Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SCPC 2 winter work

The Santa Cruz Portland Cement steam locomotive 2 ("SCPC 2") is at present the resident steam locomotive at the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie.  It is from the personal collection of Stathi Pappas, the Museum's Curator of Collections, and is the flagship of the developing steam program introduced at the Museum last year.  While the Museum's locomotive - Northern Pacific Railway 924 - undergoes a complete rehabilitation, the SCPC 2 is leading all steam excursions and is training new engine crew.  However, like all steam locomotives, an ongoing preventative maintenance and upgrade program is essential to sustainable success.  So this past winter, the SCPC 2 received some important attention.

First of all, a little about the 2.  In 2014, SCPC 2 ran over 1,000 miles on four different railroads across the west coast, and everything relating to her rebuild (completed in 2013) performed very well.  However, a few items were not addressed in the initial project as time constraints of the west coast tour just would not allow everything to be completed before departing for California.  These were remachining the piston rods, pistons and ring grooves, new piston rings, redesigned packing, new crosshead wedges, remachining and relining the crosshead guides, and remachining the crosshead slippers. Although there was no evidence of blow by, and the bores and pistons were inspected prior to being put in service, the author decided to finish these last few items before returning the 2 to service Memorial Day weekend.

In January the author and his crew of volunteers ("Team Chiggen") stripped the cylinder saddle of covers, crossheads, guides, pistons, etc and began the process of rebuilding.  In order to assure perfect concentricity and no taper of the piston rod, the best method of machining is to rough machine to round, then use a tool post grinder to assure surface finish and concentricity.  At the same time, the team turned the ring grooves, preparatory for new rings.  
The specification for engines this size is for a the ring groove to be .005" over the width of the rings to assure steam tightness.   Meanwhile, new rings were purchased from Niagara Piston Ring to specific dimensions. Although Team Chiggen is more than capable of making piston rings in house, it is less expensive to source completed rings than to buy the rough material to manufacture from scratch.

At the same time, the original rod packing on the locomotive left a lot to be desired.  The author had researched going to a La France style packing similar to what the Cumbres and Toltec, and the Durango and Silverton use on their locomotives, and found a very competitively priced version available through That Steam Guy.  This owner - though not associated with the seller - is quite happy with the product.  In response to more recent steam locomotive practice, also installed were four packing elements per side based upon the South African Railway and Chinese data for multiple packing elements rather than the more familiar two. 

While piston work was underway, Team Chiggen remachined and set up the crosshead guides in order to maintain perfect alignment of the piston rod within the packing gland to prevent premature wear of the piston rod, rings, pistons, and bores.  After the guides were machined and and temporarily installed, string lines were run through the bores perfectly in alignment with the cylinder and checked against the guides to assure parallelism.  

On the left side, all was well, but the right side (shown at right) required work to bring the guides into specification with the bores, thus demonstrating the necessity of doing this type of work, even if things "look ok."  

After a little effort, the piston, rod, and ring assembly were ready to re install on the right side.  Those with keen eyes will notice the presence of double rings in each groove.  The owner decided to do this rather than two wide rings due to the overwhelming evidence to support the higher sealing abilities of multiple narrow rings over wide ones.

Now, in order to assure the piston rod is running parallel to the bores and crosshead guides, the crosshead slippers themselves must be machined and fit to assure the center line of the tapered socket is in the right place.  The accompanied photos show one of the four remachined slippers ready for installation, and the entire assembly, straight and true, with a new machined crosshead wedge to assure years of trouble free operation.  

So after all this work, there is no better way to prove if it all works than to try it.  So last Sunday was test day: Team Chiggen fired the locomotive up, and put her on the head end of the last passenger train of the day.  Rest assured that diesel is in isolation, and the Chiggen is pulling the consist up the 1.2% grade to the top of Snoqualmie Falls. Everything performed admirably and the team called the test so successful, there was a second charge up the hill just for fun!

So for all of you in the local area, come on out this Saturday through Monday (Memorial Day Weekend) and take an excursion at Northwest Railway Museum behind the new and improved SCPC 2!  Fares and times are here.  And remember, there is full summer season of steam this year, and a variety of special programs including Snoqualmie Railroad Days in August, so check out the details on the Museum's web site at

A special thanks to Team Chiggen: John Graddon, Adam Phillips, Zeb Darrah, Karl Klontz, Nathan Iverson, Steven Hughes, Mark Speer, Mike Donnelly, Jason Hill, CJ Vargas, Bill Gejerstad, David Wilhite, Andy Walker, Ken Liesse, Jason Sobcynski, and many others who help make this all possible!

