ENGINEERS AND THEIR DUTIES.
ATTRIBUTES THAT MAKE
A GOOD ENGINEER.
THE locomotive engine which reaches
nearest perfection, is one which performs the greatest amount
of work at the least cost for fuel, lubricants, wear and tear
of machinery, and of the track traversed: the nearest approach
to perfection in an engineer, is the man who, can work the engine
so as to develop its best capabilities at the least cost. Poets
are said to be born, not made. The same may be said of engineers.
One man may have charge of an engine for only a few months, and
yet exhibit thorough knowledge of his business, displaying sagacity
resembling instinct concerning the treatment necessary to secure
the best performance from his engine: another man, who appears
equally intelligent in matters not pertaining to the locomotive,
never develops a thorough understanding of the machine.
HOW ENGINEERING KNOWLEDGE
AND SKILL ARE ACQUIRED.
A man who possesses the natural
gifts necessary for the making of a good engineer, will advance
more rapidly in acquiring mastery of the business than does one
whom Nature intended for a ditcher. But there is no royal road
to the knowledge requisite for making a first-class engineer.
The capability of handling an engine can be acquired by a few
months practice. Opening the throttle, and moving the reverse
lever, require but scanty skill; there is no great accomplishment
in being able to pack a gland, or tighten up a loose nut; but
the magazine of practical knowledge, which enables an engineer
to meet every emergency with calmness and promptitude, is obtained
only by years of experience on the footboard, and by assiduous
observation while there.
PUBLIC INTEREST IN LOCOMOTIVE
Ever since the incipiency of
the railroad system, a close interest has been manifested by the
general public in the character and capabilities of locomotive
engineers. This is natural, for no other class of men hold the
safe-keeping of so much life and property in their hands.
IGNORANCE VERSUS KNOWLEDGE.
Two leading pioneers of railway
progress in Europe took diametrically opposite views of the intellectual
qualities best calculated to make a good engineer. George Stephenson
preferred intelligent men, well educated and read up in mechanical
and physical science; Brunel recommended illiterate men for taking
charge of engines, on the novel hypothesis, that, having nothing
else in their heads, there would be abundant room for the acquirement
of knowledge respecting their work. In every test of skill, the
intelligent men proved victors.
NOT WANTED IN AMERICA.
No demand for illiterate or ignorant
engineers has ever arisen in America. Many men who have spent
an important portion of their lives on the footboard, have risen
to grace the highest ranks of the mechanical and social world.
The pioneer engines, which demonstrated the successful working
of locomotive power, were run by some of the most accomplished
mechanical engineers in the country. As an engine adapted to the
work it has to perform, the American locomotive is recognized
to have always kept ahead of its compeers in other parts of the
world. No inconsiderable part of this superiority is due to the
fact, that nearly all the master mechanics who control the designing
of our locomotives have had experience in running them, and thereby
understand exactly the qualities most needed for the work to be
GROWING IMPORTANCE OF
The safe and punctual operation
of our railroads has always depended to a great extent upon the
discriminating care of the engineer. The present tendency of railroad
operating is to increase his responsibility. Every advance in
brake improvement increases the duties of the enginemen, and upon
them will soon devolve the entire management and control of trains
while in motion.
INDIVIDUALITY OF AMERICAN
Writing on the fitness of various
railroad employees for their duties, that eminent authority, Ex-Railroad
Commissioner Charles F. Adams, jun., says, "In discussing
and comparing the appliances used in the practical operating of
railroads in different countries, there is one element, however,
which can never be left out of the account. The intelligence,
quickness of perception, and capacity for taking care of themselves,
that combination of qualities, which, taken together, constitute
individuality, and adaptability to circumstances, vary greatly
among the railroad employees of different countries. The American
locomotive engineer, as he is called, is especially gifted in
this way. He can be relied on to take care of himself and his
train under circumstances which in other countries would be thought
to insure disaster."
NECESSITY FOR CLASS IMPROVEMENT.
While American locomotive engineers can confidently invite comparison
between their own mechanical and intellectual attainments and
those of their compeers in any nation under the sun, there still
remains ample room for improvement. If they are not advancing,
they are retrograding. The engineer who looks back to companions
of a generation ago, and says that we know as much as they did,
but no more, implies the assertion that his class is going backward.
On very few roads, and in but rare instances, can this grave charge
be made, that the engineers are falling behind in the intellectual
race. On the contrary, there are signs all around us of substantial
work in the cause of intellectual and moral advancement.
THE SKILL OF ENGINEERS
INFLUENCES OPERATING EXPENSES.
No class of railroad-men affects
the expenses of operating so directly as engineers do. The daily
wages paid to an engineer is a trifling sum compared to the amount
he can save or waste by good or bad management of his engine.
Fuel wasted, lubricants thrown away, supplies destroyed, and machinery
abused, leading to extravagant running repairs, make up a long
bill by the end of each mouth, where enginemen are incompetent.
Every man with any spark of manliness in his breast will strive
to become master of his work; and, stirred by this ambition he
will avoid wasting the material of his employer just as zealously
as if the stores were his own property; and only such men deserve
a position on the footboard.
The day has passed away when an engineer
was regarded as perfectly competent so long as he could take his
train over the road on time. Nowadays a man must get the train
along on schedule time to be tolerated at all, and he is not considered
a first-class engineer unless he possesses the knowledge which
enables him to take the greatest amount of work out of the engine
with the least possible expense. To accomplish such results, a
thorough acquaintance with all details of the engine is essential,
so that the entire machine may be operated as a harmonious unit,
without jar or pound: the various methods of economizing, heat
must be intimately understood, and the laws which govern combustion
should be well known so far as they apply to the management of
METHODS OF SELF-IMPROVEMENT.
