Western Rail Road Museum Track Crew News

The Track Crew meets twice per month, on the second and fourth Saturday. Track Crew News Archive

May, June, July 2011

Since the last report, the Track Crew has transitioned away from the annual program of tie replacement and on to other track construction and maintenance tasks. For a few years, the Track Crew has worked in their spare time on reconstruction of the spur at Garfield. This track, built along the Sacramento Northern line to facilitate shipment of livestock, was removed sometime after the second World War. The Association's goal is to recreate this spur as part of our restoration of the Sacramento Northern line. Last year, the Track Crew dismantled a short section of unused track near the museum, and transported the rails and ties to Garfield. This year, the ties were inserted under the rails and spiked in place. Later, a work train was used to dump ballast on the new track. The next step will be to raise the track and tamp the ballast. This will occur at some later date when the Torsion Beam Tamper is fully functional. Jerry A., Joel C., Bob P. and Pete W. worked on the track construction.

Joint Straightener.  The Association owns a Joint Straightener machine which is used to straighten the rails and joints along the Sacramento Northern track.  It is able to make a major improvement in the straightness of the rails, improving the ride quality and helping to preserve our historic artifacts.  Photo by Jerry Azzaro.

The next task the Track Crew turned to was to work with the Joint Straightener. This is an interesting machine that uses the force from a very large hydraulic cylinder to bend the rail and joint. As is typical with old, well worn track, the rail joints become bent downward by the passage of many trains. This machine grips the rail under the joint and pulls upward to bend the rail back straight again. It has electrical limit switches that stop the process when the rail is bent upward just the right amount to make it straight. On the Sacramento Northern line, it is able to make a major improvement in the condition of the rails, which results in an important improvement in ride quality. This not only makes the ride smoother for our passengers, but it also helps to preserve our historic artifacts by reducing wear-and-tear on the cars. The Track Crew likes to save this work for the summer months, since if it becomes necessary to replace a rail joint, there wouldn't be any effort needed to pull the rail ends together. The heat of the summer expands the steel rails, and closes up the joint, making it much easier to install a new one. This summer, the Track Crew worked the machine for three days, and rehabilitated the joints over 1 1/2 miles of track. Jerry A., Joel C., Bob P., Pete W. and Mike W. worked with the Joint Straightener.

Later this year, the Track Crew expects to surface some of the Sacramento Northern track using the Torsion Beam Tamper. This work will be done in the area where 1,000 ties were replaced by a contractor last year. In preparation for this work, a work train was used to distribute ballast where needed. The locomotive used for this work was the Visalia Electric No. 502, a GE 44-tonner built in 1945. This locomotive spent the winter and spring in the shop for a full rebuild of one of its two Caterpillar diesel engines. After it emerged with the rebuilt engine, overhauled main generator, and a nice paint job on the interior parts of the engine compartment, it was immediately put to use powering the work train. The train consisted of the Association's two ballast hoppers, the side dump car, a flat car used to carry the diesel air compressor for powering the large air cylinders on the side dump car, and the Great Northern caboose. Ballast was delivered to a site near Gum Grove by truck, and the Association's John Deere Articulated Wheel Loader was used to load the ballast in the cars. After loading the two ballast cars as needed, the train took them to the areas where surfacing is planned, and the ballast was unloaded. The ballast cars have special doors at the bottom that can be opened just the right amount, so that as the train moves along, a uniform amount of ballast is left in a row along the track. The speed of the train can be varied to deposit either more or less ballast where needed. In addition, the side dump car was loaded with dirt that had been left in piles after cleaning out the ditches next to the track. This dirt was used to widen the embankments near two trestles, one at Birds Landing and another at Gum Grove. The embankments at these locations had settled over time, leaving the track perched on high without proper support for the ballast. The widened banks then could properly support the ballast unloaded on the track at those points. The Track Crew used the work train for two days, distributing about 600 tons of ballast and 150 tons of dirt. All of this ballast will keep the Crew busy for some time surfacing the track. Jerry A., Joel C., Jerry L., Bob P., Bill S. and Brandon S. all helped out with the work train service.

A Review of Track Maintenance Equipment Owned by the Association

The Association has worked hard over the past 5 years to increase the level of mechanization available for the Track Crew to do their work. With increased mechanization comes increased productivity and improved quality, which allows the volunteers of the Track Crew to better build and maintain track for the museum. The machines presently owned by the Association include a Tamper, Ballast Regulator, Tie Inserter, Joint Straightener as well as a cadre of smaller items including a spike driver, spike puller, bolt machine and flex shaft grinder. There are also a number of other items including several motorcars, air compressors, a welder, numerous tool/material carts, a highrail truck and an articulated wheel loader.

Tie Inserter.  The Track Crew uses the Jackson model 125 Tie Inserter as part of their regular efforts to replace ties in the operating tracks.  The crew has been able to replace up to 100 ties per day using this and other machines.  It works by gripping the tie at the end, either pulling the old tie out from under the rails, or pushing a new one back in place.  Photo by Jerry Azzaro.

