Friday, January 20, 2012

What the Engineer Saw

 The Engineer’s Cab, 2012

Finishing out this week of railway-themed images is this shot (above) of the engineer’s cab on the locomotive I explored last weekend.

A switch engine is a small locomotive, meant for moving cars around a switch yard or short line. This particular yard locomotive was built in Schenectady, New York, in 1925 by the American Locomotive Company. Judging by all the different colors on this locomotive, my guess is that it served more than a few railroads before ending on an desolate siding in Virginia Beach.
I’ve always been amazed that locomotive engineers’ cabs have been located at the back of locomotives rather than at the front. Seems like they’d want to be able to see everything in front of them rather than having to peek around either side of a long locomotive engine. But I guess this dates from the days when you had to have an engineer and a couple of strong crewmen at the back of the engine to shovel coal from a second car into the engine stove.  By the time diesel electric trains came along no such stoking was required. But the design stuck and continues today with modern long haul railroad locomotives.
Alco Yard Locomotive, 2012

Another thing that struck me about this locomotive was that it has amazingly simple controls. There are two horizontal steel bars—presumably a throttle and a brake—and a crank wheel (like you’d see on the end of an old hand brace drill) that pivot on a sturdy steel pillar. The control box is about the size of a medicine cabinet and has just a few buttons, dials and gauges, considering the complexity of the diesel electric engine. There’s also a large, vertically mounted wheel at the rear of the cab that I’m thinking might have been used to open and close the coupling link that attaches the locomotive to other cars.
The more I think about it, maybe two steel bars are enough. A locomotive engineer has only two choices: which direction to go in and how fast to go there. As far as directions go, there are only two choices: forward or backward.  Everything else is pretty much determined by the layout of the track.
As a photographic subject, this locomotive would have been easier to photograph on an overcast day. As it was, the high midday sun made for a lot of contrast. Getting a clean exposure of the outdoors as well as the detail of the interior of the cab was a challenge, achieved only with a little cheating.  
 What the Engineer Saw, 2012

1 comment: