Saturday, January 3, 2009

The KCS and Heavener (Part 6 and Last)

Well, here is the last one.  I thank the readers for bearing with me on this series.  Now it's your turn to add some blogs about your memories.

Most of the KCS tracks were single tracks during the 1940s.  This raised the problem of how to safely operate trains in both directions and how to get very long trains over Rich Mountain with limited locomotive power.  The picture below shows what happens if safe control is not maintained.  Accidents of this sort were commonly referred to as cornfield meets.

The accident in the picture is a mild one.  In a really serious accident the two locomotives would be buckled upwards and cars would be scattered about.

Prior to the use of radios and electronic centralized train control, control of trains was achieved by the use of the telegraph and paper orders.  Trains passing a remote manned telegraph facility would have orders handed up at full speed.  The orders were held in a loop at the end of a long rod.  First the engineer and then the conductor would stick out an arm and let it pass through the loop.  The loop was made of cane or a similar light weight substance.  Attached to the loop were the train orders specifying where and when the train would meet another.  One of the trains would be ordered to enter a side track and hold until the other had passed.  Later electronically operated semaphores were used to denote the status of the track in front of the train for the next block.  A red signal accompanied by a horizontal arm on the semaphore indicated the track ahead had another train in it and that the signaled train should stop or take the siding if available.  A vertical arm and a green light meant the track was clear.  Yellow and a 45-degree arm meant the train should exercise caution.

In addition to the safety operating instructions in the handed up orders there was often also a manifest (to which I referred earlier in discussing the conductor's role) that detailed where the various cars in the train (the "consist") should be set out if they were to be delivered along the route.  These orders were known as flimsies because they were carbon copies on very thin paper.

In a previous blog I mentioned the slack in the couplings.  This slack provided the means for a steam engine to start the train moving when stopped on an uphill grade as often occurred crossing Rich Mountain.  The locomotives did not usually have the drawbar pull to move the whole train at one time.  So the engineer would set the brakes on the train and back down until the slack was gone.  He would then reverse direction and start the train moving one car at a time as the slack came out.  On occasion it would be necessary to leave a portion of the train in a siding and pull the remainder over the mountain and then go back (literally backing down) and get the left portion.

Life in a railroad town like Heavener was dominated by the trains.  Then, as now, the trains often blocked the crossings that led from the west side to down town.  We all grew accustomed to the sounds of trains passing through at all hours of the day and night. For those of us whose fathers worked the freight service we became adjusted to having our fathers coming and going at all hours also.  It was different but we learned to live with it.


At January 3, 2009 at 2:45 PM , Blogger Bill Hinds said...

How many times did I hear those trains pulling the slack out of the couplings. I remember those old steamers with the drive wheels on the engine slipping several revolutions as the train began to slowly move and it did the same thing when it was trying to stop.
Thanks Glen you'v done good!

At January 4, 2009 at 12:52 PM , Blogger Chuck Hudlow said...

I enjoyed this series of blogs, Glen. Thanks for taking the time to put them together for us.

At January 4, 2009 at 2:11 PM , Blogger Glen Lazalier said...

Glad you enjoyed them. Now someone needs to blog about the current railroad operations to show how things have changed in some areas.


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