Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

September 29, 2007

pulling spikes
Mike C. and Joe M. pull spikes using claw bars, while in the distance the Tie Inserter is extracting the old ties. Photo by Jerry A.

Track Crew Work Party
Once again, the Track Crew went back to work changing ties in the operating track.  The work this day started on the Tail Track between South Park and Diablo Vista.  This meant that train operations during the tie replacement work would be significantly curtailed, since there would be no access to the Sacramento Northern main track.  Due to the expected number of visitors for the day, the Crew had agreed to work on the tie replacement only during the morning, and release the track for normal operations in the afternoon.  So the Crew went to work, knowing they had only a short time to complete the work.

Tie Inserter
The Association's Tie Inserter does its job installing new ties on the Tail Track. Joel C. operates the machine, while in the background more new ties wait to be installed. Photo by Jerry A.

The new feature of the day was use of the steel battering ram constructed earlier.  This short section of I beam was gripped in the jaws of the Tie Inserter.  After the spikes had been pulled, the battering ram was used to start the ties out from under the track by pushing on the end.  Then the battering ram was released, the machine was turned around, and the ties gripped in the normal way to pull them the rest of the way out from under the track.  This turned out to be a good way of getting the ties out, with only a few suffering from the end of the tie breaking off while being pulled out.  These few required extra hand work to get the old ties out, but all of the others were extracted and inserted without special effort.  This was a major victory, since the overall job has much higher productivity with much less physical effort when the machine works as intended.

Coaxing a new tie into position
Mike C. and Joel C. coax a new tie into position. This tie will support the switch stand for this turnout. The position of the track next to the building made this work complicated. Photo by Jerry A.

After the track was buttoned up and turned back over to normal train operations, the Track Crew reconvened at the South Shop Switch to replace a few more ties safely out of the way of the trains.  These ties were complicated to change due to the close clearances between the adjacent tracks and the Car House Two building. 

The most difficult were two ties holding the switch stand.  Fortunately, these two were so thoroughly deteriorated that they easily broke apart for removal.  The replacement ties required significant excavation a bit of jacking of the track in order to coax them into place.


September 25, 2007

Battering Ram
Steel parts cut out, waiting to be welded together to form a battering ram. The flat plate will be welded to the end of the I beam, to push against the ends of the ties. The other pieces will guide the part while it is gripped in the jaws of the Tie Inserter. Photo by Joel C.

A "Battering Ram" for Tie Replacement
Some success has been had using a small section of a tie like a battering ram, to grip in the jaws of the Tie Inserter and begin pushing out the old tie to be changed.   Then the machine can be turned around, and the old tie gripped in the jaws to pull it out the usual way.  This helps to reduce the problems with the end of the old tie splintering, which often results in the machine loosing the grip on the tie, and then it is stuck under the rail.  By pushing on the old ties first to get them started, the machine is able to get a better grip, and do its job more effectively.  Using a section of a tie as a battering ram was successful, but the wood was quickly worn away, reducing the effectiveness.  So it was decided to construct one out of steel.

A search of miscellaneous materials lying around the shop yielded appropriate pieces of steel, including a short section of stout I beam, that would make a good battering ram.  Joel C cut the pieces to length, cleaned them up with a grinder, and welded them together to make the tool.  The next step will be to try it out with the Tie Inserter, and see how well it works.


removing ties

After pulling the spikes, Pete W. and Robert P. remove the tie plates from ties to be extracted.  In the background, the Tie Inserter and Tamper wait to do their work.  Photo by Jerry A.



September 15, 2007

Track Crew work party - more tie replacement
This week, the Track Crew was back at it replacing ties in the operating track.  The work was much the same as always – pulling spikes by hand, extracting the old ties and then inserting the new ones using the Tie Inserter, installing the tie plates, tamping using the Tamper, and then spiking using the Spiker. 

turning the tie inserter

Pete W. and Joel C. turn the Tie Inserter around on its center jack in order to insert ties from the other side of the track.  Photo by Jerry A.

