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High Times on the Canton Railroad

By Benjamin P. McKnew

In the early 70s I was firing (locomotive Engineer's Helper) for the Canton Railroad. For all of my time there I was on the extra list. I think it was early summer 1972 I was firing for Mc Farland on the Copper Works trip better known as Crew 13. Their train is made up by the regular daylight Crew 5.

Crew 13 starts out around 3pm every weekday. Copper Works train is made up mostly of gondlas loaded with ingots of copper, one or two tanks of corn syurp, covered hoppers of fertilizer, boxcars of I don't know what, and tanks for Standard Oil. All of which made a heavy train for our power. The power is an EMD SW 800 the 45 or the 47.

On this date we were well on our way on the main line between National Gyp and the Colgate Warehouses. Little Mike was the head end brakeman, Andy the hind end, I don't remember the conductor's name - he was in the cab. Mike was riding the front of the locomotive, Andy was in the gons picking up the loose copper the mill didn't want, and I was on the fireman's seat. 

The locomotive was out of the curve, on the tangent, and as the heaviest cars were in the curve one could hear the engine really dig in. Just when the wheel slip light should come on BOOM, four foot of flame went up the stack, engine doors flew open, smoke every where. Well, the engineer, and conductor bailed out through the back door and down the steps. Mike hightailed over the weeds towards the warehouses, and Andy abandoned the gons and ran up. Me: I didn't budge thinking the fireworks were over.

After about a minute the engineer realized he forgot to dump the air (we were only moving about 12 to 15 mph). Mc Farland came back into the cab, dumped the air, and strongly suggested I join him on the ground, which I did. While we were looking over our crippled locomotive I overheard Mc Farland say, "Now you can't tell me a diesel locomotive won't blow up."

The radio was still working so Mc Farland called the yard office told them what happened. The yard office contacted a Chevy crew (crew 6) just getting off duty to trade locomotives with us, which we did, and went on our way. The shop folks came out with another loco, took Crew 6 and our locomotive home.

I heard later the air box drain was clogged. I hear transformers on electric poles blow all the time, to me this wasn't all that different. After all inside that electric box in the cab is 600 volts so any short in the line is going to make some noise and smoke.