Monday, April 30, 2018

Putting wheels under a parlor car

Parlor car 1799 is situated on a beautiful island beach on Puget Sound.  The former Northern Pacific Railway Pullman-built wood car has been donated to the Northwest Railway Museum, and will be moved to the Train Shed Exhibit building.  However, first it needs wheels!

Repurposed as a cottage in 1941, car 1799 has been supported with pilings for more than 77 years, and has retained all of its original elegance.  And since the mid 1970s it has been housed inside a shelter. Last week, the shelter was disassembled, which was detailed in this blog.  This week the next phase begins.

Nickel Bros specializes in transportation of homes and other structures, and they are a natural partner for a wood railroad car that lacks its truss rods.  Nickel's team uses a set of hydraulic jacks to lift structures.  They assemble a steel frame under and beside the building, and then place wheel dollies under the completed assembly.

The 1799 is particularly challenging because it has original structure in the car sides that could be easily damaged if jacked carelessly.  Furthermore, the car weighs 80,000 pounds and has to be jacked evenly to avoid the potential for broken windows.

Nickel's solution includes two monstrous H beams that are designed to evenly support the entire car.  Smaller beams extend from one side to the other perpendicular to the large beams.  They directly bear on the bottom of the car and simultaneously pickup the side, intermediate and center sills.

The jacking began quickly and uneventfully; there were no unusual sounds or movement.  The frame had enough integrity that it was self-supporting for short periods of time as the jacks caught up.  This is truly a testament to the car builders at Pullman, Illinois.

Once the car was jacked up sufficiently, the wheel dollies were hoisted into place.  A double set of wheels was installed to spread the mass over the 14 feet of width.  These rubber-tired dollies have independent steer and adjustable height, both valuable features in avoiding complication on a difficult site.

The process of moving car 1799 to the Museum is an exercise in careful planning.  Now through May 9 you can schedule support for this project through the Seattle Foundation's Give Big event.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Parlor car 1799 move grows near!

The Parlor Car is ready to move to the Museum!  A Parlor car was an extra-fare car and provided service that would be equivalent to today's business or first class.  In the Golden Age of Rail Travel, the Parlor Car epitomized nearly everything that rail travel could be.

Parlor car 1799 was built by Pullman in 1901 for service on the Northern Pacific Railway.  It is one of the few surviving early 20th Century railway passenger cars known to have served in Washington State.  It is a full-length car built entirely of wood, but it was never upgraded with steel components as so many other wooden cars were.  Instead, it was purchased by an Auburn railroad worker in 1941 and moved to Whidbey Island on Puget Sound for use as a cottage, a use that continued for the next 77 years.

Parlor car 1799 has been generously donated to the Northwest Railway Museum by the Shaw Family.  The car survived well into the 21st Century because it was housed within a protective shelter.  Even so, the car is in remarkable condition because the Shaw family took such great care of it. Soon, it will be housed in the Train Shed exhibit building, but first it has to move off the island by barge and travel on I-90 to the Museum in Snoqualmie.

Car 1799 was listed on the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation's 2017 Most Endangered List and fundraising to aid its preservation began last year with the Seattle Foundation's charitable giving event called Give Big 2017.  Moving an 80,000 pound wooden rail car off an ocean beach is a big undertaking so a great deal of planning has already gone into the project.  Yet the reality of moving such a large object hit home only when a team of more than a dozen Museum Volunteers began dismantling the shelter that has protected the parlor car since the mid 1970s.

The structure built more than 40 years ago and was constructed predominantly of western red cedar.  It was well-built and sturdy, yet the volunteer crew was able to make quick work of the dismantling process, which was performed methodically to avoid damage to the car.

In all, more than 200 hours person hours were invested in the deconstruction process, but there were other aspects to the project too.  When 1799 was improved with the new shelter, new entry doors were cut into the car's sides.  This made the structure more suitable and convenient as a cottage, but it meant the structure that allowed it to function as a rail car had been weakened. To make the car frame strong enough to move, temporary repairs to the letter board and truss plank were performed. 

Meanwhile, the deconstruction crew continued to remove the overlying structure. By late April 2018 as local temperatures reached into the 80s, the car was out in the open for the first time in more than 40 years.  The next step in the process turns the car over to Nickel Brothers for the barge and highway move to the Museum.

Please consider supporting this project with a contribution to Give BIG 2018!  Visit the Museum's page to schedule your donation today!

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The locomotive that built a bomb

Admittedly, the Northwest Railway Museum has many interesting stories to tell, and most have only rarely been shared.  One recently discovered tale concerns a locomotive that helped build a bomb.  

A light industrial switcher was delivered to a place now known as Hanford, Washington in September 1943.  It was destined for use on a secret project; very few people knew its purpose.  The Manhattan Project was charged with developing one of the most devastating weapons ever created, and a sparsely populated area along the Columbia River was selected as a site to build a Plutonium reactor and concentrator that were essential components in the effort.  The product from this plant was used to create the plutonium bomb, which was nicknamed "Fat Man."

The Plymouth-built locomotive now in the Museum’s Collection was used to build the infrastructure, and continued to serve the facility until October 1954.  Later, the locomotive was sold at auction and purchased by the St Regis Paper Company in Tacoma and used to switch their pulp mill.  Interestingly, the St Regis Story is important too, involving the ubiquitous forest industry and Tacoma’s industrial sector.

Plymouth locomotive #463 recently got some attention from a team of volunteers from a US Coast Guard icebreaker.  The US Coast Guard Cutter HEALY (WAGB - 20) serves above the Arctic Circle from June through November. While the HEALY is in its home port of Seattle, the crew gets involved in a number of community projects. The Museum was chosen earlier this year to benefit from their help, and the Plymouth project was selected. The HEALY team is replacing the cab floor and beginning work on the cab side restoration. Work will continue incrementally, and eventually this object will be placed on exhibit to help tell an important chapter of Northwest history.  Thank you to the Officers and Crew of the USCGC Healy!