Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Need spikes? Zap it!

Back in the 1970s, a forward-thinking company called RMC-Portec (track machine division now part of Harsco) came up with a machine design that holds a railroad tie in place under the rails and spikes it. Mind you an operator (or two or three) is required to manipulate a joy stick and some push buttons, it is nevertheless an effective and fast machine that takes most of the heavy labor out of the equation.

The Northwest Railway Museum has a former British Columbia Railway Portec Model B "Zapper" Automatic Spike Driver ASP-3. With the upcoming construction of the tracks inside the new Train Shed exhibit building, and the turnouts and siding connecting to it, Richard Wilkens has been leading an effort to get the Zapper back in working order and reports on some significant progress:

In September a rebuilt blower for the three-cylinder Detroit 3-53 diesel was installed along with a rebuilt starter. On Labor day weekend Brandon C. and Steve P. were successful in getting the engine running, despite it being out of service for 19 years. The engine on this machine is in very good condition with only a couple revolutions it fires right off. Other work leading up to its return to operation included draining the fuel tank to install shut off valves and a sight glass for the fuel level.

For those not familiar with this machine it is used to nip and insert spikes with a minimum of physical effort, something good for those of us not 18 any more. Using 3 people, two operators and one spike loader, the controls consist of a toggle switch to control movement, a foot pedal air brake pedal, and push buttons and joy sticks to place the spikes. After reaching the tie to be spiked a push button is pressed and clamps descend around the tie to nip it up snug to the base of the rail. Spikes are held in holders above the tie plates and a joy stick is used to line up the spike to the hole in the tie plate. After the spike is in the proper position a button is pushed and a hydraulic cylinder pushes down and sets the spike. After the cylinder retracts a new spike is placed in the holder for the next tie. Normally spikes are driven on both rails but the spike chutes on one side have been removed.

Being out of service for so many years we are in the laboriously slow process of checking electric circuits from the switches to relays and to solenoids that operate the air and hydraulic cylinders. So far part of the circuits are working but more testing is needed. Besides the previously mentioned work another major task has been repairing the roof. Several weeks ago the roof was pulled and placed on saw horses so we could remove peeling paint and deal with some rusted out areas. The largest rusted area is 3’ by 4’ and the failed metal was cut out and a patch was made.

First step was to remove paint and tar type undercoat on the bottom of the roof and this was done by Dan C., Dale C., Brandon C., Richard W., and Dick H. and a coat of primer was applied followed by a coat of yellow paint. On the weekend of the 10th and 11th the roof was flipped and the surfaced cleaned and primered. This past Thursday the 16th Richard W. applied the sheet metal patch and also some roof sealing tape to deal with smaller rusted areas. Saturday the 17th saw additional rust repairs and Sunday two coats of yellow paint was applied. This coming weekend plans are to reinstall the roof and to do final touchup painting, painting of lettering, and more work towards getting the machine to 100%.

So there you have it, thanks to this Shop Log update from Richard Wilkens. While a month or two of volunteer effort still remains, a few months of effort inside the Conservation and Restoration Center has restored basic operation to an RMC-Portec Model B Zapper. We'll update progress again soon.

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