Friday, April 18, 2014

Crossing gate retired

One of the aspects of railroads that Spike finds particularly interesting is the longevity of many fixed assets.  Bridges, depots, and even rails are frequently in service for many decades, and in some instances for more than 100 years.  Electrical apparatus, however, are not things you often see with long service lives, but there are exceptions. 

The Museum recently retired a railroad crossing gate mechanism that was placed in service in 1953, reportedly on either the Great Northern or Northern Pacific Railway here in Washington State. It was received in a donation from the Burlington Northern in 1977 and installed on Meadowbrook Way SE in Snoqualmie.

The Griswold-built device was manufactured in Minneapolis by the precursor to today's Siemens Rail Automation.  This device is known in the industry simply as a model EM gate, and was replaced with a much newer device of the same design that was rebuilt by the Museum's signal maintainer Jon B.  Rebuilding included new wire, a new relay, repainting, new lights, new cross bucks and more.  Total financial investment was modest but an estimated 175 person hours were invested in the project.

The original device served the Museum well but the mechanism was badly worn; replacement was the only practicable option.  The newly rebuilt device will easily serve for twenty or more years thanks to the efforts of Jon and others at the Museum.

Come and see it in operation for yourself - trains operate weekends through the end of October.  Check out schedules and fares on the Museum's web site at

Monday, April 14, 2014

Coach 218 interior paneling

Wall paneling is cut and fit inside
coach 218.  Veneers have at least nine
coats of shellac.
Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway coach 218 has been undergoing rehabilitation and restoration in the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center.  Reports detailing this work have appeared in this blog for several years; the last report detailed the new floor.  Recently, crews began fitting interior paneling into the car, a tedious component of work that will take many weeks to complete. 

New and recovered mahogany veneers have been pressed onto new plywood cores using the Museum's vacuum veneer press.  Some veneers were removed from original but damaged solid core plywood.  Replacement veneers were acquired from Edensaw, a specialty hardwood supplier.  The flitches were carefully laid out and trimmed to match along each edge.  Special veneer tape was used to maintain indexing while glue and pressure was applied.
There are 43 windows in coach 218 so
there are a number of window panels.

After curing the adhesive, the veneer was colored using a 2% solution of potassium dichromate, an old but effective technique for darkening the wood and drawing out the figure.  Following a drying period, "varnish" was applied, which consists of nine or more coats of shellac. 

Shellac is a natural finish made by dissolving buttons of shellac in alcohol, and is available with semi-transparent color that ranges from clear to black.  (The buttons are made by melting the secretions of the lac bug collected from trees in India and Indonesia.)  It is the traditional interior finish used by the Barney and Smith Car Company on coach 218, but also chapel car 5 Messenger of Peace.

Coach 218 is using  a shellac variety called "ruby." which not coincidentally possesses a reddish hue.  However there can be considerable variation in the appearance of wood so the coach 218 crew has used other varieties of shellac when panels are too light or too dark.

There are many hours of effort remaining to fit all the panels but this stage represents an important and long-awaited milestone.

Friday, April 4, 2014

More bridge repairs

Old pony bent, caps and roller nest on
the east pier of bridge 35.
It started out as a small project for the 1891-built Bridge 35: replace several timbers under the Pratt truss that had detectable deterioration or evidence of crushing.  Simultaneously, bearing pads - in this case, a nest of steel rollers - that are designed to allow the bridge to freely expand and contract were frozen and were also scheduled for replacement. In preparing for the work, it was noted that the pony truss that supports the timber trestle approach to the steel span was not properly pinned and had unequal spacing of the posts so it was also scheduled for replacement.

Performing comparatively minor bridge work is expensive for many of the reasons noted in the last blog post, but also for the cost of mobilizing the specialized equipment to perform the work. Any opportunity to combine two or more tasks into one project generally yields substantial cost savings.  So the scope of work was set: change timber caps and girders, replace bearing pads, and replace pony bent. For bridge 35, this should have been four days work but unfortunately not everything goes according to plan.

Work began on a typical spring day in the Northwest: wet and cool. Initially, the bridge lifted without incident and the old roller nests were removed.  Timber replacement began and then something started to go wrong: a weld in the steel added to support the jacking arrangement failed and two steel angles near the jacking area began to fail.  The bridge slowly descended approximately 6 inches onto the pier.  Fortunately no one was hurt and there was no serious damage.  However this was another timely reminder about how challenging it can be working with a structure designed and built more than 125 years ago.  And because it is "safety first," this minor damage will be repaired before any passenger trains operate over the bridge, even though this will affect the first trains of the year.

