then to that, now to this end and then to
that, and it is only once in awhile that a shovelful goes straight to
the center. The reason for that is that he does not want to put the
coal where it will interfere with the ventilation of the grate or in
such a way as will cause it to cake.
"A steady burning and at the same time roaring fire is what is
required, and every thing depends on the way in which the fuel is fed
to it. The amount of steam required to run an ordinary passenger
engine is 135 pounds, and the aim of the expert fireman is to keep it
at that figure constantly from the time he starts out on his trip
till he is on the last mile of his run when he will gradually let it
fall so that, when he reaches the final stopping place, there will be
just about enough left to run the engine to the round-house, that
none of it may go to waste.
"That is another matter the fireman has to look to, or he will
get hauled over the coals by his superiors. he must be as economical
of fuel as possible. The inexperienced fireman will use up far more
fuel than his more expert brother and have no better results for it.
He must keep his fire so that all the heat will go to the flues, and
that no cold air entering the fire-box can get to them until it has
been thoroughly heated and rendered incapable of cooling them off.
"His fire is not the only thing that the fireman has got to
attend to, however. In the short intervals between his firing up he
must assist the engineer in keeping the engine thoroughly oiled. When
there is no automatic bell he must keep the bell ringing while
approaching all crossings and all stations."