Steam Fireman 101

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Steam Fireman 101

Postby steamer69 » Wed Nov 23, 2011 9:02 am

Gokeefe and a couple other people asked if I would explain what I mean by some of the operational terms I was using on to describe fireing practices on the WW&F page, as well as on the former CSRX thread. So, here is the basics of locomotive fireing. Some people may know some of it, but I wrote it as if I am starting with someone who has never been on a steam engine before, this is basically how I start out all new fireman that I work with. I hope everyone enjoys this, and let me know what you all think. This comes out of an introduction to fireing course that I give.

We will start this discussion beginning with the heart of a steam locomotive - its boiler. A portable, low pressure, steam genorator with maximum pressures being different from engine to engine, it is usually fired by coal, oil, or wood. Other sources of fuel can also be used, depending on the region and fuel sources that are readily available. The fuel is burned on the grates in the firebox on locomotives that do not burn liquid fuel, and in a combustion chamber in locomotives that do. This firebox is surrounded by water in the firebox shell absorbing radiant heat from the fire. The gap between the inner and outer fireboxes is maintained by hundreds of rigid and flexible stay bolts. To support combustion, air is admitted into two areas:
1. Primary air enters via damper doors and or open slots in or below the ashpan and is drawn from below the grates through the fire bed or combustion chamber.
2. Secondary air is drawn through the firebox door telltale holes or small flaps in the door frame.
The arch brick within the firebox is constructed of firebrick or refractory cement and serves three purposes. As its material is incandescent, it encourages combustion of gas distilled from the fire bed; it lengthens the path of those gases to give additional time for combustion and it prevents cool air reaching the fire tubes as it enters the firebox door. It also serves to radiate heat from the fire to the firebox, adding efficiency of firing and in this process using less fuel.
The hot gases are drawn through long tubes (also referred to as flues) surrounded by water in the boiler barrel, to the smokebox at the front of the engine. On superheated locomotive boilers, these tubes are of two types, small ones of about 1¾ - 2¼ inches in diameter and large flues of 5 - 5½ inches diameter. We will get into the differences in the two types of steam later on in this instruction, but for now we will just say that the difference is between wet (or saturated) and dry (or superheated).
The saturated steam that is generated collects above the water in the boiler. Its journey to the cylinders is controlled by the throttle valve operated from within the cab by the throttle handle. It travels through the main steam pipe (and on superheated locomotives) to the superheater header, which is divided into two separate areas. The saturated steam at a temperature of about 390 F passes through the superheater elements and increasing its temperature to about 650 F. Returning to the other side of the superheater header, the superheated steam flows via steam pipes to the valves and then on to the cylinders.
The gases from the fire, now much cooler after giving up much of their heat to the water and steam, are ejected through the stack. This is greatly assisted by the exhaust steam from the cylinders passing through the reduced orifice of the blast pipe (also called the nosil) at high speed, and capturing the gases on the way. By this method the smokebox maintains a partial vacuum that provides a draw on the fire.
Replacement water is forced into the boiler by injectors, maintaining a safe level above the crown sheet. Safety valves on top of the boiler release steam when the pressure within the boiler rises above a predetermined level. We will get into the water system in a little bit. First, how we create the heat.

