Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

January 19, 2008
Track Crew work party day

Filling Ballast Car
The rented wheel loader is used to fill the ballast car with rock. Photo by Bob P.

As part of the final completion of the Car House Three project, it was necessary to place some ballast inside the building.  At the edges of the interior walkways next to the track, there was a significant drop off, which could be a stumbling hazard to people viewing the artifacts inside the building.  In order to eliminate this problem, it was decided to place a small row of ballast between the track and the edge of the walkway.  Since ballast rock isn’t all that much fun to walk on, this would have the added benefit of discouraging walking in places where people shouldn’t. 

In order to place this rock, the Track Crew elected to use the former Southern Pacific ballast hopper.   The hopper allows good control of the flow of rock, so that placing an even row of ballast would be relatively easy.  The only hard part of the work would be removing all the cars and locomotives stored in the building, so that the ballast hopper could be run up and down each track to distribute the rock.  Given the wintertime season, and that it was desired not to allow the cars to become wet now that they were stored safe and dry inside the Car House Three, a good deal of luck was required in choosing the day to perform this work.  I say “luck” since it is generally hard to plan on the weather.

inside car house

A fresh row of ballast has been placed between the track and the walkway in the foreground.  Meanwhile, the passenger train in the background is being moved to another track, so it will be out of the way.  Photo by Robert M.

A suitable weekend presented itself in the latter half of January.  Joel C. ordered 150 tons of ballast and a large wheel loader to load it into the hopper, to be delivered before the appointed day.  David J. got a head start with his crew on the Friday before the weekend to move some of the more complicated cars out of the way.  In fact, it took the entire day to get three of the six tracks emptied.  Many of these cars are complicated to move, since some of them cannot be coupled together in trains.  The Southern Pacific Red Cars, recently moved into the Car House, have temporary couplers welded to just one end of each car body, and so must be handled one at a time. 

On Saturday morning, the Track Crew showed up and began the work of spreading the ballast.  The Visalia Electric 44-tonner number 502 was used to handle the ballast car as well as perform switching, due to its smooth control at slow speeds.  Unloading a uniform row of ballast along the walkway edge turned out to be relatively easy.  Getting a similar row of ballast to the ends of the track turned out to be much more complicated, since the ballast hopper wouldn't unload ballast in those areas.  For the near end of the walkways, the large wheel loader was able to reach in through the track doors to distribute rock against the end walkways.  For the far end, a self-tipping forklift hopper (normally used to carry trash to the dumpster) was filled with rock and then placed on a push car.  Then the motorcar was used to transport this to the end of the track inside the building, and the rock dumped where needed.  Some hand shoveling was required to place the rock where these various combinations of things just wouldn’t reach.  The Track Crew for this day was Greg B., Mike C., Joel C., Mike D., Mal E., Robert M., Bob P., and Robert P.

shoveling ballast

The ballast car was unable to place ballast at the end walkways, so the rock was brought in using the wheel loader.  Then it was placed by shovel where needed.  Photo by Bob P.

As each track was completed, the cars from another track were moved over to expose another walkway needing rock.  After filling the ballast hopper as needed, the process was then repeated until each walkway had a row of ballast along each exposed edge.  By the end of the day, all of the walkways were completed, and the Track Crew began to move the cars and locomotives back to their appointed places in the Car House.  In fact, the Crew was able to put something more than half of the cars back where they belonged.  David J. returned with his crew on the following Sunday to put the remaining cars back indoors.  Looking back, that really was the most difficult part of the work – moving all the equipment around.  Placing the rock went quickly once the tracks were cleared.  Fortunately, the weather held, clear and sunny, until the Monday following, when everything was back indoors.  Whew!



January 14, 2008

Repair to Tie Inserter

Now that last year’s tie replacement project is completed, it is time to make some major repairs to the Tie Inserter machine.  When this machine was purchased, it was quite old and tired.  Numerous repairs were done over the last year in order to keep it operational, but several important issues were put off.  However, with the machine not needed for a while, this is the time to address those problems.

Engine for Tie inserter
The old engine and pump assembly from the Tie Inserter was removed for replacement. Once the new engine arrives, a few parts to be reused will be transferred to the new engine. Photo by Joel Cox.

When the Tie Inserter arrived, it was noted that the engine had one weak cylinder.  Since it is only a two-cylinder engine, this is a significant defect.  However, the hydraulic pump that the engine drives was also worn out, so that the two were pretty equally matched.  In order to return the machine to optimum performance, a new engine and hydraulic pump were ordered.  Also, both hydraulic valve banks for the two workheads as well as the workhead lift cylinder will be replaced.

In order to facilitate the work, the machine was brought into the shop.  So that it would be out of the way of normal shop operations, a forklift was used to set it over on the concrete floor, off the track.  Once in the shop, the work of dismantling the machine began.

Removal of the engine was a relatively simple affair, requiring only removal of a few hoses from the hydraulic pump and a few wires from the electrical system.  Then the bolts holding the engine to the frame of the machine were removed and the engine together with the pump was lifted using a forklift.  In the photo, the old engine waits on the shop floor for the new engine to arrive.   Once the new engine is on hand, a few parts will be taken off the old one (such as air cleaner, starter, and alternator) to be reused on the new one.

The next step was removal of the old hydraulic pump.  The pump mounts on the bell housing of the engine, and is driven directly off the flywheel using a splined connection.  Once this was removed, it was discovered that the splined drive plate was in very poor condition.  A quick call to the manufacturer (Harsco Track Technologies) revealed that they didn’t have any of these parts in stock, but they would be willing to make one for us.  For a price, of course.  At any rate, the required part was ordered, and reassembly will need to wait until all the parts arrive.

December 22, 2007
Track Crew Work Party Day

filling the ballast train
Robert P. operates the rented loader to fill the ballast train. The new crossing in front of the Car House Three proved to be a convenient place to load the ballast cars. Photo by Jerry A.

Through the course of the recent tie replacement work, in some areas the track had ended up needing additional ballast.  In some cases, this was due to the track being short of ballast from the beginning; in other cases it became necessary to raise the track during the course of the work.  In any event, additional ballast would be needed.

unloading ballast
Joel C. opens the unloading door of one of the ballast cars to distribute ballast where needed along the Sacramento Northern main track. Robert P. waits alongside to assist in closing the ballast door if necessary, while in the distance Bob P. operates the locomotive shoving the train. Photo by Jerry A.

Ballast comes to the museum from the quarry in trucks, so in advance of the work the material was ordered and delivered to a pile on the ground.  Also in advance, the ballast train was assembled and the door mechanisms of the ballast cars were lubricated by Joel C. and Mike D.  Then, for the Work Party day, an articulated wheel loader was rented to fill the ballast cars.  Robert P. operated the machine to fill the cars as needed, and several trips were made to unload the ballast where needed, and then return to fill the cars again.  Jerry A., Mike C., Bob P., and Robert P. all participated in the ballast train operation.

December 8, 2007
Track Crew Work Party Day

Shifting ties
Robert P., Bob P., and Mike C. shovel ballast out of the way in preparation for shifting the ties to the proper spacing. This allowed a new tie to be installed where needed. Photo by Jerry A.

For one final day, the Track Crew returned to the task of replacing ties in the Association’s operating tracks.  By the end of the day, the Crew finally reached the annual goal of changing 400 ties!  That meant that for future work days, the Crew could move on to other important tasks.  But for this final day, the Crew focused on installing new ties in the Sacramento Northern main track to the south of the museum.

For this day, most of the Crew’s work involved inserting extra ties where others were missing.  It seems that after a big fire destroyed many ties in the track around 1960, the Sacramento Northern crews decided to skimp by not installing all of the ties needed.  Instead, they frequently installed one tie in the middle where two were missing due to the fire, or two where there should have been three.  While this helped them get the line back in service quickly, the result was a very uneven tie spacing.  In order to install the missing ties, it was necessary to first shift the existing ties (those replaced by the SNRY crews)

Inserting new ties between old ones
Joel C. operates the Association's Tie Inserter to install new ties between the old ones that had been shifted to the correct spacing. In the background, Robert P., Bob P., and Mike C. prepare to tamp up the new ties using the Tamper. Photo by Jerry A.

back to the positions where they should have been installed, and then insert a new tie in the space created.  Installing a new tie where none was located was not too difficult using the Association’s tie replacement equipment, but shifting the existing ties to the proper spacing was more difficult.  This required a significant amount of hand work to shovel the ballast out of the way, and then to hammer the tie longitudinally along the rail to the desired spacing.  Then the ballast was shoveled back around the ties.  Sometimes two or three ties had to be moved to make room for each new one installed.  In the end, however, the Crew of Jerry A., Mike C., Joel C., Bob P., and Robert P. made very good progress and managed to finally meet the annual goal for new ties installed.




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