Imhoff's 65 ton crane lifts the end of
bridge 35.
The next step was to get a crane on site to lift the bridge up. (Special thanks to King County for granting permission to drive up the levee on just six hours notice!)  Imhoff's 65 ton Pierce American answered the call and arrived first thing the next morning.  Owner/operators Scott and Tammy Imhoff are familiar with the Museum and its unique needs - this is the same crane that was used to build bridge 31.3 at Snoqualmie Falls, lift the chapel car and Great Northern caboose off heavy haul truck decks, and change wheels or trucks on a number of Museum cars and locomotives. 

New copper-treated timbers are in
place and now workers are installing
the new base, soul plate, and bearing
pad on the south side of the east pier.
The east pier consists of large timbers typically 14 inches square and a length to suit their purpose.  Timber girders are eight feet long and caps are longer.  Originally, the caps were 26 feet long, but the replacements will be split, using two 12-foot timbers to perform the same function.  This is more economical and they are easier to handle. Timbers are pinned in place, but only as required because each hole is an opportunity for moisture and oxygen to get into the wood.  All the new wood is treated with copper naphthenate and was supplied by Wheeler Lumber in South Dakota.  While creosote is preferred by the rail industry, permitting agencies in Washington State generally make it difficult (or impossible) to use because they are concerned about residue that might contaminate the river sediment.  Copper napthenate is comparable in performance to creosote and is now accepted by the Railway Tie Association for timber ties.

New soul plate is inserted
on top of the new
Fabreeka pad under bridge
35 in North Bend.
An important part of the project scope was replacement of the bridge bearing pads.  The original steel roller nest was probably troublesome for much of the bridge's history.  Modern bridges often use a stainless steel and Teflon interface to address this need.  On the advice of the bridge engineer, this design was adopted.  In addition, bridges often sit on a fabric pad to help absorb vibration.  Fabreeka pads consist of cotton duck laminations impregnated with neoprene which in a similar form have been in use since 1918.  The Museum elected to have a Teflon coating laminated to the top of the Fabreeka pad.

With all the work except installation of the new pony bent complete, repair of the damaged steel angles is now the focus.  New angle irons are being drilled to match the existing holes.  They will be incorporated into the bridge as soon as their fabrication is complete.  After these minor repairs are completed and the bridge is "double checked," train service to North Bend will resume.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Bridge repairs

So you think you can repair a bridge?  Well great, you start tomorrow!  Now if only it were that simple . . .

Damaged sections are obvious but
the method for replacement is not.
Most bridges are near water and at a minimum require a hydraulic permit before work can begin, and this usually adds conditions to a project.  Railway bridge work - by law - must be supervised by someone experienced in the maintenance and repair of railway bridges.  And any modifications must be reviewed by a qualified railway bridge engineer.  So even the damage caused by a tree striking a bridge triggers a variety of additional requirements besides just ordering new timber.

A tree striking a bridge?  Yes, that was the subject of a recent blog post. A very large tree struck and damaged formerly Northern Pacific's Bridge 35's trestle during a recent windstorm. Bridge inspectors allowed several trains to pass but stipulated that permanent repairs had to be undertaken right away. And as one of the largest objects in the Museum collection, how those repairs are performed is also critically important for collection care standards. So the Museum committed to completion prior to the start of the 2014 operating season using an experienced contractor and licensed engineer.

First of the timbers required to repair
Bridge 35 arrived and were moved to
the site using the Speedswing.
Step one: given the urgency of the bridge repair, the Northwest Railway Museum was able to secure an emergency hydraulic permit. Step two: pressure-treated railway bridge timbers were located in South Dakota (ironically, made from Douglas fir cut near Tacoma) and were ordered. Step three: a qualified contractor, foreman and engineer were identified and hired.  Step four: real work begins!

Stringers under the timber deck are
exposed during the pile cap replace-
To help control costs, some of the site preparation was performed by community work crews. They removed bolts and shovel railway ballast off the deck. In addition, Museum volunteers cleaned, chased threads, and primed the bolts to allow reuse. And the Museum agreed to supply the materials to avoid handling charges from the Contractor.

Bridge deck is supported
with blocking and a wide
flange beam.
Late in March 2014 Pivetta Brothers Construction began work on the bridge under the supervision of Muth Consulting Engineers.  Best practices including a silt fence were established to prevent any silt, dirt, rock or pieces of wood from getting in the river. Concrete ecology blocks and timber jacking pads were situated under the damaged section. Damaged deck and curb timbers were removed along the the stringers. Bracing and bolts were removed from the pile cap. Then blocking was used to support a wide flange beam that in turn was used to support the bridge deck. This allowed the damaged pile cap (the end was lightly crushed when the tree hit) to be removed and replaced.

