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Railway Reminiscences of Three Continents: Texas & Pacific [1926]

I’m a British fan of American railroads and I enjoyed your T&P site. I thought you might enjoy the following article about a 1926 journey from New Orleans to Sweetwater. The Fort Worth-Sweetwater section is a fairly detailed and memorable trip on the footplate of a 2-10-4, No. 604.

The article is taken from the book “Railway Reminiscences of Three Continents” by the French locomotive expert Baron Gerard Vuillet. My copy of the book, long out of print, is quite literally falling to pieces and thus the reason I’m transcribing it. The weights given are in Imperial tons ­1 Imperial ton = 2240 lb. Also, 1 chain = 66 ft, and if you are unfamiliar with the European grade notation figures, simply multiply them by 100 to convert them to your more familiar percentages. Hope you enjoy!

Best regards,

Stephen Dale


Texas and Pacific [1926]

The Texas and Pacific trains had to be ferried across the Mississippi on barges having a capacity of four or eight cars. On the New Orleans side, the differences in water level were accounted for by an articulated inclined plane, one end of which rested on the land and the other end on a pontoon. On the western side the track was laid on a slipway and was hauled to the required height by locomotives. The gradients on each side reached 1/25 to 1/20. Four 0-6-0 switching engines, two at each end, were attached to these trains. The transfer of a train in one barge took 40 min. If two barges were necessary the time was 1 hr. On our trip, 13 July [1926], the four Pullmans and four coaches of the “Louisiana Limited” were transferred from New Orleans to Gouldsboro (1.6 miles) in time to allow the departure from the latter point to be made 42 min after leaving the New Orleans Terminal.

The 500-520 ton train was hauled by a 73-ton oil-fired 4-6-0 with 5 ft 7 in driving wheels, No. 360, class D9½s. Two Pullmans were left at Addis (90.2 miles) reducing the load to 380 tons, and one added at Alexandria (194.9 miles). The engine ran through, but crews were changed at Boyce (209.2 miles). For the 363 miles to Shreveport, 11 hr 25 min were allowed. We made the run in 11 hr 16 min, with frequent stops. Near Bunkie (with 380 tons) a speed of 60 mph was maintained on level track. With 440 tons, 31 mph was maintained up the 1/125 gradients between Shreveport and Marshall. At Marshall (Texas) the through sleepers from New Orleans to Fort Worth were attached to train No. 1 “The Sunshine Special” from St. Louis, which had traveled over the tracks of the Missouri Pacific to Texarkana. No. 1 was made up of eight Pullmans and three coaches (730/760 tons) and hauled by booster-fitted, oil-fired 4-8-2 No. 900, class M1. To Longview Junction (23.1 miles) over 39 ft, 120 lb, newly re-laid rails, 6 min 20 sec were gained on the schedule. After starting up a 1/110 gradient, 55 mph was reached downhill and 3.25 miles at 1/167 were climbed at a minimum sustained speed of 43 mph. After reaching 60 mph downhill, 2.9 miles averaging 1/200 were rushed at a mean speed of 48 mph: 60 mph was then maintained for 5 miles averaging 1/500 down. Fairly severe curvature was met on all gradients. After Longview Junction there was no need to hurry. We had the

old 33 ft, 90 lb rails then, over a very weedy and even shrubby ballast, and ruling gradients of 1/88. Regular slacks were frequent. Speed mostly varied between 40 and 55 mph, but 60 mph was achieved near Mineola, and 63 mph after Grand Saline: 50 to 54 mph was maintained up gradients averaging 1/400. A stop to take water was made at a place not shown in the public timetables, between Edgewood and Wills Point. A speed of 45 mph up 1/250 was followed by 60 mph on a down gradient before Terrell. At Forney, 40 mph was maintained up 1/200. Dallas was reached 3 min ahead of time.