The Firebox



The firebox of a steam locomotive is designed to burn fuel efficiently and produce adequate heat to boil water, and in doing so, create steam. Firebox widths vary from those that overlap the engine frame and wheels to the type that is waisted to fit between the frames. The top of the firebox may round and therefore follow the circular profile of the boiler barrel, or roughly flat known as the Belpaire type. This latter firebox is more costly to produce but it gives more steam space at the top where it needed most. The firebox consists of an inner and outer shell. The space between the inner and outer shells, usually 3 to 4 inches at the sides but 1½ to 2 feet at the top, is controlled by metal staysbolts that travel between the two sheets and allow for the expansion of the firebox as a whole, and hold the firebox together. The level of water that surrounds the inner sheets is controlled by the injectors that force water from the tender into the boiler, however as a safety feature, if the water level should drop below the crown sheet, fusible plugs made from a low melting-point alloy, melt and help to extinguish the fire.
The grates at the base of the firebox consist of cast-iron firebars with air spaces between. The amount of air admitted through the grates to the underside of the fire is adjusted by damper doors (on engines that are so equipped) in the ash pan. Additional air is admitted through the firebox door, and allowed to assist with combustion. This helps with complete combustion of the gases within the firebox and reduces the periods when unburnt fuel is drawn off the firebed, reducing unwanted smoke and blocking the boiler tubes.
The Fire
We need a fire to provide the heat to boil the water to produce the steam to drive the engine to pull the train. This is the basic concept, regardless of what the fuel source is. Keep in mind that for the different types of fuel systems, there will be differences in the basics of how fuel is administered into the combustion chamber (firebox), but the underlying principals are the same.
As the Engineer opens the throttle he uses steam. The further he opens the throttle, the more steam is required, and so the boiler will have to make more steam to replace that used by the Engineer. It is necessary therefore to increase the amount of fuel supplied to the fire to maintain the pressure in the boiler, as more fuel makes more heat that boils more water which turns into steam. Fortunately, the exhaust steam going up the stack (with each “chuff”) draws air through the bottom of the firebox, so providing oxygen that allows the fuel to burn. As the locomotive works harder, more air is drawn through, giving more oxygen and allowing us to increase the amount of fuel that can be burnt.
Fuel is fed by the fireman by hand or via a stoker system on coal burning locomotives or by gravity from the fuel tank to the burner on oil burning locomotives. Determining when and how much fuel to add to the fire is a craft that will have to be learned through lots of practice, and instruction. So first we will go through coal operations, and the basics of how to “read” the fire.
When you look into the firebox, you will begin to notice differences in colors in the fire. For the most part, and to keep things simple at this point, you will be looking for two different things, light and dark. Light spots in your fire are the points where it is burning hot. The whiter the color, the hotter the fire. If you see darker spots, these are places where your fire is burning cool, or may even be out (if the spot is black). Maintaining an even color, with no black spots should be the goal of any fireman. This is done in many different ways, but the most important thing to remember is to stay on top of the fire, because it can go from a nice burn to dead in a very short period of time. Make sure that when you are firing you not only communicate with your Engineer on what his plans are, but you also watch the fire and the stack. A lot of what is going on in the fire can be determined by what is coming out of the stack without having to spend time with the firebox door open staring into the fire. Here is the basic principal behind using your stack to “read the fire”.
Air versus fuel and combustion:
Balancing the amount of air versus fuel is the main responsibility of the fireman as far as maintenance of the fire is concerned. This is done by watching the stack to let the engine tell you what it needs. In a perfect balance of fire to air, the stack will be light grey. This means that you are getting the most efficiency out of your fuel to air mixture, and not making the neighbors mad with huge plums of black smoke. Basic rule of thumb is this…Black smoke=not enough air flowing through the firebox (you are choking the fire out)…Light grey smoke=you are right on the money…No or white smoke=the fire is getting too much air, or you have holes (those black spots where the fire has died out, or may have fallen through the grates) in the fire.


“Now hold on a minute…every time I put coal on the fire I get plumes of thick black smoke…” Yes, on coal burning engines you see this a lot. What you are seeing is what is called “burn off”. When coal is added to the fire the outer coating of the coal (the part that doesn’t really burn) is expelled out of the stack creating plumes of thick black smoke. This can be controlled by “spot firing” or staggering your firing technique to allow the “burn off” process to take place. Sometimes this is just not possible to do due to constraints placed upon you by how the engine is acting on a particular day, and or requirements on your steam production placed on you by your Engineer. The goal for you however is to minimize the amount of time you have to spend in a “full burn off”. A “full burn off” is what happens when you, for example, coat the entire fire over causing a prolonged period of that thick black smoke.


