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Big Projects, Small Projects

It is easy to get wrapped up on the large projects at the museum. So far this year, we put Locomotive 40 back in operation and saved the enginehouse from collapse. Work continues on the steam powered wrecking crane, the ashpit, the McGill Depot, track, and the other outbuildings. Trains are operating seven days a week until October 1st. Steam powered excursion trains are also operating daily.

In all of this hustle and bustle, it’s easy to overlook the small projects. One of these projects is the rebuilding of a Kalamazoo 57 B lightweight motor car. Essentially these little cars were the four-wheelers of their day. They were used for track inspection, to get track crews to their job site, and a myriad of other tasks. Before the gasoline-powered motor cars, the railroad had hand-powered track cars. The gasoline-powered cars were quite the improvement over the “Armstrong” method.

There are three motor cars left on the property. The smallest is the Kalamazoo. I first saw it the RIP building in a heap on the floor. It appeared to be in thousands of pieces. With all of the other projects that museum needed to undertake, the little Kalamazoo was far down on the list. Chances are we would not get to it for years if not decades. And in the meantime, pieces would disappear, which would lower its chances of ever being put back together and another piece of Nevada Northern Railway history would be lost.

Luckily, this story has a happy ending. There is a group that collects and operates these little motorcars (also known as speeders.) They came to Ely on Labor Day weekend 2003 to work on the track and used their speeders. Since we knew they were coming, then Board Chairman Scott Hase made a request of the group: would they help use by repairing the little speeder?

Such a simple request, but from the beginning, things were not as they seemed. I’ll let the person who was in charge of the project explain.

Nevada Northern Railway Motorcar
by Glen Ford
     MOW members returned from the 2003 Labor Day trip to Nevada Northern Railway Museum with a winter project in tow. Museum Board Chairman Scott Hase asked MOW meet coordinator Doug Jensen if the club could help out the museum and restore a motorcar. Luckily, Doug was able to reach me before I left and asked that I bring an empty trailer to bring the motorcar to northern California. The museum thought they had a “light inspection car with an Onan motor, probably a MT-19.” We thought this was something the club could do easily. There are lots of MT-19’s and MT-19 parts around, we could probably build one from scratch with the parts lying around in members’ garages. However, when we were introduced to the motorcar it turned out to be not a Fairmont, but a Kalamazoo 57 B lightweight motorcar. The car was in several parts; body, motor/transmission, control panel/gas tank, and four wheels. The cab front we were able to find two days later in the museum bone yard. We mounted the wheels and hoisted the motor/transmission onto the body using the overhead crane in the repair-in-place workshop where the car was stored. Then backed in Doug’s MT-14 and towed the squeaking wreck through the Nevada Northern yards to my waiting trailer. Del McCall and I disassembled the car and asked Mike Mitchell to refurbish the car’s metal body. The CCK motor has been torn down and will be rebuilt by my good friend Charlie Jensen. The transmission is in great shape, just needs to be cleaned up. All of the top and half of the dog house are missing and will have to be fabricated, but we have pictures of a 57B and will go by that. (Editor’s Note: When the project first started, it was believed that the motor car could be restored over the winter. This was not to be. The project like most historic preservation projects took more time than expected.)

MOW members are nearing completion of a restoration project for the Nevada Northern Railway Museum. Originally a “winter” project, the task has taken two winters and all the other seasons in between. “We got stalled a couple of times but we’re back on schedule now,” says project coordinator Glen Ford. “The Kalamazoo 57 B has an unusual suspension system similar to the way leaf springs mount to the frame of an automobile. The rubber bushing material was deteriorated and had to be replaced.” Restoration team member Mike Mitchell was able to find a replacement product and method to insert the bushings through the bearing blocks. Mike was also responsible for remanufacturing the output sprocket on the transmission. The teeth on the sprocket were worn out but a replacement could not be found. “We wanted to use the Kalamazoo transmission but could find no replacement sprocket and a Fairmont sprocket would not fit” recalls Mitchell. A Fairmont has 19 teeth, the Kalamazoo has 15. The sprocket is offset on a tapered hub. “To resolve the problem I had the machinist remove the old teeth from the original gear and then remove the center from a new 15 tooth sprocket leaving the teeth intact. We then welded the new teeth onto the old hub in the right spot. It turned out perfect.”

     “The hard part was the roof,” recalls Ford. “It was either lost or discarded. We looked all over the yard and couldn’t find it. Maybe it never had a roof, but without one it was going to look stupid.” Del McCall came up with the solution to the problem. He was able to get long time friends Jeff and Don Millerick of Millerick Brothers Marine to take on the roof project. The Kalamazoo was taken to their facility in Sebastopol, California. “Don can make anything out of metal,” says McCall,” and they both have an interest in railroads and historic preservation and have done railroad related restoration projects in the past.” Awaiting restoration in their yard next to ocean going trawlers is a 1940s vintage Pullman car and a 19th century wooden combination coach. “I’m very pleased with the way the roof turned out,” said Ford, “it gives the motorcar a unique, one of a kind look.”

     Next for the Kalamazoo is paint. Then the engine and transmission go back in followed by exhaust and wiring. Their goal is to be able to test the motorcar somewhere locally before final delivery to Nevada Northern on MOW’s Labor Day excursion. Mark Bassett, Executive Director of the Nevada Northern Railway Museum, is grateful for the team’s efforts. “I want to thank MOW very much for undertaking this project. Without your help, number one, I don’t think it ever would have been done and number two, just looking at the pictures, I’m sure we would not have done such a quality job. Thank you for bringing a Nevada Northern Railway artifact back to life.”

There you have it. The MOW group is doing a fantastic job on preserving another piece of Nevada Northern Railway history. The plan is for them to deliver the unique, fully restored Kalamazoo rail car to the museum this Labor Day. Since after they drop off the Kalamazoo rail car they’ll have an empty trailer, I wonder if they would be interested in restoring another speeder?

The article on the Nevada Northern Railway Kalamazoo railcar first appeared in the MOW Lineup magazine. It is used with permission.

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