Monday, April 28, 2014

Give BIG to steam!

Steam at Snoqualmie Railroad Days!  That's the plan for this coming August 15 - 17 when the Santa Cruz and Portland Cement locomotive 2 will travel to Snoqualmie to operate under steam during the annual town festival.  Celebrating 125 years of excursion train service to Snoqualmie Falls, the 1909-built Porter locomotive will add considerable excitement to the working railway in the upper Snoqualmie Valley.  Your contributions during GiveBIG on Tuesday, May 6 will help make this plan a reality, but they must be made through the Museum's page on The Seattle Foundation's web site here.  Contributions up to $5,000 will be partially matched from The Seattle Foundation's stretch pool too, and may even qualify for a bonus contribution called a Golden Ticket!

GiveBIG is the annual charitable giving event organized and supported by The Seattle Foundation.  Each of more than 1,600 charities including the Northwest Railway Museum are eligible to receive contributions and their pro rata share of the stretch pool received between midnight and midnight on Tuesday, May 6, 2014.

Help bring a real, live steam locomotive to Snoqualmie Railroad Days by participating in GiveBIG on May 6!
With your GiveBIG support, Santa Cruz and Portland Cement #2 is coming to
Snoqualmie August 15 - 17.  Photo courtesy of S. Pappas.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Celebrating 125 years of passenger trains

2014 is a big year for the Snoqualmie Valley!  This summer is the 125th anniversary of passenger train service to the valley.  On July 4, 1889 the inaugural run was a day trip from the foot of Western Avenue in Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls.  The excursion was operated by the ME Church Society over the lines of the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway Company.  

125 years later, the Northwest Railway Museum continues the tradition of train excursions to Snoqualmie Falls. To kick off the celebration, the Museum will operate a commemorative train on July 4. Then we have something even bigger planned to celebrate.  We’re letting off a little steam (not blowing smoke!) by bringing a real, live steam locomotive to operate at the Museum during Snoqualmie Railroad Days, August 15 – 17.

Santa Cruz and Portland Cement #2,
built by H. K. Porter in 1909.   Photo
courtesy of S. Pappas.
The Santa Cruz and Portland Cement locomotive #2 will travel to Snoqualmie on a highway truck. Owner Efstathios I. Pappas will be bringing the locomotive to Snoqualmie from another museum event in California.  It will pull the Northwest Railway Museum's passenger train Friday through Sunday - watch for special train schedules that will be announced this summer.

The visit of this Porter-built steam locomotive will celebrate the continuing passenger train excursion service to Snoqualmie Falls, but it will also help the Northwest Railway Museum prepare for a steam program of its own.  The experience will "plant the seed" for a long-term, sustainable program.  Cost, however, will not be for the faint-of-heart.  Transportation of the locomotive, fuel oil and lubricants, and even water will cost thousands of dollars.  

Your support can make this a reality!  Make your contribution through GiveBIG, the annual charitable giving initiative of The Seattle Foundation and you can "stretch" at least some of your donation. All contributions up to $5,000 made on May 6 will be partially matched by The Seattle Foundation.  So plan to visit the Museum's Seattle Foundation donation page on May 6, 2014 and help make this project a reality!  
Santa Cruz and Portland Cement #2 pauses under steam. Photo courtesy 
of S. Pappas.

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.