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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Train Stories-Beaumont Straight Away: by Andy McCreight

I was called on duty for the Beaumont Straight Away. A train that originated at Houston and terminated at Beaumont Yard. We came on duty at Hardy Street. We got our locomotives out of the Round House and proceeded to the Hardy Street Caboose Track. Back in the day (1979) we gathered up our Power and Caboose at Hardy Street and headed down the mainline to Englewood Yard.

Along the way we passed Tower 26 and Tower 68. Both were occupied by operators who controlled the signals between Hardy Street and the West End of Englewood. As we approached the north yard, we ducked inside the yard to Cab our train. Back in the day we had three trainmen on all trains and switch engines. In this particular case, we had to drop our caboose on the train. One man was positioned at the switch that accessed the track to the rear end of our train. One man was on the footboard of the locomotive. The Conductor was on the ground giving signals. He would raise his hand above his head and give the High Ball to the Engineer. The Engineer would throttle up to about ten miles per hour. The trainman on the footboard would give him the easy signal, the slack would run in and then he highballed the engineer. The engineer would throttle up again separating from the caboose. The trainman at the switch would allow the locomotive to travel down the lead and line the switch behind the locomotive and put the caboose in the hole against our train. This is termed a Gravity Drop. This move is not allowed in today's railroad world. Probably a little too dangerous and complicated for today's railroaders.

Now that we have cabbed our train we move on down the main track  to the east end of the yard to put the locomotives on our train. About midway down the main track we drop off the rear brakeman at the old tunnel that used to run underneath the yard from Liberty Road to the north bowl trim shanty. The brakeman would walk under the yard thru the tunnel. It was dimly lit, sometimes water puddled in the walkway, and we were always blessed with a couple of big rats along the way. Anyway, after traversing the tunnel the brakeman would emerge at a speaker that was used to communicate with the yardmaster as to which track our train was built. He would remain there until we put our power on the track and we were ready to close the puzzle, completing the process of putting our train together. The term puzzle actually described the switch that controlled access to middle of the yard. The switch could be lined for straight away movement or it could be lined to go left and right while traveling up the switching lead. It reduced the footage of track necessary to make these multiple moves. It was a sight to behold!

Now we arrive at the east end of the yard. The conductor goes in the yard office to get the paper work for our train. I was the head brakeman and proceeded to tie the power on our train. We would let the yardmaster know that we had tied on and pumped up the air brakes and were ready close the puzzle. (Not very many trainman had hand held walkie talkies at this point in our railroad careers.) After notifying the yardmaster with the radio on the locomotive, he would contact the rear brakeman on the speaker at the trim shanty and instruct him to close the puzzle on the track.

After lining the puzzle switch, the rear brakeman would use a fuse at night to give the engineer a backup signal to couple the headend of the train to the rear end of the train. During the day, we would use a large white paper object or a fuse. Next, the engineer would pump up the airbrake system to the appropriate amount. A carman would check the air gauge on the caboose and using the radio on the cab tell the engineer to set the brakes. He would ensure that the brakes set on the rear car and tell the engineer to release the brakes. If the airbrake system worked appropriately, he would let the engineer know that his brake system worked.

Now comes the Hi Ball from the Yardmaster. He would give us authority to leave the yard. The departure went pretty smooth on most trains but the Beaumont Straight away was always under powered and consisted of too many rail cars (tonnage). Sometimes the car count was near 200. Many times we could not pull the cars with the locomotives assigned to the train. When that happened, the yardmaster would tell a switch engine crew to come against the rear of our train and help push us out of the yard. The switch engine would help get us going about 10mph or so, the engineer would power up and give the switchman some slack so that he could cut away from our train, and away we would go!

to be continued...….

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