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Shop Talk

by Marty Westland, Chief Mechanical Officer

“But didn’t you just rebuild 40?” I’ve heard the question dozens of times when visitors see the locomotive in the shop for repairs. So I thought that this might be a good opportunity to explain a little bit about the “care and feeding” of our steam locomotives.

As you know, the Nevada Northern Railway has two operating steam locomotives: 40 and 93. The inspection of these and almost every other steam locomotive in the United States is unequivocally mandated by the Federal Railway Administration (FRA). Certain inspections and repairs are prescribed at 31-day and 92-day intervals, along with annual inspections. Then, after 1,472 steam days or 15 calendar years (whichever comes first) a really major inspection is mandated: the inspection of the boiler shell inside and out—requiring the removal and replacement of the flues that run from the firebox to the smoke box of the locomotive—as well as removal of the lagging and jacketing from the boiler. It was this laborious procedure that No. 40 underwent two years ago, but despite the considerable time spent, it still cannot be called a rebuild.

It is more accurately described as a “major boiler inspection and flue renewal, as prescribed by law.” It does not “fix” the wear and tear that occurs on all of the other parts of the locomotive. Every time a locomotive leaves the house, wear is incurred that at some time will have to be repaired. As a rule of thumb, for every hour the locomotive is hot, you can figure on three hours of maintenance. During the photo shoots, 40 and 93 were hot for four days or 96 six hours each. (When a steam locomotive is needed the next day, the fire is banked which means that the locomotive does not cool off overnight.) So between the two steam locomotives employed for one photo shoot, 576 hours will be invested for maintenance. And there were a total of three photo shoots, so this means that an aggregate of 1,728 hours for maintenance will need to be invested in the locomotives. Figure on a 40-hour week and you’re talking over 43 man-weeks worth of maintenance. Of course, we cannot leave the steamers down for 43 weeks. So we have a lot of people working on the locomotives at one time. This renewal is a daily process on the Nevada Northern Railway, with major repairs reserved for periods of time when the locomotive is not needed.

As I am writing this, 40 has just finished her Photo Shoot duties and will be laid up in the shop for its annual inspection and some major repairs—slated to return to service May 5th, in time for the 2007 season.

During this down time, we will “drop” the #3 driver set in order to reduce lateral play and replace several stay bolts that are leaking. The valve gear also needs attention, steam packings on the piston rods and valve rods require renewal, the throttle will be lapped and the firebox grates need to be replaced. While we’re at it, the air compressor and dynamo will be rebuilt; while at the same time all the valves, piping, and gauges will be inspected, lapped, and calibrated. Once back together, the boiler will be hydrostatically tested. All of this is done to counteract the wear that accrues every time we use the locomotive.

Earlier I used the term “steam days.” A steam day is defined as any day that the locomotive has fire in the firebox and pressure in the boiler; it is ready to work pulling passenger trains. Afterwards the shop crew sets to work repairing the effects of the day’s work—wear, corrosion, mechanical and thermal fatigue—a constant “rebuilding” process. Little jobs or big ones, all of them collectively insure that 40 will be running for many years to come.

A look down the track
You may have heard that the Nevada Northern Railway is getting two new (for us) coaches. They are ex-Ontario Northland cars and are presently sitting in Ogden, Utah waiting to be trucked to Ely. Upon arrival, we will get them ready for service and then give all four of our excursion coaches a new coat of paint. We also plan to paint our vintage wooden baggage car and coach this spring. We’ve got to make them as pretty as our freshly painted “outfit” car—an 1872 Pullman named “Levi.” I believe it is the oldest piece of rolling stock on the railroad.

And I must not forget our diesels: Alco 109 (an RS-3) will methodically have its twelve cylinders and heads renewed while Alco 105 (an RS-2) carries the load. Not all the work on the Nevada Northern occurs in the shop. You’ve heard the saying: “No track, no train,” so this spring we are engaging in a major tie replacement program and replacement of the wooden bridge at Gleason Creek with culverts. Track is constantly under attack by train traffic and weather, so it is inspected and repaired two times every week. Our tie replacement program will help to insure a smooth, safe ride for the future of the Nevada Northern Railway.

Yes, I admit that our “spring” plans might seem a bit ambitious, but we have an excellent shop crew, wonderful volunteers, and a common desire to make the Nevada Northern the best little railroad in the nation. I am betting that these workers will rise to the challenge of these ambitious plans.

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Hours of Operation

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

Our Location

1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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