Locomotive fire irons

Dave Holt
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Locomotive fire irons

Postby Dave Holt » Fri Mar 08, 2019 2:33 pm

Humm..... Where does on find information about the fire irons carried on locomotives, in particular, their lengths? This question arose when I decided to make some to finish off my more recent locos for Delph/Holt.
Originally, it was the recently completed Standard 2 and Fowler 3MT tanks I had in mind, where the fire irons were carried on top of the right hand tank.
However, when I unpacked my Jubilee to try to sort out its electrical problems, I realized that it had no iron on the tender, and the same applied to my Crab. So I decided to use the two cast clinker shovels I had in stock to make suitable irons for these two tender locos. But how long should they be? Logic suggested that to be of much use for cleaning the fire out on the road, they needed to be long enough to reach the front of the firebox without the handle being inside the fire hole. In the case of the Jubilee, that's in the order of ten to twelve feet, so that's how long I made them.
I then started searching photos to see haw they would be stored on the 3500 gallon tenders both locos have attached. These tenders are equipped with fire iron rests above the coal space. A problem immediately arose, in that the coal space is less than 12 feet long, so the irons would overhang the rear coal rails, which didn't seem right. Indeed, all the photos I could find of such Jubilees, none had the fire irons stored in the rests and all those where the irons could be seen had them in the well at the back of the tender, usually with the handles sticking between the rear coal rails. You can see why this arrangement was tempting as, to avoid burying the irons under the coal, they would need to be moved out of the way before coaling, and than placed back, assuming the rests hadn't been submerged in a full load, so it would be easier to just leave them at the back. Not so convenient if needed during the journey, though.
It was also clear, that the irons were much shorter than I had reasoned, more like 8 feet long. Oh well, no option but to shorten my nicely painted irons by forming a new handle.
No doubt, someone will now advise the answer to my question and point out the errors in my thinking.
After all this, I have now fitted the irons to the two locos, arrange in a nice artistic manner - well I think so. The Jubilee, a Newton Heath loco, has the irons in the rear well, as per a photo of the actual loco (45701), whereas the Crab, a Farnley Junction based loco, has the irons in the rests provided above the coal - obviously a more disciplined crew!
These arrangement are shown in the following photos.
Fire_irons_001.JPG


Fire_irons_002.JPG


Fire_irons_003.JPG


Fire_irons_004.JPG


I noticed, after taking the photos, that the handles of two of the irons on the Crab had not seated at the botton of the locating rest. This has since been corrected.

Dave.

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steamraiser
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby steamraiser » Fri Mar 08, 2019 5:16 pm

Your fire irons will need to be long enough to reach the front of the firebox without the fireman having to put his hands into the firebox.
Gordon A

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Noel
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Noel » Fri Mar 08, 2019 6:45 pm

Short of a dire emergency your fireman won't need the fire dropping shovel whilst on the road; he may well need the long bar to stir up the fire, though, so that has to be somewhere readily accessible. The other issue is the firing shovel. If the fireman is leaning out of the window, then the shovel has to be parked somewhere where it's not in the way and will not fall off the footplate due to the vibration [or worse]. On top of the coal is one fairly obvious possibility. Anything put on the back of the tender is difficult of access, and involves the fireman potentially being well outside the loading gauge and risking being knocked off the loco and probable death; even in pre-H&S days this was a known problem. What is at the back of a tender on shed is not necessarily still going to be there on the road.
Regards
Noel

JFS
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby JFS » Fri Mar 08, 2019 8:16 pm

Looking first-rate-excellent as ever Dave!

The answer to your question is very clear to me - they would be the "Midland Railway Standard Fireiron Length". Since the Greater Midland did not worry about such trivia as the tender being the same width as the loco cab, I doubt that the dimension would have any relationship whatsoever to the length of the firebox of the loco for which they were intended. No doubt however, it would have been related to the length of a Standard Compound firebox - a loco which, as every Midland man will endlessly remind you, would outperform a Duchess, never mind a Jubilee AND would fit a "Standard Tender"...

Putting it another way, the two locos you have modelled so well, stand as a living testament to the idiots managing LMS loco affairs between Hughes' departure and Stanier's arrival.

That aside, I would tend to agree with Noel that those fireirons look very dodgy behind the coal space!

Best Wishes,

Dave Holt
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Dave Holt » Sat Mar 09, 2019 3:53 pm

Thanks for the thoughts and suggestions so far. The points made generally tend to confirm my original inclination, although I take Howard's point about Midland thinking on fire iron length. However, the irons on the Jubilee are copied from a photo of the loco heading a Glasgow to Manchester express, not standing in the yard. A very similar arrangement also clearly appears in another photo of a Manchester to Blackburn train leaving Bolton, so perhaps it was just a Newton Heath way of doing things. I presume that if there was a regular loss of fire irons stowed that way, the authorities would have clamped down on it.
Dave.

