Thursday, March 26, 2020

Locomotive 924 gets rods and more

The  worldwide pandemic is causing significant disruption in nearly everyone's lives throughout the Puget Sound Region, but a core group of dedicated specialists is continuing to work on locomotive 924.  They are practicing social distancing, and limiting the number of workers in the shop at once, but still achieving success.  Until this week, that meant not more than ten people at a time.  However, now the Governor has ordered non-essential workers (and pretty much all volunteers) to stay at home for at least the next two weeks.  So this seems like a great opportunity to reflect on and highlight recent progress, and what all the public donations have supported.

Packing - Mechanical packing seals the gap around the piston rod where it penetrates the steam cylinder.  The packing has to be installed before the rod is inserted into the cross head.  So Jay was busy assembling this puzzle on a Saturday morning earlier this month as everyone else was preparing to install the rods.  There is more to this than meets the eye - the packing gland has to be able to resist 185 lbs of saturated steam without leaking.

Radius rods - Meanwhile, Paul and Larry were cleaning up the radius rods for the valve gear, which with Stephenson motion are located between the lead and main drivers.  It is an awkward place to reach, but the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center has pits 60 inches deep, providing ample room to work from below.

Eccentric straps - Over on the work bench, David and Vic were cleaning and preparing the eccentric rods or straps in advance of their reinstallation.  These rods fasten around the main driver axle on an eccentric (offset center) and as the axle turns they convert rotary motion into a longitudinal oscillating displacement (back and forth motion) to move valves that control steam entering and exiting the cylinders.

Cross head - After Jay completed tightening of the packing, the piston rods were inserted into the cross heads.  The cross head is the assembly that most observers will recognize on a steam locomotive.  It is the component that moves back and forth with each rotation of the main driver, and at high speeds might appear to some to be just a blur.  The rod has a taper and fits just about perfectly into the cross head - so there is no movement between the two parts.  Then a tapered key or keeper fits through the cross head and the end of the piston rod to ensure they remain tightly in position.

Main rod - Installing the main rod is a delicate dance.  This forged assembly is - even on a light locomotive such as the 924 - amazingly heavy.  Fingers or toes that are in the wrong place will be effortlessly and mercilessly removed.  So with the aid of a wheeled hydraulic table to adjust the height and position of the rod, the work was performed with just three workers.  The first milestone was installation of the little end into the cross head.  It is attached with a pin just behind the piston rod end.

The next step was to raise the big end of the rod into position ahead of the main rod crank pin.  This involved another form of dance as the entire cross head, piston and rod assembly was gently moved forth and back until it was in just the right place.  And yes, there was a great deal of careful measurement and calculation, too.  Otherwise when the bearing brasses were installed and wedges tightened to hold them in place, the rod would be either too long or too short, causing catastrophic failure.  

With the rod in the correct position, the bearing brasses, wedge, and a large fitted bolt were applied to hold everything in the correct position. Lyle was careful to apply anti seize coatings on all the components prior to assembly.

The resurrection of Northern Pacific locomotive 924 is continuing to take shape at the Northwest Railway Museum.  Support from 4Culture, Washington Heritage Capital , Schwab Fund, Microsoft, Osberg Family Foundation, Boeing, Emery Rail Heritage Trust, more than hundred individual donors, several awesomely skilled employees, and dozens of dedicated volunteers is making this work possible.  Additional progress will be described in another article that will appear in early April.

Project 924 continues to welcome your support!  To make a donation online, please visit the Northwest Railway Museum donation portal and select "steam locomotive."

Friday, March 20, 2020

Curve at Snoqualmie Falls

The Museum's railway extends between Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend, but the most spectacular view is at Snoqualmie Falls.  A tight 11 degree 30 minute curve thrusts the railroad out onto a bridge high above the Snoqualmie River.  Yet this curve - and others no longer in place - represented significant maintenance efforts for the track workers on the Northern Pacific Railway.

This tight curve is built with 100 pound per yard rail last renewed in the 1950s. Tight curves create resistance, and that means wear.  When a wheel set navigates a curve this tight, one wheel - the one on the outside of the curve - has to travel further than the one on the inside.  That extra motion causes wear, which widens gauge and reduces the size of the rail head.  Despite the light and infrequent use the Museum makes of this curve, after more than 40 years and at least 500,000 passengers, the high or outer rail was completely worn out.

In a project planned out in 2019, RailWorks was hired to replace the outer rail with relay rail the Museum acquired from Union Station in Seattle in the early 1980s.  The 100 pound rail pulled from those platform tracks once supported Milwaukee Road electric locomotives and Union Pacific stream liners. Like all rail replacement projects, work began by pulling spikes. 

The relay rail had worn bolt holes so the project included cropping and drilling the rail ends.  This work was performed as each length of rail was laid.


The project also included replacement of 25 cross ties, important in ensuring the curve maintains gauge.  A hyrail excavator aided the work, which was completed in one day.  The new ties were cut from Douglas fir, treated with creosote, and cost more than $60 each.  They are physically similar to the ties they are replacing, which are an average of fifty years old.  New ties are expected to last at least 25 years.

