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A top link man would have worked their way up from shunting, to local work etc upwards so their stamina would have increased over time. Its not so much about physical strength with firing as stamina, you can make it easy or really hard work. 

 

To be honest you don't feel a couple of tons of coal shovelled as its  not all at once. 

 

 

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A lot depended on the driver. The ones loved by the enthusiasts and train timers were often hated by the fireman for the unnecessary work they generated. Generally, the job wasn't too arduous if done properly, say eight to ten shovelfuls around the box every couple of minutes or so. More would be needed when climbing, but less on the way back down again.

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In my final years at DB, when my ex colleagues who worked the steam specials (they all volunteered) started trying to say how hard it was, my reply was always - it cant be that hard or they wouldn't let fat old b******s like you do it! :D

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The work was pretty tough even when things were going well on the harder jobs, which tended to be such top link passenger workings as ran non stop over long distances to tight timings.  If things had got on top of you a bit then there was a respite to rectify matters every time you stopped, so stoppers were in that sense easier.  A bad driver could ruin your work in a few seconds of thrashing the loco and sending your carefully laid firebed up the chimney.  

 

Taking the GW Berks and Hants route with trains that did not stop at Reading as an example, you had to leave Paddington with a cold engine and build the fire during the fast running down to Reading, where the driver had to ease off for the slack over the junction, losing whatever momentum he'd built up.  It was critical that you'd built the fire at this point because this is the start of an uninterrupted climb to Savernake before you get any respite at all.  I think this is the longest of the climbs out of London.  

 

The fireman of a WR Britannia on an up South Wales train which could load to 14 bogies shovelled 5½ tons of coal during a run of just over 3 hours, and it was not unknown for the tender to be empty before you got to Southall.  As well as firing, and bringing coal forward in the tender whenever you could to enable firing to continue at the required rate, you had to ensure an adequate level of water in the boiler, operate the scoop at water troughs, and observe signals where the sightings favoured your side of the loco or at the driver's behest, so there was no time to relax even when there was a respite from the firing.  Poor coal, a poorly steaming or rough riding loco, or a speed merchant driver could seriously affect the ability to keep on top of the work of even the best firemen; a combination of these could overwhelm it.  

 

Firemen tended to be wiry, even skinny, physically tough types rather than outright strong muscly big lads; as has been said the game was endurance rather than out and out strength.  Even in the bottom links where there was a lot more time to recover bad situations as the trains were slower and stopped more often, firemen were kept pretty fit and you didn't see many fat ones!  A GW shovel was longer than a normal one and loaded 7lbs a shot as opposed to 5.  

 

The 2 unforgivable sins were to let the boiler water level go so low as to melt the fusible plug, and to lose the shovel in the firebox.  I remember men at Canton in the 70s who'd committed these offences 30 years before and still were not allowed to live it down...

 

The toughest job in the country in the 50s was reckoned to be the Birmingham-Glasgow overnight express freight, calling at Leeds and Carlisle and the only job booked for mechanical stoking, with 3 9Fs fitted with the equipment.

Edited by The Johnster
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6 hours ago, LMS2968 said:

A lot depended on the driver. The ones loved by the enthusiasts and train timers were often hated by the fireman for the unnecessary work they generated. Generally, the job wasn't too arduous if done properly, say eight to ten shovelfuls around the box every couple of minutes or so. More would be needed when climbing, but less on the way back down again.

 

This explains it very well.

 

 

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The condition of the locomotives was pretty crucial.   Royal Scots famously doubled their initial coal consumption within a few months of leaving the works due to poor valve rung design and manufacture, Stanier sorted them out with SR style valves  and then cured the Claughtons and L&Y 4-6-0s before scrapping them ,  The Britannia running out of coal (7 tons) between Swansea (?)  and Southall on the very slow schedules of the time sounds like worn valve rings. Mind you it could explain the slow schedules as otherwise they would have had to change engines at Swindon if they went any faster and used even more coal.

The Book Firing Days at Saltley has details of harrowing trips on the stoker fitted 9Fs when the stoker jammed, and when Black 5s were substituted which still had to use the special small coal specified for the 9Fs with stokers.

Through the links at Crewe by Picolo Pete Johnson details a trip on a Duchess  from Glasgow to Carlisle during which no coal was fired at all, they filled the box at Polmadie and sat down and had a rest. 

57XX tanks would shunt for 24 hours on a 3 1/2 ton bunker full,  Thats about a ton per 8 hour firing shift,  but there were tales of GSWR 0-6-0s averaging 100lbs of coal per mile on main line freights and some Caley 4-6-0s were not much better.,

It was clear some drivers had the knack of driving economically and some didn't,   Many of the older locos with short travel valves needed very careful balancing of the cut off vs regulator opening to get good speed and economy,  but perform they did, disproportionately better than the later long travel high pressure superheated versions in many cases.   Blasting uphill and coasting back down the other side wasn't exactly economical either but people would keep putting stupidly low speed limits on for no good reason.   (some things never change)

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You do need to be careful when reading the published stories by former BR firemen as it's very easy to get a wrong impression. There are stories of poor steaming locos, bad coal, mechanical problems and drivers out to make up time at all costs. These make good reading; there is no excitement in 'worked the 11/03 goods to Crewe, no problems, engine steamed well and no stops.'