Water
There has to be some way of replacing the water the Engineer uses (as steam) as he runs the train. This is done by a piece of equipment called an Injector, which uses steam from the boiler to force cold water from the water tanks into the boiler at higher pressure than the steam inside. Each locomotive is fitted with two injectors, but normally only one is used. The injector (some firemen call it “the Gun”) has two valves to operate it: one for water and one for steam.
As the steam is used to make the locomotive move, the water level in the boiler drops. Before it drops too far it is necessary to turn on the injector and replace the water that has been converted to steam in the boiler. Needless to say, there is a technique to working injectors. First, turn on the water valve fully. Look outside of the cab and check that water is coming out of the overflow pipe. The injector has to be cold to work properly and so running some cold water through it in this way will help us. Then turn on the steam valve. The injector should then start to feed water into the boiler. If all is well you may hear it making a “singing” noise and the water from the overflow pipe will either vanish or just be a small dribble. Your fireman will show the exact technique to the juggling of handles and valves. When enough water has been put in the boiler it is time to turn the injector off. This is done in reverse order, so turn off the steam valve first followed by the water valve. (EXCEPT IN AN EMERGENCY SITUATION, NEVER DROP THE PRESSURE IN THE BOILER MORE THAN 10PSI AT A TIME!!! This places a lot of stress on the boiler from excess heating and cooling, and is just bad practice)
The Gauge Glass (also called the water glass) will tell you how much water is in the boiler.

You must keep the water visible. It must not vanish out of the bottom of the glass tube for any length of time. At all times the water level must not be allowed to drop below the crown sheet. The gauge glass works on the principle of a liquid always finding its own level. Remember this especially when the locomotive is in motion, as the water level in the glass will “bob” up and down. Sometimes the movement of the water can be extreme, so plan for this. For example, if the water moves half a glass during a sudden stop then make sure to always have wiggle room in your water level so that the CROWN SHEET IS ALWAYS COVERED!!!!! In the diagram the yellow area represents steam (the Steam Space) and the green area represents water (the Water Space). The process of turning on and off of the injector is a continuous process, as the pressure and water level in the boiler rises and falls and the demands on the locomotive change.
For the technically minded, here is a brief description on how an injector works:
Problem: As our engine boils water to go “chuff” the water level in the boiler reduces and needs to be replaced.
Solution: The injector. The injector has three cones. The first two point forward and the last one points backwards. The first one (the steam cone) has boiler steam squirted through it. This trades its pressure for velocity so now we have our steam going quickly in the direction of the boiler. We then dump cold water from the water tank on to the steam. The steam condenses and imparts its velocity to the water as it is squirted through the second cone (the combining cone). So now we have our slightly warmer water going quickly in the direction of the boiler. The last cone (the delivery cone) is the other way round and converts our velocity to pressure so we now have high-pressure water heading for the boiler at a pressure high enough to get through the check valve and into the boiler. If there is too much water, or insufficient steam, the delivery cone fails to function and the water and steam are ejected through the overflow pipe. Don’t worry too much if you seem to be putting the injector on and off at odd times when you don’t think it’s necessary – the fireman will explain why. You may also find that you do not have enough hands, as there are times when you need to do three things at once, but your fireman will always be there to help you. The main thing is not to panic as there are years of experience standing next to you! Things will get easier to understand and do as you get more time on the engine.

