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Steam locomotive fuels

The fuel used in the steam locomotives depended on what was affordable and economically available. In the UK and parts of Europe, plentiful supplies of coal made this the obvious choice from the earliest days of the steam engine.

Until 1870, the majority of locomotives in the USA burnt wood but, as the Eastern forests were cleared, coal gradually became more important.

So coal became and remained the dominant fuel worldwide until the end of general use of steam locomotives. In the USA, the ready availability of oil made it a popular locomotive fuel after 1900 for the southwestern railroads, particularly the Southern Pacific.

In Victoria, Australia after World War II, many locomotives were converted to heavy oil firing. Water was supplied at stopping places and locomotive depots from a dedicated water tower connected to water cranes or gantries.

In the UK, the USA and France, water troughs in the U.S. track pans were provided on some main lines to allow locomotives to replenish their water supply without stopping. This was achieved by using a 'water scoop' fitted under the tender or the rear water tank in the case of a large tank engine; the fireman remotely lowered the scoop into the trough, the speed of the engine forced the water up into the tank, and the scoop was raised again once it was full.

The locomotive is normally controlled from the back-head of the firebox and the crew is usually protected from weather by a cab. A crew of at least two people is normally required to operate a locomotive.

One the driver, is responsible for controlling the locomotive's starting, stopping and speed and the fireman is responsible for the fuel for the fire, steam pressure and water levels in the boiler and storage tanks. Continue reading about the steam locomotive

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