Friday, May 29, 2015

Tender work will soon be behind us

The tender tank rehabilitation and restoration work for Northern Pacific Railway 0-6-0 steam locomotive 924 is drawing to a close!  The 19th Century Rogers-built locomotive is the subject of a major collections care effort inside the Northwest Railway Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center in Snoqualmie where the first order of business is the tender and its badly deteriorated water tank.  The building of a new riveted cistern for a steam locomotive is a lot of hard work, and is not often undertaken at heritage railroads. 

Erecting major components such as sides, ends, and slope sheets can usually be accomplished quickly. In the non-museum world, a similar vessel would be put together using modern fabrication techniques such as welding, and the project would have been completed months ago.  However, in order to adhere to the Secretary of the Interior Standards for Treatment of Historic Properties, fa├žadism is not an acceptable practice. Instead, it is critical to reuse original fabrications and components to the greatest extent practicable, and when infeasible, faithfully recreate the missing or irreparably damaged fabrications using materials and techniques consistent with the original.  So for the tender cistern, every rivet has been or will be duplicated using the technologies of the era.  For instance, each corner seam  is riveted to an angle iron on both sides of the angle with 1/2 button head rivets on a 1 1/2" pitch requiring literally thousands of precision drilled holes. 

Since the last report, the top deck of the tender tank has been fitted and installed.  Historically, for this portion of the tank, flush head "Liverpool" style rivet heads were used for the majority of the work.  This was done so that coal could be scooped from the top deck without hitting the higher "button head" style rivets.  This feature has been faithfully reproduced on the new tank. 

In addition to the structural riveting, the tank continues to receive original castings and forgings with the installation of tie down brackets and hand rails. The side coal boards were also added, giving the cistern that iconic 19th Century everted lip tender look.  Moving forward, this coal board will soon be extended and wrap completely around the rear of the top deck, and the original water hatch will be rehabilitated and installed. 

In addition, to the ongoing cistern work, the tender frame has received attention for its return to service.  This frame had been extensively rebuilt in the 1970s due to an encounter with a runaway freight car while being stored in Centralia, WA, and most of the wooden framework remains in remarkable condition.  However, aesthetically the timbers exhibited surface weathering and other effects which would not present well in the final product.  In order to rectify these issues and assure many decades of trouble free service, the surfaces have been sealed and filled using epoxy-based fillers and sanded to fill any minor cracks and surface blemishes.  (This technique was extensively applied to chapel car 5 Messenger of Peace.) The frame will be primed with epoxy-based primer Awlgrip 545) and top coated with a finish coat of black.  Once this work is completed, the tank can be installed on the frame and bolted down.  Following this step, the tender trucks will be rebuilt so as to assure like-new performance from the tender. 

The 924's tender will be completed this summer.  At that time, work will shift to the locomotive boiler, running gear, and cab.  And the 924's tender just might see some early service in support of the Museum's steam program.

Monday, May 25, 2015

A final train excursion

On Memorial Day , everyone here at the Northwest Railway Museum honors, remembers and respects all those who lives were given in the service of our Nation.  This Memorial Day, the Northwest Railway Museum had the honor of providing a last train excursion for the memory of Marine LCPL Adam James White (ret.), who passed February 14, 2015. 

LCPL AJ White spent his senior year of high school in the Puget Sound area, and graduated from Skyline High School in Sammamish.  AJ enlisted with the Marine Corps in 2008 and received a medical discharge in 2011 as a result of injuries sustained in Iraq. He passed suddenly on Feb 14, 2015 leaving his wife Jessica and 3 small children, Addison, Mackenzie and Camden.

AJ's grandfather was a railway conductor who instilled a love of trains in him.  He received a military funeral at Marion National Cemetery in Indiana, and during the service, family and friends heard a train whistle blow in the distance. His aunt Rebecca McCauley appreciated that the Museum was operating Memorial Day trains and wanted to honor AJ with a Memorial Day train ride.  She arranged for a photo montage of the Marine to be placed in the window of Spokane, Portland and Seattle Coach 218.  That 1912-built coach carried the memory of LCPL White and traveled to and from Snoqualmie Falls on the last train of the day, Monday, May 25, 2015. 

Marine, thank you for your service to a grateful Nation. To LCPL AJ White's family, our sincere condolences for your loss.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SCPC 2 winter work

The Santa Cruz Portland Cement steam locomotive 2 ("SCPC 2") is at present the resident steam locomotive at the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie.  It is from the personal collection of Stathi Pappas, the Museum's Curator of Collections, and is the flagship of the developing steam program introduced at the Museum last year.  While the Museum's locomotive - Northern Pacific Railway 924 - undergoes a complete rehabilitation, the SCPC 2 is leading all steam excursions and is training new engine crew.  However, like all steam locomotives, an ongoing preventative maintenance and upgrade program is essential to sustainable success.  So this past winter, the SCPC 2 received some important attention.