The Association's Mark I Torsion Beam Tamper model EAS-TDG was produced by Tamper Corp. in 1979, and was the state of the art in automatic tamping at the time. It was originally purchased by Amtrak as part of the North East Corridor Improvement Project. In its basic form, a tamper like this automatically lifts and lines the track using an on-board measurement system to achieve the proper track surface and alignment. The machine then consolidates the ballast under the ties using vibratory squeeze action workheads. The Torsion Beam Tamper is an interesting machine in that the torsion beam can be separated from the basic tamping machine. The torsion beam is the part that has the automatic lifting and lining equipment, so the machine can be configured either as an automatic track surfacing machine, or as a basic "pup" tamper without jacks. The Association purchased it from Amtrak in 2008, but at the time all we got was the basic pup tamper. Amtrak had previously scrapped the torsion beam, so we didn't get that part. Later, a torsion beam was purchased from a railroad contractor in Alabama that had a similar machine. Later still, we purchased an entire torsion beam tamper of a slightly different model that was in poor condition from the Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The plan is to use the tamper from Amtrak, plus the torsion beam from Alabama and parts salvaged from the NWP tamper to make a complete and functional Torsion Beam Tamper.

There are several advantages of the Torsion Beam Tamper model for the Association. First and foremost, in its complete format, it is an automatic lifting and lining tamper, which will allow the Track Crew to make major improvements in the track quality. This has benefits not only for passenger ride comfort, but also for limiting the wear and tear on our historic artifacts. Next, the machine can be separated from the torsion beam, reducing the size of the machine when the automatic features are not needed. For instance, when used as part of the tie replacement process, it is not necessary to lift the track, only to tamp the new ties that are inserted. Another advantage is that the control system is an older style that is relatively simple. While more modern automatic tampers have sophisticated computerized control systems, this machine relies on electrical limit switches and relays. This means that the control system is much more likely to be possible to dianose and maintain by the Track Crew. Finally, because the machine is articulated in the middle, it can better traverse the sharp curves that the museum has around Rio Vista Junction. A more modern automatic tamper is a very large device with a very long rigid wheel base, and would not be suitable for the trackage around the trolley loop or other sharply curved track.

As received from Amtrak, the tamper was well worn from a long lifetime of hard use on that railroad. Similarly, the torsion beam was in rough shape from hard usage at the various prior owners. The NWP tamper was in poor condition due to vandalism and exposure, and was purchased as a parts source. It will be stripped of usable components and the remains will be scrapped. To date, many repairs have been made to the basic tamper to make it operational and it has been used as part of the annual tie replacement work and other tasks for over a year. At the present time, a strong effort is being made to rehabilitate the torsion beam and make the automatic lifting and lining system function. The plan is to use the automatic features to rehabilitate the Sacramento Northern track near Birds Landing later this year as part of the Destination Molena project.

A very important companion to the Tamper is the Ballast Regulator. The purpose of this machine is to move ballast around, filling in the cribs between ties, shaping the shoulders, and sweeping excess ballast off the top of the ties. After raising the track using the Tamper, the ballast regulator restores the ballast section. The Association's machine, a model BEB-17 built by Tamper Corp. in 1977, was acquired from Amtrak in 2003. Like the tamper, this machine was built to work on the electrified track of the North East Corridor. As such, it has several features that make is useful for working around track with overhead line poles nearby.

The biggest job of the Track Crew each year is to replace ties in our operating track. To do this work, the Association acquired a Tie Inserter and other tools. This machine was built by Jackson Vibrators Inc. in 1976 as their model 125. Before removing an old tie, the spikes must be pulled. This can be done by hand, or by using the gasoline powered Spike Puller. Then the Tie Inserter grips the old tie near the end, and pulls it out from under the track. With the old tie out of the way, the new one is inserted under the rails by the same machine. Once the tie plates are installed between the rails and the new tie, the Tamper moves in to tamp the ballast under the new tie. Spikes are set by hand and then driven using a gasoline powered Spike Driver.

Wheel Loader.  The John Deere model 644E Wheel Loader was recently acquired from the government surplus system, and is in very good condition.  It is shown here loading a ballast car so that the work train can distribute ballast where needed.  It is also used for cleaning trackside ditches and grading roads, among other tasks. Photo by Jerry Azzaro.

The Joint Straightener is an interesting machine that uses the force from a very large hydraulic cylinder to bend the rail and joint. As is typical with old, well worn track, the rail joints become bent downward by the passage of many trains. This machine, built by Railway Maintenance Corporation in 1974 as their model M, grips the rail under the joint and pulls upward to bend the rail back straight again. It has electrical limit switches that stop the process when the rail is bent upward just the right amount to make it straight. On the Sacramento Northern line, it is able to make a major improvement in the condition of the rails, which results in an important improvement in ride quality. This not only makes the ride smoother for our passengers, but it also helps to preserve our historic artifacts by reducing wear-and-tear on the cars.

A recent arrival to the stable of workhorses for the Track Crew is the Wheel Loader. This machine, a John Deere model 644E, was built about 1990 but factory remanufactured in 2002. It came to the Association by way of the government surplus syshaulotem, and is in very good condition. It is particularly useful in loading ballast or other material into rail cars, cleaning trackside ditches, and grading roads. Because ballast comes to the museum in trucks, it is important to have something to load it in the Association's ballast hoppers in order to distribute it along the track where needed.

Several of the freight cars owned by the Association are used for track construction and maintenance. Two ballast cars, one from the Western Pacific and the other from the Southern Pacific, are used to distribute ballast where needed along the track. A flat car from the Western Pacific is used for hauling various loads. A side dump car from the Kennecott Copper operation in Utah is used to transport dirt and other fill material.