 

Problems did occur on the road and some heroic efforts were made to get the train through. But something would be very badly wrong if that were a daily occurrence.

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Silly question perhaps, but did the tools (shovel, etc.) belong to the locomotive or the fireman?

 

I could imagine different types of locomotive, with different sized/shaped fireboxes, requiring a different size/length of shovel.

 

But, like any other trade, I could imagine men having their own equipment that they looked after / customised for their own purposes, etc.

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All tools, lamps and cotton wipers were drawn from the stores at the start of the day, and in theory returned at the end. Some firemen did own their own shovels but, as you suggest, this item could vary between locos: the shovel suitable for a 4F would be hard work on a Stanier Pacific, where the coal was much further away from the firehole doors so its shovel would have a longer handle. It was rumoured that Great Western shovels could empty a tender in two swings!

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Maybe 3...

 

Of course, you wouldn’t be filling the shovel to it’s full capacity on each shot into the firebox, it depended on what the fire needed and the job required a bit more finesse than just throwing lumps of coal at the hot glowy thing. 

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10 hours ago, DavidCBroad said:

The Book Firing Days at Saltley has details of harrowing trips on the stoker fitted 9Fs when the stoker jammed, and when Black 5s were substituted which still had to use the special small coal specified for the 9Fs with stokers.

 

A Big Boy was once hand fired when the mechanical stoker failed - keeping the fire fed involved the fireman and head end brakeman taking a shovel apiece and throwing coal into the firebox as fast as they could for some considerable distance/ Of course, in that case they had a steam table to distribute the coal anyway, so precisely placing the shovelfuls wasn't so important - but hand firing a 150 square foot grate is impressive nonetheless!

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4 hours ago, LMS2968 said:

All tools, lamps and cotton wipers were drawn from the stores at the start of the day, and in theory returned at the end. Some firemen did own their own shovels but, as you suggest, this item could vary between locos: the shovel suitable for a 4F would be hard work on a Stanier Pacific, where the coal was much further away from the firehole doors so its shovel would have a longer handle. It was rumoured that Great Western shovels could empty a tender in two swings!

Great Western/WR shovels were definitely bigger - that bit is true.  Officially shovels were dran from stores atthe start of each turn at the bigger sheds, at small local sheds with one or two engines, and no storesman, they normally remained with the engine or were in effect 'hung on to' by each Fireman.

 

There were a lot of stories told about shovels but one thing with allegedly standard shovels was that many Firemen got one they liked and did their best to keep it by hiding it somewhere and not returning it to stores.  There's a well known story - which isn't entirely fiction - that when the large 'spare coal' stack at Old Oak Common was dismantled it allegedly contained more shovels than coal.  Something of an exaggeration obviously but several dozen shovels definitely came out of the stack.

 

No need to pile a shovel right up except at times of high steam demand and continuous firing.  firing techniques varied between railways and even varied between different types of engine within a railways and to some extent they also varied between Firemen.  On the Westen  the way of firing the large tender engines was to build a 'tup' just inside the firebox door and then try to fire to that and over it.  This was a good method as it minimised the amount of secondary air - which is always the coldest air - going into the firebox and by working the firebox flap at the same time the amount of secondary air was cut even more.  In complete contrast the smaller Western fireboxes were more nearly rectangular and were fired in two ways - for heavier work  it was simply keeping the 'box fairly full  with a good level of coal and firing steadily to avoid both blacking out the fire and keeping the rate of steam production constant.  On light jobs or jobs which had quiet periods a different technique was used which was to dish the fire and have it relatively thin in the middle and simply fire to keep it like that and stop holes developing on the fire.

 

A hole developing in the fire was not good - as it developed you could hear the change of noise because it altered red the flow of primary air up through the dampers and firebars; a hole would produce a distinctive sort of roaring noise if it got too bad.  The idea of course was that steady firing and going all round the 'box (by whatever method) stopped a hole developing in the first place but a Fireman would soon know - from the sound - if one had developed and he had then to fill in the hole.

