Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

November 18, 2008
Track Inspection

Track inspection

The UP motorcar made a great vehicle for inspecting the track.  Here, the car waits at Molena along the Sacramento Northern main track, ready to be turned and head back to the museum.  Photo by Joel C.

Ensuring the safety of our operation means that regular track inspections are necessary to detect any potential hazards with the track.  That way, the problems can be corrected before they develop to the point of being a safety hazard.  On this day, Joel C. decided to inspect the track around the museum loop and down the line to the end of operations.

The most practical way to inspect the track is with some sort of vehicle, capable of covering the distances required and also carrying tools to correct any minor problems as they are found.  In this case, the Union Pacific motorcar made an excellent choice for this work.  Joel loaded up the required tools, checked the fluids and other mechanical conditions of the car, and motored off down the line.

As it turned out, there weren’t any defects that couldn’t be addressed on the spot, so the inspection resulted in a clean bill of health for the Association’s operating track.  In the photo, the motorcar is seen at Molena, where the grade crossing was used to turn the car and head back to the museum. 

November 13, 2008
Right-of-Way Cleanup

trash pick up
The Tie Crane was used to pick up junk wood and trash along the Sacramento Northern right-of-way. Photo by Joel C.

The big dumpster at the museum is emptied every month on the 15th, so Joel C. decided to make sure that it was full before the disposal company comes to pick it up. By lifting it onto a pushcart using the forklift, and towing it around with the Tie Crane, he used it to collect junk wood and trash along the Sacramento Northern line. The Tie Crane is great for this work, since it can pick all kinds of stuff as it moves along. After a short time, the dumpster was full, and the rail line was that much cleaner.


October 30, 2008
Track Welding

There were a number of welding projects needed at various places on the track, so Joel C. took the opportunity to do several of these. First step was to set up the diesel welder on the flatbed truck, for easy portability, and then to gather all the cords, electrodes, and other tools needed to do the welding.

The first welding project was to apply bond wires to the track that had been removed for the culvert project. The paving contractor will be coming soon, so it was important to get the bond wires installed at the joints that will be captured in the paving. This was quickly done, so Joel C. also reinstalled the locking tab on the front entrance gate that had broken off some time ago. This allows the front gate to be locked more easily.

The big welding project was to make repairs to the turnout at South Park. The last time the Federal Railroad Administration track inspector visited the Western Railway Museum, he noted the wear on both the frog point and one of the switch points. While he didn’t write up these problems as defects, it never the less seemed prudent to repair them before his next regular inspection. The most practical repair was to build up the worn parts with weld material to restore the original contour.

built-up frog
The frog point and wing rails have been built up by welding where they were worn, and ground to the original smooth count our. Photo by Joel C.

Welding on railroad rail, which is what the frog and the points are made of, requires a special procedure. Care must be taken to avoid hardening the rail to the point of being brittle. The heating of normal welding procedures could cause this easily due to the type of steel alloy used to make the rails. At the Western Railway Museum, a welding procedure from the Union Pacific Railroad is used which calls for special welding electrodes and both preheating before welding and postheating after the welding is completed.

The parts of the frog that were worn were the frog point and the wing rails adjacent to it. The first step was to grind on the areas to be built up with weld, in order to remove any metal flow as well as any small surface cracks. With the rail heads cleaned up, the weld areas were preheated using a torch to 700 degrees F. This temperature was checked using a temperature-indicating crayon (“Tempilstik”). Then the welding was begun, with many weld beads needed to restore the frog point and wing rails. A special welding electrode was used, designed specifically for rail head build-up. After each bead was laid down, it was peened with a hammer to relieve any internal stress. When sufficient weld material had been laid down, the postheating was done with the torch. This time the temperature was 1,000 degrees F, checked with a different Tempilstik.

The result of all this welding was an uneven surface of the rail. A grinder was used to restore the proper contour. Quite extensive grinding was required, due to the large area of weld build-up. However, in the end the resurfaced frog looked really good.

The switch point will require similar treatment, but the end of the day intervened, so that will have to be completed at a later date.

October 25, 2008
Track Crew work party day

Assembly by spiking
The Track is assembled by spiking the ties to the rails. Photo by Jerry A.

