Sunday, December 23, 2012


The View From the Fireman's Seat in the Cab of a Helper Locomotive, c.1975

I always liked this photograph for several reasons. I have very few images of me that were taken while I was working on the railroad. So, I rely on images like this one which I consider to be of a "first-person" or autobiographical nature. This image represents the hundreds of occasions where I was in a locomotive either as a brakeman, fireman, or as the engineer.

This view is a representation of what our view was from the locomotive that was placed somewhere in the rear third of a train. Often we were coupled to a car like this reefer, and our view was restricted accordingly.

Helper duty had its benefits. Primarily  we just had to pay attention to what the head-end engineer told us over the radio. Our main functions were to shove the train that was ahead of us while pulling along what ever was behind our units. We had no control over the air brakes (we always had the option of "pulling the air" in an emergency), but that was it. We did provide dynamic braking on some occasions, but that was primary only when we were on through helpers. Occasionally  after we were cut out of our train, and were heading back to Bakersfield, we would be directed to couple onto a west-bound train. Sometimes when we did so we would give that train our power and then we became passengers. Other times we would run the train from the helper on the point and we would be the actual engine crew. Most often the senior engineer would pull rank and then be able to claim all the locomotives on his pay slip (the rate of pay for a shift was based in part on the weight of the locomotives and so most engineers would opt for the extra pay that more locomotives provided).