 

BR Standard 9Fs involved a very different firing technique because of their wide firebox.   Basically they could be relied on in normal working to allow the coal to run down from the back of the box to the front to keep the firebars covered (in other words sort of similar to firing to a tup on a large Western engine).  But the trick with a 9F was to keep the back corners well filled at at all times and that basically meant almost putting your hand on the top of the shovel handle in past the firehole door as you twisted the shovel round to get the coal in to the back corners.  It was often said you could easily tell who fired 9Fs properly because there would be burns on the back of one of their hands, and equally you could tell who the wimps were who wore gloves or perhaps didn't fire them properly;).   Another trick to get round this awkward and uncomfortable firing was to break up pieces of firebrick and get them into the back corners when the fire was being built up as they engine was prepared for a job. 

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36 minutes ago, The Stationmaster said:

 

 

 

BR Standard 9Fs involved a very different firing technique because of their wide firebox.   Basically they could be relied on in normal working to allow the coal to run down from the back of the box to the front to keep the firebars covered (in other words sort of similar to firing to a tup on a large Western engine).  But the trick with a 9F was to keep the back corners well filled at at all times and that basically meant almost putting your hand on the top of the shovel handle in past the firehole door as you twisted the shovel round to get the coal in to the back corners.  It was often said you could easily tell who fired 9Fs properly because there would be burns on the back of one of their hands, and equally you could tell who the wimps were who wore gloves or perhaps didn't fire them properly;).   Another trick to get round this awkward and uncomfortable firing was to break up pieces of firebrick and get them into the back corners when the fire was being built up as they engine was prepared for a job. 

That was the trick with all wide fireboxes, and not always easy to learn. On the Stanier Pacifics, and no doubt on those of other railways, gloves were essential as the hand holding the shaft of the shovel would be almost inside the firebox, and the temperature at that point on an engine working hard would take more than the hairs off.

 

As DavidCBroad has said, the usual way on these engines while still on shed was to open the tender doors, when about two tons of coal would fall on to the footplate. All of this would then go on to a fire which was already well alight, and the rule was that if it would go through the firedoors, in it went no matter how big. On the really hard jobs the engine would then go back under the coaling plant and top up, and despite the rated capacity it was possible with careful trimming to get twelve tons of coal on one of these tenders without fouling the loading gauge, thirteen if there were no low bridges around. That would get the engine through the first fifty miles without the fireman lifting the shovel. Not the most efficient way to fire an engine but it was common practice.

 

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Bulleid Pacifics were notoriously heavy on coal.  Imagine firing a MN on a fast boat train.  At least there weren't many big hills on the SR.

 

Firemen on preserved railways always seem a lot more careful with the coal load and the dampers.  You rarely see black smoke from the chimney (if anything, they run a bit lean).  Old photos often show a right sooty mess being thrown up.  I suppose it's the difference between an amateur doing it for love and a professional doing it for money.

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I reckon there is a lot more awareness these days on ‘heritage’ lines and main line steam workings of the environmental aspect of emitting smoke more than is absolutely necessary, and since there are almost always enthusiasts videoing and photographing proceedings and putting the results up online, of the possibility of adverse comment; ‘look at the pollution that engine’s making’ sort of thing.  Steam of course condenses into water and pollutes nothing, but thick black smoke...

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1 hour ago, Dagworth said:

Isn’t thick black smoke mostly unburnt coal? Less smoke means less coal needed? 
 

 

Yes. Less smoke means complete or near complete combustion. It's worth watching the video I posted above which explains it very well.

 

But having been involved in heritage steam operation, it was seen as necessary for the enthusiasts and the public. It was basically a marketing cost. In the early 90s the Bellarine Railway got a load of Fingal coal from Tasmania which was very high in volatiles (about 44%) and low in fixed carbon. It was quite obvious there were some disappointed non-enthusiast passengers because there wasn't any smoke. You couldn't even make black smoke if you wanted to.

 

Cheers
David

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In steam days the toughest firing jobs were probably the double-home (or lodging) turns  which meant really long distance work (which would have involved the Stanier pacifics among various other types already mentioned).  Examples were Kings Cross - Newcastle (on which the Fireman could literally empty the tender of coal on a rough trip or with a rough engine), Paddington - Plymouth where it was not unknown for the engine on a Down train to come off for coal at Newton Abbot (meaning virtually all of 6 tons of coal had been burnt).  But Paddington -Plymouth, and the reverse direction, was generally not reckoned to be the hardest double home job on the Western - despite the heavy drag up Hemerdon immediately after a cold start from Plymouth - because Newton Abbot - Shrewsbury was overall considered a much tougher job although with reasonably easy starts in both directions.

 

Another feature of these jobs was, and other long distance workings was the use of Firemen at various intermediate stations there to do coal pulling.  Taunton was a place where it happened on the Western and Doncaster was an example on the ECML.  During the stop a local Fireman climbed onboard solely to pull forward coal from the back of the tender thus relieving the train Fireman of that bit of extra hard work.  The better answer of course was a steam powered coal pusher in the tender but they weren't at all common on British engines.  Of course on non-stop trains the Fireman had to pull down the coal for himself.

