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The Queen is Steaming Again

Nevada Northern Railway locomotive 40 is back in service. If you have been anywhere around the railroad since Labor Day weekend, you already knew that. Locomotive 40s whistle is distinctive. When the engineer pulls the whistle rope, a powerful beautiful sound reverberates throughout the canyons around Ely. This is as it has been for the past ninety-nine years.

At ninety-nine years old, I think she is one of the most beautiful locomotives still in existence. That’s the good news. But as I’ve learned, news around the railroad is usually of the good news/bad news variety. The bad news is that locomotive 40 still needs hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of repairs.

In February 2008, I announced that locomotive 40 was removed from service because cracks were discovered in her axles. Shortly after the announcement, locomotive 40 was shoved into her stall in the enginehouse. The prognosis was not good; her running gear was just about worn out and would need hundreds of thousands of dollars to get working again (or so I thought.) At the same time locomotive 93 was already down because cracks had been discovered in her axles. In 2008, the museum invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in locomotive 93’s running gear. Axles and crown brasses were replaced along with all other worn out parts. All the other components that make up the running gear were refurbished last December and locomotive 93 entered service.

Locomotive 93s premier was at the photo shoots this past February where teething problems were discovered. Teething problems continued to plague us through June. Then finally, locomotive 93 settled down and we could declare her rebuild complete.

Bringing locomotive 93 back in service was draining both mentally and financially. While all of our resources were being invested in locomotive 93, locomotive 40 was parked in her stall. Those of us who are around steam locomotives a lot will swear to you that they are alive. They have a personality. All of our resources were being invested in locomotive 93 exclusively; the queen (locomotive 40) was being ignored. She sat there in her stall while all of the attention was focus on locomotive 93. You could almost feel the disgust emanating from 40 (and maybe jealousy.) In May, locomotive 93 was still being plagued by a hot bearing on axle 4. But the overheating of that bearing was another example of the good news/bad news conundrum. The bad news is that we still had a problem with locomotive 93. It was decided to drop the axle and bring in another set of eyes. We called in John E. Rimmasch, CEO, Wasatch Railroad Contractors (WRC). John quickly diagnosed the problem on locomotive 93; it was minor. Repairs were quickly made and locomotive 93 was back in service.

The good news component was that while in the enginehouse, John asked why isn’t locomotive 40 in service? I told him cracks had been found in two axles. His response was, “Are you sure they were cracks and not inclusions?” Good question. I didn’t have an answer. He asked if I would like him to inspect the locomotive and provide me with a written report enumerating his findings. My reply was, “Yes.”

John and his staff inspected locomotive 40 over a two-day period. Steam locomotives are governed by the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The standard John used for the inspection was the criteria found in 49 CFR Part 230 Steam Locomotive Inspection and Maintenance Standards, specifically subparts 230.93 through 230.113.

Nevada Northern steam locomotive 40 was built in 1910 by the Baldwin Locomotive Works as a passenger locomotive for the railroad. In 2009, she was recognized as an Official Locomotive of the State of Nevada. Now back in service hauling passengers from Ely to Ruth she turns one hundred years old next July.

John and his crew meticulously went over locomotive 40 comparing the condition of the locomotive with each subpart of the CFR. It is 49 CFR 230.98 that covers the axles. This was the nail biting part. From John’s report, “WRC conducted an ultrasonic examination of the drive axles. WRC did find that there were minor inclusions within these axles, but there were no detectable cracks that condemn the axles from operational use.”

Ah, good news!—we could put locomotive 40 back in service again. But wait, where there’s good news there is usual bad news. And the bad news was in the last two sentences of the report, “Total estimated cost [for the complete rehabilitation of the running gear] with an additional 6% contingency for unforeseen change orders. Total Estimated Cost . . . $425,000 [to] $450,000.”

Actually, John’s report confirmed most of what we already knew: locomotive 40s running gear needs a complete rebuild just like we did to locomotive 93. The bright spot in John’s report was that there was no reason why we couldn’t operate locomotive 40 now while we begin the process of raising the money to make the repairs.

With John’s report in hand, the decision was made to put locomotive 40 back in operation. But before that could happen, locomotive 40 would have to undergo an annual inspection. The CFR states that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) be notified that a steam locomotive will be undergoing its annual inspection and that the FRA be afforded the opportunity to be present.

The notification letter was sent. And three FRA inspectors showed up to watch the inspection and to inspect the locomotive themselves. Locomotive 40 passed the inspection and was put back in service.

So where are we? Short version: locomotive 40 needs a complete rehabilitation of her running gear and it will be costly. Before the work can commence, the money will have to be raised. Meanwhile, locomotive 40 is back in service. She will see very limited service between now and her rebuild.

As I write this (September 21, 2009) today will be the last day locomotive 40 will be in operation until the winter photo shoots in February 2010. After the photo shoots, she will be in service only when locomotive 93 is out of service for maintenance. Her centennial is July 2010. We’ll have a big birthday party for her and kick off the fund raising. Hopefully, with a little luck and a lot of determination locomotive 40s running gear will under go restoration in the spring of 2011. So by the time she’s 101 years old she’ll be fit as a fiddle and ready to steam for another hundred years.

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Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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