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Friday, September 11. 2015
Steam Department Update Summer 2015 Posted by Nigel Bennett in Steam Department at 19:52
Oh well. Despite the best of intentions another two month Summer break in the blogs!.
It has been a very demanding Summer. It takes a lot of work to support #1630 in operation. There is usually a list of maintenance tasks whenever she has a weekend out of service and loading coal and water is required between each running weekend.
Overall it has been a very successful season, both for the locomotive and personally. We have run as planned, except for a couple of days when we could not provide a crew. Problems have generally been the usual range of minor leaks to be expected with a near 100 year old locomotive. We ran very successfully during the Thomas weekends, providing power for the Percy train. As we have run regularly and worked our way thru the older coal, we have recently been running on fresh coal not mixed with the residue of old batches. This has really made the running a great deal better and more reliable. (This was written before September 6th when we were aiming to run the tender down to near empty and I had the fun of using all the mixed coal and dust that had settled to the bottom. Best viewed as “good experience”!!).
From a personal perspective. I met my objective and qualified as a fireman at IRM so I can now operate unsupervised in this role. JD and Phil have also qualified so we are now in a much better place for crews as we no longer need to have two of our limited pool of engineers in each crew, one acting as supervising fireman. Rather satisfying to prove that I can still wield the shovel as it is about 50 years since I first qualified (on “Prince” at the Festiniog Railway in North Wales).
Work has proceeded on a number of projects as volunteer vacation and support for #1630 permits.
The compressor shed is now largely complete. Rick has been busy insulating it and we have now started to move in the power and equipment.
The big push will be to get this operational ahead of the Winter. There is a lot of riveting to be done this Winter and the expectation is that the big compressor will support this without the need to run the Sullair (always fun if you have to dig it out of a snow bank before starting it)!.
On #428 the riveting team have made steady progress on the cab. In the last couple of weeks it was been lifted onto stands to allow access to the rivets around the bottom and even these are now well advanced. Basically all the rivets up the sides and across the roof are now in place and most of those at the bottom.
In addition the functionality of the planer has been steadily improved. Tom and Mike are still working to get it to full power and reliability but, even if it is still not taking quite the depth of cut that it should at full power, it does impressive work. This has allowed all the four axle boxes currently out of #428 to be cut ready to fit the new steel plates. In this view the plates to be welded to the base of the channel are in place where they are to be welded.
This will require a LOT of skilled fabrication / welding as will the fitting of the cab floor that will allow the cab to be refitted. Dennis has the potential for a very busy Winter after he completes work on #5 described below!.
The focus of work has been on the Shay and #938.
On #938 Phil and a small team have made substantial progress on de-rusting and priming the wheels and running gear. These are starting to look a great deal better.
Aside from improving her appearance and protecting against further deterioration, the one key thing that we want to do is to thickness test the boiler to support a form #4 calculation. It is looking uncertain that we will achieve this before we need to bring #1630 in for Winter maintenance but it is targeted for next year if we do not achieve it this.
Why do this?. Anyone who has walked around this locomotive can see that it is not a candidate for near term restoration to service. Essentially the condition of the boiler shell and firebox sheets will determine if she is a possible subject for a future major project or, for all practical purposes, is a permanent static exhibit. If restorable she might provide an attractive large project. She is after all one of the most “Chicago” locomotives in the collection having spent her later years on the suburban services of the Rock Island line, working with the coaches that we already have.
Work on Shay #5 has continued steadily but unfortunately not at the rate we might have hoped. The appeal generated about $500 in contributions that have been matched. Every little helps but we are now short of funds and this reduces our ability to set up intensive work sessions. So the begging bowl is still out, contributions can be made thru the IRM museum store on the website and I will hold open the matching offer.
Brian Davies (Shay project manager) has promised a complete update on what has been done so far and what remains to be done that I will load to the blog when I get it. In the mean-time progress has continued and become more visible.
The tube ends have all been ground to the correct dimensions ready for flaring and beading.
The ends of the new stays have been hammered over and formed into the correct domed shape.
Work has started on lapping the various valve faces and is being planned on the throttle valve.
All of this work is driving toward the target of having the boiler pressure tight during the Autumn so that hydrostatic testing can begin.
While all of this is critical, but not very obvious, Dennis’s recent activity has been very obvious!. I have been working in the Steam shop for more than 12 years now and a key distinguishing feature of #5 has always been the big gap in the bottom of the smoke box.
One weekend the new sheet, temporarily fitted with a lifting eye, was hoisted into place. At this point it is turned to the left to allow fine adjustment to match the existing metal on the fireman’s side where you can still see the gap.
