Round House Practice
By C.H. Temple
Master Mechanic Central Division Canadian Pacific Railway
The roundhouse at Field, British Columbia - 1905 Photographer unknown.

 Internal link   Introduction

A booklet produced by the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1906 titled "Proceedings of the Meeting of Western Lines Officials held at Field, B.C." contains a selection of articles and discussions about the railway's operation. This month's article from that booklet, "Round House Practice", written by C.H. Temple, Master Mechanic Central Division Canadian Pacific Railway, and containing additional comments by railway officials is reprinted here for your enlightenment with the addition of some appropriate images.

 Internal link   The 1906 Article

The above subject is on which a great deal can be said, as is also true of any other branch of the railway service today.

In dealing with this question I will begin with the roundhouse first. It has been my experience, owing to location and conditions no set method or practice can be laid down or followed that will apply fully to all roundhouses on the different sections. In this particular the handling of power from train to shop and from shop to train is affected.

The roundhouse should at all times be kept neat and clean, anything in way of scrap, material, or tools, should be taken care of in a place provided for the purpose. It is also essential that it should be well lighted at night as well as day, as the same results are expected at night as in day time. Another very important matter in connection with roundhouses is the heating. In a climate such as we experience on the Central Division, an incoming engine, which is very frequently coated over with ice and snow, should be thoroughly thawed off in forty-five minutes, which would facilitate the work of making the engine ready for the road again, also make it possible for inspection to be made by the shop, which inspection engineers are released from when bringing engines in under some circumstances.

Another important point in roundhouses is proper circulation of heat and overhead ventilation. The former should be arranged so that all parts of the house will be of the same temperature, also that extra volume heat can be turned on from the ends of the pits underneath the engines, to facilitate the thawing out of same. Good ventilation is also a very important and essential feature so that waste steam from the engines, more especially when the process of washing out boilers is going on, can be taken care of and shops made so that the men can see to go around and do the work of preparing engines for the road. In this connection I am glad to be able to report improvement made in Winnipeg roundhouse this year over its condition last year, and hope for further improvement next winter.

Turntables should be maintained in thorough repair at all times and kept free from ice and snow in winter, that is those not protected by being covered in. Very often a foreman has a late engine to account for owing to a derailment, or having to resort to a cable to turn engines around on table. In a climate such as we experience at most of the points on the Central Division, I cannot too strongly recommend that the turntables at the principal point be covered in, this doing away with necessity of having to open the doors when turning engines in and out, as it is by the opening of doors the shops are cooled down, and in extreme cold weather the interior of roundhouses are almost continuously enveloped in cloud of steam, so that at times it is impossible to discern the numbers on engines when walking by them in roundhouse. By this you will see the difficult proposition in handling power under these conditions. While the shop doors at the beginning of the season may be made to fit perfectly tight, very soon they are in such condition from the accumulation of ice and snow around them that it is almost impossible for any heating system to keep the shed heated at the entrances to shop against the cold which is coming in at openings, caused by ill-fitting doors which have been disarranged on account of ice accumulation that cannot be avoided. This condition is a continual source of expense during winter months. This, together with the extra amount of fuel and then not having a warm shop, is, I think, the strongest argument that can be offered in favour of having turntables covered in, thus doing away with shop doors altogether.

Good and sufficient water supply at roundhouses at all times is essential, more especially in a district where boiler washing is a necessity every round trip engine makes, such as prevails on some sections of Central Division.

An engine arriving at a terminal should be promptly released from train and her road to shop made as short as possible. Storage tracks for engines at terminals is also a very important feature, the extent of same depending on how many and the way trains depart and arrive. If in fleets so that they arrive faster than they can be taken care of on incoming shop track, more shop trackage would be necessary. At all roundhouses there should be provided an incoming and outgoing track leading from turntables.

In handling an incoming engine into shop, the plant should if possible be so arranged that engine would first be supplied with water, then tender filled with coal, next engine sanded up, when she is ready to have fire and ashpan cleaned and run into shop. All the above plant should be located in order named on the incoming track to shop, and the ash pit located close to shop to avoid as much as possible having to move engines around with fire dumped, as this practice contributes to flue and firebox trouble much more than anything else in handling power at roundhouses.


The operation of giving engines water, coal, and sand, cleaning out fire and ashpan, together with engineer's inspection, should not take more than forty-five minutes.

The engine now in the house is ready to receive repairs as booked by engineer and to be made ready again for service. All work on boiler, or work that will interfere with the getting up of steam should receive first attention, as well as other work promptly attended to, always keeping in view the fact that it is better to have power to offer than to have business waiting on it.

It is always good practice for the roundhouse foreman to come in touch with incoming engineer, as very frequently by so doing time is saved in turning engine out.

The work of getting engine ready for the road being done, fire should be lighted and steam raised as rapidly as possible without injury or damage to the boiler. In this connection, at the principal points on the Central Division roundhouses are equipped with hot water wells, so that in event of boiler being washed out or refilled with water, it is filled with hot water, thus making it possible to force the fire more than could be done if boiler was filled with cold water.

