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21st Century Steam

There is no easy way of breaking this to you: steam locomotives 93 and 40 are both out of service for the foreseeable future. I know that this news is disappointing to the friends of the museum, but while the news is disappointing, it is not unexpected. Why is it not unexpected? Simple, locomotive 93 is now ninety-nine years old and locomotive 40 is ninety-eight years old—pretty old by human standards—and consider what these machines go through and that they have done so for nearly a century. But the culprit wasn’t boiler failures or frame fatigue; what sidelined both our steam locomotives are cracks in their axles.

Locomotive 93 is a 2-8-0 Consolidation type, meaning that there are four drive axles. The first two axles were installed when erected in 1908, axle number 3 was replaced in 1944, and axle 4 was last replaced in 1927.

Locomotive 93 was taken out of service because the operating crew noticed that axle 2 was running hot and sent it to the shop. None of previous fixes worked. Axle 2 was disassembled. We found that the crown brasses that support the axle had failed and the axle-bearing surface itself was found to be rough. The axle was sent to a machine shop to be turned on a lathe and that’s when a crack was found. We attempted to turn the axle in the hopes that the crack would be machined out, but unfortunately the crack was too deep and this condemned the axle. Since we had one axle with cracks, we decided to ultrasonically inspect the other axles on 93. (There’s no sense in sticking your head in the sand at this point.) We found condemning cracks on yet another axle. As part of this inspection, we started finding other things wrong (big surprise). Without getting too technical, understand that the running gear of a steam locomotive consists of the wheels, axles, crown brasses, drive boxes, slides, wedges, and springs. As we got deeper into the inspection, we found more components showing excessive wear.

Since we found cracks in the axles of 93, we decided that since locomotive 40 is only a year younger, it would be wise to ultrasonically inspect those axles as well. Locomotive 40 is a 4-6-0, known as a “ten wheeler,” having three driving axles. It was not too surprising to find cracks in two of her three axles and, of course, the closer we looked the more worn parts we found within her running gear. This was disappointing because we had just rebuilt and repaired 40’s pilot truck so that she was able to participate in the first February photo shoot.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), which contains the rules and regulations that all railroads must operate by, a crack in a locomotive’s axle condemns the locomotive. This means that the locomotive cannot again operate until repairs are made. And adding to the problem is that there is more involved in this area of concern than just the axles. The crux of the problem reminds me of the child’s nursery rhyme: the head bone is connected to the neck bone; the neck bone is connected to the chest bone; the chest bone is connected to the . . . you get the idea.

Well, when we replace two axles on 93 and two on 40, we will need to then refurbish the remaining axles, which in turn requires us to either refurbish or replace the crown brasses. Once we do the crown brasses, we need to refurbish or replace the drive boxes, which then mandate that we need to refurbish or replace the shoes. And the new or refurbished shoes require will require the refurbishing or replacement of the wedges. Once the wedges are looked after . . . well you get the idea.

The question could be asked; “why wasn’t this foreseen?” To a certain extent it was and wasn’t. We have been receiving warning signs—the drive axles running hot and we knew that it was time for bearing service. But cracks were not expected and remember the first crack was only found when the axle was on the lathe being turned. The crack was not visible. Then to be prudent, it was decided to ultrasonically inspect all of the other axles, which showed more cracks. Interesting to note that the CFR doesn’t require an ultrasonic test of the axles nor does it say how often the axles should be inspected.

It’s difficult to explain how maintenance is performed on a steam locomotive to anyone not directly involved or experienced, so let me say that while our locomotives received fantastic care over their operating years, they were eventually put to rest and some things were just not noticed, nor could they have been. While we perform all inspections and maintenance required by the Federal Railroad Administration, some things are simply not discovered until they break or wear out. All things considered, we have actually had a pretty easy time of it over the past twenty-one years or so and now the odds are catching up to us. It’s just part of the steam railroad game and we learn to deal with it. We knew that both locomotives would be requiring a major investment in their running gear in the real near future. It is bad luck to find the cracks in the axles of both locomotives at the same time.

The problems are expensive to address, but we caught them before they could have become much, much worse. Think derailments, drivers falling off, and side rods looking like pretzels, just to name a few. We are thankful for having a very professional and thorough roster of staff and volunteers in the shop and behind the throttles who take very good care of our power.

There is light at the end of the tunnel (and no, it’s not an oncoming train). Once the running gear of locomotives 93 and 40 are brought up to specs, then we’ll be able to cross that concern off our list of things to do . . . for the next fifty-plus years. The boilers on both locomotives were rebuilt in 2001 and 2004, respectively, so by the end of the running gear project we should have two solid locomotives for quite some time to come. (Of course, there are issues with the steam cylinders and the valves but we’ll save those for another day).

Short version: Are locomotives 93 and 40 repairable? Yes. Will they run again? Yes! What will this cost? We estimate it to be roughly $200,000 per locomotive. Do we have the money on hand? Not totally; however, we do have enough on hand to get started on locomotive 93.

Our goal is to have 93 done by July 1st. Can we accomplish this goal? Good question; there are many factors outside of our control to consider. First, we need to perform a complete evaluation of 93’s condition and develop a scope of work. Then we need to find suppliers and machine shops to do the work and obtain firm costs. Then we need to blend their schedules with our schedule. Meanwhile we’ll be busy doing some heavy fundraising. If anyone has a great idea that could help raise lots of money, I’m all ears! Yes, we are optimistic that it can be done. Is this expectation overly optimistic? Optimism is the spirit that brought this railway back to life and keeps it going!

Speaking of fundraising, we just completed a very successful winter fund raising campaign. An anonymous donor stepped up and agreed to match all funds raised until January 31, 2008. Due to the generosity of our members and our anonymous donor, we raised a total of $218,566. The demands on this money are great. It will allow us to start on 93 and tend to other important projects here at the museum. While the steamers are very important to our program, we still have a railroad here with demands which must also be funded such as maintenance on the diesel locomotives, the excursion coaches, the track, the buildings, the utilities, etc., etc., etc. As we move forward on locomotive 93, I will keep you posted as to our progress.

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