This day’s work was to complete the culvert installation project started last time. Previously, the culverts had been installed, so now the track needed to be reconstructed. The Track Crew for this day was Jerry A., Joel C., Mal E., Alan H., Bob P. and Pete W.

dumping ballast
Alan H. pilots the rented skip loader to dump ballast on the new track. Photo by Jerry A.

Last time, the rails had been reinstalled over the completed culverts, so the next step was to turn this into a track by sliding in and spiking the new ties. This was done, and in short order Alan H. began using the rented skip loader to dump ballast on the new track. The track was raised up on the new ballast and then tamped using the Association’s big Jackson tamper. After a couple of passes to be sure that the new ballast was well consolidated, the Ballast Regulator was used to clean off the track and shape the ballast shoulders. Finally, the rented skip loader was used to bump the track into proper alignment.

Cleaning excess ballast
After tamping, the Ballast Regulator was used to clean off the excess ballast. Bob P. fills in the last few holes by hand. Photo by Jerry A.

The next job for the skip loader was to clean up the road where it approached the track crossing. While the rest of the crew was finishing the backfilling around the new drain box in the lawn area, the Joel C. piloted the skip loader to smooth out the road and install a layer of road rock on it.

grading the road
Joel C. uses the rented skip loader to grade the road. Later, a paving contractor will be hired to pave the crossing area with asphalt. Photo by Jerry A.

With this job done and ready for the paving contractor to place asphalt on the track crossing, the Crew turned to the other crossing near the former museum entrance kiosk. This crossing was not rebuilt as part of this project, but it was desired to pave it at the same time as the other. The Crew cleaned the dirt and road rock off the track area, and then raised and tamped the track to correct some surface irregularities. Now, the only thing left for this project is the asphalt paving.

October 11, 2008
Track Crew work party day

Dismantling track
Joel C. operates the rented backhoe to remove the rails and ties. Meanwhile, Bob P. stands ready to carry the old ties out of the way as soon as they are loosened by the backhoe. With the track out of the way, the excavation can begin in earnest. Photo by Jerry A.

On this day, the Track Crew tackled the culvert project near Laflin Park and the Chabot Road car stop. The first phase was to replace the culvert under the Branchline track. To start this off, the track was removed from above the culvert, to make excavation easier. In any case, this particular piece of track – including the grade crossing of Chabot Road – was not in very good condition. So, out came the bolts from the joint bars and the spikes from the ties. The rails were lifted out and stored nearby for reuse later, but the ties were taken away for recycling. The Track Crew for this day was Jerry A., Joel C. and Bob P.

digging the trench
The backhoe is used to dig the trench for the new pipes. Photo by Jerry A.

With the track out of the way, the excavation was begun in earnest. A wide trench was dug using a rented backhoe to accommodate both new pipes, and at the same time the original culvert (heavily rusted and plugged with dirt and roots) was removed. Once the trench was dug, a string was stretched through the excavation to check for the proper slope. Using the string as a reference, set at 1/8” per foot slope along the run of the pipe, the trench was fine graded by hand to make sure that the new pipes would drain properly. Now, the excavation was ready for the new pipes.

lifting pipe into place
Bob P. directs as Joel C. uses the backhoe to lift the heavy pipe sections into place. A total of four pipes were installed. Photo by Jerry A.

The new pipes are large and heavy, so the backhoe was used to lift the pipes in place. A total of four sections of pipe were required. With the pipes carefully lifted into place and fitted together at the bell-and-spigot ends, dirt was dumped back onto the pipes to backfill the excavation. The soil was wetted using a hose, and compacted using a trench compactor. The backfill operation was completed in layers of about 6 inches each, with each layer being wetted and compacted, so that the soil would be properly compacted without voids.

backfilling and compacting
Bob P. uses the trench compactor to compact the soil around the new pipes. Photo by Jerry A.

While all of this was going on, a similar parallel job was being done to install a small culvert across the road to drain a low spot in the lawn. This involved all the same steps, but in a smaller way.

With all the pipes installed and backfilled, the rails were lifted back into place and bolted together. This completed the work for the day. The next step will be to install new ties, dump ballast, and raise and tamp the track. Once the track is rebuilt, the road crossing can be constructed. The road will be graded with road rock, and then the crossing will be paved with asphalt.