To obtain this knowledge, which
gives power, and directly increases a mans intrinsic value,
young engineers and aspiring firemen must devote a portion of
their leisure time to the form of self-improvement relating to
the locomotive. Socrates, a sagacious old Greek philosopher, believed
that the easiest way to obtain knowledge was by persistently asking
questions. Young engineers can turn this system to good account.
Never feel ashamed to ask for information where it is needed,
and do not imagine that a man has reached the limit of mechanical
knowledge when he knows how to open and shut the throttle-valve.
The more a man progresses in studying out the philosophy of the
locomotive and its economical operation, the more he gets convinced
of his own limited knowledge. A young engineer who seeks for knowledge
by questioning his elders must not feel discouraged at a rebuff.
Men who refuse to answer civilly questions asked by juniors searching
for information, are generally in the dark themselves, and attempt
by rudeness to conceal their own ignorance.
OBSERVING SHOP OPERATIONS.
The system in vogue in most of
our States, especially in the West, of taking on men for firemen
who have received no previous mechanical training, leaves a wide
field open for engineering instruction. Such men can not spend
too much time watching the operations going on in repair-shops;
every detail of round-house work should be closely observed; the
various parts of the great machine they are learning to manage
should be studied in detail. No operation of repairs is too trifling
to receive strict attention. Where the machinists are examining
piston-packing, facing valves, reducing rod-brasses, or lining
down wedges, the ambitious novice will by close watching of the
work, obtain knowledge of the most useful kind. Looking on will
not teach him how to do the work, but interesting himself in the
procedure is a long step in the direction of learning. Repairing
of pumps and injectors is interesting work, full of instructive
points which may prove invaluable on the road. The rough work
performed by the men who change truck-wheels, put new brasses
in oil-boxes, and replace broken springs, is worthy of close attention;
for it is just such work that enginemen are most likely to be
called upon to perform on the road in cases of accident. To obtain
a thorough insight into the working of the locomotive, no detail
of its construction is too trifling for attention. The unison
of the aggregate machine depends upon the harmonious adjustment
of the various parts; and, unless a man understands the connection
of the details, he is never likely to become skillful in detecting
WHERE IGNORANCE WAS RUIN.
I knew a case where the neglect
to learn how minor work about the engine was done, proved fatal
to the prospects of a young engineer. A new engine-truck box had
been adopted shortly before he went running; and, although he
had often seen the cellar taken down by the round-house men when
they were packing the trucks, he never paid close attention to
how it was done. As the new plan was a radical change from the
old practice, taking down the new cellar was a little puzzling
at first to a man who did not know how to do it. One day this
young engineer took out an engine with the new kind of truck,
and a journal got running hot. He crept under the truck among
snow and slush, to take the cellar down for packing; but he struggled
half an hour over it, and could not get the thing down. Then the
conductor came along, to see what was the matter; and, being posted
on such work, he perceived that the young engineer did not know
how to take the cellar out of the box. The conductor helped the
engineer to do a job he should have needed no assistance with.
The story was presently carried to headquarters with additions,
and was the means of returning the young engineer to the left-hand
PREJUDICE AGAINST STUDYING
There is a silly prejudice in
some quarters against engineers applying to books for information
respecting their engines. Engineers are numerous who boast noisily
that all their knowledge is derived from actual experience, and
they despise theorists who study books, drawings, or models in
acquiring particulars concerning the construction or operation
of the locomotive parts. Such men have nothing to boast of. They
never learn much, because ignorant egotism keeps them blind. They
keep the ranks of the mere stopper and starter well filled.
THE KIND OF KNOWLEDGE
GAINED FROM BOOKS.
The books on mechanical practice
which these ultra practical men despise, contain in condensed
form the experience and discoveries that have been gleaned from
the hardest workers and thinkers of past ages. The product of
long years of toilful experiment, where intense thought has furrowed
expansive brows, and weary watching has whitened raven locks,
is often recorded on a few pages. A mechanical fact which an experimenter
has spent years in discovering and elucidating, can be learned
and tested by a student in as many hours. The man who despises
book-knowledge relating to any calling or profession, rejects
the wisdom begotten of former recorded labor.
The study of good books relating to the
locomotive will teach the young engineer many things about his
engine that can be verified by practice. If anything in a book
induces an engineer to think for himself, and sets him to observing
and investigating, it is certain to do him good.
MODELS AND CROSS-SECTIONS.
A highly instructive and interesting
means of self-instruction that can be reached by most ambitious
engineers and firemen is the study of models and cut cross-sections
of locomotive mechanism. Many division brotherhood rooms used
by engineers and firemen have models and cross-sections of valve
gear, lubricators, brake mechanism, etc. These appliances offer
invaluable aid to men anxious to learn about the working of the
parts they represent, and constant use ought to be made of them.
Valve gears are a favorite study with
young engineers, and information about their arrangement and action
can be studied to the greatest advantage by the aid of a model.
The chapters on valve motion, farther on in this book, are made
as plain as simple words and clear wood-cuts can make them; but
the subjects treated will be much easier understood if they are
studied with a model at hand for reference. Two or three studious
engineers or firemen can give great help to each other by forming
a class to study a model together by the aid of the chapters on
valve gear. When that part is mastered, they will be likely to
study the Westinghouse air-brake and other parts in the same way.
The union of two or three together for the purpose of mutual study
yields a form of strength that is certain to have a sustaining
influence throughout the life of those participating.
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