Saturated VS Superheated Steam

A superheater is a device used to convert saturated steam or wet steam into dry steam used for power generation or processes. There are three types of superheaters namely: radiant, convection, and separately fired. A superheater can vary in size from a few tens of feet to several hundred feet. Here is where the different types are located. A radiant superheater is placed directly in the combustion chamber, a convection superheater is located in the path of the hot gases, and a separately fired superheater, as its name implies, is totally separated from the boiler. A superheater is a device in a steam engine, when considering locomotives, that heats the steam generated by the boiler again, increasing its thermal energy and decreasing the likelihood that it will condense inside the engine. Superheaters increase the efficiency of the steam engine, and were widely adopted. Steam which has been superheated is logically known as superheated steam; non-superheated steam is called saturated steam or wet steam. The introduction of superheating was the single most important development for the steam locomotive. Superheating increases the power output of a locomotive by up to 25%, with equivalent savings in coal and water, over non-superheated engines. Its widespread use from 1910 coincided with the needs from the railway operators for heavier trains to be hauled at higher speeds.
In steam locomotive use, by far the most common form of superheater is the fire-tube type. This takes the saturated steam supplied in the dry pipe into a superheater header mounted against the tube sheet in the smokebox. The steam is then passed through a number of superheater elements (long pipes which are placed inside special, widened fire tubes, also called flues). Hot combustion gases from the locomotive's fire pass through these flues just like they do the tubes, and as well as heating the water they also heat the steam inside the superheater elements they flow over. The superheater element doubles back on itself so that the heated steam can return (most do this twice at the fire end and once at the smokebox end), so that the steam travels a distance of four times the header's length while being heated. The superheated steam, at the end of its journey through the elements, passes into a separate compartment of the superheater header and then to the cylinders as normal.
Steam generated in a boiler is known as saturated steam due to high moisture content since it is in contact with the water. In a superheated boiler, this steam is passed through the throttle valve and main steam pipe to the superheater header and into the superheater elements within the large flue tubes. This superheated steam is then returned to the superheater header to be sent to the cylinders. The moisture that was present in the saturated steam is turned into additional steam and if its temperature is raised high enough, the steam approaches the condition of a perfect gas, progressively expanding as more heat is absorbed.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby kilroy » Wed Nov 23, 2011 2:16 pm

Steamer, what a great explanation. I think we all have a basic idea of what is going on but this really filled in some holes for me.

You make strong mention a couple of times not to expose the crown sheet but never say why. Adding that to the write up would really drive home the importance of keeping the water levels up.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby steamer69 » Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:15 pm

Kilroy,
Sorry about that, when I was typing it out of my hand out I missed a few things.....ooops! :-) Here is the section that I missed on the crown sheet. Hope that it helps.

The crown sheet is the upper part of the firebox that is suspended above the fire or combustion chamber. This suspension is accomplished by the stays (both flexible and rigid that we discussed before). Water normally covers this sheet, and the exchange of heat between the sheet and the water prevents it from warping or blistering. Most people are aware of the "incident" at Gettysburg, it was a crown sheet incident. When the locomotive was down grade, the water flowed towards the front of the boiler exposing the crown to the full heat of the fire. This caused a blister in the sheet, and when the engine leveled out and water came back over the sheet, it caused this blister to rupture.

Steamer
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby MEC407 » Wed Nov 23, 2011 6:23 pm

Since this isn't specific to New England steam, I'm going to move it over to the steam forum, but I'll leave a shadow topic in the New England forum so that anyone who was following the CSRX or WWF threads will be able to easily find it.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby Cowford » Fri Nov 25, 2011 5:46 pm

Anyone interested in the craft should secure a 1920s-1940s era Locomotive Cylcopedia. It's invaluable as a reference source... and valuable as a paperweight - the hardbound editions are pretty pricey. It looks like someone has published at least the 1922 edition on CD.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby Steffen » Sat Nov 26, 2011 1:47 pm

Well, well...
Lot's of informations... but: It's not allways compatible.
There are locomotives, which do have different water pumps, not only injectors. So maintaining and operating those pumps is very, very different.

Also firing: Yes, I fully agree on watch the stack but we in Germany do not allways depend on a even fire. We usually maintain a horseshoe fire with a bank below the firedoor and a slopes to the middle and on the sides to the front. This depends on our grate design and construction.

Even the air admission is different on many locomotives. Some completely miss the secondary air, some use an increased secondary air inlet to promote good combustion.

So for a fireman in Germany, he has to know about the engine and it's boiler, just to get in touch, with how air is admitted to the fire and how to regulate it. You have to get in touch with your draft units and the blower.
You have to know your feed units and how to start your injector and how to start and regulate your main feed pump.
You have to know the safety regulatories and what you have to do in a safety check round.
You have to get experience, because your shovel has take the coal into the firedoor, and not hitting the steel and spread the coal around in the cab...
You have to get experience, to know were to spread the coal onto the fire - you have to get in touch, were the most coal is need and how to feed the fire right - you have to find you rhythm..