A week later Dennis is making final adjustments to have the new plate sit accurately around both front and back rings as well as making a close fit to allow welding to the old wrapper sheet along both sides. This is now done and work can proceed to drilling the holes that will be used to rivet it to the front ring and the boiler barrel.
So substantial progress in the last couple of months but now things get really busy!. By the end of September #1630 should be back in the shop for a program of Winter work and efforts continue to have #5 ready for running next year. Availability of funds will be a big factor in determining whether this can be achieved.
Friday, July 17. 2015
Steam Department Update June 2015 Posted by Nigel Bennett in Steam Department at 11:56
June and July are normally quiet months for project work in the steam shop with many volunteers on vacation and the demands of operating and maintaining #1630 taking the time of those who are available. A cursory look into the shop would suggest 2015 is no different. After the insulation work, #428 and the Shay are now back in their familiar positions and #938 is back at the North end to continue the cosmetic / evaluation work.
However, the cursory look would miss some radical progress!!. Read on!.
#1630 has continued to run fairly well but with minor issues that take a lot of time during the non-running weekends. On the crewing side three trainees )including me!) have now qualified as firemen, which means that they can now operate with just one of our qualified engineers, so reducing the demand on our small pool of engineers. Unfortunately one engineer is now largely unavailable due to external demands so we are still on the edge for crew.
Mark got the Kohring crane back into operation and has subsequently done most of the coaling. This makes it a much quicker and less demanding operation than last year;
The new water softener system seems to be a big improvement. The daily production is much improved, in part due to a better flow rate and also because it will regenerate immediately the required volume is reached while the old one regenerated only at night;
At each “off” weekend we deal with the minor issues noted by crews during the previous weeks but two issues have proved “niggling” and have been addressed a couple of times.
The steam connection to the fireman’s injector starter valve has proved very reluctant to seal completely free of small leaks and will be reworked again this weekend; and
A small leak around the feed to the fireman’s sight glass reappeared a couple of weeks after it was last addressed and will be addressed again this weekend.
It all takes time and small groups of volunteers are to be seen Saturdays and sometimes during the week dealing with issues such as these as well as helping the crew with start-up and disposal activities. This is a big help as I can assure you that the full day of grate cleaning, lighting up, ash pan cleaning, greasing, then firing for the day before taking on water and shutting down is a VERY hard day’s work, particularly when temperature and humidity are high!.
The new roof insulation in the South shop was completed and the shop is back in use.
Sudden rapid progress on the new compressor shed, which is a big development funded from the annual benefit at San Filippo, has been made in the last few weeks:
The concrete slab was laid with the bolts to secure the large compressor set into it;
In the last week the building itself has been erected and the old door replaced by a solid wall that will significantly reduce heat loss in Winter;
The compressors were moved to the West side door to allow easy pick up by the fork lift when they are moved into their new location;
We now wait on the fitting of the roller doors before we can start the insulation;
The pressure will be to get everything operational before Winter. We have some significant riveting in prospect and a key expectation of the new compressor installation is that it will provide sufficient air to support riveting without the need to use the Sullair (mobile compressor). This will be a big bonus as Winter is ideal for a hot job like riveting but digging out the Sullair and starting it in sub-zero temperatures can be “fun”.
Now to the huge progress …….. Shay #5
On a walk around the shop she really does not look any different but, look into the smokebox area and, she is VERY different!. As discussed in the last blog, there are huge benefits in daily working to move large projects forward quickly.
Brian Davies, assisted by a number of the younger volunteers as available on a day by day basis, worked solidly for two weeks on the boiler. The effects are remarkable:
The tube and flue holes in both sheets were prepared (rough edges removed) and profiled;
Ferrules were expanded into all the holes;
Both small tubes and super heater flues were cut to length and installed in the tube sheets;
The ends of all tubes and flues were expanded into the tube sheets;
Work is now progressing on grinding excess material from the tube ends in preparation for beading.
So the Shay now has a fully tubed boiler and is being worked towards hydrostatic testing!. We now have some tasks, such as preparing all the tubes for beading and lapping the various valves that are required to seal the boiler for hydro, that can efficiently be carried out by weekend teams.
The tubing was much easier to carry out with the bottom of the smokebox missing. However subsequent work will be less affected by the smokebox bottom so the plan is to pull the front truck out shortly and start fitting the new bottom of the smokebox. This is actually a smaller task than the tube fitting but will have a much greater impact on the appearance of the locomotive.
