did the steam crews wear gas masks on the Rat Hole?

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I am sure that I saw more than one phtot taken of steam engines working the Rat Hole Division, where the crew wore actual gas masks, which looked like a big hood over their heads. None of my train buddies believe me, but I am sure I am right. Any info. on steam-engine gas masks greatly appreciated.

-- blair reynolds (lscw 1956@pti.alaska), June 23, 2001


I have heard that story too. It was my understanding that the "mask" was more of a hood with goggles that was pulled on over the head and shoulders. A hose was attached to a screw fitting on the brake valve to allow air from the brake system to be directed into the hood. I understand it was an "experiment". It must have been a strange sight indeed!

-- Albert Pope (aepope2@aol.com), June 24, 2001.

Go to the Photo Gallery and take a lok a tthe first photo under the Steam selections--Larry

-- Larry (ljpuckett@starpower.net), June 24, 2001.

The tunnel masks were mentioned in an article on smoke deflectors in the Feb. 1941 issue of Railroad Magazine, excerpted in issue no. 32 of SRHS's Southern Rails. It was invented by Dusty Rhodes, an engineman on the Oakdale-Oneida turn with the "Big Liz" mallet as his assigned engine . The article had a two paragraph description of the tunnel mask, and said that it was later manufactured under the name of Rhodes, Guffey & Sheehan Tunnel Mask. The article said that the mask was still in use .

I suspect that the tunnel masks were something that an engineman might provide for himself rather than supplied by the railroad. It also sounds like maybe some engineers on other railroads could have used them. Any additional information on the railroad's official position about the masks would be interesting.

-- Jack Wyatt (cjwyatt@bellsouth.net), June 25, 2001.

About 10 years ago, a young man stopped by my house and showed me one of these items, noting that it was his grandfathers and used in the early 1900's on the run through the Asheville loops. The mask was little more than a burlap canvass sack, very rough, and big enough to cover the head and let the ends rest comfortably on the shoulders. The eyes were made of ising glass (mica sheets) with a soft cloth border stitching them in. There was no breathing apparatus at all, and no nose or mouth openings. Most interesting was the little brass tag that had the old style ---SR--> arrow logo on it, which would certainly date it at the latest to the first ten years or so of the 1900's. Given the rathole division of the SR was much more tunnel-some (is that a word?) than the Asheville division, I am sure that crews very well could have had them.


Matt Bumgarner

-- Matt Bumgarner (stealthnfo@aol.com), June 25, 2001.

As a sidebar to the problem with smoke from steam engines in tunnels....I have read where some crews on Western roads would actually climb down into the hatch of the water tender (water level permitting) and ride out the slow journey through long tunnels by breathing the air trapped inside the 'tank'. Myth or true story?

-- Greg Hodges (ghodges@smpsfa.com), June 25, 2001.

This was a question that i raised back in the 70"s when i hired out with the southern[ c.of ga.].There were 2 tunnels that we went thru between sturdivant and leeds,al..Going westbound it is straight uphill thru these tunnels.with a tonnage train it was not unusal to get down to 5-8 mph.With 3 sd-45s 0r 4 geeps in #8 the tunnel would begin filling with smoke about halfway thru and then you could not see outside ahead of the engine until you emerged on the other end.I asked several of the old hogheads about this situation back in the steam engine days.They said that a few of the crews would bring old ww2 gas mask but for the most part about half a mile before entering the tunnels they would soak towels with water and wrap around their arms and face to keep from getting scalded.

-- j.r. carter (TRNDRVR@COMPAQ.NET), December 18, 2001.

I read an article recently in Trains Magazine about the Cab-Forward Steam Locomotive used by Southern Pacific on one line where the tunnel is so long that some locomotive crews in conventional Steam Locomotives actually died from asphixiation while going through the tunnel no matter if they used Gas-Masks or not.

Jon "In all of your getting, get understanding." Proverbs 4:7

-- Jon Vanover (jon4jesus@charter.net), July 25, 2002.

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