--SCPC winter work was a guest post by Northwest Railway Museum Curator of Collections Stathi Pappas--

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thank you for Giving BIG!

Dozens of donors contributed thousands of dollars to the Northwest Railway Museum in support of steam and locomotive 924 during Give BIG! This annual charitable giving event is hosted by the Seattle Foundation and supports charities of all types and sizes across King County.  Thank you to everyone who supported this important initiative!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Give BIG on Tuesday, May 5!

May 5 is an opportunity to be a part of something truly remarkable.  May 5 is an opportunity to donate in support of the steam locomotive 924 rehabilitation.

The Seattle Foundation's annual giving event "Give BIG!" is scheduled for May 5 and the Northwest Railway Museum is participating.  This year, contributions will support the steam program, and specifically the efforts to rehabilitate the 1899-built steam locomotive 924 now underway in the Conservation and Restoration Center at the Railway History Center.

The new cistern for 924's tender is
taking shape on the floor of the
Conservation and Restoration Center.
Contributions received between midnight and midnight on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 via the Museum's gateway page on the Seattle Foundation's website will be eligible for a partial match from the Seattle Foundation, and will complete for a one of the "Golden Tickets," which is an additional $1,000 contribution.

Your support truly makes a difference, and will help put locomotive 924 back in steam for its second Century of service.  Make a contribution here on Tuesday, May 5 between midnight and midnight and be a part of something truly remarkable.

Locomotive 924 moves to the Conservation and Restoration Center in this
October 2014 image.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Railroads built the Pacific Northwest

There is a fairly new exhibit on display in the foyer of the Train Shed. Railroads Built the Pacific Northwest was designed by the Webb Group and fabricated by Artcraft Display Graphics Inc. Deputy Director Jessie Cunningham curated the exhibit, which included content development and image selection. Images came from either the Museum’s collection or were purchased from other local sources including Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum and UW Special Collections. The companion webpage is available on the Museum's website.

The display is the Phase 2 exhibit for the Train Shed Exhibit Building and focuses on the role of passenger service and freight shipment in the early years of railroading here in the Pacific Northwest. Want to know more? The exhibit is now on display every Saturday as part of the Tour Package program!

The Tour Package is a docent lead experience that begins at the Snoqualmie Depot. Your docent will give a brief tour of the Depot before you board the Snoqualmie Valley Railroad for a short ride to the Train Shed Exhibit Building. Detrain and enjoy a 30 minute tour of the 25,000 sq. ft. building that includes large and small artifacts and several exhibits including the award-winning Wellington Remembered exhibit. Re-board the train and travel west to the top of Snoqualmie Falls where you will view water going over the top of Snoqualmie Falls and a beautiful view of the valley and river below the Falls. Your docent will stay with you during your trip to the Falls, interpreting the scenery and providing both historic and contemporary context. The Package ends when the train returns to Snoqualmie Depot. The round-trip experience lasts approximately 2 hours.

The Tour Package is available every Saturday (except July 11 & 18) at 12:30pm. Tickets may be purchased ahead of time through the Bookstore, 425/888-3030 x 7202, or on the day of through the ticket window. 

The exhibit was made possible with generous grants from 4Culture and Humanities Washington

Friday, April 17, 2015

Now easier than ever to take a seat!

The benches look great in the building!     
People participate in the mission of the Northwest Railway Museum in many ways. Some ride the train or take a tour of the Train Shed Exhibit Building; others are members or donate toward a restoration project, while still others participate by giving their time to the Museum and its mission.  This spring, the Museum had the honor of one such person participating in the Museum’s mission by choosing the Museum as the recipient of his Eagle Scout Project.
Alex, a longtime member, made benches for the Train Shed Exhibit Building. The Museum’s mission is to develop and operate an outstanding railroad museum that provides the public a place to experience the excitement of a working railroad and to see and understand the significance of railroads in the development of Washington and adjacent areas.  As part of that mission, the Museum needs guest accommodations so that visitors may enjoy their experiences as they learn how railroads changed everything. Benches help provide one important feature of guest accommodation, they allow visitors to sit and reflect upon the place of railroads.

For his project, Alex planned, organized and then constructed the benches with the help of fellow scouts and his dad Jeff.  The Museum was able to secure beautiful fir timber for the project and Alex was able to create 8 lovely benches for the Train Shed Exhibit Building.

