THE CRAFT OF THE FIREMAN
A driver is still a driver whatever sort of motive power is in use, but the fireman - given a grate, a vessel in which to boil water and a supply of coal and water - is analogous to the engine in a diesel locomotive inasmuch that he is the sole provider of power. No matter how good a driver may be, he cannot produce a top performance unless his fireman does so and while drivers tend to get the credit, they also recognise that it is essentially a team effort.
As C Hamilton Ellis once said: "A good journey by steam is a realised work of art." In the heyday of steam, many millions of tons of coal were burnt annually by the railway companies, so any small improvement in the thermal efficiency of the locomotives could have a significant effect on the balance sheet. To this end, locomotive engineers tried a number of innovations over the years, most of which were abandoned on the grounds of additional costs of construction and maintenance. Probably not many people are aware that the biggest improvement could have been effected if the overall standards of firing had been brought nearer those of the best firemen.
Footplate observations in steam days showed that some firemen used twice as much coal as the best firemen on the same duty. As a corollary to Hamilton Ellis’s comment, top firemanship is an art in itself; The Craft of the Fireman helps to explain why.