Edited by The Stationmaster
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12 hours ago, DavidB-AU said:

 

Yes. Less smoke means complete or near complete combustion. It's worth watching the video I posted above which explains it very well.

 

But having been involved in heritage steam operation, it was seen as necessary for the enthusiasts and the public. It was basically a marketing cost. In the early 90s the Bellarine Railway got a load of Fingal coal from Tasmania which was very high in volatiles (about 44%) and low in fixed carbon. It was quite obvious there were some disappointed non-enthusiast passengers because there wasn't any smoke. You couldn't even make black smoke if you wanted to.

 

The 90  mph Bittern runs from a few years back were noticeable for the lack of black smoke - needs to be working efficiently at that speed. A little bit, quickly clearing every few seconds in some of the videos (when another shovel was put on?)

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15 minutes ago, Reorte said:

 

The 90  mph Bittern runs from a few years back were noticeable for the lack of black smoke - needs to be working efficiently at that speed. A little bit, quickly clearing every few seconds in some of the videos (when another shovel was put on?)

Typical 'little and often firing' especially the sort of firing that an A4 in top condition could easily manage with.   In fact a really top notch A4 would lift out of the Cross with no need for the fireman to even touch the shovel until the train was past New Barnet and then it would be easy firing all the way.

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On 20/02/2020 at 16:33, The Stationmaster said:

Great Western/WR shovels were definitely bigger - that bit is true.  Officially shovels were dran from stores atthe start of each turn at the bigger sheds, at small local sheds with one or two engines, and no storesman, they normally remained with the engine or were in effect 'hung on to' by each Fireman.

 

There were a lot of stories told about shovels but one thing with allegedly standard shovels was that many Firemen got one they liked and did their best to keep it by hiding it somewhere and not returning it to stores.  There's a well known story - which isn't entirely fiction - that when the large 'spare coal' stack at Old Oak Common was dismantled it allegedly contained more shovels than coal.  Something of an exaggeration obviously but several dozen shovels definitely came out of the stack.

 

No need to pile a shovel right up except at times of high steam demand and continuous firing.  firing techniques varied between railways and even varied between different types of engine within a railways and to some extent they also varied between Firemen.  On the Westen  the way of firing the large tender engines was to build a 'tup' just inside the firebox door and then try to fire to that and over it.  This was a good method as it minimised the amount of secondary air - which is always the coldest air - going into the firebox and by working the firebox flap at the same time the amount of secondary air was cut even more.  In complete contrast the smaller Western fireboxes were more nearly rectangular and were fired in two ways - for heavier work  it was simply keeping the 'box fairly full  with a good level of coal and firing steadily to avoid both blacking out the fire and keeping the rate of steam production constant.  On light jobs or jobs which had quiet periods a different technique was used which was to dish the fire and have it relatively thin in the middle and simply fire to keep it like that and stop holes developing on the fire.

 

A hole developing in the fire was not good - as it developed you could hear the change of noise because it altered red the flow of primary air up through the dampers and firebars; a hole would produce a distinctive sort of roaring noise if it got too bad.  The idea of course was that steady firing and going all round the 'box (by whatever method) stopped a hole developing in the first place but a Fireman would soon know - from the sound - if one had developed and he had then to fill in the hole.

 

BR Standard 9Fs involved a very different firing technique because of their wide firebox.   Basically they could be relied on in normal working to allow the coal to run down from the back of the box to the front to keep the firebars covered (in other words sort of similar to firing to a tup on a large Western engine).  But the trick with a 9F was to keep the back corners well filled at at all times and that basically meant almost putting your hand on the top of the shovel handle in past the firehole door as you twisted the shovel round to get the coal in to the back corners.  It was often said you could easily tell who fired 9Fs properly because there would be burns on the back of one of their hands, and equally you could tell who the wimps were who wore gloves or perhaps didn't fire them properly;).   Another trick to get round this awkward and uncomfortable firing was to break up pieces of firebrick and get them into the back corners when the fire was being built up as they engine was prepared for a job. 

 

A competent 9F fireman would sometimes mix up about 2 tons of 'nutty slack' on the tender floor. He would then proceed to ram it into the back corners on each side. In that way, the heat protected the wrists to a degree, and the fire had a better chance in the back corners. By the time the back had worked through, the fireman would repeat the trick, and so forth. 

 

I've never fired a 9F, but I'd give my eye teeth to see if I could still 'cut the mustard'. 

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Light grey smoke at the chimney indicates the best combustion.  You need some excess air beyond the stoichiometric ratio, but not too much excess air, or you're just blowing extra air out of the chimney and it's cooler inside the tubes.

 

Thinking on, some engines had the shovelling plate some vertical distance below the firehole.  They were the worst to fire as every shovelful of coal had to be lifted.

 

Also: 90% of the population would probably prefer to fire a RHD loco.  Mime it and see.

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