Monday, January 3, 2011

Inside The Cab, Part I

I have to admit, from my very early interest in trains my goal was to find out what happens in the cab of a locomotive on point.

And since my concentrated interest in 1996, it didn't take me long before I was invited inside.

Luckily, my interest coincided with the transition of the purchase of Southern Pacific by the Union Pacific. All the engineers, at that time, had great loyalty to the "friendly SP" as opposed to UP. And trust me -- SP was infinitely more friendly than UP. Former SP or retired SP employees will unanimously agree.

My first invitation into a cab came when a train was halted in Gold Run and shoved into the eastern siding, waiting for Dispatcher 74 to clear them. Snow was all around. The lead unit was a battered UP SD-60. And I do mean battered. I went home and snatched a plate full of just-out-of-the-oven chocolate chip cookies. Getting out of my car and trudging through about three feet of snow, I yelled up at the cab. The window slided open and I was invited into the cab -- for clear reasons. I met an engineer whom I encountered many times on the road and has invited me into the cab for various rides since -- to the point where I was given the opportunity to operate the controls on one very clandestine run. It was, frankly, the time of my aged life. I think my age also helped: I'm not a kid and I am customarily festooned with cameras.

For obvious reasons I shall keep the names and times and details of my cab rides in obscurum.

Because I work in a job where I am a union member (though, given, a remarkably small one) at a closed shop subject to contract negotiations, the engineers and conductors I met in all those various cabs had, oddly enough, much in common with me; I found out about New York Dock wages, the conditions under which the cab crews operate, the differences in the unions, "dying on the law," crew-callers, operating hours, training, pee tests, and their working lives in general.

Though it's a post for another time, trust me, if you think the life of any given railroader is a piece of cake, you would be sorely mistaken. The administrations of railroads operate in a para-military fashion because, historically, they were originally administered by -- at first -- ex-Civil War officers who knew no other way in which to operate. That para-military bent hasn't changed in over 150 years. And in general, even now, there is a prevailing "us vs them" mindset encompassing railroad administrations and employees.

When you get in the cab, I quickly discovered, you also get into the heads of the railroad employees and the railroad executives. You see and hear things no one else will see and hear.

Along the way, with various engineers and crews, I've done my "small bit" to help out. Because I work for a LE agency and am quite well-armed when hiking about, I have assisted in getting various bums and oddities removed from cabs and cars -- where the crews were more than several miles from civilization and had no idea of the make and manner of people they'd find in said cabs and the cars.

On one occasion I knocked on the locked door of an SD40-T2 with the barrel of my Sig P220 because I could see a kid inside with a guitar case and his right hand inside a bag. We came to a verbal agreement that he should exit said cab in an expeditious manner. The large hole at the end of the P220 didn't hinder the urgency I attempted to communicate at the time. With a lengthy apology to the conductor on the ground adjacent the cab, the young man sought other adventures elsewhere. The train continued on.

I myself have had plenty of adventures since, though with lesser frequency. UP and other railroads are operating under Homeland Security strictures -- and there have even been issues with train enthusiasts shooting photos from various Amtrak station locations. Again, a post for another time as I have a very strong opinion on the matter.

That said, when I hike I have my own very seasoned eye on the various pieces of infrastructure and rolling stock I encounter along the way. I feel it is my job and responsibility to keep my own eye on the security of the rails because, where I go, there is no one else to do so save the occasional passing cab crews. I have done things from putting out two separate tie fires to removing objects and obstacles from the tracks.

Very nice cab interior video above; below is a video of "Doug" starting an ancient Conrail GE locomotive, created with just a tad bit of "tongue-in-cheek":

Below is a quick video of an Amtrak GE P42 cab ride, from the engineer's position, at night:

Here is a dark but revealing look at the engine room of a moving (67 mph per the speedo in the cab) Amtrak GE P42 locomotive; air compressor room at the very end. Note that, as you walk down the stairs from the cab toward the bulkhead of the engine room, there is a door to the right. That's the crew toilet. For sound deadening purposes there are two doors between the engine room and the cab itself:

Because I am writing this particular post on my MacBook Pro, I don't have access to my large volume of cab interior shots. I'll post these at other times. I also have a Flip Slide HD video of the interior of a UP GE freight locomotive, but I'm debating posting that video because the Slide is not image-stabilized, and my camera movements are jerky and quick -- for two salient reasons: 1) I had just finished hiking some distance in the heat, and 2) It was even hotter in the cab (100+ -degrees) and I was badly dehydrated, therefore shaking visibly.

Cab interiors fascinate me. If you'd care to see the Flip HD vid I'll post it. I'll also be making a trip this Spring to the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola (I'm a Lifetime member) for interior video of their beautiful EMD F-7 unit -- and the interior of the UP 6946, an EMD DDA40X 6,000-hp Centennial. You would expect no less.

Oh, and one final thing -- nice (but again, dark) video of starting and shutting down a Norfolk Southern EMD SD40-2. This is the real deal:

Take care, be safe, and keep reading and visiting!