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Cleaning a Giant Locomotive

The “Flying Scotsman’s” Four Hours’ Toilet

The Driver screws home the fastener of the smoke-box cover (LNER No. 2544 Lemberg)

The Driver screws home the fastener of the smoke-box cover (LNER No. 2544 “Lemberg”). If this is not fastened tightly, the engine loses efficiency.

WE all generally think of such fine locomotives as the “Flying Scotsman”, “The Centenary” and other famous members of the LNER “Pacifics” only as speeding between King’s Cross and Edinburgh. We picture them in our mind’s eye hauling trains of enormous length, and being turned round at their destination to start off on the return journey without loss of time.

There is another side to the picture, however, and this is the “toilet” of these giant locomotives - that is the preparation they have to undergo before every long-distance run. They receive this attention in the Locomotive Depots of which the one at King’s Cross is typical of many other similar Locomotive Depots scattered all over the country.

It is always interesting to visit the King’s Cross Depot, for here some of the “Pacifics” are housed after their return from Scotland. A scene of great activity prevails. Engines are to be seen almost everywhere, some coming in, others going out. The difference between those coming off and those going on duty is as remarkable as, and quite equal to, the difference between workmen going to their work and workmen after the day’s toil.

Some of the engines crawling about the yard, just off duty after racing to King’s Cross from York or Leeds, seem so tired as to be almost falling asleep. They pause only to report themselves at the yard foreman’s office, and whistling a sleepy “good-night” to everybody, contentedly steam off for a well-earned rest. Before leaving the depot again they will receive attention from many attendants.

In these depots the monster “Pacifics” are very submissive creatures. The “Flying Scotsman” generally seen hissing and snorting with ill-concealed impatience at the head of his train, now stands humbly in his shed, with a small bar-boy in his fire-box and two men beneath him with a flickering lamp, Here we may climb into the cab or even crawl beneath the monster boiler. Standing in front of this towering mass of steel, we may imagine with a shudder what would happen to us if this 150-ton loco were approaching at 60 miles an hour!

Over four hours’ preparation by a host of workmen is required to get the “Flying Scotsman” ready for his race to the north. In the giant locomotive’s toilet, and in the attention necessary to get the best possible effect.

The loco first receives attention from boiler-smiths, fire-boys, and firelighters. To set the fire going, two or three scoops of live coal, each weighing 40 or 50 lbs, are thrown into the fire-box, and by the time the driver comes on duty the boiler has a head of 80 lbs of steam. When the driver and his mate arrive they oil up, take water, and put on the finishing touches.

In addition to the regular routine, as outlined above, the boiler must be thoroughly cleaned every 2½ days. Barrow loads of scale (or fur something like that found in the ordinary household kettle) are removed. There are 3,800 ft of internal pipes on a “Pacific” and soot and scale quickly collect, considerably reducing the power and also causing a greater consumption of coal per mile than is the case when the pipes are clean.

At King’s Cross the cleaning of the pipes is done by an ingenious washing-out appliance consisting of a system of pipes, filters and pumps. The appliance is actuated by the steam remaining in the boiler after a long run, the steam being condensed into water and used under pressure. On the average, about 20 minutes is required to clean out the pipes by this washing appliance, Every day scores of locomotives are cleaned in this manner, and the use of this washing appliance results in a considerable saving of time, as before it was installed it was necessary to wait until the locos had cooled before the pipes could be dealt with.

The oiling of these hard-working locomotives is, of course, a most important part of their preparation for a long run. All railway companies are large consumers of oil of all kinds, but two kinds of oil are principally used for the “Pacific” locos. One is for lubricating the axle boxes, valve motions and other working parts and consists of a mixture of rape oil and mineral oil. The other, for lubricating the interior of the valve chests and cylinders, has to stand a very high temperature and is a heavy mineral oil containing a certain proportion of fats. Rape oil is the most expensive ingredient, and, as might be expected, the amount used is much greater in express passenger engine lubrication than in the case of other locomotives.