First of all, a little about the 2.  In 2014, SCPC 2 ran over 1,000 miles on four different railroads across the west coast, and everything relating to her rebuild (completed in 2013) performed very well.  However, a few items were not addressed in the initial project as time constraints of the west coast tour just would not allow everything to be completed before departing for California.  These were remachining the piston rods, pistons and ring grooves, new piston rings, redesigned packing, new crosshead wedges, remachining and relining the crosshead guides, and remachining the crosshead slippers. Although there was no evidence of blow by, and the bores and pistons were inspected prior to being put in service, the author decided to finish these last few items before returning the 2 to service Memorial Day weekend.

In January the author and his crew of volunteers ("Team Chiggen") stripped the cylinder saddle of covers, crossheads, guides, pistons, etc and began the process of rebuilding.  In order to assure perfect concentricity and no taper of the piston rod, the best method of machining is to rough machine to round, then use a tool post grinder to assure surface finish and concentricity.  At the same time, the team turned the ring grooves, preparatory for new rings.  
The specification for engines this size is for a the ring groove to be .005" over the width of the rings to assure steam tightness.   Meanwhile, new rings were purchased from Niagara Piston Ring to specific dimensions. Although Team Chiggen is more than capable of making piston rings in house, it is less expensive to source completed rings than to buy the rough material to manufacture from scratch.

At the same time, the original rod packing on the locomotive left a lot to be desired.  The author had researched going to a La France style packing similar to what the Cumbres and Toltec, and the Durango and Silverton use on their locomotives, and found a very competitively priced version available through That Steam Guy.  This owner - though not associated with the seller - is quite happy with the product.  In response to more recent steam locomotive practice, also installed were four packing elements per side based upon the South African Railway and Chinese data for multiple packing elements rather than the more familiar two. 

While piston work was underway, Team Chiggen remachined and set up the crosshead guides in order to maintain perfect alignment of the piston rod within the packing gland to prevent premature wear of the piston rod, rings, pistons, and bores.  After the guides were machined and and temporarily installed, string lines were run through the bores perfectly in alignment with the cylinder and checked against the guides to assure parallelism.  

On the left side, all was well, but the right side (shown at right) required work to bring the guides into specification with the bores, thus demonstrating the necessity of doing this type of work, even if things "look ok."  

After a little effort, the piston, rod, and ring assembly were ready to re install on the right side.  Those with keen eyes will notice the presence of double rings in each groove.  The owner decided to do this rather than two wide rings due to the overwhelming evidence to support the higher sealing abilities of multiple narrow rings over wide ones.

Now, in order to assure the piston rod is running parallel to the bores and crosshead guides, the crosshead slippers themselves must be machined and fit to assure the center line of the tapered socket is in the right place.  The accompanied photos show one of the four remachined slippers ready for installation, and the entire assembly, straight and true, with a new machined crosshead wedge to assure years of trouble free operation.  

So after all this work, there is no better way to prove if it all works than to try it.  So last Sunday was test day: Team Chiggen fired the locomotive up, and put her on the head end of the last passenger train of the day.  Rest assured that diesel is in isolation, and the Chiggen is pulling the consist up the 1.2% grade to the top of Snoqualmie Falls. Everything performed admirably and the team called the test so successful, there was a second charge up the hill just for fun!

So for all of you in the local area, come on out this Saturday through Monday (Memorial Day Weekend) and take an excursion at Northwest Railway Museum behind the new and improved SCPC 2!  Fares and times are here.  And remember, there is full summer season of steam this year, and a variety of special programs including Snoqualmie Railroad Days in August, so check out the details on the Museum's web site at

A special thanks to Team Chiggen: John Graddon, Adam Phillips, Zeb Darrah, Karl Klontz, Nathan Iverson, Steven Hughes, Mark Speer, Mike Donnelly, Jason Hill, CJ Vargas, Bill Gejerstad, David Wilhite, Andy Walker, Ken Liesse, Jason Sobcynski, and many others who help make this all possible!

--SCPC winter work was a guest post by Northwest Railway Museum Curator of Collections Stathi Pappas--

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Thank you for Giving BIG!

Dozens of donors contributed thousands of dollars to the Northwest Railway Museum in support of steam and locomotive 924 during Give BIG! This annual charitable giving event is hosted by the Seattle Foundation and supports charities of all types and sizes across King County.  Thank you to everyone who supported this important initiative!

Monday, May 4, 2015

Give BIG on Tuesday, May 5!

May 5 is an opportunity to be a part of something truly remarkable.  May 5 is an opportunity to donate in support of the steam locomotive 924 rehabilitation.

The Seattle Foundation's annual giving event "Give BIG!" is scheduled for May 5 and the Northwest Railway Museum is participating.  This year, contributions will support the steam program, and specifically the efforts to rehabilitate the 1899-built steam locomotive 924 now underway in the Conservation and Restoration Center at the Railway History Center.

The new cistern for 924's tender is
taking shape on the floor of the
Conservation and Restoration Center.
Contributions received between midnight and midnight on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 via the Museum's gateway page on the Seattle Foundation's website will be eligible for a partial match from the Seattle Foundation, and will complete for a one of the "Golden Tickets," which is an additional $1,000 contribution.

Your support truly makes a difference, and will help put locomotive 924 back in steam for its second Century of service.  Make a contribution here on Tuesday, May 5 between midnight and midnight and be a part of something truly remarkable.

Locomotive 924 moves to the Conservation and Restoration Center in this
October 2014 image.