Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

November 10, 2007
Track Crew Work Party Day

shifting spikes

Pete W., Bob P., Joel C., and Mike C. shovel ballast and shift ties to the proper spacing.  Replacement ties had been inserted at uneven spacing after a fire in the 1960s.  Shifting these ties back to their proper spacing allowed new ties to be inserted at appropriate places where needed.  Photo by Jerry A.

Saturday started out as a gloomy day, but an enthusiastic crew set out to replace more ties, this time south of the Diablo Vista switch.

In the early days of the Western Railway Museum, there was a major grass fire that swept across the fields and caused extensive damage to the Sacramento Northern tracks and structures.  At that time, many ties were burned in this area south of the budding museum grounds.  The Sacramento Northern set out to repair the damage, though in a somewhat half-hearted way.  While the tracks were theoretically part of and active line, there wasn’t much freight service.  So as a measure of economy, the railroad didn’t replace all of the burned ties.  In many cases, where there were two or three burned ties together, they only put one replacement in the middle.  This resulted in an uneven and interrupted tie spacing in the track.  The Track Crew, consisting of Jerry A., Mike C., Joel C., Bob P., and Pete W. decided to fix this situation while inserting new ties where needed.

repairing spiker

Bob P. and Pete W. replace the pull rope for the engine of the Spiker.  Photo by Jerry A.

To correct the tie spacing generally meant shifting the ties that were inserted after the fire in the 1960’s.  To shift the ties, the ballast had to be removed, and then the ties were slid along the rail to the proper spacing.  Then one or more new ties could be installed at the correct locations.  All of this meant plenty of hand shoveling of the ballast.  Meanwhile, where needed, deteriorated old ties were also removed for replacement.  The new ties were inserted in the normal way, using the Association’s Tie Inserter.

After the new ties were inserted, they were tamped up using the Tamper. Then, while preparing to drive the spikes, the pull rope for starting the engine of the Spiker broke. This was very unfortunate, since the weather was getting wetter and wetter, and the crew just wanted to finish up and go home. An urgent call was put into the shop, asking for a new rope and appropriate wrenches to be put on the next streetcar. These arrived in short order, and the rope starter was repaired. Soon, all the spikes were driven, the tools were picked up, and the crew headed for shelter.

November 1 , 2007
New switch target for the Shop 2 switch

Repaired switch stand

By welding a new end on to the vertical shaft of the switch stand, the adapter bracket and the switch target could be mounted.  The end of the vertical shaft had been modified to fit a different, larger target.  Photo by Joel C.

When the stand timbers were replaced recently on the Shop 2 switch, shorter ties were used and the switch stand was moved closer to the track.  This allows better access to the switch stand, since it is now further away from the wall of the adjacent building.  However, by doing this, it was no longer possible to use the old switch target.  The old one was too large, and exceeded the required clearance around the railroad track.  A new, smaller target together with the appropriate adapter bracket was selected from the Association’s collection of track parts.  However, it was not immediately possible to mount the new target, since the upright shaft of the switch stand had been modified by cutting off the top of the shaft and welding on a bolt.  This had held the large, old target OK, but was not appropriate for the new one.

The solution was to cut off the bolt, and weld on a piece of steel shaped to match the tip of the shaft that had previously been there.  An appropriate piece of steel was selected from the stock rack in the shop, and shaped to form the tapered, rectangular shape needed for the switch stand’s shaft.  Joel C. brought the diesel powered Welder and other tools to the turnout, and began by cutting off the welded-on bolt.  Then the new shaft tip was welded in place, and ground to fit.  Finally, the new switch target was mounted in place.

While the welder was set up, Joel used the opportunity to weld in place a couple of traction power bonds which had been broken off during the earlier tie replacement work.  Finally, the work on this turnout is complete.

October 27, 2007
Track Crew work party day

Sacrifier at work

Joel C. operates the scarifier attachment of the Tie Inserter to prepare the ballast for the next tie.  This attachment loosens and clears the ballast under the rails to allow the new tie to be inserted.  In the background, Pete W. shovels excess ballast out of the way.  Photo by Jerry A.