The oil is delivered in bulk to the Locomotive Depot by contract. There it is stored in large tanks, being drawn off and carefully measured as required, each driver receiving a certain ration according to his day’s run.

Cleaning the outside of the boiler of the Flying Scotsman

Cleaning the outside of the boiler of the “Flying Scotsman”.

On the LNER passenger engines the consumption of lubricating oil for axle boxes works out at about 5 pints to every 100 miles. The consumption of lubricating oil for the cylinders is approximately 1¾ pints for every 100 miles.

In the early days of railways when there was considerably more play in the working parts, cotton waste and sacking soaked in oil were often used to assist in lubrication. It was often necessary for the oil-can to be freely applied during a journey and if necessary the train was pulled up for the purpose of allowing the driver to lubricate the working parts!

The task of the driver of the present day in the matter of lubrication is very different from that of the drivers of the earliest engines, such as “Locomotion No. 1”. Although automatic lubricators relieve him of a good deal of anxiety with regard to oiling, it continues to be necessary for every working part to constantly be examined in order to ensure steady running.

Climbing round the frame while the engine is in motion has, of course, now been done away with - much to the disappoint-ment of many small boys whose sole ambition in life was to climb along the frame of the Scotch Express, when travelling at over 60 miles an hour, with an oilcan in one hand and a handful of cotton waste in the other!

The modern driver still carries a handful of waste but this is used to remove surplus oil. At the end of the shift, the waste is collected with other waste rags and sent to the oil rag laundries. Here centrifugal oil extractors, working on the principle of the steam turbine, reduce the viscosity of the oil. A mixture, which consists principally of oil and matter, is thrown out and carried through pipes into tanks. Approximately 50% of the oil is, extracted by this first process. Should by any chance a drop of oil escape the centrifugal action of the machine and remain in the cloth, it will then have to face a solution of caustic soda and boiling water.

It is surprising to learn that every year the LNER oil rag laundries save 40,000 gallons of valuable oil in this manner! The reclaimed liquid is not wasted but is placed in catch-pits and tallow is added to give consistency, the mixture then forming wagon grease.

Although the cleaning of locomotives may appear to be a dirty and decidedly unromantic occupation, yet it is from the ranks of cleaners that the first-class passenger express drivers are recruited. During his engine-cleaning period the future driver lays the foundation of the expert knowledge that is necessary to all drivers in order that they may run to time and yet with perfect safety. The engine cleaner works his way up through the various grades of shunting fireman, local goods fireman, main line fireman and express passenger train fireman, and before attaining the grade of driver has to pass quite a severe examination in regard to the mechanism and working of the engine.

Cleaning the inside of the smoke-box of LNER No. 4474, Victor Wild

Cleaning the inside of the smoke-box of LNER No. 4474, “Victor Wild”.

In a large engine shed it is obviously necessary to lay down strict regul-ations in order to avoid accidents. These regulations vary to some extent on different lines, but in the main they are the same. When a locomotive has to enter a shed it is first brought to a standstill outside and is not allowed to enter until all men who may be working on the road on which it will run have been warned of its arrival. When adequate warning has been given a loco must not enter at more than a crawling speed, an alarm whistle being sounded in the meantime.

Once inside the shed the loco is not immediately left to its own devices, but the cylinder cocks must be opened, the hand brakes must be put on hard, the regulator shut and the reversing ever put out of gear. Cleaners are expressly forbidden to move engines in steam, and this can only be done by a driver, or by a fireman instructed and accompanied by a driver, or by the shed foreman, shed shunter or other specially authorised men.

Without regulations of this kind accidents in engine sheds undoubtedly would occur very frequently, but as it is, mishaps are comparatively rare and when they do occur it is almost always as the result of neglect of some rule.

The engine shed bears the same relation to the locomotive as the stable to the horse or the garage to the motor car. Roughly speaking engine sheds are of two types, “straight road”, having several parallel roads passing through the building, or “turn-table”, containing turn-tables from which lead roads connecting the tables together and also leading from each table outside the shed. Just as in the case of a garage, pits are excavated between the metals in order to enable men to work below the locos when required. An interesting feature of an engine shed is the smoke troughs in the roof. These are arranged in such a manner that the smoke from any engine within the shed, no matter in what position this may be standing, is carried away.

