How to boot a steam locomotive

How to boot a steam locomotive


I really love the detail in Phil Jern’s description of cold-starting a steam locomotive:

Looped under the fireman’s seat is an electrical cord. I uncoil it and drape it over to the wall, and plug it in. I climb up into the cab, open the engineer’s seatbox, and remove a trouble light. Plugging it into an electrical outlet in the cab, I open the firebox door and peer inside. There is a huge “bone” of unburned carbon in the front of the firebox, right in front of the burner. Damn. I go out to the tool car (an old Southern boxcar) and grab a pickaxe and a bucket. Back up in the cab, I hang the trouble light right outside the firebox door, toss the pickaxe into the firebox, and set the bucket on the floor in front of the door. Feet first, I squeeze into the firebox, feeling for the floor, being careful not to dislodge any of the firebrick if I can help it. Inside, I reach outside for the trouble light, locate the pickaxe, and break up the carboniferous mass. I toss the loose pieces out the door and into the bucket, and use the light to inspect the firebox, looking for loose or leaky staybolts, making sure the firebrick lining the sides of the firebox is in reasonably good condition, and checking the burner for obstructions. All I find is a couple of loose bricks, so I replace them, push my tools back out the door, and climb back out. I look back inside to make sure I didn’t leave anything inside. Once, I left the pickaxe inside, and all that was left at the end of the day was the head.

How to boot a steam locomotive [Thanks, Jim!]

8 thoughts on “How to boot a steam locomotive

  1. says:

    The lengths some people will go to dual-boot ANY system with linux…

    Joke aside, very cool link.

  2. Phil Jern says:

    I wrote this in 1990 and posted it to the rec.railroads USENET group not long thereafter. It found a home at the San Diego Railroad Museum when the WWW came along. I’m glad it’s found a new audience :)

    If anyone has any questions, post them here and I’ll be happy to try and answer them. Thanks again!

    1. Simon says:

      Thanks very much for this. I am currently going through a locomotive phase. I’ve always been a bit of a railway person but now I am really getting back into it (after making my own steam engine for a recent project). I am currently reading (for the second time) “How steam locomotives really work” by P.W.B Semmens and A.J. Goldfinch so this was very timely. I’m building a model railway into a dining table, trying to make my own live steam loco to run on N gauge track (9mm between the rails) and have a mad scheme to design my own house in the shape of an old British railways signal box. So your story is very timely. I’ve always been impressed by the feedwater injectors on steam locomotives. It just impresses me that something with no moving parts can be used to inject water into a boiler against all that pressure. It’s a very clever bit of physics in action that. Do you have a corresponding article for putting the locomotive to bed at the end of the day :)

      1. Phil Jern says:

        I have thought a bit about writing a piece on shutting her down for the last time: a bittersweet experience, to be sure.

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My interests include writing, electronics, RPGs, scifi, hackers & hackerspaces, 3D printing, building sets & toys. @johnbaichtal

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