Iron Man Of The Month


| March/April 1971



Steam Engine Recordings

Whenever Iron-Man D. B. McCorkle got tired of running his Huber Engine at Jim Whitby Reunion, he'd saunter over and ''set a spell'' 'neath the shag-bark hickory, and chat with me. I presume the record I'm holding was one made up with the mighty chug of Ma

I somehow could sense that Dan McCorkle wanted me to have a good recording. I had the feeling we were cooperating as if we had rehearsed it several times before. Dan didn't even reverse to take up the slack, but filled his cylinders first, then eased back the throttle just right. The first few barks came mightily from the stack, the ninety-hoppers full of coal groaned and began moving forward at a surprising rate of speed, considering they were on an incline and a curve - all nine-thousand tons of 'em. There was the four-whistle signal for the Indiana-Ohio stateline crossing, punctuated by the steady one, two, three, four rhythm of the powerful exhaust, getting faster by the second without a driver slipping. The big locomotive had gathered her load, like a hen gathers her chicks. The exhausts had now settled down to that slower rhythm that tells the trained engineer that he's now moving his entire consist from locomotive to caboose. Closer, louder, sharper came each succeeding exhaust from the huge stack as Dan coaxed the throttle further back and shortened the stroke of the Baker-designed valve. He was now getting close by us as he pulled the whistle cord for the four drawn-out blasts to announce his approach at the main street crossover of the New York Central double-rails. Finally the huge drivers slipped, but the exhaust remained sharp and clear as Dan eased the throttle - for McCorkle was never the engineer who over-loaded his cylinders to the point of muffling his exhaust and losing power. The draft of the stack remained clean and smokeless, signifying a clean smoke-box throughout the slippage after which the big locomotive settled back into its distinct one, two, three, four rhythm once again - only succeedingly faster by the yardage, then the car-lengths. Dan waved in passing, his immaculate engineer's cap and white engineer's gloves as resplendant as the engine he was running.

Engineer D. B. McCorkle inspects valve gear of 500 ton PRR J-1 locomotive. 500 hp. heads 90 cars of westbound coal. - While waiting on No. Eleven to clear the main, Dan McCorkle takes time out to look over the giant Baker Valve Gear of his mighty PRR J-1 locomotive. This valve gear was adapted from the old Baker Thresh Engine over to railroad locomotives - and was one of the best. Years ago, Mr. A. D. Baker explained to me how he developed this Baker Valve Gear over to railroading, and they equipped 15,000 railroad locomotives with it in America. McCorkle never left with his locomotive till everything was inspected and ready for the run.

I had just witnessed a superb handling of a huge coal drag with a giant steam locomotive at the head end, throttled by an engineer who cared for his engine and studied its manifold mechanical-thermal idiosyncrasies with the same tender concern that a mother fondles her child. My mind went back to an earlier recording I had made years before on a cold winter's night from a bedroom window a mile away, using an older-type disc recorder. There was the same sharp exhaust, the same whistle artistry, the same masterful control of the mighty locomotive when the drivers began slipping. I didn't know Dan McCorkle that long ago, but now I knew it was Dan that was in that cab. For only one engineer ever handled a locomotive like that through Union City - and that engineer was Dan McCorkle.

As I played the tape back for Dan at the next summer's National Threshers at Montpelier, Ohio, his was a face to study. I could tell his fingers were 'feeling' for the throttle, as the sharp, clear exhausts barked from the stack music of that taped recording.

'That locomotive was starting a 9,000 ton load, on a hill and a curve,' remarked Mac. 'It could handle much more than that, up to one-hundred and twenty five loads at a speed of sixty-five miles an hour in level country.'

Pondering that 9,000-ton load that McCorkle's J-1 was pulling out of town, the thought struck me that it would require an equivalent of some nine-thousand one-ton coal trucks to convey a similar consist. What a traffic jam that would be on the public highways! What a tremendous responsibility in moving the nation's vital life-line of supplies, dependent upon the mere artistry and maneuverability of a solitary engineer's throttle arm in the dramatic, pre-diesel days of steam.