Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

March 7, 2008
Repairs to the Tie Inserter

For the past few months, the Association’s Jackson model 125 Tie Inserter has been resting in the shop, waiting for various parts to arrive. Some of the parts needed for this year’s overhaul had arrived, so Joel C. it was time to start replacing some of the worn out components.

The first to go was the hydraulic valve for the scarifier workhead. This involved disconnecting and reconnecting a maze of hydraulic hoses, removing the old valve, and then bolting the new valve in place. The first job, then, was to identify the hose connections, so they could be reconnected in the proper order. Then, the old valve was disconnected and removed from the dashboard of the machine. This valve bank has three valves in series.

New Valve
New valve on the bench, ready to be installed on machine. Photo by Joel C.

The old and the new valves were taken over to the work bench in order to transfer the adapter fittings from each port to the new valve. Once all the fittings were installed in their proper place, the new valve was positioned on the machine and bolted up. Then all the hoses were reconnected in the proper order. Final testing will have to wait until the new engine and hydraulic pump are installed.

With one valve bank successfully replaced, attention turned to the one for the main workhead. However, once this one was removed, it was discovered that the new valve required a different kind of adapter fitting to connect to the hoses. So a list of the required fittings was made, and a trip to the hydraulic store will be required to complete this job.

With a little time left in the day, the new hydraulic pump was unpacked and the fittings were transferred from the old one to the new. Here again, one of the ports in the new pump turned out to require a slightly different adapter fitting than the old pump, so that will have to be ordered as well.

The main task remaining is installation of the new engine. It hasn’t arrived yet, but is expected soon. Once all the new parts are installed, the machine will hopefully work much more like it should

March 1, 2008
Track Crew work party day

For some time, the Overhead Lines Department has had a project to upgrade the electrical grounding connections to the rail at the Del Paso substation. The work has been progressing slowly, as a fill-in project between more pressing projects. The Track Crew had promised to help out with the actual connections to the rail. This involved drilling a hold in the rail, and installing the wire connector, which is a drive-fit expanding-pin type connector. Recently, the Overhead Lines crew had installed the connectors at the end of the wires, so now the Track Crew decided to hold up their end of the bargain by connecting them to the rail.

Drilling a hole in the rail
Joel C. and Mike D. drill a hole in the rail using a hole saw and the magnetic base drill press. Photo by Bob P.

In order to get a clean and accurate hole in the rail, the Track Crew decided to use a hole saw with the magnetic-base drill press from the shop. The drill press was set up using blocks of steel clamped to the rail in order to get a flat bearing for the magnetic base. Then, with the welder providing power, the hole saw quickly made a clean hole in the web of the rail. The wire connector was coated with an anti-oxidant grease and tapped into the hole. Finally, the pin was driven home in the connector to secure a good electrical connection to the rail.

With that job quickly out of the way, the Crew went on to another quick project, replacing a broken joint bar on the Sacramento Northern track. This joint is located on a part of the SN track that isn’t regularly used. However, during tie replacement work some time ago, the broken joint bar became apparent when the rail bent out of the way due to the forces of removing the old ties. So, the Crew cut the old bolts out using a torch, removed the broken joint, cleaned up the rail ends, and installed two new joint bars with new bolts. Once the joint was tightened with the air wrench, the new tie underneath it was spiked to gauge.

With those quick projects completed, the Crew continued on to the main project of the day: building the new turnout at Garfield on the Sacramento Northern main track. This day’s work was to cut, drill and bend the rails to make the special rails needed for the turnout.

The stock rail on the diverging side of the turnout has a sharp bend near the point of switch, allowing the point to fit up against it. To make this bend, the hydraulic rail bender was set up at the proper location on the rail, and with a few strokes of the pump, the bend was complete. The amount of bend was checked by measuring and sighting along the rail, and by luck the bend came out exactly right the first time!

Cutting rail to length
Cutting rail to length using the rail saw. Water is used to keep the blade cool. Photo by Bob P.

