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Project Updates: Steam, Diesel, & Track

We’re never at a loss for something to do around the museum. It seems like there are a thousand and one tasks—projects big and small all need to be accomplished to keep the trains rolling.

Of course, one of the bigger projects we’re doing is repairing the steam locomotives. Currently locomotive 93 is undergoing repairs. I had hoped to have locomotive 93 steaming by July 4. That won’t happen. It now looks to be mid-August before she steams again. The July 4th deadline was an aggressive deadline, and it turned out to be an impossible deadline. But the work is continuing and parts are going back on the locomotive.

A lot of work has been completed. I think it is safe to say that we are past the half way mark on getting locomotive 93 ready for service. And so far we’ve dodged every bullet, but we have one more to dodge, then we’re home free. What I mean is something else could have gone wrong that was unexpected. When you take apart a piece of equipment that is nearly a century old things happen.

My biggest worry was the wheel centers. These are large steel castings that are the heart of the wheel. The crank pins, tires, and axles all interact with the wheel centers. These castings are all about one hundred years old, except one. That’s right: it appears that sometime in the past 93 received a new wheel center.

The old axles have been drilled out along with the crank pins. We have inspected the wheel centers non-destructively and found only a few cracks. These have been welded up. We have two additional operations that need to be done to the wheel centers. They need to be trued up and then the new axles need to be installed. The new axles will be dipped in liquid nitrogen and then placed in the wheel centers. The liquid nitrogen will contract the axle so that it will slide into the wheel center. Then of course, the axle warms up and expands into the wheel center. This is the last bullet to dodge. The expansion of the axle could cause the wheel center to fracture. We don’t think so, but it could happen. If it should, it’s not the end of the world; but it would delay the project as we either cast a new wheel center or do more welding.

Once we finish with 93, the plan is to start on 40. This will be “the same song, second verse, same as the first.” Locomotive 40 has two cracked axles. We’ll replace all three axles and refurbish or replace the other parts for the running gear as needed. Once this is done, we’ll have two solid steam locomotives.

But the steam locomotives are not the only big projects we have going on. We recently did a rebuild on locomotive 204. 204 is an ex-Southern Pacific SD-9 that we received from BHP. (BHP was the mining company at Ruth before the current company Quadra.) No. 204 was tired, there were no two ways about. Since the beginning of the year, we have replaced all of her 16 cylinders with rebuilt mini-packs. A mini-pack is a cylinder liner, piston, and new valves. The old mini-pack is pulled out of the engine block and replaced with a rebuilt mini-pack. Hook up the connecting rod to the new piston and voila, your prime mover is rebuilt. Actually there was a lot more to it than that and if Mike from TV’s Dirty Jobs wants to do a really, really, really dirty job this is it, especially putting on the snap ring that connects the piston to the connecting rod. It doesn’t get any dirtier than that.

As I write this, locomotive 204 is blowing its horn as it heads up the hill for another trip. With a rebuilt prime mover, it doesn’t smoke anywhere near as much as it previously did. Locomotive 204 will now be our principle diesel. Locomotives 105 and 109 will go into semi-retirement. Why? The availability of parts for ALCO 244 prime movers are getting scarcer and harder to find.

Meanwhile parts for locomotive 204 are (relatively speaking) available, not to mention cheaper. Also on tap for 204 is a new paint job. The Nevada Northern had an SD7 locomotive—No. 401. This locomotive type is the direct predecessor to the SD9. And frankly. 401 has one of the more attractive locomotive paint schemes around. I’ve heard the paint scheme referred to as the desert war bonnet—the colors were black, tan and scarlet. Since 204 has the same body style as 401, the plan is to paint 204 as No. 402 in the Nevada Northern desert war bonnet scheme. (Locomotive 401 still exists and is still painted in its original paint scheme. It is located at the power plant at Delta Utah.)

Another big project that we have undertaken is the rebuilding of the railroad from Hiline to McGill Junction. A little more than seven miles of track is getting new ties and ballast. The last train on this track was in 2000 when the Army MRS-3 diesel locomotives were brought to Ely. Essentially comprised of the original track that Mark Requa built a century ago, putting this track back in service opens the mainline from the mine to the traditional end of the museum’s track. (Technically, the museum’s track now extends to MP 0 at Cobre.) Of course, the next step will then be rebuilding the track north from McGill Junction. A part of the power plant projects, we would like to see the rehabilitation of the track from McGill Junction north to the connection with the Union Pacific Railroad at Shafter. Once this happens, then Ely will be linked with the worldwide transportation system.

Another track project scheduled for this year is the Club 50 crossing on US Highway 93 between Ely and McGill. The plans have been drawn up and this project will be let for bid in the near future. Meanwhile on the Keystone branch, hundreds of ties have been replaced. But we still have more work to be done there.

On the building front, the State of Nevada has spent over a $1,000,000 on the East Ely Depot and the Freight Barn. The depot received new sidewalks and ADA accessibility. The water leaks were fixed and the black tar was removed from the bottom two courses of sandstone. Some of this stone had really eroded because of the water leaks. New stone was quarried from the original quarry near Currie and used to repair the eroded pieces. The depot has also been painted and received new restrooms. After 101 years, the Freight Barn finally received a foundation. The wooden walkways on both sides have been repaired and are now serviceable. The floor has been leveled and the building received new ADA restrooms.

Also around the rail yard the never-ending battle with weeds continues. We sprayed the entire railroad this spring and you can really see what areas were missed. We have grant money to address additional building issues both at East Ely and in McGill. These projects will be starting in the near future. Flat car 23 received a new coat of paint thanks to the efforts of Bill Hohlt. And Pat Rogers is repainting the tables that we use for the dining trains.

And I think the biggest news is the retirement of Evva Schaefer. After fifteen years of service Evva will retire on June 20th. We are having a retirement party for Evva on June 21st—where else but on the 7:00 p.m. Chocolate train.

The railroad is never static. It is constantly evolving. And that is our challenge, we need to preserve, protect and grow—all at the same time.

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Monday - Saturday | 8AM - 5PM
Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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