The Track Crew is getting close to the overall goal of changing 400 ties for the year, but there are still a few to go.  So it was back to changing ties for the day.

The annual Pumpkin Patch was going full blast for this weekend, so there wasn’t any possibility of getting track time on the main track.  Therefore, the Track Crew decided to work on a part of the Sacramento Northern track that isn’t used for the Pumpkin Trains.  The work would be done where many cars used to be stored, adjacent to the Tail Track and north of the Diablo Vista switch.

Consulting about the next tie insertion

Joel C., Bob P., and Pete W. consult about the next tie to be inserted, while on the adjacent track a Key System bridge unit returns with a full load from the Pumpkin Patch.  To the left, several new ties are ready to be inserted by the machine, waiting in the background.  Photo by Jerry A.

This part of the track had not seen any tie replacement in a very long time, and in certain areas the tie condition was very poor.  This turned out to make the work much more difficult, since the tie inserter didn’t work to extract the old ties in most cases.  Instead, it became necessary to remove the old ties by hand.  Generally, the only way they would come out would be to break them up into small pieces.  The Tie Inserter was only able to grab the old ties by the end, which typically broke off during extraction.  This would leave a piece of old tie still jammed under the track, which required hand work to extract.

The Crew, consisting of Jerry A., Joel C., Bob P., and Pete W. worked at replacing the ties all day, and managed to get enough new ties inserted to significantly improve the track conditions.  Much more work will be required in the future, should this track become a regular operating track.  However, for the present time, the work performed will keep the track safe for occasional movements.

October 13, 2007
Track Crew work party day

considering the stability of the swith stand
Pete W. and Bob P. consider the test stability of the switch stand after replacing the stand timber. Photo by Jerry A.

Because of the intensive train operations associated with the annual Pumpkin Patch (and the continuous streams of visitors riding those trains), there really wasn’t any opportunity to work on the active tracks on this day.  Taking the track out of service for some period of time really wasn’t an option.  So the Track Crew took their tie-changing activities up to the South Shop switch, safely out of harms way.

The South Shop switch needed a new timber to support the switch stand, and the Shop 2 switch (that divides the two shop tracks) needed a variety of switch ties replaced.  The Shop 2 switch had received a few new ties the previous time, but more were needed, for a total of 21 ties in that switch.  The first challenge to overcome was replacing the stand timber for the South Shop switch.

The switch stand for this switch is designed to rest on a single, large (9” x 12” x 16’0”) timber.  As it turns out, the Association had one of these timbers (used) that had been kicking around in the yard for a long time.  It was in good shape, needing only some tie plugs to fill the old spike holes.  First challenge, though, was to get the old timber out of the track. 

spiking new switch ties
Pete W. and Joel C. drive spikes into the new switch ties, while in the background Bob P. distributes new spikes for installation. Photo by Jerry A.

Removing the spikes and the switch stand was no big challenge, since the old tie was quite soft with rot.  Removal of the timber, though, was obstructed by an old rail grinder that had been sitting beside the track for many years.  Originally, it was thought to move the grinder out of the way using a forklift.  However, there had been enough rain during the previous day that the ground was now quite soft, precluding use of a forklift.  However, it turned out to be possible to tip the grinder up on its end by hand, leaving just enough room to maneuver the old tie out.  The Tie Inserter did so in short order.  The same machine then carried the old tie out of the way, and brought the replacement up into place.  After the air compressor was used to blow the dirt out of the old spike holes, and tie plugs were used to keep the rot out, it was inserted, tamped, and spiked down.  The replacement tie has resulted in a major improvement in the stability and strength of the switch stand, which is really pleasing.

With that first task complete, the Crew turned to the remainder of the ties to be replaced in the Shop 2 switch.  The Track Crew for this day was Jerry A., Joel C., Bob P., and Pete W.

Once the tie replacement was complete, the Crew devoted the remainder of the day to picking up the old ties (and lots of tie splinters) resulting from the tie replacement activities of the past few months.  They made great headway on this task, though a significant amount of work remains to finish cleaning up.

Back to the Track Crew news archive