The engine now under steam should be supplied for train on departure track fifty minutes before advertised departure of train, and crew should be called in sufficient time to enable them to be on duty a clear forty-five minutes before their advertised departure. For passenger trains at points where station is situated some distance from roundhouse, as at Winnipeg, crew should be on duty one hour before departure of train.

Careful record should be kept by each locomotive foreman of the condition of the power running out of his station and duly reported to the master mechanic on prescribed form. When condition of an engine warrants general repair being made, by consulting road foreman and engineer, the foreman should immediately set up a report of repairs required to engine, embracing all parts and detail on forms provided for the purpose. Such forms to reach repair shop in advance of the engine to enable the shop superintendent to arrange for the engine coming in.

In connection with plant at roundhouse for maintaining power. This is something that has to be determined as the situation presents itself. At isolated points I consider that facilities should be provide so that a foreman can help himself instead of having to send into headquarters for something that he could manufacture in a short time if he had a machine to do it on. In this connection I have at times experienced some serious delays having engines held up waiting for material from headquarters, which for different reasons has not been forwarded as promptly as it sometimes should have been. I consider that material requested for outside points, especially that wired for, should at all times receive preference and prompt delivery.

In connection with material ordered on stores from roundhouses for maintenance work. This should be forwarded in much less time than it has been my experience on numerous occasions to see it done, when by so doing very often delay to power and unnecessary expense would by avoided.

In conclusion I can only say that for good roundhouse practice, and in order to turn engine out to make a successful record over district, it is very essential to have a good live foreman in charge of the roundhouse and sufficient experienced help under him to take care of the situation.

 Internal link   Official's Comments

Mr. J. Cardell - In the first place I am in accord with most of the points raised. As stated the conditions at the different roundhouses would prevent any set rules for operation.

In addition to what has been said in the paper just read, my idea of a first class roundhouse is, one covered in and only two outlets, with water tanks or cranes, ash pit, a coal dock, and a sand house at each entrance placed conveniently. The shorter time the doors are kept open the warmer the house can be kept during the winter months.

It would be impossible for me to agree with Mr. Temple that the ice or snow on and engine would be thoroughly thawed out in forty-five minutes, to do this, would have the house too hot for doing work. It might be practicable, however, where engines run shorter distances and warmer climates than is experienced between Fort William and Laggan (Lake Louise). When you consider that engines are running from 150 to 180 miles over a section, in service all the way from 12 to 20 hours, burning from 12 to 20 tons of coal, the delay putting engines into the house, and the time it takes for them to thaw out so they could be properly inspected is much more than what is generally allowed.

I quite agree with the point raised that proper circulation of heat and overhead ventilation should be procured, but how to get it is the question. It is a difficult matter to get an even temperature and have doors opened to change engines, as frequently as demanded by the traffic. While shop ventilation is a good idea to relieve the smoke and steam, at the same time the heat must go with it.

In regard to washing out of engines, I would approve of two wells for that purpose, one for emptying the boilers into for washing out purposes, and the other for filling the boilers. This would in a measure do away with a great deal of the steam experience from the present method of allowing the hot water to empty into the pits.

I quite agree with all that has been said about having the turntables covering, but for the fact that all divisional points are so constructed that it would entail an enormous expense to make the change at present. How to keep the doors thawed out so as to close properly under the present system is a problem and I cannot see anything for it but getting heat placed across each entrance where the Sturtevant System is in use and a drain to carry the water into the pits, that part of the house being kept as warm as any other.

The Sturtevant System was produced by the B.F. Sturtevant Company of Boston, Massachusetts, USA, established in 1860. Embodied in this system are the elements requisite for successful heating and ventilation of a building, namely, positive control over the quantity and temperature of the air and the heating of the air by indirect steam coils. The Sturtevant System primary parts comprise a fan, motor, heater, and a system of air distributing ducts, together with the necessary means of generating steam, conveying it to the apparatus, and for returning the water and condensation there from.

Good water would be the greatest boon that could be applied to the main line in the Western Division and would remove an enormous annual expense washing out.

Storage tracks are a necessity at all divisional points at present, the shop accommodation not being sufficient causes engines to stand outside waiting an empty pit so that the next in turn can be put in.

Do not approve of water being taken before engines are put in the shops.

The conditions prevailing on the Western Division will not permit of engines being coaled, sanded, fire cleaned, and ash pits raked out in forty-five minutes, except probably on some sixty-five percent engines on a short run. My experience has been that the coal in use forms too much clinker for this, together with the leaky flues, side stays, etc., cause ash pans to freeze up and I have seen it take one hour and forty-five minutes after the engine is put in the shop to break the clinker and shovel it out through the door. When these conditions prevail you can readily understand the difficulty. It has been intimated that engines be put in the house and then have fire cleaned and ash pans raked out rather than cause delay on the ash pit, but to those who are of that opinion I would just like to ask if they have considered the result. As I have already stated, the engine houses at times are congested, and the results would be that during a period of severe weather it would only be a short time before every pit in the roundhouse would be full of cinders as it is impossible at times to clean the ash pan until thawed out, consequently that in the pan, would be dumped in the pit, as well as what was in the firebox.