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Will L
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Will L » Sat Mar 09, 2019 9:50 pm

Dave Holt wrote:... I presume that if there was a regular loss of fire irons stowed that way, the authorities would have clamped down on it.

Wasn't it the regular loss of out of gauge fireman that was more to the point?

Dave Holt
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Dave Holt » Sun Mar 10, 2019 10:03 am

Wasn't it the regular loss of out of gauge fireman that was more to the point?


Was there a regular loss of out-of-gauge firemen? I agree that any such loss would be a very much bigger concern than the loss of equipment, but that really wasn't the issue being discussed. We are not talking about the firing shovel or coal pick, so the question of the need for safe access to the other fire irons whilst on the move is a slightly different issue, I think. Please note that I have not modelled the fireman scrambling over the coal, putting himself out-of-gauge.
Although I would think safe access to fire irons during motion would be desirable, I believe the GWR had about a thousand tank locos on which the fire irons were carried in hooks mounted on the rear of the bunker; surely inaccessible to even the most acrobatic fireman, so such access was obviously not essential?
Unsafe practice certainly could occur, as described by Terry Essery in his Firing Days at Saltley book, when he failed to observe an approaching over bridge before starting to climb over the tender to retrieve the fire irons, saved only by the quick response of his driver. He was inexperienced at the time whereas firemen on Newton Heath Jubilees would be experienced top link men who had probably developed some sense of safe operating practice. Perhaps it was just accepted that if use of the irons was necessary, it would have to wait till the next station stop.
Dave.

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Noel
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Noel » Sun Mar 10, 2019 1:02 pm

Dave Holt wrote:Although I would think safe access to fire irons during motion would be desirable, I believe the GWR had about a thousand tank locos on which the fire irons were carried in hooks mounted on the rear of the bunker; surely inaccessible to even the most acrobatic fireman, so such access was obviously not essential?


I am only familiar with Churchward and later engines, but, with that proviso, this is true for all tank engines up to 57XX and 94XX panniers [possibly this became a standard practice because there was nowhere else for fire irons on the saddle tanks that had earlier been so popular on the GW]. The point, presumably, is that these would normally only be used for local trains and shunting, so if you had a problem that required a long fire iron you stopped at the next set of fixed signals [if you were on a running line rather than shunting], so the signalman knew where you were, and sorted it out whilst stationary. I am less clear about the larger tank engines, which had no hooks on the bunker, but fire irons are sometimes visible in photographs on top of the near side tank [and they sometimes appear there on pannier tanks too].

GW tenders, from late Dean designs onwards, all had fire iron racks behind the near side fender. Hawksworth engines, and WR allocated WD 2-8-0s, had fire iron tunnels on the footplate. I think this provision was because of the acknowledgement of a different hazard; moving long fire irons from the tender to the loco, and back, meant turning them 180 degrees, which could all too easily lead to the business end straying outside the loading gauge, again with the risk of serious injury or worse. Doing this while stationary would doubtless have been preferred, but would not always have been practical.
Regards
Noel

martin goodall
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby martin goodall » Sun Mar 10, 2019 1:24 pm

Noel's reply reminds me that a fire iron tunnel was a retro-fitting to some of the larger 4-6-0s (such as Castles, among others). This fitting was on the near-side, which was the fireman's side on GWR right-hand drive engines. The fire-iron tunnel opened into the cab, but manoeuvring a long fire iron in or out was still a tricky operation, and there is anecdotal evidence of firemen being dragged off the footplate (with potentially fatal results) if in turning the iron in order to get it into or out of the firebox they got the end of the fire-iron outside the loading gauge so that it struck a bridge pier, signal or other lineside obstruction.

Come to think of it, I have a vague recollection that the fire iron tunnels were fitted in order to obviate having to turn a hot fire iron through 180 degrees after taking it out of the firebox, and replacing it on the fire-iron rack on the nearside of the tender.

The point of this, returning to the original question, is that when modelling a GWR engine fitted with a fire-iron tunnel on or above the nearside running board, the modeller need not add fire irons to the tender, as these would be hidden away inside the fire-iron tunnel.

John Palmer
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby John Palmer » Sun Mar 10, 2019 4:12 pm

Probably an exceptional case, but the Kings, with their long, narrow fireboxes, required irons some 14 feet in length!

