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Steaming by the 4th of July

“They’re divas— they’re temperamental and expensive to maintain,” was Gwyneth’s comment as we were talking about when we’ll be steaming again. Our plan is to have locomotive 93 steaming by the 4th of July. Of course, the $200,000 question is whether we’ll make that deadline. So will we? Well . . . the forthright answer is we don’t know yet. We think we can hit that deadline, but there are still a lot of factors outside our control.

Work on 93 is proceeding here in Ely and in Salt Lake City. In Ely, Gary North of Gary’s Machine Shop is working on the 93. Gary brings a wealth of experience to the project. Trained by Kennecott as a machinist, he has spent his career repairing and creating things in metal. He has worked on steam locomotives around the country and he is eminently qualified to make the repairs to 93. And as a hometown boy, to Gary it’s a matter of pride to see 93 heading down the rails again with a full head of steam.

Mike Manweller, Chief Mechanical Officer of the Heber Valley Railroad is our go to person in Salt Lake City. The work on the wheels and axles of 93 is being done by a machine shop there. With Mike being close by, any questions or problems can be addressed by Mike almost immediately. Mike also brings a wealth of skill and knowledge to the project. He’s in charge of Heber’s steamers. In fact, Heber is investing money in their locomotives’ running gear just as we are. So the challenges that we’re facing with 93, Heber is facing with their two locomotives. In a sense, we’re all in the same boat, keeping divas in service.

The good news is that we are at the “put it together” stage. However, the axles, wheels, and tires are still our biggest challenge. Let me explain. The project started because the number two axle was running hot. Upon investigation, we found that the bearing was gone and the axles had cracks. Further investigation showed that all of the axles were worn out, along with the bearings, drive boxes, spring rigging, crosshead guides, crossheads, shoes, and wedges. Due to the amount of wear, we decided to make repairs and replace worn out parts of the running gear. This holistic approach was different from our previous thinking. Before it was just repair it enough to get it out the door again, which led to further breakdowns. So now, when we’re done, we shouldn’t have to look at running gear issues for at least fifty years. There will always be running gear maintenance issues though.

At this point you might be thinking, yes, that’s all well and good, but will 93 be operating by the 4th of July? I still don’t know. Since we’re taking the long view, our primary responsibility is to complete the repairs to the highest level we can achieve. Understand we’re not looking to gold plate anything but rather to make sure that when we’re done, the running gear is rock solid. And if that takes us to July 5th or July 11th or God forbid August 4th then so be it. But we mustn’t lose sight that when we’re done, 93 will be a strong locomotive mechanically for the next half of century.

I can report that a lot of work has been done. In Salt Lake, the tires are off the wheels. The old axles and crank pins have been removed. (This brings up an interesting issue: what do we do with the old axles? They weigh about a thousand pounds apiece and of course, they are historic. But they just look like a big piece of steel rod, a very big piece.) The wheel centers have been sand blasted and have been examined for cracks. Some cracks were found and these will be welded. The eccentrics have been cleaned and a new bearing is being manufactured. The tires have been trued up, both inside and outside. Still to be done is truing the wheel centers, machining and installing the new axles and quartering. New crown brasses have been ordered and delivered. The new crown brasses will need machining and the drive boxes need refurbishment. Then the new axles are installed, the refurbished tires go on, along with the new crank pins, wheel hub liners and the drive boxes with crown brasses; then every thing is shipped back to Ely for installation.

Meanwhile in Ely, the frame has been cleaned and string lined. The pistons have been removed, their rods polished. The crosshead guides have been trued. New babbitt has been poured in the crossheads. This will need to be machined for the guides. The spring rigging is receiving new pins, equalizers and the hangers are being bushed. We have a new spring pack that will go on. The shoes and wedges have been machined and they are installed. Additional parts of the spring rigging have been cut out of new steel, and they will be installed.

After all the parts come back to Ely and they are installed, there will still be a lot of work to be done – once 93 is steamed up again. There will be the need to do break-in runs, then adjustments, more break-in runs, more adjustments. And once all of this done, then 93 will be released for service.

There is another important aspect of this project that without it won’t be completed—money. Remember the $200,000 question, “Will 93 run by the 4th of July?” It’s a $200,000 question because that’s the amount of money that we are budgeting for the repair. And better yet, we have the money in the bank to complete the repairs to 93. There are two groups that deserve special mention that made this possible. The first are the members of the Nevada Northern Railway National Historic Landmark. In December and January, they opened their checkbooks and provided the cash to allow us to start the project. Secondly, the White Pine County Tourism and Recreation Board stepped up to the plate to insure that we would have the money to complete the project. Without this financial support, frankly, I don’t know when 93 would run again but now that question has been answered.

Does this mean that nothing else will need to be done to 93? No, there is always something that needs to be done to a steam locomotive. Remember Gwyneth’s comment? “They’re divas—they’re temperamental and expensive to maintain.” And we need to add to it—”They always need something to be fixed; it’s just their nature.”

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Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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