October 6, 2008
Preparation of Culvert Replacement

There are culverts that pass under two of the museum tracks near the Chabot Road car stop. One culvert passes under the Branchline, the other passes under the Car House One yard lead. Both are intended to handle the flow of water that enters the museum grounds from across the state highway, via yet another culvert under that road. However, intended is the operative term, since both of the culverts under the track are first woefully inadequate size, and second are plugged with dirt and tree roots. Neither functions at all.

delivery of rock
Road rock is delivered and stockpiled for the culvert project. Later, this same truck delivered another load of ballast rock. Photo by Joel C.

The result of this problem with the two culverts under the track is that in peak flow conditions, the rainwater runoff runs in a variety of places where it would be better if it didn’t, including in front of the shop and into the entrance of Car House Two. So in an effort to improve conditions, it was decided to replace the culverts with much larger pipes to get the water flow back where it belongs.

The work will involve removing the track in order to dig the trenches for the new pipes. A backhoe will be used to dig out the old pipes, and then prepare the trenches for the new pipes. Then the soil will be compacted around the new pipes, and the track can be reassembled over the top. Since there are two different culvert locations, this work will be tackled in two phases – first, the Branchline track, and second, the yard lead.

Today’s task was to assemble the necessary materials for this job. New ties, joint bars and tie plates were collected as material to reassemble the track. In the first phase of the project, and additional small culvert will be placed under the pathway which leads to the picnic grounds. A precast drain box with a cast iron grate was picked up at a plumbing supply company for the entrance to this small culvert. All of the culvert pipes will be material previously acquired through the government surplus property program. The necessary pipes were collected from storage, and moved to be within easy reach of the project. Finally, ballast rock for reconstructing the track as well as road rock for reconstructing the pathway was delivered from the quarry.

One other important step was to notify Underground Service Alert (USA) of the intended excavation. Most companies with underground utilities in this part of California are members of USA, so that by notifying this organization, the members will be in turn notified and will mark out any buried utilities. For a user, it is a simple step to mark the work area with white paint or white flags, and then call the toll free number at least 2 days in advance of the work. Then the members have those two days to mark any nearby utilities. Joel C. made the necessary marks and called in the work project, so that by the time the excavation work starts on the weekend, all will be fully legal from that perspective.

September 27, 2008
Track Crew Work Party

The Track Crew is on the home stretch of meeting the goal to replace 400 ties in the operating track this year. For this day’s work, they set out to replace ties near Birds Landing Road on the Sacramento Northern main line. In preparation for this work, Joel C. had previously marked ties for replacement and unloaded new ties in this area. The Crew, consisting of Jerry A., Joel C., Bob P. and Pete W., met at the museum in the morning to collect the necessary tools and other materials, and then they traveled the machines to the work site to begin work.

The work fell into the familiar routine of pulling spikes, extracting the old ties, inserting the new ties, and then tamping and spiking to finish the work. Fortunately, the machines were working well on this day, and performed without interruption for the entire day. In the end, the small crew replaced 75 ties, a new record!

Tie Inserter
Hand Work
With the new ties positioned under one rail, the Tie Inserter quickly shoves them through the ballast to their proper position under the track. Joel C. operates the machine while in the distance the Tamper waits to perform its task of tamping up the new ties. Photo by Jerry A. Even with all the machines used to help with the tie replacement work, a fair amount of hand work is required. Here, with the old ties extracted, Bob P. and Pete W. position the new ties under one rail so that the Tie Inserter can shove them under the track. Photo by Jerry A.
clearing rocks
setting spikes
In the foreground, the old ties have been removed, and the new ones inserted. Bob P and Pete W. are performing the next step, which is to clean the rocks off the tops of the new ties, and insert the tie plates under the rail. Meanwhile, in the distance Joel C. turns the Tie Inserter around to begin extracting more old ties. Photo by Jerry A. The Tamper has done its work by tamping up the new ties, so now Joel C. follows along setting spikes. The track gauge is used to make sure that the rails are in the correct place. Once set, the Spiker will be used to drive the spikes home. Photo by Jerry A.






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