Later he has to know about signals and call the out - he has to know about to read a shedule table and to know the marks - he has to know the time and the track, to be still on pressure... He has to know how to couple and how to check the brakes...

So it's very different... but in many times I can agree, on other times a can add only a very cents
Allways keep two-thrid level in gauge and a well set fire, that's how the engineer likes a fireman
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby steamer69 » Sat Nov 26, 2011 7:19 pm

Thank you Steffen,
I realize that there are many different types of engines. This intro is built for the types of engines we use in New England and America in general. I don't have any experience with European engines, so if you would like to explain that would be great. Also, the idea of running the engine with a bank behind the door goes against common American practice, as for the most part we teach the practice of an even fire. Also the water pumps you talk of.....are you referring to feed water heaters? I have a few more questions for you, but that's good enough for now.

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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby Cowford » Sun Nov 27, 2011 4:24 pm

"Also, the idea of running the engine with a bank behind the door goes against common American practice, as for the most part we teach the practice of an even fire."

I have to respectfully disagree. Having a flatter fire was common practice with stoker-equipped engines, but maintaining a "horseshoe" (called a "heel" in the US) in hand-fired locomotives was very common. I have heard post-steam era folks pooh-poohing heels as they contend it stresses the firebox... to which the steam era guys rolled their eyes.

A great old glimpse into firing/maintaining an engine from the Britich perspective (and to see how insanely labor intensive steam is), check out this delightful two-part series "On the Shed":

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nanjOero ... re=related
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby Steffen » Sun Nov 27, 2011 5:13 pm