Today’s work involved a number of switch ties at the South Park switch, and these are always more complicated.  To begin with, a switch tie always has about twice as many spikes as a normal tie, so it is more complicated right from the start.  Then it frequently works out that the tie plates are messed up for some reason, and this turnout was no exception.  It seems that in several places where there should have been

Guage adjusting tool

Pete W. and Bob P. use the gauge adjusting tool while setting spikes for the newly inserted ties.  Photo by Jerry A.

large tie plates with multiple spike holes (locations where the two rails are close together and there isn’t room for two normal tie plates), the turnout had been constructed with normal tie plates cut with a torch.  This isn’t as strong as using the right plates, so more appropriate plates were selected from our collection and used.  All of these things take extra time, so the overall productivity was lower.  However, it was a pleasant day with sunny skies and a cooling breeze, so no one was complaining.  The work crew this day was Jerry A., Joel C., Robert M., Bob P., Robert P., and Pete W.

Driving spikes

Bob P. sets spikes while Pete W. and Robert P. operate the Spike Driver.  Photo by Jerry A.

One persistent problem relates to using the Tie Inserter to extract old ties.  The machine does this by gripping the tie by its end, and pulling it out.  However, with the deteriorated old ties which are being changed, it frequently occurs that the end of the tie will disintegrate and then the machine can’t do its work.  One solution that seems to work is to use a new tie or just a section of a tie as a battering ram, gripped in the jaws of the Tie Inserter, to push on the end of the tie to get it started.  Then the machine is turned around and works by gripping the tie at the other end.  While this is effective, it is relatively hard on the battering ram.  It seems like it is time to make a suitable battering ram out of steel, which will be more hardy.


September 13, 2007

Repairs to the Tie Inserter
With the next Track Crew work party coming up, it was necessary to get the Tie Inserter back together.   Earlier, the hydraulic tank was cleaned and flushed.  Now it was time to get the hydraulic system connected back together, filled, and tested.

Repairing hoses
Replacing some hydraulic hoses on Tie Inserter.  Photo by Joel C.

A number of hydraulic hoses had been identified that were on their last legs, so this seemed like it would be a good time to get those changed.  Also, there was a part of the system where the previous owner had made some repairs using pipe fittings rated at 150 psi.  This didn’t seem to be a very good choice for a system that operates at 2,000 psi, so the appropriate hoses and high-pressure fittings were ordered.

The task sounds simple – unscrew the defective or incorrect hoses and fittings, and screw on the new ones.  As with everything about railroad maintenance machines, nothing is ever that easy.  The fittings and hose couplings are frequently difficult to reach with a wrench, and as soon as the hydraulic fluid begins to drip out of the open joint, the new fitting becomes very difficult to grip tightly enough with the fingers to get it started back together.  In the end, Joel C. was able to get everything together using a certain amount of persistence and plenty of carefully selected “words of encouragement.”

Finally, with everything hooked up, the tank was filled with new hydraulic fluid and the engine was started to test the system.  True to form, several leaky fittings were discovered.  Some of them were corrected by tightening them, but one needed to be replaced with a new fitting to get a good seal.  Finally, the machine was ready to replace ties again



September 7, 2007

Tie Inserter
Tie inserter in the shop for hydraulic system repairs. In the foreground, the old center jack cylinder is sitting on the floor. Under the machine, a drum in the pit is collecting the oil drained from the system. Photo by Joel C.

Repairs to Tie Inserter
The next chapter in the never-ending tale of repairs to the Track Crew’s collection of old equipment is an overhaul of the hydraulic system of the Tie Inserter.  This machine was purchased by the Association last fall, but it is almost 30 years old.  A long life of hard work has taken its toll on the internal workings of the machine.  Some time ago, while repairing some leaky hydraulic cylinders, it became apparent that the machine swallowed something hard at some point during its life.  This caused significant damage to some cylinders, which needed to be replaced.  But before replacing the cylinders, a major expense, it seemed prudent to drain and flush the hydraulic system.  There was the possibility that whatever caused the initial damage was still circulating in the system, so the best course would be to flush it out before damage could occur to the new cylinders.

A few months ago, a replacement cylinder for the turntable center jack was ordered.  The money to replace all of the damaged cylinders was not immediately available, so at this time only the most important one was purchased.  The remainder of the replacement cylinders will be ordered later when the money is available.  With the new cylinder on hand, it was time to begin the process of draining and flushing the hydraulic system.

New center jack cylinder
New center jack cylinder was dismantled to remove the "stop tube" which limited the cylinder travel. The stop tube is sitting on the rag in the foreground, and the cylinder is ready to be reassembled. Photo by Joel C.

Joel C. brought the machine into the shop, and placed it over the pit.  An empty drum was selected and placed under the machine, and the oil was drained into it by removing the plug from the bottom of the hydraulic tank.  Meanwhile, other parts were removed for replacement or service.  The old turntable center jack was removed by lowering it into the pit.  The hydraulic return-oil filter was removed for replacement, and many hoses disconnected or removed to gain access to the tank for cleaning.  The head of the hydraulic tank was removed to flush out the interior.

One pleasant surprise was to see how clean the hydraulic tank and filters were.  To be sure, there were some metal flakes and bits of dirt, but nothing too serious.  There was evidence that the previous owners must have drained and flushed the system before, so perhaps they had made some attempt to address this situation.  With the oil drained, the tank was flushed with solvent and wiped clean.  The suction strainers in the tank were removed and washed clean, as well as the magnet inside the tank.  Finally, the liquid level sight gauge, which was almost unreadable due to age and deterioration, was replaced with a new one.

Just when it seemed that everything was going well, a problem came up with the new turntable center jack cylinder.  While the new cylinder was ordered from the machine manufacturer using the exact part number of the old one, and by external appearance looked to be an exact replacement, the new cylinder turned out to have much shorter stroke than the old one.  A quick call to the manufacturer revealed that the cylinder is a universal one that is used on several different machines, and has inside it a “stop tube” which limits the travel.  Apparently for use on this machine, the stop tube must be removed.  So it was necessary to dismantle the cylinder, remove the stop tube, and reassemble.  Finally, the new center jack was mounted on the machine using the shop crane.

The end of the day intervened, so the remainder of the work will need to be completed another time.  Still to go – replacement of some hydraulic hoses, reconnecting everything removed for service, and filling and testing the system.

August 18, 2007

spiking crew
Robert M., Bob P., and Mike C. operate the Association's spiking machine to spike up the new ties. Photo by Jerry A.

Track Crew work party day
Once again, the Track Crew spent their work party day replacing ties. The work of this week was around the Car House One yard, and down the Branchline towards the Del Paso Substation.

The first order of business for the day was to replace some switch ties in the yard lead.  Over the past month, the Track Crew has strengthened these turnouts significantly by replacing many switch ties.  This day’s work finished up that work by replacing the remaining marked ties in the Branchline switch.  The Crew worked quickly to finish this work, in order to allow the Operations Department to get back to the business of running trains.  In fact, the Crew was ready to let the operations return to normal by the time they broke for lunch. 

Hand work required
Mike C., Robert P., Robert M., and Pete W. install tie plates on the newly inserted ties. Waiting in the background, the Association's tamper will tamp up the new ties as soon as the tie plates are set in place. Photo by Jerry A.

The remainder of the day was spent replacing ties on the Branchline.  While this track is not in regular service, it does see some operation and therefore needed some attention.  By the end of the day, the Crew had changed all of the marked ties to the end of the Branchline near the Del Paso substation.  The Track Crew for this day was Jerry A., Mike C., Joel C., Mal E., Robert M., Bob P., Robert P., and Pete W.

With the completion of the work of this day, the Track Crew is more than half way towards the annual goal of replacing 400 ties.  Also, the ties replaced so far are without a doubt the most challenging ones of this program – the most difficult to access, the poorest condition, and the greatest number of switch ties.  This means that the tie replacement work is well over half complete for the year.  The remaining work will extend down the open track to the west of the museum, and so should be easier to complete.

August 16, 2007

tamper oil change
The Association's big Jackson 2800 Tamper gets an oil change and other preventative maintenance. Photo by Joel C.

Repairs to Tamper
The Tamper was due for an oil change, so it was off to the shop for that work.  The pit track in the shop is a convenient place to get under the machine for draining the oil.  So, Joel C. positioned the machine over the pit and the work began.
The Tamper has a big diesel engine, and it holds a lot of oil – almost 5 gallons.  While the oil was draining out of the engine, the oil filter, both fuel filters, and the air filter were all replaced.  The photo shows the engine compartment of the Tamper open during servicing.  With the new filters in place, the engine was filled with fresh oil and run to check the fluid levels. 

Also serviced at the same time were the batteries, which were filled with distilled water.  The machine was greased at its working points, and everything checked to make sure it would continue to work well.



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