Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Cab forwards

I'm exploring an area that is pretty new to me–the origin of the SP cab forwards.

The conventional wisdom is that they were inspired by William Thomas's narrow gauge cab forward on the NPC. Do any of you know the source of the connection between Thomas and the SP Back-ups? I'd like to know who–and where–this connection was first made (I'll settle for "first made" in print).

I paste in below an article from the Reno Gazette-Journal of 2004. It conveys a lot of information about the event, and even names a name: Charles Browning. Do any of you know any more about this fellow? This article sounds like it was drawn from a published and detailed source.

My recent interest in this issue comes from the realization that the CP had been operating a small fleet of "cab forwards" since the early 1870s down at Oakland–and were still operating them when the first mallets were smoking their way over the Sierra. I refer to the 2-6-2Ts, which were apparently operated cab forward as often as not. On one hand, these locomotives may–in some unrecognized way–have inspired William Thomas. Since they were right across the bay from him, he would certainly have been aware of them, and likely knew first-hand engineers who operated them. He may heven have ridden in their cabs, for all we know. Moreover, and perhaps more significantly, their long and successful use created a body of senior locomotive engineers well-conditioned to running "backwards" at speed. This collective experience may well have had something to do with the engineers' willingness to try something novel.

Engine gasses in Sierra tunnels create problem

Sparks Centennial Commission
3/29/2004 04:51 pm

The No. 4000 and No. 4001 were the first of the mallets purchased by the Southern Pacific Railroad. They were built in the normal configuration with the cab-to-the-rear.

Mallets are railroad engines having more than the usual number of wheels and axles. Because of this, the train�s weight was distributed over more axles. And because of its design, mallets were very well suited to travel in mountains where there are short curves.

When placed in service on �the hill� (aka Donner Pass), mallets out performed all the existing power by a wide margin. But it became immediately evident that there were some serious problems.

The amount of exhaust gasses that left the stack was so much greater in volume and so heavily concentrated that the engine men experienced smoke asphyxiation and called for an immediate solution.

The railroad responded by issuing respirators to the engine crew, but the long snow sheds only exacerbated the smoke inhalation problem. Engine crews began refusing to take the engines over the hill.

C. Browning Jr., the Engineer of Tests at the Sacramento shops, decided to see and experience firsthand what the problem was by riding in the cab of No. 4000.

It took him awhile to recover from his ordeal, and at that time, he met with Mr. Heintzelman, the superintendent of motive power, along with Frank Russell and several other officials.

Together, they held a conversation that ultimately changed the way the railroad handled moving trains through the mountains.

Heintzelman said the problem of the smoke in the cab must be solved because those engines were bought to run on �the hill,� and they will run on �the hill.� Any idea no matter how far fetched would be considered.

Many suggestions on attacking the problem were made.

It was Charles Browning who stepped forward. He recalled another type of engine that might be the solution. He recited the advantages of the Thomas engine with respect to a Sierra Grade. That area had many snow sheds in critical locations.

Browning pointed out that if the cab was in front, the fumes and stack gasses would be behind since the smoke box and stack gasses would be a minimum of 70 feet to the rear of the cab.

The suggestion solved two problems. By placing the cab forward, the smoke box at the tender end solved the employees� respiratory problems, and the engineer and brakemen now would be able to have clear visibility.

The Southern Pacific subsequently purchased 198 of the Cab Forwards, commonly called �back up mallies.�

Copyright � 2005 The Reno Gazette-Journal