Inside Shoes, Take a Break

Vladimir Bilenkin "achekhov at" at
Mon Sep 30 17:01:05 MDT 1996

> Inside Brake Shoes
>    Lets take our list members by the hand and take them on a tour of the
> nether world of a diesel shop-rat. We can leave off debating the future of
> socialism for a moment can't we? Even under the proletarian dictatorship,
> locomotive brake shoes will have to be changed, if we want our food and
> clothing to stop at the right place.
>    So down we go, below the platform which runs along the catwalk of the
> engine. We are not going to work on the powerplant right now. We have some
> brake shoes to change. The worst kind, the dreaded inside shoes, dreamed up by
> GE engineers with a malevolent hatred for railroad machinists.
>   These 30 pound steel shoes are mounted on a rusty rigging that is hell to
> move, a flimsy design that is easily bent. But the detail that seperates the
> sheep from the goats is the shoe that is behind the truck equalizer, which can
> only be reached by ducking under the rail, raised about 3 feet above a pit
> between the tracks that drops down another foot.
>   In this trench, which you must bend at the waist to walk through, the
> underbelly of the locomotive can be accessed. Its dark, dank and smells of
> grease and oil. The traction motors are crusted with dirt. You are going to
> get good and dirty before this job is finished.
>   By squeezing up against the rail and the inside of the equalizer, you can
> just fit your body within reach of the brake shoe, whose two foot arc is
> mounted on a brake head that swings from the rigging. You are behind and below
> the brake head, shoe and wheel, barely visible in the gloom of the pit. With a
> flashlight, you can make out the top of the key, another, slender arc, that
> holds the shoe to the wheel. You must pull this out, by reaching as high as
> you can, your head mashed against the traction motor, working by feel. If the
> key sticks, use a big bolt to bang its bottom end, that might loosen it up.
> Your arm barely fits between the equalizer and the traction motor. God help
> you if the engine should ever move while you are in this position. A machinist
> got his arm torn off in my shop when this happened to him.
>   It is always a good joke, the first time someone tries to do this operation.
> I remember my partner and another machinist laughing and joking outside the
> pit, the first time I tried to pull the key. After 15 minutes of hopeless
> straining on my part, they took pity on me and helped me out. As I stood
> panting, covered with grease and dirt, I thought seriously about quitting this
> godforsaken job. There are no brake shoes in well-lit air conditioned offices,
> where the worst injury to be feared might be a nasty paper cut.
>    A brake shoe dropped on your hand, mashing it on the rail, is the commonest
> accident associated with these inside shoes. It happened to me, when I was 3
> months on the job, as green as the grass. I tried to mount the new shoe in the
> brake head. It was loose, I missed the loop on the shoe with the key when I
> slid it back in. I shook the shoe, it came free and reflexively I tried to
> grab it. Big mistake. Thirty pounds of rusty steel dropped a foot and smashed
> my right index finger on the rail. When I pulled off my cotton gloves, I found
> a bloody pulp where my fingertip had been.
>    At the hospital, the plastic surgeon pulled off my fingernail and sewed me
> up. Luckily, the shoe had not completely severed the fingertip. It healed, and
> now its just a bit numb, which makes it hard to pick up change at the
> supermarket.
>    Back to the job at hand. After you pull the key, the shoe can be pried out
> with a brake shoe bar or the brake key itself. Stand back, as the shoe bounces
> off the rail and drops to the floor.Then grab a new shoe, swing it up to the
> rail, flip it upright and extending your arms out from your body, raise it in
> between the brake head and the wheel. Be careful not to let it topple
> sideways. The shoe slides in place. Your partner, working outside the engine,
> pulls the rigging, slamming the shoe against the wheel. Now, working by feel,
> find the one inch hole between the shoe and the head. You can just reach it by
> standing on tiptoe. Holding the key at the very bottom, start it in the hole
> and drop it in. If all goes well, it will fall in place, and the new shoe is
> secure.
>   Congratulations. You have just changed an inside shoe. There are seven more
> to do on this locomotive.
>    Now back to the debate. Stalin, Trotsky, Malecki and the cockroaches. Fire
> at will.
>  Best, Jon Flanders

Good story, Jon. IMO, it has much to do with Stalin/Trotsky problem too.
Making a revolution and building socialism needs all that that changing
an inside shoe does.  One mistake, and it smashes the millions
who struggle to change their lives, just like your finger. Reading
your ONE DAY in the shop, I thought about how many "inside shoes"
Soviet workers and peasants had to change for the entire history
of their state and under most adverse conditions.  Usually, the human
cost of building socialism in SU is calculated in terms of repressions,
wars, famines, and the like.  Rarely, one thinks of the incredibly
hard labor, deprivations, and mass heroism of the
working people who made their state a world super power. What was it for?
The giant metallurgical complex of Magnitogorsk took thousands of workers'
lives to build. Now it is in the hands of shadowy foreign and Russian
dealers. After the WWII, millions of peasant women (their men did not come
>from war) toiled the land manually, dragging plows by themselves. There
were no tractors, and even horses. By their 50s these women became wrecks.
Now, the land they toiled is taken by the new rich for their villas,
and the agricultural complex of the country is in ruins. In the spring
of 1948, hundreds of thousands of children starved to death in the
villages of Central Russia. There was no bread left, and no one could
leave the village without a special permit from authorities. The SU
had to free itself from the US nuclear blackmail, and all resources
of the country went to build what was needed to make the Bomb: new
industries, cities, educational and research centers. Out of this
monumental effort a new Soviet professional class was born. The
children of this class became the crack troops of capitalist restoration.
And now their representatives tell the IMF that only after
the older generations will have died away (the sooner the better,
they say) only then Russia will become a "normal" country.

Soviet workers and peasants lived and worked heroically in often inhuman
conditions because they knew that nobody could do their work for them,
and because they believed that their sacrifice would not be lost, but
become a foundation for a better world. Now they want to know what was
the meaning of all this.  Why the "shoe" has slipped? In the end, it is
this simple question that stands behind the Trotsky/Stalin thread running
through decades.


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