January 25, 2011

Brakemen Needed - Apply Within

During the civil war railroad freight cars had manual hand brakes. There were no air brakes. Nor did the locomotives have air pumps to supply the needed compressed air.  On a freight car, only one truck was equipped with brakes. 


In comparison to modern times, the brakes were much simpler and totally manually operated. The wooden brake shoes were mounted on wooden beams that hung from the exterior ends of a truck. Gravity kept the brake beams and shoes away from the wheels. To engage the brakes, a crew man had to turn the brake wheel located either on the top or end of the car.  This wheel took up a chain on a ratchet that was connected to a linkage in the truck. As the hand wheel turned the linkage caused the brake beams to retract towards the wheels. The shoes rubbed the wheels and the cars slowed down.  To release the brakes, the operator turned the wheel in the opposite direction. The weight of the brake beams caused the beams to swing away from the wheels and released the brakes.


Being a brakeman was a dangerous job. Brakemen were advised not to sit on the brake wheel
because the slightest bump or jolt could toss you off.
Turning the brake wheel  was the job of the brakeman. To set the brakes on train, the engineer would give a whistle signal, in the case of the USMRR, one short blast. The brakemen in the cab, or already riding on the tops of the cars would scurry along the tops of the cars turning each hand wheel until the train came to a stop. This had to be done at all time of day, in all weather and conditions.


The brakeman also handled car couplings and track switches. Link and pin couplers were especially hazardous as the brakeman had to stand between two cars to couple them up. Between the hazards of coupling, falling off and collisions, it is was a dangerous job in terms of life and limb.  


Fortunately, the job won't be so dangerous for my operators, but the working handbrakes should make it more realistic and interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment