Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

September 16, 2008
Equipment repairs

workhead cylinder
The workhead cylinder for the Tie Crane is geting new seals. The cylinder is in poor condition, however, and if the leakage problem returns it will be necessary to get a new cylinder. Photo by Joel C.

Last week, Joel C. had removed the hydraulic cylinder from the workhead of the Tie Crane, due to excessive leakage. Today, he picked up the necessary seals from a hydraulic repair shop in Benicia, and proceeded to repack the cylinder. Unfortunately, the cylinder is in poor condition due to excessive rusting and scoring in the interior. If the same problem returns soon, then it will be time to order a new cylinder to replace it. However, for now, we will try with new seals and see how it goes. After reassembling the cylinder, Joel C. reinstalled it on the machine.

For the remainder of the day, Joel C. continued investigating the operation of the new Wheel Loader. Following Saturday’s success with new batteries, it was time to get more features working on the machine. Mostly, the machine suffers from excessive rusting due to having sat for long periods of time in the marine air of Port Hueneme. For example, the parking brake was non-functional. The handle to apply the brake was rusted solid, the cable was jammed with rust, and the brake mechanism was stuck in the apply position. Various applications of WD-40, hammering, prying, and grunting were required to free things up. In the end, things began working much better, though it will be necessary to open up the brake mechanism to make it operate still better. However, everything about the hand brake appears to be in good shape other than the rust.

One other system that wasn’t working well was the service brakes. The brake reservoir was low on fluid and there was air in the system. Filling the reservoir was easy, but bleeding the brake system will require a second person for assistance.


September 13, 2008
Track Crew work party day

Tamper at Garfield
The Association's big Jackson Tamper, with Bob P. at the controls, is at work tamping the newly inserted ties while Pete W. works to clear the old ties out of the way. Behind the tamper is the Spike Driver followed by the Motorcar and trailers that transported it to the work site. Photo by Jerry A.

The Track Crew continued working towards their goal of replacing 400 ties on the operating track for each year. After the Crew gathered the necessary tools and materials, they traveled to Garfield on the SN main track to begin work.

setting spikes
Bob P. sets spikes while Pete W. prepares to drive them home using the Spike Driver. In the background is a yard full of material and equipment used by a contractor building windmills in the area. Photo by Jerry A.

The routine was familiar – pulling spikes by hand, extracting the old ties and inserting the new ones using the Tie Inserter, installing the tie plates and then tamping using the Jackson Tamper, and finally driving the new spikes using the gasoline Spike Driver. By the end of the day, the Crew of Jerry A., Joel C., Bob P. and Pete W. replaced 56 ties – very good progress. That leaves less than one hundred to go for the yearly goal.

September 13, 2008
Wheel Loader update

After checking all the fluids of the new Wheel Loader and replacing the starting batteries, which were dead, Joel C. pushed the start button to see what would happen. Quite to his surprise, the machine roared to life! This is good news – at least the engine, transmission and hydraulic system appear to be basically OK. On the other hand, the brakes don’t work – they were low on fluid and so the system will need to be bled – so there will be some amount of work required to make the machine useful and reliable. However, this is a very pleasing first step.

September 12, 2008
Arrival of the new Wheel Loader

New wheel loader
The new wheel loader, acquired through the government surplus property program, has arrived from Barstow. Next step will be to determine what sort of repairs are required to make the machine useful. Photo by Joel C.

Today, a truck arrived from Barstow delivering the new Wheel Loader. Joel C. met the driver and helped unload the machine. After the backhoe attachment was lifted off using a forklift, the main machine was easily unloaded by tilting the trailer deck and lowering using the truck’s winch. Of course, this would have been easier if the machine was running. However, at this point, it remains to be discovered what will be required to make the machine run. One hopeful sign is that on a brief initial inspection, there do not seem to be any major machine components missing. At a minimum, all the machine’s fluids and lubricants will need to be checked or replaced. The machine gives the appearance of having been sitting for a long time, so no doubt the batteries will also need to be replaced.

The machine was most recently assigned to the Navy’s Construction Battalion at Port Hueneme CA, and has suffered from exposure to the salt air. The backhoe attachment, for instance, has heavy rusting on the piston rods of the hydraulic cylinders. In addition, one of the cylinders is missing – probably salvaged for use on another machine. At this point, it isn’t clear whether it will be worthwhile to repair this attachment for use. In any case, the immediate goal will be to get the basic machine running, and equip it with an earth moving bucket. That will make it useful for a host of projects around the museum.

September 9, 2008
Transporting the new Tamper

loading tamper
With the ramp in place, the truck mounted winch is used to pull the tamper up onto the bed of the trailer. Photo by Mike C.

On this day, Mike C. and Joel C. met at Menlo Park to prepare the new Tamper for movement to the museum. A trucking firm had been engaged, and the previous day, Joel had loaded a set of rails on the truck. What remained was to travel the machine to the loading site. This was complicated by the fact that the Tamper was boxed in by another machine that had been vandalized, and was missing the battery. An earlier attempt to start this machine by using jumper cables from another vehicle was unsuccessful because the battery wasn’t big enough to turn the starter of the big diesel engine. However, Joel brought a large battery from the museum, and it proved adequate to get the machine started. Once started, it was moved out of the way, and the Tamper was traveled about a mile down the track to the loading site.

Tamper on trailer
With the tamper loaded on the truck, the trailer's wheels are moved back to their normal position, and the trailer deck is returned to horizontal. Photo by Mike C.

Later, the truck arrived, and was positioned over the track. The truck used was a clever design where the wheels of the trailer could be moved toward the front, which lowered the rear end of the deck to the ground. With a set of rails on the deck of the trailer, and the short ramp assembled on the track, the Tamper was easily winched onto the trailer.

Tamper in storage
At its new home, the new Tamper rests with the other maintenance equipment in the Car House 2 yard. Photo by Joel C.

The trip to the museum was uneventful, where the process was repeated in reverse: the truck was positioned over the track, the trailer tilted down, and the ramp rails assembled. Finally, the chains were released and the Tamper was lowered to the track using the winch.

Once on the ground, the new Tamper was moved to storage in the Car House 2 yard. It was placed next to the Ballast Regulator, which was also obtained from Amtrak a few years earlier. There is getting to be quite a collection of maintenance of way equipment in the yard!

September 8, 2008

Right-of-Way Cleanup

The Tie Crane was used to fill the big dumpster with trash from along the Sacramento Northern right-of-way. Photo by Joel C.

As long as we have the Tie Crane on loan from the California State Railroad Museum, it makes sense to make the best use of it. It has been really helpful for picking up old ties and other trash along the track. On this day, Joel C. loaded up the big dumpster on a push car, and traveled down the line picking up trash with the Tie Crane. The reward was another stretch of cleaned-up track.

After the dumpster was full, he returned with the Tie Crane and picked up old railroad ties that had been replaced. These were piled back at the museum for recycling.

September 3, 2008
A Wheel Loader for the Western Railway Museum

Wheel loader
This wheel loader has been approved through the government surplus property program, and will be coming to the museum soon.

In the past, the museum has always rented earth moving machines when needed for various tasks. The advantage of this is that the machines always arrive in good condition, and if anything goes wrong, a quick phone call will bring out a mechanic to repair the problem. However, the disadvantage of this system is that because of the cost of renting such machines, the tendency was to not rent them unless a very large project was planned and a specific use was identified. The result of this was that while such machines are useful for a variety of work, they were seldom available for small tasks. Thus the decision was made to pursue acquisition of a wheel loader for the museum.

Such things are available through the government surplus property program, at a nominal cost. After several unsuccessful attempts to acquire one, finally one was approved. This particular machine was manufactured by Dresser in 1988, and spent its life to date in various branches of the military. It was made with a quick-change coupler so that the working implement could be easily changed to a different type for various tasks. It was originally supplied with four attachments: a multipurpose bucket, forklift forks, a tote hook, and a backhoe. It is presently located at the surplus yard in Barstow CA, but was most recently assigned to the Navy Construction Battalion at Port Hueneme CA. At this time, the bucket, forks and tote hook are not included, so the only attachment is the backhoe. It remains to be seen what repairs will be needed to make it a reliable and useful machine. If it is repaired, no doubt we will look for a source of an appropriate bucket attachment. The first job, however, will be to move the machine to the museum. This is expected in the next two weeks.

September 2, 2008
Preparations for moving new Tamper

short ramp
This short ramp will be used to connect to rails on the bed of the trailer used to move the Tamper from Menlo Park to the museum. Other rails will be used on the deck of the trailer to support the machine. The trailer will be positioned over the track, the ramp rails assembled in position, and a winch will be used to pull the machine up onto the trailer. The process will be repeated in reverse at the museum to unload the machine. Photo by Joel C.

The plan is to move the new tamper from its current resting place in Menlo Park to the museum on a tilt-bed trailer. The machine weighs about 35,000 lbs, so it requires a big truck and trailer, and will need rails to ride on the deck of the trailer. However, by using the tilting feature of the trailer, loading will be a relatively simple affair. This also saves the cost of using a crane to lift the machine, which would amount to several thousand dollars.

In order to prepare for moving day, Joel C. spent some time assembling the required rails and hardware. Two ramp rails will be needed to roll the machine up onto the rails positioned on the truck bed. The Association has ramp rails that are regularly used for this type of project, but they are long and heavy. In order to have something that will be easier to assemble once the truck trailer is positioned for loading on top of the railroad track, Joel elected to make two new short ramp rails. These were made by cutting, bending, and welding two short rails to the appropriate shape. Once these rails were complete, they were assembled with threaded rods to prove the concept.

Two rails were selected to be used on the truck bed. Holes were cut in the web of the rails so that threaded rods can be used to space these rails apart. Threaded rods (former gauge rods, less the clamps that grip the rail base) were selected from the museum’s pile of miscellaneous track materials, and were reconditioned to clean up the threads. This work wasn’t finished, so it will be continued later. The goal is to have all the needed materials prepared and assembled so they are ready to load on the truck once a moving day is selected

August 27, 2008
New tamper for the Western Railway Museum

Well, at least it is new to us, even if it is actually 30 years old. The machine came available from Amtrak and is located in Menlo Park Ca. It is the sister machine to the Ballast Regulator that the Association purchased from Amtrak a few years ago. Joel C. prepared a bid, and on Monday was informed that it was accepted.

New Tamper
New to t he Association, this Tamper was purchased from Amtrak and is currently located in Menlo Park. It is basically functional, but needs various repairs to make it a reliable performer. Ultimately, it is desired to acquire the parts required to give it the automatic raising and lining capability it once had. Photo by Joel C.

This machine, built by Canron Inc. in the mid-1970s, is the functional equivalent of the Jackson tamper currently at the Western Railway Museum. It once had the features of automatic raising and lining of the track, and will tamp 100% of a turnout or other special trackwork. Like the one currently at the museum, it is currently missing the jack beam and light reference system, so it lacks the automatic raising and lining capability. However, this is where the similarities end. While the current machine is an oddball, this new one was very common. Joel C. has tried many different avenues in the 15 years that we have had the Jackson to locate the missing jack beam and related parts, to give that machine the automatic raising and lining capability, but without success. On the other hand, locating the needed parts for the Canron machine should not be too difficult. While getting parts for the current machine is difficult and expensive, there are multiple aftermarket suppliers for many critical Canron parts. Finally, the jack beam and related components for the new machine are easily separated from the basic tamper, so it can be separated and used in tight spaces when the automatic systems are not needed for out-of-face work.

Having said all those glowing things about the new machine, it never-the-less is old and tired. It will no doubt require many repairs to make it reliable. Amtrak wouldn’t get rid of it if it was new and in good condition! On the other hand, it was pleasing to learn that with a quick jump on the battery, it started up and performed all the expected functions. True to form, though, after tamping just one tie it had its first breakdown: one workhead refused to go down again. That appeared to be due to an excessive air leak which prevented that hydraulic circuit from operating. Hopefully, that problem won’t be too difficult to resolve, though it is no doubt the first of many such problems.