Well,
we in Germany don't really make differences betwen injectors and piston or rotation pumps. Most of Germanies locomotives got during the prussian time at and before WW1 only two injectors. Manly those were self priming injectors of a standard type.
The others were usually more common in south, called Friedmann injectors, which get the water by gravity.
During the beginning of the Reichsbahn time, before WW2 and the decrease of the prussian railroads the feedwater heaters come up and with them the main feed pumps, which were of piston type. Developed by Knorr the surface heater was usually common and the knorr pumps dominate the boilers. Different pump controls were developed by example Peters or Tolkien
Usually the steam engine does not turn - it's simply switching up and down, and to the steam piston bar the water piston is mounted and driven directly.
Later compound pumps were developed, like the famous autrian heinl pumps. After WW2 in the eastern territories, later known as GDR, the feed pumps was a double compound pumps, feeding the water by a direct contact heater into the boiler.
In the western territories the rotation pumps, so called turbo pumps, were developed by Henschel, feeding the water into a direct contract heater and frem there into the boilers...
But still till the end of steam, there were surface or non-contact heaters of the knorr type in service, feed by the knorr compound pumps...
Our boilers suffer the circulation flues, which US engines used for the brick arch, also the combustion chamber was only common after WW2 and this advantage came way to late to change anything.... electric and Diesel engines made it up well to quick, to get any modern idea into the steam locomotive.
Because of our railroad net with usually seldom distances to run with more than 160 miles, most engines used the pacific of mikado wheel arrangement, our main freight engines were usually decapods, and the largest and most powerful one was a Santa Fe. For short term runs we use mostly tank engines, having a regular wheel arrangement, usually mikado, prairie, hudson or santa fee... Also top loads seldom exceed 2000 tons, the most speed travels was about 55 mph, only on certain tracks the average speed was around 70 mph for passenger trains with loads of 400 up to 500 tons. The freight trains travels in average 40 mph.
our grates were all hand fired with high volatile coal, usually from the mines at the Ruhr area or from Saar territory. the have a dinstrinctive slope from 10 to 15 degrees angle forward, thus the shake and rattle or the engine will let the fire creep forward under the brick arch. This is done, to promote a good combustion. So we usually fire at the side walls of the fire box and below the door, as well as the back end corners. You put the larger piles of coal into the corner edges and get the fire higher here, constructin a horseshoe shaped bank. The fire creeps by the slope by itself during the movment of the engine to the middle and below the brick arch, to promote combustion of the coal. So the fireman has to stack up only the back end corners, below the firedoor and the 1/3 of the side walls to a bank... all the rest does the engine naturally.
Also, a experienced fireman controls the heat of the fire by the amount of coal on the middle of the grate. To the banks delivever the heat, and the air in the middle mixes up to a combustion temperature... more coal in the middle, more heat, less coal, less heat.
This was very, very important, because you need to pressure for speeding up, but for short distances the throttle was quickly closed again, and if you were not able to control the fire that way, the engine quickly 'calls' by lifting safety valves.
We used Ramsbottom spring loaded valves with no counter pressure on old engines, but those were replaced during the time before WW2 and after WW2 by the Ackermann type, which is spring loaded, but having a counter pressure chamber for faster closing of the valve, it promotes a quick lift with high diameter, but a quick close again by counter pressure. Later long spring Henschel Ackermann safety valves made the opening much better, but having an optimized close controll, which limited hammering of the valves on the edge of maximum pressure loads...
So we usually control the fire by the coal on the middle, were we let the shovel 'spring'... You get good amount of coal onto the shovel, and do it into the firedoor, but the shovel blade drops onto the firehole protector plate, so the coal jups and spreads from the shovel blade onto the middle of the fire. So you let the coal 'spring' onto the fire. To the sides and on the back you put the shovels at loads, you spread on a dinstinct area. Usually you do it in rhythms of three shovels left side, three right side, three on the back... or in other typical patterns. Betwen each firing amount you let the coal ignite and wait till the stack cleans of, then the next three or four shovels were spend to the fire.
Only on full loads the fireman has to feed the fire nearly abundantly, but he keeps on rounds, like left, right, rear, middle/front
Usually the fireman has no need to fire below the brick arch, but during high boiler outputs the fireman has to feed the fire sometimes below the brick arch, to permit here a light, hot fire for best heat below the brick arch... A hot brick arch is a favour of the skilled fireman, because the hot stones of the arch help to prevent quick firebox temperature changes.
Also we have gauge glasses, one at the firemans side and on at the enginees side. Before WW2 the prussian engines had only a glass on the firemans side and check valves at the engines side.But usually during WW2 and after WW2 most were converted into a second gauge glass. It's simply a clear glass tube, and the reflector helps to spot the water in the glass by black and white stripes in a 45 degrees angle, the water in the glass does a refraction and the 45 degrees strips switch , example left down right up to left up right down... thus you see the water in the glass very well. In switzerland the refraction was set so, that the water in the gauge has black and white segments...
Well the bottom of the gauge is at the crown sheet level and a mark shows the level of minimum water level above crown sheet and the fireman is not allowed to let the water drop below this point. So adjustment of the feed pumps is very important, just to follow the steam demand.

Some firemen mark the water level with a calk mark on the water gauge protector, others have such experience, they 'feel' the pumps ;)
Injectors have to be maintained during load, usually it's tried to shut the off when firing, but in operation if non-firing. On very step gradients the injectors were not shut off, here the fireman has to work quick and well, to prevent temperature changes by the cool water and the high amount of cool air moving into the firebox during firing.
To prevent this, the engineer helps his fireman by opening and closing the firedoor for each shovel - a process called clatter...

