Let That Steam Whistle Blow

Trains… when did I become obsessed with trains? My older brother had a rather impressive hobby train set back-in-the-day, my younger brother still has a train circle beneath his Christmas tree every year, and my 4 year old grandson is infatuated with the movie Polar Express and loves Thomas the Train. I guess it’s been such an intricate part of my life for so long, I have taken for granted that trains are cool, especially the big steam engines up close.

The centre-piece of the Elgin County Railway Museum is the 5700 Steam Engine. She’s a beauty. Build in 1930 by the Montreal Locomotive Works, she was put to work on the very competitive Montreal to Toronto line as a passenger train. Pulling as many a ten passenger coaches, she could reach speeds up to 100 kilometres per hour. This beautiful and rather hefty train, was one of five owned by Canadian National Railway. It was originally numbered 5703 and was also known as a Hudson or K-5-a 4-6-4. As passenger demands grew beyond her capabilities, she was eventually reassigned to the less aggressive route between Toronto-London-Sarnia/Windsor.

Most of the technical information provided by the host in the engine room Cab aboard the 5700 was extremely interesting. She talked about the 14,000 gallon (18 ton) tender, a Baker valve gear, 43,000 tractive effort (53,300 with booster), and the boiler pressure that could reach 275 pounds. I also heard something about 23″x 28″ Cylinders albeit the 80″ Drivers with the entire locomotive weighing in at 330 tons. Now, I’m not that tech savvy when it comes to large trains or anything mechanical, so I went to the nearest resource in the museum to help me understand a bit more about what she was talking about.

Let’s start with the Firebox – is the furnace chamber that is built into the boiler and usually surrounded by water. Steam locomotives typically had a steel fire-tube boiler that holds a heat source; energy released by the combustion of either a solid or liquid fuel. The 5700 used coal as the combustion material that was introduced through a door by a fireman. His job was to shovel coal onto a set of grates where the ashes fall away from the burning fuel by the Ashpan hopper. Next, the Water compartment consisted of a container for water used by the boiler to produce steam; usually exhausted from the cylinders. A smokebox brings together the hot gases that have passed from the firebox and through the boiler tubes. There was typically a cinder guard to prevent hot cinders being exhausted up the chimney and usually a blower to help draw the fire when the regulator is closed. When the regulator is open, the steam exhaust from the cylinders is also directed up to the chimney through the smokebox to draw the fire. The tender is the container holding both water for the boiler and the fuel, in this case, coal for the firebox. I was really surprised that both the engineer and the fireman worked in such tight quarters to control both the engine and tend the firebox.

There were so many more components and all types of information available at the museum so if you are a train aficionado, you have to visit the Elgin County Railway Museum in St. Thomas Ontario. They sure have an awesome collection of all things, “Train”. Many of the historic photos and artifacts are well preserved under glass displays

and instantly begun to pique my interest. The first thing that caught my attention was the friendliness if the people. I was impressed when I visited during their 100th Anniversary Celebration on the weekend of May 24th and May 25th, 2014. Two days packed with variety of activities, food, and displays to take each visitor back over the last century of railway history in the Southern Ontario. What an opportunity to ask questions, talk to the great volunteers, and experience all the orderly exhibits. So diverse was their chorological displays of the rich history, it took me several hours to absorb most of the activities, special exhibits, and the entire outdoor displays of rail equipment. All of the pictures I captured were historical in nature. I was amazed to learn that centralized traffic control (CTC) was beginning to appear in South-western Ontario in 1956 and the large panel was able to track movement of trains and even change switches and signals remotely. Some photos showed workers in the repair shop, and their working model train exhibit is extraordinary. 1856 is when the London and Port Stanley Railway was linked into St. Thomas providing access to the harbour and international shipments of local goods. Today the Port Stanley Terminal Rail is a vibrant historical tourist railway with operations daily in the summer months.

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