Many thanks to Alex for his work!  Why not take our tour of the Train Shed on Saturdays and come see the benches? The Tour Package is available every Saturday at 12:30pm and includes a short tour of the Depot, a ride to the Train Shed, a docent tour of the Shed, and a train ride to Snoqualmie Falls. Total program length is two hours. Tour reservations may be made by contacting the bookstore during business hours at 425.888.3030 ext. 7202. Tickets are also available on Saturdays through the ticket window.

The scouts preparing to unload benches at the Train Shed.

Benches have been spread out along the Tour Package route.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

A tender behind?

Historically, steam locomotives consumed large quantities of water and fuel.  The nature of the technology - the state-of-the-art in its day - was essentially a giant tea kettle that boiled water to make steam, allowed the steam to build up pressure, used the pressurized steam to perform work, and exhausting the remaining water vapor to the atmosphere.

Light locomotives such as the SCPC 2 or those that operated with limited range may have used a tank to carry extra water.  Thomas the Tank Engine is another example.  Larger locomotives and those requiring greater range used a tender behind the locomotive.  Which brings us to the point of the story: locomotive 924 is under rehabilitation at the Northwest Railway Museum and is receiving a new tender tank.

The lower half of the original tender
tank is worn thin and will no longer
hold water.
A tender tank carries water.  The inside of any tank is almost always wet and will eventually rust from the inside out.  924's tank was constructed in 1899 and today portions of the sides resemble decorative lace, but are made of iron oxide and steel.  Repairing this type of deterioration is time consuming, and often results in additional water leaks just a few years later.  It is difficult to keep ahead of this type of problem and with the price of water in the Northwest, it can get expensive.

New steel parts for a new tender tank
arrived on a trailer from Portland.
924 is expected to operate reliably and a tender tank that does not hold water without measurable loss will never meet that expectation.  So a new tank - an exact copy - is being fabricated inside the Conservation and Restoration Center. The project team thoroughly documented the tender and created a drawing set.  Then, early in February, all the components arrived from a supplier who cut each piece to size and formed shapes such as the radius on the front of the tank.

Rivets are heated and driven with a
pneumatic rivet gun.  The job is
particularly demanding for the person
holding the buck (at left), which backs
up the rivet gun blows.
The heavy work and time-consuming portion of the new tender fabrication is the assembly.  Each piece was moved into position and then lightly tack-welded using an electric welder.  Holes were drilled where rivets were located on the original tender.  Then staff and volunteers applied (or continue to apply) more than 2,000 rivets.

The original tank was removed with a
large excavator and was placed in
long-term storage in the Museum's
Meanwhile, castings, fixtures, and any other part that could be reused from the original tank were carefully removed.  The old tank was unfastened from the deck and frame.  A large excavator was used to lift the tank off the deck and frame and set it aside for long-term storage.

The tank fabrication is nearing
completion, but more rivets are
The tank will remain on the shop floor and many more weeks.  The tender frame requires rehabilitation too, and the tank requires are few more rivets, some hardware, and some paint.  It work continues to progress at the current pace, a fully rehabilitated tender - with new tank - will emerge from the Conservation and Restoration Center in late spring or early summer.  Work will continue on 924 for at least the next 18 months, especially because of the awesome volunteers and staff.  And there is an opportunity for you to help support the project by participating in the Seattle Foundation's Give BIG event on May 5!  Stay tuned for more information.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tamping for a better ride

Many different disciplines are required to prepare for the Museum's operating season.  After a winter shutdown, there is a certain amount of work re-activating the locomotives and coaches, but the bigger effort is performing annual maintenance.  Maintaining track, bridges, and signals require significant resources to inspect, repair and maintain.  Statistically, most railroads each year will invest about 60% of their resources into those three areas.

For the Museum's track and bridges, the last 12 months have been busy.  Substantial reconstruction of bridge 35's east pier, installation of more than 750 ties (including 500 feet of reconstructed track at Snoqualmie Falls) and surfacing of more than a mile of track are among the year's highlights.

During the last few weeks, crews have been changing ties and surfacing track in North Bend.  Surfacing is a slow process that uses a ballast tamper, jacks, and a good set of eyes!  The tamper is a Jackson that was delivered to the Northern Pacific Railway in the 1950s.  Before track tampers were introduced, men with tamping bars performed this work.

Check out the dip in the track in the first photo below, and how Mark S. and Brandon P. made it disappear in the second.  Come up to Snoqualmie and ride the train this coming Saturday, April 4 and check it out for yourself!  First train departs Snoqualmie at 11:30 AM.