We have no steam consumers which deliever steam above the fire to promote combustion.
In Germany we have only the blower. If the engineer shuts the throttle, he calls out "shut" and the fireman has to open immediately the blower, to keep up the draft... as the firebox temperature sinks, because of reduced draft, the fireman closes carefully the dampers and if possible and after the fire settles down, he will adjust the blower lower, just to make the fire settle down without creating clinkers. Also, a fireman has to 'rebreathe' the fire after a settle down by going harder on blower and get a good shovels of fresh coal on the fire, to carefully increase the temperature, next open the dampers to promote more air to the ashbox and below the grate.
Old ashboxes have bottom doors for ash and clinker removal, the more modern versions have two slide doors at front and rear to the middle. Dampers on old ones were front and rear, the more modern stueren version has also side flap doors, to promote extra air to the side walls or the grate.
The grate of most prussian locomotives and all modern versions has a drop grate, which can be lowered into the ashbox, and the fireman can pull with the fire rake clinkers and ash deposits by this opening into the ashbox for later removal on the recreation track. Here a pit is below the rails will take up the clinkers and ashes, as a crane loads new coal and a water crane refills the tender.
We had no tender coal pushers, so the ftender has a slope and the coal slides towards the delievery plate, but as the tender gets empty, the fireman has to climb into the tender, get the coal pickaxe and pull the coal towards the delievery plate. Large piles the fireman has to crush with the pickaxe, larger lumps he will set aside. Fine coal comes to the middle on the high draft zone, the better sized pieces to the front and side walls, the large lumps comes into the corners and below the firedoor. As the fire creeps forward and below the brick arch, these lumps have a longest remain time on the grate, thus will burn down properly, as the may crush during the combustion into smaller pieces and thus will make the creep much better and burn much better, as if you put those piles at the middle or in the high heat zone below the brick arch, were those lumps might melt and from heavy clinker 'cakes'...


Because of the different grate sizes and different tracks to travel, firing is a huge experience and a 'all purpose' fireman was rare or seldom. But some made it and because all serving the federal railways could get elected to the 'special forces' - those fireman get to the test and trail teams, who undertake trial trips with new engines for the federal railways test and development bureau, or work for the shops and do the test trips after overhauls... and here most of the engines were taken hardly to their limits - we call those fireman "atom stokers"...

Any questions - just go on and I will try to answer
Allways keep two-thrid level in gauge and a well set fire, that's how the engineer likes a fireman
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby steamer69 » Tue Nov 29, 2011 9:55 am

Cowford wrote:"Also, the idea of running the engine with a bank behind the door goes against common American practice, as for the most part we teach the practice of an even fire."

I have to respectfully disagree. Having a flatter fire was common practice with stoker-equipped engines, but maintaining a "horseshoe" (called a "heel" in the US) in hand-fired locomotives was very common. I have heard post-steam era folks pooh-poohing heels as they contend it stresses the firebox... to which the steam era guys rolled their eyes.



I guess I need to ask us to make a clarification in the difference then. To me when someone talks of a "heel" such as running it behind the door, the heel is not really anything more than the fire being thick. I have run engines on the road with heels many a time, as some engines just steam better with a heel. However, when someone uses the term of a bank that to me says one of two things
1. A hot bank being a mound of coal in the firebox used to just maintian the steam pressure (for example) overnight where flame is still visable (around the sides or in parts of the bank itself) that is broken up before the engine is taken on the road.
or
2. A cold bank being a mound of coal in the firebox usually placed to maintain a low pressure for a longer period of time where no flame is visable, but the bank is infact burning from the bottom up.

Running with a heel IMO is still running with an evenly burning fire as the entire top bed is still in a state of combustion not creating a colder spot in the fire such as a true "bank" would. I guess if we could clarify what we are talking about with that terminology I could explain my methodoligy a little bit better. Thanks for the videos, they are very interesting. I would love to get a cab ride on one of those main line European engines sometime and see it first hand. Spot (or star fireing as some may call it) is also a very effective method. All depends on the engine.....