The actual sequence of engine shed operations varies in different places but as a rule the loco, having arrived at the shed, is taken charge of by an authorised man and the driver and fireman book off duty. The loco is taken towards the coal stage pit to be filled up in its turn and during the waiting period the smoke-box ashes are shovelled out and dropped alongside or removed by a pneumatic ejector. When the loco has received its due mount of coal it is taken over a “fire-dropping” pit where the fire is either cleaned or dropped. If the fire is to be cleaned, the clinker and dirt is shovelled out and dumped alongside and the ashes are raked from the ashpan into the pit. When this process is complete a small fire is kept burning so that the engine may be ready for service quickly when required. If, on the other hand, the boiler is to cool down before the next spell of duty, the fire is dropped, which means that it is shovelled out entirely. Subsequently the boiler is washed out as already described.

All locos are apt to develop slight defects. Whenever a driver becomes aware that any part of his engine is not working as it should he makes a note of the fact and during its stay in the shed the engine is taken in hand by fitters, boiler smiths, etc, who have been informed of the defect and promptly proceed to remove it. In addition, all locos go through more extensive examinations at stated intervals, For instance, smoke-boxes, water gauges, brake gear and pressure gauges may be examined monthly and safety valves yearly. The boiler will be examined monthly by the shed staff and at longer intervals by an inspector of the running department, while pistons and valves are examined after runs of from 12,000 to 20,000 miles, according to the nature of the loco and its work. These periodical examinations are carried out to schedule whether a loco has developed any obvious defects or not.

The locomotive superintendent at King’s Cross Depot has 90 engines to look after, and they require each day 600 tons of coal and thousands of gallons of water.

“I wouldn’t mind if they all thrived on it,” he told the writer recently, “but like most human beings they suffer now and then from indigestion! No. 4444 over there came home stuffed-up on Tuesday, but she is better now and may go out for a little exercise to-morrow.”

“But the new arrivals, such as the “Flying Scotsman”, surely don’t need much attention?” I asked.

“Don’t they though!” replied the superintendent. “I’d like to tell you that it takes a loco about three months to get into its stride. Look at 2736 in the comer there. She was new only 10 weeks ago and has been a real handful ever since.”

“What about your ‘oldest inhabitants?’” I asked. “Oh! they don’t give us much trouble. They require very little attention on the whole, but after they have knocked off 90,000 miles or so we give them a thorough overhaul. They’re just going to start on one over there.”

Cleaning and oiling the Giant’s Wheels.

Cleaning and oiling the Giant’s Wheels.

I walked over to the place indicated and watched whilst mechanics penetrated the inner recesses of the smoke-box. Meanwhile a loud hammering commenced in the very vitals of the engine - the firebox - and to crown all the loco was being weighed at the same time!

No giant scales are necessary for this. Instead the work is done by a wonderfully sensitive hydraulic jack, to which is attached an indicator dial.

Placing this compact instrument in a square pit alongside the line, the giant monster of the rail, now steamless and without power, was slowly pushed back towards the waiting lifter until one of the main driving wheels was directly opposite the weigher. “A bit more,” shouted the foreman, and the pushing tank loco strained again to push the inert engine an inch or two further.


The wheel was directly opposite the weigher, and with a quick movement of a handle the giant was made to lift its wheel as a bear would lift its paw. A workman quickly passed a steel rod between the wheel and the rail to make sure that it was clear.

“Nineteen tons. Next wheel!” shouted the foreman. The tanker came again into action and the operation was repeated. Each wheel was weighed in turn, the total making up the exact weight of the engine as a whole - nearly 150 tons.

Weighing each wheel of a locomotive separately is a valuable guide to the railwaymen, for if the weight is not distributed correctly on the individual wheels the engine will “ride badly” and lose time, or in extreme cases even become derailed.

Cleaning a giant LNER Pacific locomotive.

Cleaning a giant “Pacific” locomotive.

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“The Flying Scotsman”,

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