The 515.2 miles from New Orleans, including crossing the Mississippi river by ferry, had taken 16 hr 22 min at an average speed of 31.5 mph. The 150.6 miles from Marshall to Dallas, scheduled for 4 hours, occupied 3 hr 54 min. On train No. 2, the corresponding up “Sunshine Special” allowed 3 hr 55 min, the M1 class locomotives have kept time with twenty-one cars (1350 tons) to Longview Junction over ruling gradients of 1/88, and with twenty-four cars (1520 tons) on to Marshall on 1/111 gradients. This would represent hard work indeed, in view of the frequent accelerations from 10 to 50 mph required. The fuel consumption per 1000 gross tons hauled averaged 12 to 13 US gallons per mile for the five engines of the class. It should be noted that in Texas water was rare and bad. Boilers had to be washed out every 400 miles, or practically every trip. The life of the steel fireboxes was only four years. A barrel of drinking water cost $1, and a barrel of crude oil only 30 cents. Incidentally, a mule could be bought for 50 cents.

From Dallas to Fort Worth, local passengers did not take the train. The North Texas Transit Company, an electric interurban line, ran its “Crimson Limiteds” between the two cities. From Dallas Center to Fort Worth (a distance of 33 miles) with a number of stops. Speed on level track was generally 50 to 53 mph, uphill 43 mph, and we reached 68 mph on straight downhill stretches three times, the curves being negotiated at 59 mph. Quite an exciting run, in a comfortable observation car.

Up to then, my experiences of passenger locomotive performance in the USA showed that, after taking American peculiarities into account, especially the need for high accelerating power, nothing was fundamentally different from Europe except, of course, the general scale of things. I was now going to witness a type of operation completely different from anything outside North America at the time.

Draw-gear arrangements allowing power at least three times as large as our antiquated screw-couplings in freight service enabled loads undreamt of in Europe to be hauled, and in consequence the use of locomotives of gigantic proportions. So, on 16 July [1926], towards midday I was greeted by Engineer J. N. Smith aboard 2-10-4 I1 class locomotive No. 604, at the head of “Red Ball” (i.e. through fast freight) No. 67, on which I was to spend the next 13½ hours, and cover the 202 miles from Fort Worth to Sweetwater. I had put my bag in the ‘caboose’, at the far end of the train, which was then being assembled. As there was a convenient luggage rack in the cab, Mr. Smith suggested that I should fetch it during one of the lengthy stops while the train was remarshalled. At 12.39½ the highball was given and we started our sixty-eight-car (2490-ton) train in full gear (63% on this limited cut-off locomotive) but without using the booster, and with the throttle one-quarter to two-fifths open. We were just picking up speed on 50% cut-off with three-fifths throttle when we were stopped for 9 min to correct a leaking air hose. Then, on a down-gradient, with full throttle and 40% cut-off (later reduced to 30%) we quickly reached 45 mph. Benbrook (8.9 miles) being passed in a running time of 22 min 30 sec including time lost in stopping once and starting twice. We then struck a gradient. The cut-off was advanced to 55 and 60% with a full throttle. Speed varied between 20 and 24 mph. The gradient increased, the booster was connected but with just a wisp of steam idling to get warmed up. We were now on a 1/90 gradient; at 15 mph the booster was cut in at full power, and we maintained 13 mph to the summit. A jet of steam was sent on the rails to clean them. The boiler tubes were also cleaned of soot by throwing two or three shovelsful of sand into the firebox, as is customary on oil-fired engines working hard. The 1/90 was on curves as sharp as 15 chains’ radius and thus equivalent in places to 1/74. The boiler pressure was 235 lb. Downhill 45 mph was reached; on a stretch the speed rose to 50 mph. The 19 miles from mp 263 to mp 282, averaging 1/256 up without taking curvature into account, were covered in 34 min 11 sec at a mean speed of 33.6 mph. Speed fell from 50 mph at the beginning of the section to 22 mph on a stretch of 1/90 and recovered to 30 mph at mp 282. Full throttle with 30% cut-off was used most of the time, with 60% up the 1/90 and 40% to the summit. The boiler pressure was maintained between 230 and 240 lb per sq in, the higher figure being reached at mp 282. The water level was well maintained. Steam temperature varied between 630 and 640 degrees F, 20 to 30 degrees F below normal because the smoke-box door on engine 604 was not airtight. On this stretch the locomotive was developing 4000 ihp. At Treble (mp 286.4) we stopped for 19 min. From mp 310 to mp 315 an exceptional effort was made. The 5 miles were covered in 7 min 55 sec at an average speed of 38 mph up a mean gradient of 1/159. From 42 mph at mp 310, speed fell to 35 mph at mp 313 and recovered to 36 mph at the summit.