Great concersation, hope it continues.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby MissTheMEC » Wed Nov 30, 2011 3:57 pm

This is a very interesting thread and brings back memories of my teenage years when I was a volunteer fireman on the Talyllyn Railway in Wales. Firing small narrow gauge locomotives doesn't require moving a lot of coal (you could probably fit the entire locomotive in the firebox of a big mainline engine) but given that the engines were being worked on trains far heavier than they were really designed for, firing did require some intelligence. Most trips required the train to cross two other trains on a single track line, so it was crucial that you didn't run short of steam otherwise the timetable would become a shambles.
The line had four working engines when I volunteered, and they were very different in the way you had to fire them. The basic rules applied to all: no holes or dead spots. Layover time was spent very carefully cleaning the fire to avoid any build up of clinker on the bars, and it helped that the run back to the end of the line was pretty much all downhill as it allowed the fireman to let the fire dwindle a bit so it was easier to clean, there usually being enough time between runs to get your fire built up again (four engines in steam working three train sets.) You also took the time to break up any big lumps of coal and make sure you didn't end up with a bunker full of slack. Coaling up was a pretty rudimentary operation: there was a heap of coal, an old tin bath and a shovel and two young lads with strong backs. And a degree of care, you did not want to mess up the paint work by clattering it with the tin bath! Any coal dust was to be wiped down. You were also expected to keep the footplate clean.
The engines in service were all delightful antiques but very well maintained and usually spotlessly turned out:
Engine 2 (Fletcher Jennings, 1866) was a difficult engine to work successfully, and as a novice I think I only had one run on it. As I recall, it did not take kindly to a thick fire, so little-and-often was the routine. Even so, you were glad to get to the upper end of the line on time and with water in the glass.
Engine 3 (Falcon Works, 1878) was a very nice engine to fire, it seemed that it tolerated my novice efforts well and would steam well as long as you didn't let the fire go out. I did have an interesting trip on it one day though when a union in the steam feed to the injector on my side failed with a bang, filling the cab with steam. I am not sure what voice in my head told me what to do, but I shut the feed off, and the driver, a delightful old Welshman, who had never taken his eyes off the road, simply murmured "I was glad when you shut that off boy, I wondered what had happened". We had to use his injector for the rest of the trip.
Engine 4 (Kerr Stuart 1921) presented a different challenge. It would steam extremely freely, and the challenge for the novice was not over-firing otherwise you would be wasting a lot of coal and annoying the driver by having the safey valves lifting all the time.
Engine 6 (Andrew Barclay 1918) was a very rough-riding engine and apart from ending the day with a few bumps and bruises caused by hitting your head on the cab the big thing to watch for was the tendency for the rough ride to shake your fire to pieces. It steamed well enough, but you needed to be vigilant for holes appearing in what had been a well-built fire. It also had the most finicky injectors of the lot, no matter how carefully you operated them. It was a good idea to let a fair amount of cold water flow through them before shutting the water feed off in an attempt to keep them cool enough to work. Both sides seemed to have the same issue, and while I never had any low water scares, it was always a bit of a struggle to get them to pick up.
I was sorry to have to give up this volunteer work when I finally had to work for a living and bring up a family. Looking back, it seems to me that there wasn't much supervision, you basically got a few trips to observe, a couple of trips being observed, then it was just you and the driver. Fortunately most of the drivers were considerate enough to alter their style of driving to give you a break with steam consumption, I don't recall any of them hammering the engine beyond what you could give them for steam.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby johnthefireman » Tue Dec 06, 2011 12:27 am

Most South African locos also like a horseshoe shaped fire. The main body of the fire should be flat, but there's a bit of a bank at the back (ie under the firehole door), the back corners need to be full, and you throw a bit of coal along each side. Locos with mechanical stokers have a flatter, thinner fire. There are exceptions. I hand-fired a 15CA once which just seemed to need coal to be thrown in continually regardless of where it went.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby #7470 » Wed Jan 04, 2012 9:01 pm

Cowford wrote:Anyone interested in the craft should secure a 1920s-1940s era Locomotive Cylcopedia. It's invaluable as a reference source... and valuable as a paperweight - the hardbound editions are pretty pricey. It looks like someone has published at least the 1922 edition on CD.

That is exactly what I did Cowford. You gave me this advice a few years back and I took it. I'm still amazed at what I learn about steamers every time I open it.
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Re: Steam Fireman 101

Postby steamer69 » Tue Jan 24, 2012 2:34 pm

That's a great book, along with the US Army Technical Manual on Steam Locomotives and Locomotive Cranes. Both great reads.
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