The last couple of weeks have really confirmed our belief in the importance of at least periods of full time work to progress a major steam locomotive project. We attracted some donations from the appeal last month (final information next month) that will allow another intensive session later in the year. Having #5 running for 2016 now looks very realistic if we can continue this way.
On #428 riveting of the cab has continued and this is now well advanced.
Ed has worked steadily on the pipework including finding old photographs to help in the complex task of identifying how the various pipes were routed and what they did. Really tricky when you start from a pile of pipes of different sizes bent to follow complex paths but removed years ago by people no longer around ………… and the probability that some are likely missing and a few from other locos may have been included in the pile!. However, the cab pipework is now substantially complete.
A big barrier on #428 will be the availability of fabrication / welding time. Many hours of skilled fabrication and welding are required to fit the new cab floor, build up the axle boxes and rubbing plates on the wheels, etc. Over Winter this will still compete for time with any work on #1630 and the Shay as that moves toward running condition.
On a side note, I was one of the volunteers missing for a couple of weeks in June as I visited family in the UK. During that time I did a day of throttle pull (called footplate experience over there) on the Severn Valley Railway near Birmingham with my oldest son. They are a very welcoming group with a whole organization around footplate experience that is run frequently and includes time both driving and firing on a train running over a 15 mile line with family / guests riding all day. Anyone interested in steam throttle pull and recognizing the shortage of opportunities here might well consider it if you visit the UK.
Amazing how different a steam engine can be in the detail. We used a GWR Manor class 10 wheeler of 1930’s design.
Only just over half the power of #1630 but with 68 inch wheels and easily able to accelerate a 6 car train to line speed on a heavily graded line. Aside from the obvious attention to appearance the amazing thing was the simplification and standardization. Historically all substantial overhaul work was done by major works that also designed and built the locomotives. So even pipework is common to all locomotives in a class and many of the parts, even to the extent of the whole boiler, are interchangeable between classes. There is also a startling reduction in the amount of pipework when the boiler an fittings are all designed and made together. Generally one valve to control and shut off each unit where we have multiple shut offs. You get on the footplate and the immediate impression is “there’s nothing here. Where are all the controls?”.
Still a tremendous day highly recommended to anyone visiting the UK.
So a lot of progress and hopefully a lot more to come.
Sunday, May 31. 2015
What a difference a month can make in the Steam shop.
The South end of the shop now presents a remarkable sight, wide open in a way that has not been seen in many years.
This is driven by a Buildings & Grounds project to install sprayed insulation on the roof. The shop is one of the few heated buildings in the museum and cutting wastage of heat is a high priority. The existing panel insulation has been prone to detach and this project is to some extent an evaluation of a new method to insulate the type of structure used widely in the museum. Anyway, the contractors start the first week of June and need clear access to the South shop. This has driven and been enabled by some substantial activity on our projects.
First and foremost was #1630. By the end of May, she was routinely located outside in the preparation area, coaled, watered, greased and ready for another weekend of operation.
The shine on the paintwork in this picture is no good things as far as I was concerned!. It indicates frequent heavy rain while I was doing the preparation. Clearing the firebox and laying a half ton base of coal for lighting up can be less than fun with 100% humidity and periods of heavy rain!. For anyone wondering what is the strange curved object attached to the walkway and standing well above the top of the boiler, this is the hoist that we use to lift the fan onto the chimney. So this is a clear indication that she is ready to fire and awaiting installation of the fan early the next morning.
Still she ran well again on Saturday despite frequent rain, rapidly falling temperatures and winds developing to near gale force as the day progressed. Sadly not too many visitors to see it!. Those who braved the weather were rewarded with some spectacular sights of steam trailing across the corn fields.
With #1630 gone from the shop, other big changes were possible. Shay #5 was linked to its tender again, albeit temporarily and this allowed her and #428 to be moved North into the main and North buildings. So, aside from a big house cleaning, what was achieved in May?.
Obviously the work early in the month focused on #1630. In recent years May has become a month of frenetic activity as we prepare for operation and so it was this year. Many people took days off work and there was activity in the shop several days each week as we worked thru the list of tasks to get 1630 into operation.
As was strongly suspected last month, it proved impossible to be ready for operation May 16th/17th. However steam testing was completed May 21st and a full weekend of operation was achieved for the 3 day Memorial Day weekend and we are running the weekend of May 30/31st as a substitute for the 16/17th. Given the weather this may not been seen by many visitors!!. Oh well, some you win!.
It is startling how much faster things can move when we can have teams working several days each week. In the first two weeks of May:
Dennis finished a great deal of welding including:
building up the mounting for the tender draft gear;
welding new plate into the bottom of the tender to provide a solid surface for shoveling;
straightened the tender footplate on the engineer’s side. This had a strange “hump” dating back decades to some unknown accident damage and now provides a level surface for the first time in memory;
attached the tear drops to the grate shakers.