This major capital project was planned and initiated prior to escalation of the Covid 19 crisis, and represents one of the Museum's major 2020 projects, and an investment of more than $20,000.  Donations to the Museum's general fund help support this important work and are gratefully accepted.  When the Museum is able to reopen after expiration of the Governor's Executive Order closing public venues including Museums, service to Snoqualmie Falls will be able to immediately resume.  Monitor the Museum's web site at for updated information about when the Museum will be able to reopen.  

Monday, March 16, 2020

Work continues on coach 213

Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway coach 213 was delivered in 1912.  It is one of the last wooden coaches built for service on an American railroad, and was constructed by the Barney and Smith Car Company of Dayton Ohio.  It faithful served in the Northwest until after WW II, a period of more than 35 years.

The 213 is a sister car to coach 218, which was restored by the Museum and its volunteers back in 2014.  The 213 will soon resemble the 218, and this winter the project has made dramatic progress.

Beginning with the roof, the roll roofing was removed from the lower right clerestory to allow repair of the decking and carlines, and application of a new canvas membrane.  Just like the 218, the 213 will be completely roofed with a traditional cotton duck canvas sealed with canvas stain.  Think of it as old-school Gortex!

While the car was in the Conservation and Restoration Center, additional electrical work was performed so it could receive all its new heating elements.  That made it possible to heat the car and begin the interior paneling finish work.  The first project was fabrication and installation of the restrooms.  New wall panels were created using 1/4 sawn Honduras mahogany veneers applied over a Baltic birch plywood.  Similarly, replica restroom doors were fabricated.  The mahogany veneers were treated with 2% potassium dichromate to add color and depth, then the surface was varnished with the Awlgrip single component clear urethane system, which is a moisture cure urethane.

Then work shifted to the interior paneling in the main cabin.  Veneer panels were made to replace the badly deteriorated or missing original panels.  The "tiger stripes" appear as a result of slicing the veneer from a log quarter.  This visual was highly valued then and now, and was a distinguishing feature in this and other cars.

Some other features have been restored to the car, too.  The utility closet located by the door in the rear of the car was recreated.  The interior surfaces are all bead board, and today this enclosure is a practical feature for storing cleaning supplies.  The interior was even painted to match the original!

Many staff and volunteers are making this monumental project possible, as has funding from individuals and 4Culture.  Notably, Bob M. works on the car usually at least four days per week.  He is a cabinet maker who actually likes applying varnish - go Bob, go!  Collectively, there are more than 14,000 hours invested in the restoration, the equivalent of nearly 7 person years!

Staff is continuing to work on coach 213 during the temporary emergency closure.  Coach 213 will return to service just as soon as the Museum reopens to the public.  We hope to see you on board soon!

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Temporary Emergency Closure Notice

The Northwest Railway Museum will remain closed to the public through at least May 4, 2020.

The Governor of Washington State has issued an emergency proclamation prohibiting public gatherings of more than 250 individuals.  King County health officials have issued mandatory guidelines for all congregations of less than 250 individuals that require proactive interventions to ensure the public's safety.  Consequently, the Museum has made the decision to close to serve the best interests of the community, our visitors, volunteers, and staff.

The Museum is postponing all programs scheduled through May 4, 2020, including the railway rules class, Smithsonian Museum Day, regular train operations, private birthday parties, private rentals, School Train, Train Shed gallery visits, Snoqualmie Depot visits, and field trips. 

As a public gathering space, this is a preventative action to slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19, and ensure the safety of our community, visitors, volunteers and staff.

If you have questions or have pre-purchased tickets, contact to reschedule; we will honor or refund all tickets.

Please check the Museum's main web page for the latest information:

Monday, March 9, 2020

We are working on the railway . . . 2020 version

45 degree power poles?
Winter storms in the Pacific Northwest can yield hurricane-force winds and torrential downpours, and so far the winter of 2020 has not disappointed!  Already rain and wind events have caused falling trees to knock down power lines, rain to trigger land slides, and even a little snow to add some extra days off for local school kids.  Normally, the Train Museum is able to avoid major impacts, but not this year.  

The ballast shoulder was displaced by the
tire of a large truck that drove up the track.
Two separate incidents involving contractors working for the local power company resulted in damaged track when the bucket trucks used to work on overhead lines drove up the tracks.  If the trucks had been equipped with hyrail attachments (railroad wheels), there would have been little impact.  However, the weight of the truck tires surcharging on heavily saturated soils pushed down many otherwise effective ties so they were no longer supporting the rail, displaced the ballast shoulder so it no longer provided lateral support, and broke the back of several dozen railroad ties.

A hyrail excavator
removing damaged ties.
Early in March RailWorks arrived to begin repairs in zones at Snoqualmie Falls and just east of historic downtown Snoqualmie.  In all, 38 ties are being replaced and approximately 350 feet of track is being surfaced, lined and dressed.  Even on small project like this one, most of the work is being performed by machines including a hyrail excavator, tamper, and grapple truck.  The work is expected to take approximately four days and will wrap up by March 15.