Forty per cent cut-off was used with a full throttle. The boiler pressure was maintained at 235 lb per sq in, but the water level fell slightly. The steam temperature was 650 degrees F. Here, No. 604 was developing well over 5000 ihp, but this lasted only for a few minutes.

At Strawn (mp 326.3) train orders were taken at 35 mph without stopping. From mp 335 a 3-mile gradient of 1/74 is climbed with curves of 13 chains’ radius (equivalent to a straight gradient of 1/67 to 1/62); there is an even one-eighth of a mile at 1/55. With the booster in action, full gear throttle wide open and 260 lb steam pressure the 3 miles were covered in 16 min 11 sec at 11.2 mph. The speed at the bottom of the gradient was 25 mph; it fell to 10 mph on the sharpest curves and recovered to 11.2 mph at the summit.

At Ranger (mp 340.8) Mr. Smith said to me: ‘We are due to be passed by No. 1, “The Sunshine Special” here. It is running late and we have plenty of time. I will show you my oil wells”. Alongside the tracks there were eight wells fitted with pumps driven by a small central oil engine through a series of connections. Extracting oil was a common occupation in Texas, but not as rewarding as might be thought, on account of the low price of crude oil. Eventually No. 1, ten cars hauled by 4-8-2 No. 902, passed cautiously, 13 min late, and we were off after a 43-min stop. At Olden (mp 346.9) we stopped for another 14 min to cross a fast fruit special of fifteen cars hauled by 2-10-4 No. 606.

Following the course of a winding river it was amusing to see, on the other leg of a horseshoe curve, a string of freight cars rushing along in an opposite direction to ours; it was simply the tail of our own train. After a signal stop, Baird was reached at 8.09 p.m.: we had covered the 140 miles from Fort Worth in 7 hr 29 min at 18.7 mph including seven stops. The net running time was 5 hr 20 min 30 sec, giving a speed of 26.2 mph. Baird is 950 ft above Fort Worth.

A stop of 2 hr was scheduled at Baird, whence the train was remarshalled, so we went to dinner at the station restaurant. When we came back, our train had become a mile long, consisting of ninety-nine cars (weighing 3560 tons). The start westwards out of Baird is up a continuous 1/57 gradient for 4 miles, and we were pushed by an 0-8-0 switcher provided with a booster on the first bogie of the tender, No. 481, class C2. To the rated 96,000 lb tractive power of No. 604 were thus added a further 69,500 lb. The start was very laborious and the throttle was open for a full minute before we began to move. Both engines were working in full gear and full throttle; the speed finally rose to 13.5 mph to the summit, a feat requiring some 6000 rail hp. A speed of 43 mph was reached downhill and at Abilene, where further marshalling took place, the load was increased to 100 cars (3600 tons). The stop was to last about an hour so I went to fetch my bag in the ‘caboose’ at the other end of the train. Without stopping it took me fully forty-five minutes to walk the length of the train and back.

