Wednesday, June 24, 2020

A bright idea

A museum volunteer prepares to change out a ceiling-mounted light bulb.
There are many elements required to create a successful exhibit space, but few are more impactful than lighting.  When the Museum's Train Shed exhibit and collection storage building was built, it was illuminated with High Intensity Discharge ("HID") lamps.  They represented the best compromise for cost versus light quality.  Yet just nine years later, there are many other options, and most use substantially less electricity.

With the Covid 19 crisis closure coupled with damage to the Train Shed roof mentioned in the last post, June seemed like the perfect time to retrofit electrical lighting fixtures to Light Emitting Diodes ("LED") lamps.  

Changing out lamps is very impactful because the boom lift needed to perform the work requires exhibits to be dismantled, and cars or locomotives to be moved.  This process normally generates weeks of disruptions - except right now the Museum remains closed because of the Covid 19 crisis.  

Thanks to volunteer Arnie L. and the local Platt Electric in Preston, a conservation rebate reduced the price of the new lighting elements to roughly the cost of new HID bulbs.  Also helpful was some assistance with equipment from CHG, the company who is performing the storm damage repairs.  And especially to Arnie L. who rode the lift to the ceiling and changed most of the 38+ ceiling fixtures.  Brent assisted with the conversion as well, and more than a dozen others helped with dismantling exhibits, removing the old ballasts, and helping provide supplies for the retrofit wiring.

With thanks to everyone for working together, all the Trains Shed HID high bay ceiling fixtures were successfully converted to LED lamps.  This cut the power consumption by approximately 25% and "warmed" the lighting color temperature to 3,000 K, which is also known as warm white.  This will generate annual power savings of approximately $2,000, and improve the visitor experience immensely.  

Monday, June 1, 2020

Thar she blows!

Western Washington has weather patterns seldom understood outside of the region.  Summers are dominated by beautiful weather, are usually drier than New York city, and have low humidity.  However, winter occasionally brings unpredictable storms that may release torrents of rain or wet snow, and hurricane-force wind gusts.  

Storm damage occurs most years, but it is usually minor and has consisted of railroad crossing gates that were broken in half by wind gusts, gutters torn from the Education Center by heavy snow, and a crossing gate mechanism shattered when a truck skidded in the snow and sideswiped a crossing signal mast.  

The large western hemlock dropped
diagonally across the roof.
Now the Museum can add another roof to the list.  Just as the Covid 19 crisis was expanding, a sudden wind storm brought destruction to the Museum when it brought a massive tree down onto the Train Shed.  The evergreen was more than 100 feet tall and appeared to be very healthy, but a gust snapped the trunk off approximately 20 feet above the ground.  The tree landed diagonally across the north dormer damaging the eave truss, gutter system, and roof panels.  Inside, wall paneling buckled and window casing popped off the wall. And soon water was leaking into the wall structure.

A standing -seam roof is now water
tight when the seams are no longer intact.
The Museum responded quickly to the crisis by hiring Imhoff Crane to remove the tree right away.  Due to its length and weight, Scott Imhoff cut the tree into sections to make it easier and safer to handle.  Then steps were taken to make the building water tight again until proper repairs could be undertaken.

A few needles and seed pods disguise
the extent of the damage,
With the warmer, drier weather now blanketing the Northwest, CHG Building Systems is beginning the repairs.  More than 1,000 square feet of roof is being replaced, along with several structural members, some interior cladding, and dormer cladding.  The work is expected to take two weeks and is valued at more than $140,000.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

924 steams!

The 924 builds steam on a warm spring day.
Locomotive 924 was constructed in 1899 by the Rogers Locomotive Works of Paterson, New Jersey, and was delivered along with two identical sisters to the St.Paul and Duluth Railroad.  By 1901 it was under ownership of the Northern Pacific Railway, and was soon serving their needs in the Puget Sound region of the Pacific Northwest.

Steam and air plumbing fills the cab; the
roof has been left off the cab for now to
improve access and lighting.
In 1924, the 924 became superfluous to the needs of the N.P. R. and was sold to the Inland Empire Paper Company near Spokane, WA.  The locomotive met the needs of its new owner until 1969 when company president William H. Cowles Jr. donated the 924 to the Northwest Railway Museum.  The 924 briefly operated in Chehalis, and was later moved to the Museum headquarters in Snoqualmie.  In 2015 it was nominated and listed on the King County and City of Snoqualmie Landmarks Register.  Work was immediately underway on a major rehabilitation effort, which is now nearing completion.

A wood fire crackled for about four hours
before the boiler reached operating
pressure. 924 will be fueled with wood
rather than coal.
May 18, 2020 represents an important milestone for the 924: it returned to steam and operated under its own power in testing on the shop track.  An inspection conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration observed that the boiler safety valves opened and closed at appropriate pressure levels, and the steam-powered air pump was able to deliver the required air flow.  During the visit, Museum staff also demonstrated successful operation of both Ohio injectors, and the hydro-static lubricator, all of which were rebuilt by Backshop Enterprises.  And an additional day under steam gave collections care specialists - steam specialists, really - an opportunity to perform additional testing and troubleshooting.  Steven B., Josh K., Scott, and Gary performed most of the effort required to boil the boiler water, but dozens of additional volunteers and staff contributed efforts that allowed this to happen.