Once you have put the dart through your firebed I can't see an alternative to swinging it through 180 degrees in order to return it to its place of rest on the tender. You certainly wouldn't want to grasp the 'ot end so as to avoid having to make that swing! And yes, manouevring fire irons was awkward and dangerous, and could all too easily lead to a fatal accident.

Wasn't there a convention that each kind of implement had its own distinctive handle shape, to assist identifying which was which when the business end could not be seen in the dark? I have seen circular, triangular and rectangular shaped handles, but photographs suggest some inconsistency in the application of such a convention, if it existed. Can anyone clarify the position?

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jim s-w
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby jim s-w » Mon Mar 11, 2019 7:33 pm

Dave Holt wrote:However, the irons on the Jubilee are copied from a photo of the loco heading a Glasgow to Manchester express, not standing in the yard. A very similar arrangement also clearly appears in another photo of a Manchester to Blackburn train leaving Bolton,


Classic example of modelling what you see, not what you think you know ;)

Jim

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Noel
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Noel » Mon Mar 11, 2019 9:21 pm

There have been a number of books written by former steam footplatemen, which often identify the risks involved in what was a somewhat hazardous occupation, and the consequences that resulted when it all went wrong. There was also one by a BR era BoT Railway Employment Inspector [they dealt with enquiries into railway staff accidents involving death or serious injury]. Photographs are first hand evidence of what happened on that particular day on that particular loco, but cannot tell us why it happened, or if it was a regular practice. First person narrative sometimes can.

Memory after the event is always unreliable, but if several narratives are reasonably consistent, then it is not unreasonable to accept what they say. It is fairly clear that steam era railwaymen were quite individual in their approaches, usually not very well educated in the formal sense, and very variable in their responses to the rules and matters of safety. Some were quite were careless about their own safety, to the point that the 'big four' all had serious campaigns on safety in the 1930s; the staff accident numbers were still a significant concern in BR days.

All of us model what we like, and what we want to see, and make our own choices between showing the unusual and the mundane, but some understanding of the hazards and any relevant rules may help us to distinguish between the two.
Regards
Noel

IANATEXTON
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby IANATEXTON » Thu Mar 14, 2019 7:34 pm

Dave started out this thread by asking where one finds information about the dimensions for fire irons.

Well I have some information, albeit for Great Western fire irons, though I am afraid I cannot recall where it came from.

In a picture below I will post a table giving the lengths of fire irons for four different types of loco, ranging from a Castle to a small tank engine, and sketches showing the relative lengths of the set for a Hall. The table shows a total of 5 fire irons for each type of loco apart from the small tank, which had 4. I am not convinced that engines actually carried the full range listed. For tender locos, where the tender had a rack on the left hand side, the fire iron handles were retained on a circular mount, and photographs tend to give the impression of perhaps three handles, rather than 5.

Similarly, there are plenty of photos of fire irons on the rear of pannier tanks, but I suspect that there were rarely 4 fire irons (but quite often a bucket). And despite the fact that there was a row of hooks across the rear of a tank engine bunker, the fire irons were not always stowed there.
I will post a picture of the rear of a Metro tank, with a chisel bar fire iron on top of the bunker.

On Prairie tanks the fire irons were often on top of the left hand side tank, and I will attach a picture of a 44xx with a clinker shovel in this position, with its handle hooked over a curved rest.

I make fire irons for my locos from brass wire and thin sheet, chemically blackened.

Hope that helps
Ian
Attachments
GWR fire iron sizes and sketches.jpg
Prairie 4405 with clinker shovel.jpg
Metro tank with chisel bar fire iron.jpg

Dave Holt
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby Dave Holt » Thu Mar 14, 2019 11:33 pm

Ian,
Thanks for that information. The table of lengths is rather interesting, particularly the range of lengths of the different items for the larger locos. I had originally assumed that they would all relate to the length of the firebox but that clearly wasn't the case for the Castle and Hall locos.
Dave.

IANATEXTON
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Re: Locomotive fire irons

Postby IANATEXTON » Fri Mar 15, 2019 11:30 am

Dave

I think the length of the longest fire iron (Fire pricker 1) is approximately the length between the firehole door and the front of the firebox. From a quick look at the diagrams in Jim Russell's Great Western Engines books that appears to be the case for the Castle, Hall and Large Prairie. [i.e. the length of the Castle firebox was approximately 1ft greater than that of a Hall. The firebox of a King was longer still, more than a foot longer than that of a Castle.]

Another factor with tank engines would be the limited space within the cab. From looking at the space available between the firehole door and the bunker, and the firebox length, I have concluded that for a Small Prairie tank the fire irons used must have been the "Small tank engine" length.

Ian


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