Joel C. spent some time on this day getting the engine started, and making sure that enough systems worked so that the machine could be moved to the museum soon. Also, he put hasps and locks on the doors in order to protect it from vandalism. With the machine basically functional, the next step will be to arrange for a truck to move it to the museum. This is expected in the next two weeks.

August 23, 2008
Track Crew Work Party Day

Tamper Tamps and carries tools
The Association's Tamper was used no only to tamp the ballast around the new ties, but also to transport the tools and supplies to the work site. Photo by Joel C.

The main Track Crew projects thus far this year have centered around two turnouts on the SN Main Track – constructing one and rehabilitating another. With these projects finally out of the way, the Track Crew turned their attention to their annual goal of replacing 400 ties in the operating track. For this day’s work, the Track Crew set out to replace ties between Diablo Vista and Garfield.

In preparation for the work, Joel C. had marked the ties to be replaced and had distributed new ties where needed along the track. So when the Track Crew gathered in the morning, all that was required was to gather the tools and equipment, as well as water, ice and lunches, and head out to the work site.

spike driver
Following inserting and tamping of the new ties, Alan H., Bob P., and Pete W. set spikes by hand and drive them using the Association's Spike Driver. Photo by Joel C.

Once the yellow and red flags were in place to keep the operating cars at a safe distance, the crew of Joel C., Alan H., Bob P., and Pete W. fell into a familiar sequence of tasks. Spikes were pulled by hand, and then the Tie Inserter was used to push and pull the old tie out of the track. Once a little of the ballast was shoveled out of the way, the new tie was positioned under one rail, and the Tie Inserter pushed it into place under the rails. Then shovels and bars were used to move any excess ballast out of the way and place the tie plated under the rails, followed by the Tamper which tamped the ballast under the new ties. Finally, spikes were set by hand and driven using the Association’s portable Spike Driver. The work fell into a regular assembly-line process. The small crew made good progress, replacing 58 ties by the end of the day.

July 26, 2008
Track Crew Work Party Day

Tie Inserter
Kenneth F., Paul F., Pete W., and Bob P. work to remove the old ties from the turnout while Joel C. operates the Tie Inserter. Photo by Jerry A

During the last Track Crew work day, the Crew installed half of the switch ties in the west switch at Molena. The ties in this turnout had been really deteriorated, so that removing the old ones was really difficult. The Crew had decided to replace every other one that first day, in the hopes of holding the track together with the remaining ones. For this day’s work, the Crew returned to replace the remaining ties, which worked out to every-other tie between the ones replaced the last time.

The Track Crew gathered in the morning at the museum, and got together the tools and machines needed for the day’s work. The new ties to be inserted had been distributed earlier, so they were waiting for the crew to arrive and begin the work. The crew also brought with them new spikes as well as a few extra tie plates in case those would be needed. The Crew work this day was Jerry A., Mike C., Joel C., Kenneth F., Paul F., Bob P. and Pete W.

As before, the work of removing the old ties was the most difficult part. The old ties were deteriorated to the point that in most cases there was not enough wood remaining for the Tie Inserter to grip the tie, but on the other hand the wood was not yet completely converted to rot and dust. Generally, the old ties fought all attempts at removal. Working with a combination of the Tie Inserter machine together with shovels, picks, and various other implements of destruction, the old ties were finally removed.

Bob P. operates the Association’s Tamper to tamp the ballast around the new ties. In the distance, Pete W. checks to see that the machine is working properly. Photo by Jerry A.

With the old ties finally removed, the Crew turned to inserting the new ones. The Tie Inserter made short work of this step. Then the tie plates were inserted where intended between the rail and the new ties, and the ties were tamped using the Association’s big tamper. Finally, the spikes were set by hand and driven home using the pneumatic spike driver.

With the tie work completed, the crew decided to raise and level the turnout. As the old ties had deteriorated, the turnout had sunk into the ballast. Now with the new ties installed, it was time to raise the track back up where it belonged. Track jacks were used to raise and level the track as needed, and the Tamper made another pass through the turnout. At that point, the crew decided to call it a day, since several of the members needed to leave a little early. After packing up the tools, they traveled back to the museum and put everything away.

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