The first essential step is to get boiler work done, but where so much washing out prevails it sometimes occurs that the washout men have to wait on the boilermakers and vice versa, the same applies to other repairs.


It must be borne in mind that the enginemen's schedule covers the time for coming on duty, and they, as a rule occupy all the time allotted to them. The passenger engines at Calgary should be at the station 20 minutes before starting time, ready for service, but the difficulty is in getting the crews ahead of the prescribed time.


The difficulty in this matter arises in not having sufficient material in stock at sub-divisional points, in fact, there is great difficulty in getting sufficient at Divisional points to properly expedite the work. One great drawback to this is the many different types of engine, causing a heavy stock to be carried, so that, when there is a surplus in stock the question is immediately raised as to why.


I can quite agree that in many cases too much time is lost waiting material that has had to be wired for, the store cars being held too long on the road, and delay getting it started from Winnipeg. I can quite understand that if all the material ordered by wire was sent by baggage, there would be a time when the baggage car would be nearly full, but some arrangement should be made so there would not be so much delay.

In conclusion, clean tidy roundhouses are essential and where there is a good live Foreman he will see that such is taken care of.

Mr. J. Brownlee - We have one ventilator at the Moose Jaw roundhouse, which had done excellent work. The General Superintendent has promised four or five more which I think will keep it as clear of steam or smoke as any in the country.

Mr. O.O. Winter - I will speak of a roundhouse which is not a roundhouse, but an oblong house with one door in it. I cannot see why such a structure would not be entirely practicable. With a house of this design, a travelling table in the center, and stalls on each side, you would secure a building of cheaper construction which could be more easily heated and kept free from steam and smoke and from which engines could be handled as quickly as by the present methods. I have not yet seen any of the present designs of roundhouses without the doors full of cracks and sprung from their jambs, this with the continual opening of doors, letting in the cold and the heat out, is an expensive boon to heat and maintenance. The engine house I suggest would be an ideal one for a cold country and I would very much like to see one given a trial.

Mr. J.E. Schwitzer - I agree with Mr. Winter in regard to the design for a roundhouse, several are being built south of the line now.

The ventilating of such buildings is quite a problem and I am not sure that ventilators or smoke jacks will remedy the trouble. I am of the opinion that these sheds can be better cleaned by a system of forced draughts.

Mr. J. Cardell - Regarding the sealing of roundhouses, at Calgary where one section is sealed there is more condensation than in the part not sealed.

Mr. S. Phipps - I have not experienced on the Pacific Division the same trouble as Mr. Cardell. Where the ceilings are of plaster the trouble is less. The question regarding ash pits has been taken up with the General Superintendent. When engines bunch together you must have facilities to handle them, and also to give a proper chance for examination. I think an independent pit for engineers to examine their engines on would be an improvement. Engineers could then have no excuse for neglect as the fact now is that they seldom go under the large classes of engines at the terminals on account of difficulty in getting under.

Mr. C. Carey - We require a different style of roundhouse. We should have one built with, say, 15 or 20 engines on one track and at the length of each engine doors. That would overcome the present trouble and help the repairing of engines which could then be got out in five minutes instead of an hour and a quarter. We should get better results and do the same work with half the staff.

Mr. S.J. Hungerford - All practical railroad men understand this situation and its difficulties. Engines stand outside hours before they can get inside. When such occurs there is too much traffic for the facilities and no results are obtained from a surplus amount of power. In such cases the smaller engines should be stopped and the larger moved more freely.

Regarding the heating and ventilating of roundhouses, I may say that I do not know of any occupation more dangerous to a man's welfare than running a roundhouse under present circumstances. At Winnipeg I am erecting a system of induced draught to remove smoke. It will not be expensive and I anticipate it will be effective.

The tool equipment requires improving. In all roundhouses there are some good things, and the Locomotive Inspector would help the foreman if he would give sufficient time at each roundhouse to establish a good system in connection with the storage and use of tools. Master Mechanics are very busy men and not able to give the necessary time to such details.

In the matter of supplying material, I have found a great confusion over pattern numbers. These we are endeavoring to get straightened out now, but it increases our work in getting out supplies.

Mr. R.R. Jamieson - Regarding surplus power. At Calgary owing to branches not being fit for heavier power, certain engines accumulated, but as soon as track conditions were improved the engines were changed. It has been my experience in many cases that when a rush of business came, we were short of ash pit accommodation. What is the best has been well set forth, every engine going to, or coming out, of the roundhouse should be able to pass over an ash pit and get water outgoing on the line of its movement. We require larger roundhouses. That the covered-in roundhouse where a complete circle is put in would be better in this country there does not seem to be any doubt. Turntables are too small, we require larger ones, even larger than these we are putting in. An eighty-foot turntable and roundhouse to match is the need of the immediate future.

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