Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spacing out the ties

Railroad ties are ubiquitous and often taken for granted yet there is more to a tie than meets the eye. At the Northwest Railway Museum, a standard cross tie is 6 inches by 8 inches by 8 feet long and it is treated with either creosote or copper naphthanate. In well-drained ballast (the crushed rock the tie is placed in), it will last for 30 or more years. and over that time support millions of tons of trains.

Ties support the rails and distribute the weight of a passing train on the ballast. Ties also hold the track "in gauge," which is the distance between the two rails. For maximum effectiveness, ties must be evenly spaced. But when trains are braking or accelerating, or even just as the rails expand and contract in the heat and cold, there is a tendency for the track to "creep" and this causes ties to "creep" too. The end result is crooked alignment and uneven spacing. Once upon a time, badly misaligned ties were straightened by digging out the ballast from around the tie and moving it with a long steel bar -all by hand.

In the 1970s, some enterprising design engineers devised a hydraulic tie spacer. A diesel engine drives a hydraulic pump to pressurize a fluid - usually oil - to about 2,000 pounds per square inch. This pressurized fluid is used to force giant pistons back and forth. Those pistons are connected to a steel foot that can hook the end of a tie and move it in either direction. Of course the hydraulics are used to perform other functions too including propulsion.

The Northwest Railway Museum has a tie spacer that came from the British Columbia Railway but is similar to units once used in Washington by the BNSF and Union Pacific. Last fall, the tie spacer was rehabilitated in the Conservation and Restoration Center and is now used to help maintain the railway.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Coffee, trains & Koko Beans

Coffee and railroads have a long and proud tradition. Rare was the caboose that didn’t have a coffee pot simmering on the stove. Even today many modern locomotives are furnished with a hot plate and percolator, so it’s natural that coffee would fit well with a railway museum too. And in Snoqualmie, there are no less than four places to buy good coffee within minutes of the trains. On your next visit to the museum, consider buying a coffee and taking a walk along the Centennial Trail or a stroll about the depot.

Koko Beans is the newest coffee shop in the historic downtown and is across the street from the Snoqualmie Depot. New owner Bethany C. has recently taken the reins from founder John G. and she appreciates railway museum patrons. In her earlier years, she was a ticket agent at the Snoqualmie Depot, clerked in the bookstore, and helped run the retail tent during Day Out With Thomas™. She has committed to maintaining her coffee house as a local gathering place and source of great coffee drinks (OK, tea and hot chocolate too, but Spike usually drinks coffee). In the last few weeks, she has added pastries and bagels to her menu. And distinguishing her shop from the others is a fireplace and a broad selection of artwork, some of which depict artifacts found at the Northwest Railway Museum. So another place to visit on your next visit to Snoqualmie and the Northwest Railway Museum is Koko Beans. You’ll help support a successful community so we can continue building a successful museum!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Train Shed goes to bid

The long planned Train Shed exhibit building has gone out to bid! The project's projected cost is between $2.6 million and $3.1 million. Proposals are due on March 10 at King County; a Federal grant is requiring the project to be administered by a public agency.

As outlined in an earlier post and on the Museum's web site, the structure will have 25,000 square feet, incorporate 4 parallel tracks, and provide exhibition space for the collection's most vulnerable objects. You can read the bid advertisement here.

With a soft economy, it is a wonderful time to bid a project of this type. Regardless, the Museum has no way of knowing who will bid and whether there will be a proposal that is responsive to the specifications. However, assuming a qualified bidder is selected, construction should be underway by June. The project is expected to take 1 year to build and will be located a few hundred feet from the Conservation and Restoration Center on Stone Quarry Road in Snoqualmie.

A number of exhibits are being planned for the Train Shed. They will incorporate diverse railway history topics that are intended to provide broad appeal to the typical Northwest Railway Museum visitor. Who is the typical visitor? There is a nearly 50% chance she is a woman or girl that does not have a life-long interest in trains, and is visiting as part of a family.

Some of the exhibits being planned include religion by rail featuring chapel car Messenger of Peace, logging on the rails featuring the Enumclaw-built White River Lumber Company caboose 001, and an exhibit on the steam locomotive featuring a locomotive once assigned to switch the King Street station in Seattle (Northern Pacific 924), which will be used to describe what it was like to work inside the “furnace” called a locomotive cab.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Getting the word out

Bad news doesn’t always travel as fast as we wish it would. The effects of the recent catastrophic flood event in the Snoqualmie Valley are still being felt by many businesses and residents. The Northwest Railway Museum is one of the many. Debris is still being picked up, sanitizing of equipment remains to be finished, and then the real work begins. The Museum’s right of way holds over two miles of washed out track that needs to be restored before train operations begin in mid March. Some of the wash outs are five feet deep. Ballast will need to be brought in, spread and tamped in dozens of locations. The common thought is that federal funds will pay for a disaster like that, but guess what? No such funds are available this year. The Museum is currently seeking help with this project. So, how to get the word out? Our story has been picked up by bloggers around the area and word is traveling. See Good Life Northwest and Heritage Advisor and Snoqualmie Valley Star and Snoqualmie Valley Star Editorial for added perspective on this story.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Coach 218 rehab continues

Rehabilitation of a resource that is nearly 100 years old requires patience and considerable discipline. At times it would seem so easy to adapt a modern method or material, but that is not consistent with accepted standards and practices. Take the car's side sill for instance.

A thin strip of deteriorated wood lines the bottom of the sill. This affects the long term stability and preservation of the car but if it were simply covered up with new car siding, it could be years before there were obvious signs of the misdeed. Similarly, adding a steel plate or daughtering another board on is convenient and expedient but does not serve the long term interests of the car or historic preservation. So what to do? Alan W., Bill H., & Michael L. spent hours with a chisel carefully removing the rotten wood and cleaning up the steel backing plate. Next week, a new piece of southern yellow pine (same species as original sill) will be carefully fitted into place and held tight with epoxy and bolts.

Using the proper ties rods and bolts is also an area of detail not lost on the project managers. Ray M. recently used the "new" 1945 vintage Monarch lathe to turn threads onto a new tie rod that will help hold the car side together. The new tie rods are exact copies of the originals and are vital to the long term stability of the car - they hold the car side together in compression from top to bottom.

So what else is happening? Crews have completed installation of all the new window posts, 50 feet of new top car side plate, all but a handful of the 170 new carlines, new intercostal blocking, and hundreds of new bolts and screws of the same size, thread pitch, and head as the original fasteners. Whew! The minut details are not for everyone, but the end product is: preservation of the methods and materials used by 19th and early 20th Century carbuilders.