Next, two closure rails were cut to length. These rails will fit between the switch points and the frog, and need to be exactly the right length in order to make the turnout come out right. The rails were lifted and supported on a railroad tie, and the rail saw was set up at the proper location. This was no mean feat, given the rail saw is the heaviest and most inconvenient tool in the Track Crew’s arsenal. It hangs on the rail by a system of adjustable hooks, relying on its own weight to keep it securely in place. It requires three people to lift and place on the rail, and at least two people to operate. One person provides a continuous feed of water onto the blade to keep it cool, and the other is needed to provide additional weight on the back end to keep it stable. Believe it or not, it isn’t heavy enough to be sufficiently stable on its own. If a third person is available, it is a good idea to stabilize the cut off end of the rail, so that it doesn’t jam the saw blade. In all, it is a very cumbersome tool to use.

Having made the two cuts, the next job was to drill bolt holes in the rail. The freshly cut rails both needed joint bar bolt holes, and also stock rails needed holes for the heel blocks. Finally, two holes were needed for the guard rail on the straight side of the turnout. Fortunately, the rail drill is a much more civilized machine as compared to the rail saw. It is much lighter, and far more stable once it is set up and clamped to the rail. Joel C. and Mike D. did the cutting and drilling.

Using rail drill to make holes
Using rail drill to make holes for heel block. Photo by Bob P.

While the drilling was going on, Bob P. set about to weld traction bonds to the rail joints. The bonds were needed where the new rail had been installed during the previous work session. While the welding and grinding equipment was set up, the grinder was used to remove the lip at the edge of the stock rails where the points fit up. Being used rail, a bit of metal had flowed over the inside edge of the rail forming a lip, due to the passage of trains at a previous installation. This lip needed to be removed in order that the switch point would fit properly.

For the last task of the day, the Crew decided to install the guard rail along the straight side of the turnout, where the holes in the rail had just been drilled. The guard rail was lifted into place, the various pieces of hardware were assembled to hold the rail in place, and the bolts were inserted in the ends. Once the bolts were tightened and the clamp was driven up tight, the guard rail was complete.

At this point, the turnout doesn’t look like much of anything – just a scattering of miscellaneous rails along the track. However, now that the cutting, drilling and bending is done, the next work party should allow the Crew to assemble the curved closure rail and the frog, points, and stock rail. Then it will begin to resemble a turnout.

February 16, 2008
Track Crew work party day

Work train loaded with tools and materials
Work train loaded with tools and materials. Motive power was provided by the Association's Tamper. Photo by Jerry A.

For this day’s work, the Track Crew continued their project to reconstruct the turnout and spur at Garfield on the Sacramento Northern main track.

Sometimes, it seems like the most difficult part of track construction is getting all the right materials to the right place at the right time. This project was no exception. Having spent the last work day sorting and reconditioning various parts and material, now the Crew continued by moving all the required material to the work site. The Tamper was selected to provide motive power, and almost all the maintenance of way trailers were put on the track – air compressor, crane, tool cart, and pushcars loaded with the spike driver, the rail saw, rail drill, lengths of rail, frog, points, guard rails, joint bars, and every manner of tie plate and other special hardware needed to assemble the turnout.

unloading the frog
Unloading the frog at Garfield. Photo by Jerry A.

All together, this was possibly the longest maintenance of way equipment train ever assembled by the museum! Fully three hours were needed to set up this train load of material and tools. Once together, the Crew headed out to the work site for the day.

Unloading rail
Mike C. uses a rail fork to unload a rail from the work train Already on the ground are the frog and most of the rails needed to assemble the turnout Photo by Jerry A.

Once at the work site, some measurements were made to confirm the exact location of the turnout. Then the process of unloading began. The Crew used the hand-crank crane to lift the heavy parts like the frog and full-length rails. These were set on the ground as close as possible to their final location. The goal was to place the items in such a way that only a minimum of handling would be required to place them in the track. Unloading the frog, points, and all the rails took about two hours. Finally, the Crew was ready to begin construction of the turnout.

setting spikes
Mike C. sets spikes while Pete W. drives them home using the air hammer. In the foreground are the rails that will be assembled into the turnout. Photo by Joel C.