Work on the 924 is continuing and completion of vital systems is anticipated in 2nd quarter 2020.  Work has been funded by contributions from individuals, companies, foundations, and government agencies including 4Culture, Washington's Heritage Capital Fund, the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association, Emery Rail Trust, Schwab Fund, and more. You can support completion of the project by visiting the Museum's donation page, making a pledge, and selecting the steam program here.

Check out two days of steam in photos and videos:

The hydrostatic lubricator, automatic brake valve, steam gauge,
and air gauges.

924 was built with one water glass but
regulations now require two.

Setting safety valves to the correct pressure involves verifying
they open at the desired pressure.
Checking the water level.

Verifying the open and close pressures for the safety valves.

924 simmers in the Snoqualmie Valley
The Museum's director and the inspector from the Federal
Railroad Administration discuss locomotive 924.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A new cab for a locomotive

More progress for steam locomotive 924!  Despite the encumbrances of the Covid 19 crisis, a skeleton staff has been able to advance the project with installation of the new cab.

The cab was moved out of the Conservation and
Restoration Center by the Museum's Pettibone

The former Northern Pacific Railway 924 was built in 1899 and is nearing the end of a multi year rehabilitation.  The Rogers-built 0-6-0 has received extensive boiler work, and work is continuing on the brakes and running gear.  A new tender tank has been built, and a replica cab has been fabricated from white oak as part of the effort to restore the locomotive to its appearance circa 1908.

The all-wood cab was gently lowered into place.
The cab was held in position above the locomotive
while clearances were checked.

An important milestone was reached a few days ago when the wood cab was restored to the locomotive boiler and frame.  The heavy oak structure was swiftly placed by Scott Imhoff from Imhoff Crane in Snoqualmie.

It was as if the cab was flying.
The new cab was slowly lowered onto the locomotive.

The fabrication effort was led by the Museum's shipwright Gary James last year in a 4Culture-funded project.  Volunteers were extensively involved, too, but especially Mike D. who created a complete set of drawings scaled from historical photos, and from field measurements taken on locomotive.  Support for this work was also received from the Washington Heritage Capital Fund administered by the Washington State Historical Society, and from individual donors.  Your tax-deductible contribution to the Museum's steam locomotive fund will help continue and complete the effort.

Placement of the cab complete, the 924 is beginning to look like a locomotive again!
With the new cab in position, the 924 is beginning 
to look like a complete locomotive again.

Work on locomotive 924 is continuing this month, though at a much slower pace than anticipated due to health and safety restrictions necessary to protect volunteers and employees from Covid 19.  Notwithstanding, the cab is an important milestone with others anticipated in the near future for this long-term project.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Give BIG 2020 - help the Museum weather Covid 19

2020 is proving to be a challenging year with the longest closure in the Museum's 63 history.  Governor Insley's stay-at-home order has been extended to the end of May to slow the spread of Covid 19, but as a consequence of the closure Museum income is down more than $150,000.  A Pay Check Protection loan from the Small Business Administration of $94,000 is allowing the Museum to retain basic staffing levels for security, regulatory efforts, and maintenance, but many other efforts are suffering.

Ideally, the Museum would have been asking you to support the completion of steam locomotive 924, to help restore parlor car 1799, or perhaps to help with Puget Sound Electric Railway 523 rehabilitation efforts.  Instead, the Museum asks that you please consider a contribution today through May 6th to ensure the Museum is simply able to reopen when the state deems it safe to do so.

The Northwest Railway Museum has a very successful business plan, but its weakness is a reliance on earned income.  Most of the operating budget is funded with ticket sales.  So visits to the Train Shed, train excursion tickets, Depot Bookstore sales, Day Out With Thomas, and Santa Train tickets fund more than 90% of the Museum's operating budget.  The balance is funded with operating grants from King County 4Culture, and the City of Snoqualmie.  And adding to the financial hardship, the City of Snoqualmie has had to freeze the operating grants because their tax revenue from hotel room rentals has dropped almost to zero.

The Northwest Railway Museum provides a multitude of opportunities for families to learn about railway history, while experiencing the excitement of a working heritage railway.  Please help the Museum continue this unique programming with a contribution to GiveBIG 2020 through May 6.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Locomotive 924 gets rods and more

The  worldwide pandemic is causing significant disruption in nearly everyone's lives throughout the Puget Sound Region, but a core group of dedicated specialists is continuing to work on locomotive 924.  They are practicing social distancing, and limiting the number of workers in the shop at once, but still achieving success.  Until this week, that meant not more than ten people at a time.  However, now the Governor has ordered non-essential workers (and pretty much all volunteers) to stay at home for at least the next two weeks.  So this seems like a great opportunity to reflect on and highlight recent progress, and what all the public donations have supported.

