from the pages of #1
(with apologies to Todd)

Train Orders once was a great place for old geezers like me to share interesting historical tidbits in its History & Nostalgia section, but as my favored correspondents had a nasty habit of croaking, my favored haunt evolved into the History & Nostagia. How guys could wax nostalgic about the number of louvers on a GP9, I don't know, but some did, God bless them. In my boredom, about all that I had to fall back upon was my sense of humor, which fell upon deaf ears, judging by a near total lack of response. Before the virtual torches and pitchforks drove me off, I did manage to get in a few licks. Here's one of them.
Joe Railfan (not his real name):

> I would like to answer a pressing question that
> commonly comes up in social gatherings of today's
> bright young railfans, to whit: "How does one
> relieve oneself on a moving locomotive without
> creating peripheral damage?" This certainly is a
> good thing to know in case you are considering
> employment with one of this country's many fine
> railroad corporations. Please note, however, that
> I cannot speak of how our friends, the Canadians,
> handle things. They tend to have different views
> than us on how to do business.

> These days it is almost completely automatic. You
> get it when you aren't supposed to use it when
> going over switches and can't get it when you need
> it.
> The sanding button on the control stand is a fly
> by wire control. It tells the computer the
> engineer wants to use sand and the computer
> decides if the request is worthy. If you see
> frosty or wet rail coming up but you are not yet
> slipping you are not worthy until you slip.

My own professional take (edited for comprehensibility):

As a doddering old retiree, I am not versed on computer controlled anything, but older analog automatic sanders typically had an "automatic drain-the-sandbox feature" whereby they went on automatically, and remained on. Sometimes you could get them to "automatically" quit sanding by big-holing the engine and then recovering the air, but this was not very conducive to train integrity while moving, if you catch my drift.

Another common automatic feature was the "auto-clog sand conservation divice", which dribbled moisture into sanding hoses, as the result of a carefully considered lack-of-maintenance program intended to counteract the "automatic drain-the sandbox-feature". This turned sand into a cement-like substance.

Auto-clog was particularly effective during freezing weather. If you absolutely required sand, you could grab a mallet from the cab and try to dislodge the sand by beating the snot out the offending hose(s). For safety's sake, one performed this operation while the train was stopped. An added benefit of this process was that it could be very therapeutic if one imagined the company logo on the sand hose.

Fusees generally were handy in freezing weather, but less so for thawing frozen hoses, since an overly enthusiastic application of 1000 degree heat could melt hoses, or even them catch on fire. This was usually a self-defeating exercise until you got the hang of it. The auto clog feature was not accessorized with a console indicator, but it nevertheless could initially be detected by a high-speed wheel spinning whine emanating from the front truck, and further confirmed by the screech of the overspeed warning whistle. A simple glance of the speedometer, which microseconds before had read 40 mph, but now read 87 mph, served to confirm the confirmation of the confirmation that the auto-clog feature's operation was causing massive wheel slip, but only if it was taking place on the #2 axle, the only one connected to the speedo. For all you know, by then wheel slip on the rear truck could have already spun themselves down to the nubs.

I must say that it was very helpful to have so many indications at your disposal that your sanders and wheel-slip control were inoperative, but the ultimate indication of this, on freight trains at least was not at all subtle - a sudden lurch ahead, followed by the explosion of emergency vent valves back in the cars. An experienced head brakemen was generally attuned to what this meant, should it occur in the unlikely event that he was awake.

Of course, I worked passenger in sunny California for the last half of my career. Freight guys who worked their entire careers in winter-prone places like Minneapolis or Cut Bank no doubt have a much fuller working understanding of automatic sanding features. Some of these lucky guys are still working on first and second generation rolling museums, thus are able to speak on the subject in a most colorful present tense.

I hope that this helps.

- EO