From mp 424 to mp 433 the average gradient is 1/333 (allowing for curvature: 1/285) and this section was covered in 19 min 30 sec at an average of 28 mph. The speed was 35 mph at mp 424, 16 mph at mp 433 and on a level intermediate stretch 40 mph. The cut-off was 40% with a full throttle and a steam temperature of 620 degrees F. This was equivalent to 4000 ihp. A speed

of 47 mph was reached at mp 436. With such long trains it is necessary to run with full steam over undulating stretches, to avoid slack couplings and the risk of breaking the train in two. In the last 5 miles before Sweetwater the line rises 200 ft. The last mile is entirely on a 1/90 gradient. With full gear, the booster in action, and 250 lb steam pressure we were negotiating the gradient at 5.5 mph when slipping occurred ­ for the only time during the entire trip. The speed fell to 2.5 mph. The fireman, armed with a shovel, deftly swung himself down on the trackside, ran a few paces forward, and shoveled ballast under the main drivers. The engine got its footing and slowly accelerated its huge load again to 5.5 mph, at which pace we triumphantly passed the summit, the throttle being continuously moved to the position giving the highest steam chest pressure allowed by adhesion. This was a remarkable exhibition of engine handling indeed. The last mile had taken 15 min 45 sec. So Sweetwater was reached at 2.05:20 a.m. after one of the most remarkable footplate trips I ever made.

>From Baird, 62.1 miles had been covered in 3 hr 54 min including the stop at

Abilene, and in 2 hr 57 min running time. The 202.1 miles from Fort Worth had been covered in 13 hr 25 min 50 sec, or in 8 hr 18 min 30 sec net running time lost in starting and stopping, the average full running speed was 27 mph. The line rises 1495 ft from end to end, the average gradient being thus 1/590 or, taking curvature into account, 1/455. Over more than 60 miles ihp outputs in the region of 4000 hp had been developed.

The average fuel consumption of the 2-10-4s both ways between Fort Worth and Baird amounted to 6.1 gallons per 1000 gross tons per mile, the average load hauled being 1910 tons and the average overall speed 21.8 mph. The I1 class 2-10-4s (which eventually numbered 70) were the first of their type and were built by the Lima Locomotive Works. They were designed to operate at a limited maximum cut-off of 60%, but two of the ports in the front valve chamber bushings were lengthened, thus increasing the cut-off at the front end of the cylinders to 63% at starting and slow speeds. A Baker valve gear was applied, with 14 in piston valves, 8.75 in valve travel, 2.4375 in steam lap, and 0.0625 in exhaust clearance. Articulated main rods, driving on the third and fourth crank pins, were used. Side rods distributed the load from the third pair of driving wheels forward to the second and first, and to the rear from the fourth to the fifth. The back rod side pin bearings were set out 3 in from the face of the wheels, the increased clearance then provided being used to bring the counterbalance of the fourth and fifth wheels out nearer to the plane of the reciprocating parts. The forward driving axle was fitted with lateral motion driving boxes designed to provide a total lateral movement of 1.5 in.

In 1939 all the I1s were fitted with lighter nickel-alloy main and side rods allowing them to be operated normally at 60 mph.

All the engines carried an Elesco feedwater heater and had firebox siphons. The Franklin booster added 13,000 lb of tractive power to the 83,000 lb of the main engine.

To the 203-ton engine was coupled a twelve-wheeled 125-ton tender containing 14,000 US gallons of water and 5000 US gallons of fuel oil.

Arriving at 2 a.m. in such a place as Sweetwater is not conducive to finding a room in a hotel easily, and the engine crew were most helpful in showing me to the only one existing and guaranteeing my behavior. There I hoped to get a bath ­ a necessity after riding a locomotive for the better part of a day under the fierce July Texas sun ­ and I was given the room with the bath. As I entered the bathroom, memories of my distant country suddenly revived me. There it was, the bicycle in the bathtub, with a thick layer of dust, exactly as in small country towns in southern France.

Railway Reminiscences of Three Continents
Baron Gerard Vuillet