Packing - Mechanical packing seals the gap around the piston rod where it penetrates the steam cylinder.  The packing has to be installed before the rod is inserted into the cross head.  So Jay was busy assembling this puzzle on a Saturday morning earlier this month as everyone else was preparing to install the rods.  There is more to this than meets the eye - the packing gland has to be able to resist 185 lbs of saturated steam without leaking.

Radius rods - Meanwhile, Paul and Larry were cleaning up the radius rods for the valve gear, which with Stephenson motion are located between the lead and main drivers.  It is an awkward place to reach, but the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center has pits 60 inches deep, providing ample room to work from below.

Eccentric straps - Over on the work bench, David and Vic were cleaning and preparing the eccentric rods or straps in advance of their reinstallation.  These rods fasten around the main driver axle on an eccentric (offset center) and as the axle turns they convert rotary motion into a longitudinal oscillating displacement (back and forth motion) to move valves that control steam entering and exiting the cylinders.

Cross head - After Jay completed tightening of the packing, the piston rods were inserted into the cross heads.  The cross head is the assembly that most observers will recognize on a steam locomotive.  It is the component that moves back and forth with each rotation of the main driver, and at high speeds might appear to some to be just a blur.  The rod has a taper and fits just about perfectly into the cross head - so there is no movement between the two parts.  Then a tapered key or keeper fits through the cross head and the end of the piston rod to ensure they remain tightly in position.

Main rod - Installing the main rod is a delicate dance.  This forged assembly is - even on a light locomotive such as the 924 - amazingly heavy.  Fingers or toes that are in the wrong place will be effortlessly and mercilessly removed.  So with the aid of a wheeled hydraulic table to adjust the height and position of the rod, the work was performed with just three workers.  The first milestone was installation of the little end into the cross head.  It is attached with a pin just behind the piston rod end.

The next step was to raise the big end of the rod into position ahead of the main rod crank pin.  This involved another form of dance as the entire cross head, piston and rod assembly was gently moved forth and back until it was in just the right place.  And yes, there was a great deal of careful measurement and calculation, too.  Otherwise when the bearing brasses were installed and wedges tightened to hold them in place, the rod would be either too long or too short, causing catastrophic failure.  

With the rod in the correct position, the bearing brasses, wedge, and a large fitted bolt were applied to hold everything in the correct position. Lyle was careful to apply anti seize coatings on all the components prior to assembly.

The resurrection of Northern Pacific locomotive 924 is continuing to take shape at the Northwest Railway Museum.  Support from 4Culture, Washington Heritage Capital , Schwab Fund, Microsoft, Osberg Family Foundation, Boeing, Emery Rail Heritage Trust, more than hundred individual donors, several awesomely skilled employees, and dozens of dedicated volunteers is making this work possible.  Additional progress will be described in another article that will appear in early April.

Project 924 continues to welcome your support!  To make a donation online, please visit the Northwest Railway Museum donation portal and select "steam locomotive."

Friday, March 20, 2020

Curve at Snoqualmie Falls

The Museum's railway extends between Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend, but the most spectacular view is at Snoqualmie Falls.  A tight 11 degree 30 minute curve thrusts the railroad out onto a bridge high above the Snoqualmie River.  Yet this curve - and others no longer in place - represented significant maintenance efforts for the track workers on the Northern Pacific Railway.

This tight curve is built with 100 pound per yard rail last renewed in the 1950s. Tight curves create resistance, and that means wear.  When a wheel set navigates a curve this tight, one wheel - the one on the outside of the curve - has to travel further than the one on the inside.  That extra motion causes wear, which widens gauge and reduces the size of the rail head.  Despite the light and infrequent use the Museum makes of this curve, after more than 40 years and at least 500,000 passengers, the high or outer rail was completely worn out.

In a project planned out in 2019, RailWorks was hired to replace the outer rail with relay rail the Museum acquired from Union Station in Seattle in the early 1980s.  The 100 pound rail pulled from those platform tracks once supported Milwaukee Road electric locomotives and Union Pacific stream liners. Like all rail replacement projects, work began by pulling spikes. 

The relay rail had worn bolt holes so the project included cropping and drilling the rail ends.  This work was performed as each length of rail was laid.


The project also included replacement of 25 cross ties, important in ensuring the curve maintains gauge.  A hyrail excavator aided the work, which was completed in one day.  The new ties were cut from Douglas fir, treated with creosote, and cost more than $60 each.  They are physically similar to the ties they are replacing, which are an average of fifty years old.  New ties are expected to last at least 25 years.

This major capital project was planned and initiated prior to escalation of the Covid 19 crisis, and represents one of the Museum's major 2020 projects, and an investment of more than $20,000.  Donations to the Museum's general fund help support this important work and are gratefully accepted.  When the Museum is able to reopen after expiration of the Governor's Executive Order closing public venues including Museums, service to Snoqualmie Falls will be able to immediately resume.  Monitor the Museum's web site at for updated information about when the Museum will be able to reopen.