Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Archive construction begins

An excavator clears away brush and
organic soil in preparation for GeoPier
On an unremarkable and cloudy day in March 2016, an excavator was delivered to the Railway History Center on Stone Quarry Road in Snoqualmie.  It attracted little notice from Mt. Si high school students, who sped along Stone Quarry Road in the parent's cars at their usual speeds, which rivaled those attained by Amtrak Cascades.  Yet the excavator was soon meaningfully changing the way the Northwest Railway Museum will operate in the future.  The excavator was on site to begin building a public parking lot, and to clear and grade the footprint for the new Railway Education Center ("REC"), the third building on the Railway History Center campus.

Railway Education Center rendering
developed by Miller|Hull.
The REC will be a modern building designed to appear similar to a train station, but using a modern architectural flavor developed by designers at the Miller|Hull PartnershipIt is a project valued at nearly $3 million, and is moving to construction after a lengthy permitting process, and the time required to secure construction financing.  The general contractor is Kirtley-Cole, who is experienced in the construction of institutional buildings of this size. Construction began in earnest in mid March, and will hit its peak in early summer.  The project is scheduled to reach substantial completion in early fall 2016, but many uncontrollable factors including weather could affect the completion date.

Parking lot construction adjacent to
Stone Quarry Road begins to take
Fundamentally, it will be a tool to expand public access and improve preservation.  It will house essential facilities and services including public restrooms, admissions, and a small gift shop, but it will also incorporate an environmentally-controlled archival vault to preserve the Museum's irreplaceable collection of photographs, documents, and books that illustrate, interpret and document the railway history of the Pacific Northwest.  A reading room will be provided to allow students and other researchers to access the collection.  The collection lab will be used to process and conserve small objects and paper-based materials.  A classroom will provide for lectures, presentations, tours, and school groups to congregate and learn about regional railway history. 

First floor layout.  Library and archives
will be located on the second floor.
The REC is a facility that addresses needs first identified when the Museum was founded in 1957.  Its design has been under development for more than seven years; it is being constructed between the Conservation and Restoration Center (2007) and the Train Shed (2011). After completion, this new facility will allow the Railway History Campus to open to the public when there are no trains operating, which will allow the Museum to serve a broader and more diverse audience.  A lack of public restrooms, parking, and program offices are just three factors that have limited the Museum's ability to expand public access, but which this new facility addresses.

Major funding has been awarded for the REC by 4Culture, the Washington State Historical Society's Capital Heritage Fund, the Schwab Fund, major corporations including Puget Sound Energy and the BNSF Railway, and hundreds of individuals.  The Museum has additional support opportunities including the upcoming May 3rd Give BIg event (click on the link at www.trainmuseum.org), and  a live donate now link here.  Your support will help expand public access and improve preservation.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tubing the 924

It has been a busy two weeks at the Conservation and Restoration Center with great progress shown in the rehabilitation of Northern Pacific Railway steam locomotive 924.

The last Blog article highlighted the work required to prepare the locomotive for its Federal Railroad Administration internal inspection and approval.  Now, the time had come for tubing the boiler.  Some may ask if this process is premature as the FRA mandates that the 15 year boiler clock begins one year after the first tube is placed or first fire, whichever comes first.  A great deal of work remains on NP 924, including a full running gear rebuild, and by committing to a tube job at this time, it means that completion must be reached within the next year otherwise federal boiler time is wasted.  Although this concern is valid, the rebuild of NP 924 is on an expedited timeline, with rehabilitation to service if not complete in one year, will be mostly so.

In order expedite the project, it was time to protect the internal surfaces of the pressure vessel from deterioration in service by the application of a product called Apexior, produced by Dampney.  Often referred to as a boiler paint, Apexior is actually a Bitumen coating that prevents rust, scale, and other unwanted byproducts from boiling water from forming or adhering to the interior sheets of the boiler.  An interesting fact about this product is that this same product has been continuously produced by the same company since the steam era on American railroads.  Therefore this product not only makes sense from an artifact care and investment standpoint, but also as a period-appropriate material and technique.  

At the same time as Apexior was being applied, the boiler tubes were being prepared for installation.  This process involved the removal of mill scale from the exterior and interior ends of the tubes.  By removing this oxide coating, the bare steel of the tube can be rolled into the hole in the tube sheets, assuring a tight seal with no contamination.  Following this step, the tubes were cut to length and ready to install.  Although the tube sheets in 924 were straightened as much as possible, any locomotive will exhibit variation in the lengths of various tubes.  The 238 tubes in locomotive 924 were no exception, which required every tube hole to be measured for length so that every single tube could be custom cut to fit.  

With tubes sitting at the ready, it was time to start inserting the tubes into the boiler.  This seems an easy task until one realizes the steam delivery pipes leading to the cylinders cover approximately 1/3rd of the front tube sheet, making simple insertion of many of the tubes impossible.  To complete this job, tubes had to be inserted through a hole near its final location in the front tube sheet, cross several holes over into the rear sheet, be pushed inside the front sheet, then manipulated with a bar to line up with the appropriate hole in the front sheet, then pushed forward into the hole.  Sometimes this had to be done several times to reach the final placement of a tube.

