Tim Sposato Stories
High-Lows - Couplers
A while back mention was made of train having an undesired uncoupling while on the road. The term, high-low, referred to the coupler height matchup between any of the cars/caboose/ engines in the consist. If one of the couplers was considerably lower than the other, a potential “hi-lo” existed. The causes for a low hanging coupler was generally from hard coupling impacts while being loaded at the mine. I recall hearing many hard impacts echoing in the valley at #4 mine , all hours of the day and night. Single cars or cut of cars dropped by the car dropper might get away account of a bad order hand brake or an ill timed use of the hand brakes. Sometimes it may have been several impacts or just a gradual debilitating operating condition that would eventually result in the hi-lo condition.
The defect was different depending on the cars design. The term ‘carrier iron” was from the earlier days of railroading. Majority of cars after the turn of the century were equipped with fabricated, riveted steel or cast steel carriers. These may have been a solid casting that the coupler past through to mate up with the draft gear assembly, or it could be designed to have the coupler and draft assembled as one and lifted up into position. This technique would require bolts to hold the carrier in place to support the coupler and allow the shank to rest on.
Once this hi-lo was in place and no one on the train crew spotted it during the train build up, it would only take some rough track with low joints to cause the uncoupling. The cars rocking combined with a lower that desired rail joint would permit the low knuckle to slip out of the grip of its companion, causing separation and then parting of air hoses thus bring the train to an emergency stop.
Henderson Hill was a common location for hi-lo’s prior to the newer rail being installed. Train crews would try to re-couple and go, hoping no more low joints were ahead or they used the tie plate trick by sliding the plate between the carrier and coupler, holding it in place with the use of spikes dropped through the plates spike holes. If the carrier was too badly damaged, then the dispatcher was notified to change their train orders allowing them to move a front portion of the train to Cowden siding for set off near the road crossing for the car knockers to come repair later. The engines would then return light to retrieve the rear section and doubling the train together once they reached Cowden again. This only worked if the bad carrier was on the east end of the car, if on the west end a chain coupling would be used to move the car. Both of these methods were time consuming and costlier in crew hours and delays.
Hi-lo’s could originate from any mine or location, but generally didn’t expose themselves until on a hard, uphill pull on rough rack. Trains from #10 mine would be shoved out to the main and rolled downhill to #4 Mine Hills, so its hi-lo’s would appear on Henderson Hill thus making this Hill the most notorious for the higher percentage of these to occur. They did occasionally occur at other locations as well. Westland had its share with the cars being set out at the west end of Morris Mine spur track for repair.
Wet weather, regardless of seasons, increased the low joint syndrome. Winter months ground was too frozen to effectively raise and tamp low joints. In this case the spikes would be removed in both directions of the joint, distance depended on situation at hand. After the rail was leveled, predrilled plywood or oak blocks slightly larger than the plate would be placed on the ties and then the tie plate tapped back under the rail. Extra long spikes used in certain bridge decking would be spiked through the ‘shims’ and hopefully get a decent bite into the tie. On occasion if the shim stack was too thick, half the shims would be spiked to the tie then the other shims/plate spiked to the lower shims using the longer spikes……not a good design, but enough to allow trains to pass until a more permanent repair could be done.
In summary, hi-lo’s were common of the Montour, but not near so on the majority of railroads. This is just another uniqueness that we got to see on the Mighty “M”, adding to the legend of its rich history.
The photos above show a recreation of a hi-lo repair using the MRR #815 hopper with the cast steel striker. This was a good carrier iron, so the coupler is higher than normal once I inserted the plate and spikes. For authenticity, I used original MRR spikes and tie plate.