Two new stringers were installed
above the new pile cap.
Two stringer sections each 28 feet long, 9 inches wide and 18 inches deep were damaged by the tree strike.  These were replaced with two new Douglas fir stingers of similar (slightly wider) dimension that were pressure treated with copper naphthenate preservative. The timbers had to be drilled for indexing pins, and for bolts to tie the stringers to the deck and ballast curb.

Total working time for the trestle repair was five days and was completed before the end of March; costs exceeded $25,000.  Ideally, this would have been the extent of bridge work for 2014.  However that was not to be and will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.

Damaged section is repaired!  New ties have been installed
and the track is about to receive new ballast.  The new and
existing ballast curb is shown on either side of the deck.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A bridge not far enough!

A recent wind storm has had a devastating impact on the Northwest Railway Museum's bridge 35.  A large cottonwood tree that measures more than five feet at the base has blown over and landed on the structure.  Estimates are that the tree weighs more than 12,000 pounds and the bridge was subjected to the entire force.

While the tree was intertwined with the bridge structure, damage appeared to be minor. Unfortunately, serious damage became obvious as soon as the tree was removed. Significant damage was sustained by the outer stringers, a pile cap, and some of the deck boards that support the ballast.

Bridge 35 brings the railroad into downtown North Bend and consists of a through-pin-connected Pratt truss and two segments of conventional wood trestle structure. The Pratt truss was first erected over the Yellowstone River in Montana in 1891, and moved to North Bend in 1924. However the damaged section is constructed of timber and dates from 1923.  The last major work on this section was performed in 1964.

A bridge inspection and cost estimates are driving the repairs.  The Museum blog will feature another post while repair work is underway.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

A signal indication

Winter weather often brings challenging driving conditions, and with that comes the inevitable opportunity for mishap. And so was the outcome of a recent winter driving incident at the Snoqualmie Parkway railway crossing.  The incident did not involve a train or engine, and there were no serious injuries.  However, the multiple vehicle accident resulted in the loss of a mast and signals in the center median when a deflected vehicle struck the mast, broke it off at the base, and the resulting impact with the local terrain damaged nearly every component.  Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, and the vehicle owner was appropriately insured.

The Northwest Railway Museum is responsible for five railroad crossing signal systems. With limited project work and just occasional component failures, the Museum only rarely purchases replacement parts.  So it came as quite a surprise to learn how much consolidation and change in the railroad signal industry has taken place in the last few years: now many signal components are supplied by Siemens Rail Automation, and nearly everything is made to order. So instead of purchasing parts "off the self," a new assembly was ordered.  About six weeks later, it arrived on a truck ready for installation.
The installation was completed in a few hours and the system was tested.  Costs totaled more than $6,000 and were fully reimbursed by the vehicle's insurance carrier.  Now the Snoqualmie Parkway signals are back in service and ready for the upcoming operating season!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meet Peggy Barchi!

The Northwest Railway Museum welcomes a new Marketing & Events Manager, Peggy Barchi. The position’s key responsibilities include promotion of all Museum programs including regular season train rides, the Tour Package program, Day Out With Thomas the Tank Engine™, Halloween Train, and Santa Train®. The Marketing & Events Manager also manages Snoqualmie Railroad Days, working with a dedicated group of local volunteers to insure the success of that important town festival.

Peggy comes to the Museum from Fort Nisqually Living History Museum in Tacoma, where she was the Events’ and Volunteer Coordinator for over 10 years. Besides organizing events and volunteers, she worked on educational demonstrations such as Oregon Trail hikes, butter making, and 19th Century laundry techniques; taught classes on “Before There Were Video Games,” developed and maintained exhibits, worked on promoting the museum and its programming and was head chicken wrangler for the fort’s livestock! She continues to edit the Fort Nisqually Foundation’s tri-yearly magazine “Occurrences – Journal of Northwest History.

In addition to her time at Fort Nisqually, Peggy has volunteered for a variety of organizations including: PTAs, youth activity groups, amateur radio organizations as well as other museums. Peggy and her husband live in Maple Valley and enjoy traveling when time permits, especially to other historic areas within Washington. She looks forward to getting to know, meet and work with the people of the Snoqualmie Valley.

Photo caption: Peggy Barchi in the Colonial Quarter, St. Augustine Florida, February 2014.