Friday, February 21, 2014

War Stories: Episode 5 - "Locomotive Diversity"

Just like at Hollidaysburg, there was a classroom session at Juniata at the end of each day.  Unlike Hollidaysburg, we really didn't learn very much from these sessions.  In retrospect, it wasn't the fault of the instructors.  They were experts at HOW to do the work.  HOW to read a wiring diagram.  HOW to read a schematic.  HOW to use a megger or a test lamp.  What we needed were the basics of WHY things worked the way they worked.  We asked lots of questions and generally got rather unsatisfying answers.  WHY does the governor have four solenoids?  WHY does EMD use current transductors and GE use axle alternators to sense wheelslip.  WHY do switchers have air cooled air compressors instead of water cooled?

The instructors had not a clue about any of this and they were rather puzzled why we were asking such strange questions.

One guy had quite a bit of knowledge of locomotives, picked up over the years from hanging out around the railroad near where he lived.  He could ask the most specifically pointed questions of all, like, "How can you tell which locomotives have power knock-out type 1 versus power knockout type two?"  Jeez...  Most of us had no idea even what "power knockout" was much less that it came in "types".  Sounded dangerous...

The poor instructors didn't stand a chance.

Their standard answer for questions like this was, "Every one is different."  To a 21st Century ear, this sounds an awful lot like we were in the midst of diversity training.  "Differences in the work place are a key to success, etc. etc."

A little known fact about Altoona is that it is not only west of Harrisburg, it is years behind Harrisburg.  The general rule is every 10 miles is worth a year, so 120 miles west is worth 12 years.  So, 1978 felt quite a bit like the 1960s in Altoona.  The buildings hadn't really had any modernization since the 1960s.  There was little new construction in the town, too, so this was easy see.  What drove this home to us was a "pep talk" we received in lieu of some instruction one afternoon about "why it's good to work for the railroad".  It was clear that they understood the "the railroad" was now called Conrail, but it was not clear that they understood that "Conrail" was just another way of saying "Pennsylvania".  The best part of working for the railroad, they said, was "you always got paid on time", recounting how they once ran a special train from Philadelphia to Altoona during a blizzard, just to make the payroll.  A couple mergers, bankruptcy, and blue paint had not changed the view from Altoona one iota.

This was not diversity training.....

"Every one is different" was generally rather unsatisfying and most of the time we thought were getting the run around - and we were.  However, at least part of the time, "every one is different" proved to be very true.  Conrail had a huge locomotive fleet of more than 5000 locomotives inherited from five major railroads that seemed hell-bent on buying at least one of every model and model variant ever produced by the four major locomotive builders. Add to this every road had their own "particulars", so an SD45 on PRR wouldn't be the same as one on EL, for example.  Then, add that NYC and PRR had their own very particular particulars and PC attempted some level of standardization on some locomotives, or groups of locomotives and these standardization attempts were applied variously not at all, partly, or fully to each particular locomotive.

So, "every one is different" might not have been much of a cop-out!

Old Alcos and Baldwins with EMD engines in them, one-of-kind Reading SW1000s...

...rebuild Geep, cabless Geep, some with dynamic brake, some built without, some with them removed...

Fortunately, Conrail had the foresight to send us to a few rounds of school at the locomotive manufacturers in La Grange IL and Erie PA as well as air brake school in Pittsburgh.  We learned a lot at these classes.  The instructors all had engineering backgrounds and could give us all the  "WHY" we could handle!

We never once heard "every one is different"...even though, quite often, it really WAS true.

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