The goal of the construction process was to be able to have the track in service at the end of each work day. To achieve this, only selected tasks would be attempted each day. Because the rail size of the turnout (85 lb.) is different than the rail size of the existing track (70 lb.), eventually all of the rails in the turnout area will need to be replaced. Since most of the work day had been spend transporting materials, it was decided to attempt only the first and simplest rail replacement. This job would be replacing the four rails along the straight side of the turnout.

Fortunately, this work went quickly and without any unwanted surprises. The spikes on the old rail were pulled by hand, and the bolts from the joint bars were removed using the air wrench. Once the joint bars were removed, the old rails were rolled towards the center of the track. Tie plugs were driven into the spike holes of the existing ties, and the new rail was slid into place and bolted up with appropriate joint bars. New tie plates were distributed, and the new rail was gauged and spiked to the old ties. Within just a short time, the track was back together and ready for service. The Track Crew for this day’s work was Jerry A., Mike C., Joel C., Mike D., Pete W. and Paul Z.

February 2, 2008
Track Crew work party day

For a couple of months, the Track Crew has been getting together a plan to recreate the track spur at Garfield on the Sacramento Northern main track.  This track was used for loading livestock and other company shipments, but had been retired and removed long before the Association purchased the line.  It had been a goal of the Association for some time to reinstall this turnout, as part of restoring the Sacramento Northern line as it was in the days of the electric traction service.

one of five pallets of parts
One of five pallets of parts needed to assemble the turnout at Garfield. Photo by Joel C.

Studying the existing rail in the track, the exact location of the turnout could be located based on the extra holes in the rails where the specialized turnout components were attached.  Also, the embankment could be plainly seen where the track diverged from the main and continued for a short distance.  A plan was settled on to install a turnout exactly where the old one had been located, and to build a short spur on the existing embankment.  The recreated spur could be useful for clearing work trains out of the way of regular operations, and even could be used for meeting a passing cars or trains as part of special operations such as the Pumpkin Patch.

The first hurdle was to select appropriate material for constructing the turnout.  The rail of the Sacramento Northern main track is 70 lb. size, but no appropriate turnout materials were available in that size.  However, the Association did have sufficient material to construct a turnout in the 85 lb. size.  Since this was the rail size used by the Sacramento Northern after being acquired by the parent Western Pacific in the 1920s, this was selected as the way to go. 

new rivet installed
A new rivet has been installed to hold this plate to the track frog, replacing one that was loose. The device suspended immediately to the right of the rivet is the machine that squeezes the hot rivet. Photo by Bob P.

To start the project, Joel C. made copies of the Sacramento Northern standard plan for the No. 10 turnout, and of the Western Pacific standards for the relevant frog, points, and other hardware in the 85 lb. size.  The next challenge was to gather together all the needed parts and material.  An order was placed for the needed switch ties, which should arrive by the end of March.  The Track Crew then set to work to sort through the track material in the outdoor storage areas to find the needed steel hardware.  After spending the better part of a day selecting material, the Crew had loaded 5 pallets with nearly all the plates, bars and other specialized hardware needed to assemble the turnout.  They then turned to reconditioning the material as needed.

The track frog selected for use had several loose rivets holding the plates to the base of the frog.  The Crew moved the frog into the shop and set about to replace the offending rivets.  The frog was suspended on horses at an appropriate height for working the rivets.  The old rivets were cut out, and the plates were cleaned up and straightened as needed.  The Association’s home-made rivet-squeezing machine was suspended over the work with the shop forklift, and was set up with its two air driven hydraulic pumps to power it.  The correct size rivets were heated to a bright yellow heat using a torch, placed in the hole, and quickly squeezed using the machine while still hot.  After only a short time, the plates were tightly attached again.

Another item that required repair was the switch stand.  The one selected for use was bent in several places, so it was also brought to the shop.  The torch was used to heat the bent areas, which were then straightened as needed.  With only a little effort, it was ready for service.

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