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Nice to fire for, but a bit strange

An unnerving experience on an SP 2-10-2

SP_2-10-2_3575
Southern Pacific 2-10-2 3757 rests at Sparks, Nev., in 1948.
J. F. Larison
I went firing on the Southern Pacific’s Coast Division in 1953. My engineer’s name was Lindsay, a hoghead in the regular San Francisco-Watsonville Junction (Calif.) chain gang.

I fired for Lindsay several times and, although he never checked the water level by climbing into the tender (as some hoggers were wont to do), he was still a bit strange. The first time I fired for him was about three weeks after I’d made my qualification date, and I was as green as grass. We were highballing down the San Francisco Peninsula at night on train 932, with engine 3699, when he said, “Come over here and sit in my spot; I want to fire for a while.”

He instructed me not to touch the throttle or brake, just blow the whistle at crossings. As a callow 18-year-old, I was both thrilled and terrified to be holding down the right-hand seat cushion on a 2-10-2 for a good 10 or 15 miles before he turned the firing back to me.

On another occasion, again at night, we were hauling a long, heavy freight drag slowly up Morgan Hill with another 2-10-2, bound for Gilroy. I glanced over and was startled to see his seat empty. I looked in the gangway and over the top of the tank but didn’t spot him anywhere. I was about to assume he’d had a heart attack and fallen out the window and was thinking about shutting off the throttle and applying the brakes when he popped back in the window. He held up a handful of waste and said, “That headlight was pretty dirty; I thought I ought to clean it up a bit.”

As I said, he was a real nice guy to fire for, but a little strange.

First published in Winter 2002 Classic Trains magazine



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