The Industrial Railway Series
Andrew and the Slagheap
The steelworks on the Colshire Industrial Railway is a very busy place. Ore is brought down from the mines and from trains using the mainline, before being delivered to the blast-furnaces to be melted and made into steel, before being cast and forges into girders, chains, rails and other things for the factories further down the line. This process unfortunately often brings about impurities in the metal, like stones or soil, called 'slag'. These are removed in the smelting process, before being taken away in trucks to be delivered to what the workmen call 'Mount Slag', a giant pile of mud, soil and stones that have been melted down in the iron ore.
A big tank engine called Andrew usually does this job. It is dirty and often dangerous, but Andrew doesn't often mind. He likes the challenge of taking the red-hot wagons up the steep hill to dump it down the hillside of Mount Slag. However, the slag has been allowed to build up over a long period of time, since the founding of the steelworks. And as such the heap was very tall, very wide, and very dangerous.
"Been for another stroll have we?", chuckled Jack cheekily as Andrew came into the sheds one night, covered in dust from the slag trains.
"Back from Mount Everest?", giggled Col.
"Ach, stow it ye' cheeky young bairns!", barked Andrew moodily, "It's a wee mair than just a 'stroll', not that ye'd know o'course".
"Settle down", said Beckham calmly, "I remember taking slag trains up that line you two, and its no mean feat I can tell you. Besides", he sniggered, "Andrew should be used to it, being from Scotland and all".
"Ach, ye're all as bad as each other", grunted Andrew, as he moved into his siding to sleep.
The next day, Andrew buffered up to his train of slag wagons ready for another trip. They were extremely hot, which is why Andrew usually pulled them bunker-first, because his driver and fireman couldn't stand the heat.
"Strange", chuckled Andrew to them that morning as the fireman fastened the coupling, "Ye can stand on a hot footplate all day, but a train o' these beasties is too much for ye?". The fireman scowled, but said nothing as he returned to the cab. They were given the right-away, and Andrew started off, heaving at the heavy wagons and their dangerous loads.
'Mount Slag' is located on a hill just beyond the valley near the steelworks. To reach it, engines have to climb a steam hill, the top of which is levelled out for them to deposit their loads. The return journey takes them back down the hill and curves downwards, towards the foot of the slagheap.
The day started as good as any other. Andrew stormed up the hill towards the summit. Once there, the driver went along the side of the train and turned a tap on each of the trucks. Using the air from Andrew's brakes, the wagons tipped themselves over slightly, enough to pour out their waste material. It rolled down the side of the hill and rested on top of the massive pile of spoil.
Andrew made his way down the side of the hill. There was no need to use any steam as he coasted gently down, into the shadow of 'Mount Slag'. Going backwards, he couldn't see where he was going properly, and had to rely on his driver. There were never any problems doing this though, which is the reason why Andrew was all the more surprised when the driver slammed on the brakes suddenly.
"Whit's goin' on?", barked Andrew moodily.
"Slag's on the line boy", replied the driver, "Avalanche or summat. We'll have to go back up and report this". Andrew grumbled at this. It was hard work getting back up the hill, pushing the trucks. But it couldn't be helped.
Once they got back to the yard, the driver reported the incident to the Manager.
"I'll send a team of diggers up there", promised the manager upon hearing the news, "But we do need to find a new place for a slag-pile soon". Andrew agreed.
While a new place was looked for, Andrew was given new orders. When taking the slag trains, Andrew would have to face forward to help look for anymore avalanches. To help his crew, a slag-truck would be placed between the engine and trucks. And the crew were given orders to be extra careful when coming down on the return journey, and to maintain a speed-limit of 5 miles per hour when descending the slope. It would make the job a lot longer, a lot harder, but a lot safer as well.
"Aren't you being a little over-cautious?, asked Jack one day, as Andrew was about to set off.
"Manager's orders", replied Andrew flatly. In truth he did think it was a little unnecessary, but orders were orders after all. He would just have to deal with it for the time being.
Not long after this, the weather changed. It became colder all of a sudden, and dark clouds hung ominously over the railway. Then the rain came. Sometimes in light showers, but sometimes heavier, with strong gusts of and that lashed at the engines' faces as they went about their work.
Andrew grumbled as the driver and fireman prepared him for his slag run.
"No sane engine wid be oot in this weather", he snapped.
"It's got to be done old boy", soothed the driver, "And the sooner we get started, the sooner we can finish". Andrew agreed, but was still cross as he started away.
The journey was the same as always as they started up the hill towards 'Mount Slag'. Andrew reached the top of the hill, where it was especially windy. He grimaced as the driver emptied the trucks.
"Hurry up, hurry up, let's go, let's go, let's go!", he shivered as the cold wind whipped the rain all around him. After what seemed an age, the driver returned to the footplate, and Andrew started will a will.
As they started down the other side of the hill, the driver slowed down. But the trucks were having none of it, they wants to get out of the wind.
"On, on, on!", they shrieked, forcing their weight against Andrew.
"Not likely!", snorted Andrew, as he gritted his teeth and pushed back against the surge of the trucks.
The noise of the screech of Andrew's wheels, cries of the trucks, the thunder of Andrew's steam and the roar of his whistle as he vented his frustration echoed across the track. Another noise soon joined the crescendo: A great rumbling from somewhere above them. Andrew heard this, and looked upwards and gasped. The combination of noise and weather had made 'Mount Slag' very unstable, and Andrew was horrified to see a great heap of slag and spoil hurtling down the hill towards him.
"Help!", he yelped. But it was too late.
The driver and fireman jumped clear as the mighty pile thundered down and completely covered Andrew from funnel to axles. Luckily, the size of Andrew and the trucks prevented anymore of the slag from rolling downhill, but Andrew was completely buried under the rubble that had fallen on him.
It took a long time for Andrew to be rescued. Jack brought up a crane and an excavator to help shift slag from the top of the pile to prevent anymore from running down the hill whilst a team of diggers worked to dig up Andrew and the slag trucks. Maitland, the big Australian engine, worked the slag trains in the meantime, and when Andrew was finally found underneath all the slag, Maitland was brought to bring him home. Andrew's fire had gone out, and was black all over from the spoil. He'd need a good cleaning before being put back into work again.
The Manager came to see him in the workshops during his repairs.
"I'm sorry aboot that sir", began Andrew.
"Not at all Andrew", comforted the Manager, "In fact you prevented a lot more spoil going down the valley. If it wasn't for you, the situation could have been much worse. And I'm please to announce that we're tearing up the track of 'Mount Slag' and laying tracks to a new spoil heap further up the valley".
"Glad ta hear it sir", replied Andrew happily.
A few weeks later, Andrew came out of the workshop, completely cleaned out and with a fresh coat of paint. He and Maitland helped workmen move much of the unstable spoils off of 'Mount Slag' and to the new pile a mile further along. Andrew was glad of the change, especially since now he'd not have to go 'mountaineering' for a long time!.