This task being completed, it was time to roll the tubes into the sheets. A tube roller, consists of three hardened steel rollers in a cage, driven by a central tapered pin.  This taper pin is rotated by an air motor which serves to expand the tube into the hole in the sheet, crushing it into the hole and forming a pressure tight seal.  The rolling process requires a great deal of judgment as it is possible to over-roll a tube and thin it to the point it would fail prematurely.  Many specialists in the steam locomotive rehabilitation field say the best rolled tube is the one that weeps just barely on its first hydrostatic test.

Although the seal formed by rolling is critical, it is not by any means the end of tubing a locomotive.  Structurally, the most important step is the next process known as beading.  Beading uses a special tool and small air hammer to roll the edge of the tube sticking out of the tube sheets over against the sheet.  This process turns every tube into a hollow rivet by forming a head that prevents the sheet from pushing off the rolled end of the tube.  This work is intensely physical, but makes for a much stronger product, and is historic.  Another important result of the beading process is that it makes the tubes much less prone to fire cracking and burning away of the steel.

Related to this prevention of fire cracking and burning, seal welding of the firebox end of the tubes is also critical.  The term "seal welding" is actually a bit of a misstatement as the weld is not intended to prevent leaking as the roll should provide adequate sealing.  Instead, a small weld is made around the circumference of the bead on the rear sheet in order to pull heat away from the thin tube, and allow it to flow into the much thicker tube sheet.  This prevents the tube ends from overheating and burning away or cracking to an even greater degree than just a bead alone.  In addition, this process was also historically used on steam locomotives, particularly on locomotives that burned oil rather than coal.
Following seal welding, the tubes are lightly rerolled front and back to assure the seal was not disturbed during the beading and welding processes, and then the job was complete!

Substantially completing the boiler work on locomotive 924 involved many facets.  First and foremost, funding was secured.  King County 4Culture awarded a Landmarks Capital grant to fund purchase of the new 2 inch boiler tubes, seal welding rod, and new staybolt material.  Second, an awesome team of volunteers performed much of the cleaning, cutting, and tube installation.  Third, Curator Pappas' pressure vessel skills allowed quick and efficient completion of the work, including the rolling, beading and welding.

The next task is to install the blast nozzle in the smoke box, and reapply the smoke box front. After this, the running gear rebuild will begin.  So stay tuned for another update!

--Photos in this post by Dave Honan and Spike.  Used with permission.

Friday, March 18, 2016

One Mallet too many

Locomotive 108 at the Snoqualmie
Responsibly managing a museum collection means that some artifacts are added to the collection and at other times they are removed.  In short, the Collection changes to meet the needs of the institution and its Mission.

At the Northwest Railway Museum two of the criteria used to evaluate the collection are support of the Mission and redundancy.  A decade ago, a number of large artifacts including an electric locomotive from Utah, a coach from the Midwest, and a steam locomotive from California were deaccessioned (removed) from the Collection.  However, the process of evaluating the collection continues every day.

For more than 40 years, the Museum has had custody or ownership of three Mallet-type 2-6-6-2 steam locomotives.  All three have a great deal in common: they operated in the Pacific Northwest; were built within a few years of each other, by the Baldwin Locomotive Works; are nearly identical in design and size; illustrate the same narrative (they tell the same story); and each require tremendous resources to properly care for.  With those facts, the Museum Board of Trustees and Staff reached a consensus to deaccession one 2-6-6-2 Mallet steam locomotive.  So which one?

The Museum's Trustees
required insulation to be
removed before the l08
could leave the property.
The 108 was chosen as the locomotive to deaccession.  The 108 was built in 1926 and served the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company until 1954.  It is a tank engine (think Thomas the Tank Engine!) and aside from a tender, locomotive 6 (one of the other Mallets in the Museum collection) is nearly identical.  (Locomotive 11 is also a 2-6-6-2 Mallet. It is a slightly different design, and is a tank engine converted to a tender engine.  It is owned by Washington State Parks under the curatorship of the Northwest Railway Museum.  It remains on exhibit at the Snoqualmie Depot.)

Locomotive 108 was prepared for shipping
at the Museum's Conservation and
Restoration Center.
As luck would have it, another heritage railway operates a locomotive nearly identical to locomotive 108.  The Black Hills Central Railroad in Hill City and Keystone, South Dakota operates their 2-6-6-2T steam locomotive 110 in daily service on a more than 4% grade.  Their long term plan called for acquisition of a second similar locomotive to allow for expansion, and better operational
coverage in the event of a mechanical problem or other issue.  So the stage was set for an appropriate and welcome change in ownership that would assure a bright future for this valuable museum artifact.  

Locomotive 108's boiler hoisted onto
a truck for the 20 hour journey to Hill
City, South Dakota.
Speaking with Black Hills Central President Meg Warder shortly after a deal was reached stated, "the Black Hills Central Railroad ... is honored to have the opportunity to [acquire] and restore the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co #108 Baldwin from the Northwest Railway Museum.  Our knowledgeable and dedicated crew will restore the engine back to its glory with the intention of having the engine in service by 2018.  The #108 engine will proudly work alongside the BHCRR’s restored #110 Mallet,  the current powerhouse of the Black Hills line."

The rear steam engine hoisted onto a
truck bound for the Black Hills Central.
Speaking while the loading process was underway, Northwest Railway Museum Executive Director Richard Anderson stated, "museum collections are dynamic and their size and scope must reflect the institution's available resources to care for it.  We are delighted to have found a successful heritage railway willing to take on the massive undertaking of rehabilitating, restoring and operating this impressive historical artifact."