Phil spent a lot of hours in the cramped space under the ash pan, assisted by a number of others working outside, to reinstall and adjust the wedges on #5 axle.
On the first weekend of May, the major task of refitting the draft gear into the packet under the tender was achieved. This took a lot of brainstorming. The challenge was how to lift this unwieldy assembly (several hundred pounds and nearly 3 feet long) into a narrow space under the tender and above the axle. It is being above the axle that really provided the challenge. The draft gear must be raised into the pocket. It cannot slide in from the rear. However the depth of the draft gear draft gear is such that it barely fits above the axle and below the pocket. So the whole tender must be jacked up by the thickness of anything put under the draft gear to support it on the fork lift.
The eventual solution was to balance the assembly with as much projection beyond the forks as possible. It was then secured with a bar below the forks and steel banding around the assembly. Here JD and Trevor work on this mounting.
It looked precarious but the acid test (large volunteer jumps up and down on the projecting end!) proved that it was solid. This way only the thin tips of the forks had to fit above the axle. With this set up the fitting went relatively smoothly and the tender was again complete with a coupler and ready to push forward onto the locomotive. Once it is back in place, it is difficult to visualize all the effort that has gone into making it look so normal!. JD then completed the operation over the next few days with a couple of heavy contacts when coupling to break the wood blocks in the draft gear and release the spring mechanism to its normal operation.
In the second week the footplate welding as completed, the tender pushed forward to the locomotive and the drawbars fitted to make her a single unit again. With this done, she was moved to allow the fitting of the coupling rod on the fireman’s side and she was again mechanically complete.
Around these major activities, a lot of other people were working to:
Rebuild the reverser air cylinder;
Make and fit the new steam feed line to the air compressor;
Load and fit the brick arch;
Clean and refit the injector starter valves;
Refit all the connections between locomotive and tender;
… and numerous other little tasks.
However, by Wednesday she was ready to switch out to the steam service lead and load with coal and water. During this came the “ceremonial last task”. With the assistance of Dave Diamond operating the boom truck, the dome cover was lifted into place.
On Thursday came the acid test. The fire was lit and steam raised. All the essential tests of critical equipment such as safety valves, injectors and air compressor proved very successful. Once the steam test was completed a number of test runs, first light engine and then with train were completed and we were satisfied that she was again operational.
Having now fired a couple of days it is clear that she is significantly better than last year (after all the Winter work we would be pretty disappointed if this were not the case!!). A number of nagging steam leaks are gone. The work on the rear axle has significantly reduced knocking that was apparent last year and the rod bearing that tended to run warm is now cool despite having much less play than last year. So a very successful outcome to the Winter work program.
It is on Shay #5 that we have the biggest news. We can now clearly see our way to a second operating steam locomotive in the near future.
She is currently a single unit again and at the North end of the shop.
However the real achievements are not obvious.
Phil’s efforts over the last couple of months have overcome the problem that has sidelined this locomotive for many years. He successfully cleared the tell-tale holes on all but 20 firebox stays. So all stays in the boiler are now fully compliant with current FRA requirements and the 20 had all been removed for replacement.
Additional thickness testing was carried out on some parts of the boiler to ensure that we have all the data to complete the form #4 and this indicates that all parts of the boiler and firebox shell are suitable for normal operating pressure.
In the last week, with Brian Davies (who leads this project) up from Florida, all 20 of the stays previously removed were replaced. (This involves re-tapping the firebox sheets and machining stays to fit each location). Good progress was also made on peening the ends of a number of the new stays.
Work has also been progressing on exact measurement of the tube sheet and tubes to identify exactly what ferrules are required to fit around the tubes in both front and rear tube sheets.
The remaining work on this locomotive is clearly defined and not as big as it might appear. So when will we see her in steam?. A lot of thought is going into this question at present.
The steam department at IRM has traditionally worked almost entirely on a volunteer basis. Near miracles have been achieved this way but it is slow. In practical terms a job that would take 2 men 10 days to complete in a traditional back shop would take us 2 months, probably more once you consider that both guys may not be available every weekend and there are inefficiencies in putting a job down and picking it up again a week later.
In the last few months we have, to a limited extent, used donated money to employ people on a part time basis to concentrate several days a week on major jobs and this has allowed us to complete some tasks that had previously been stalled.
So this is the big question being considered now. The work required to get #5 into steam is now clearly defined:
Re-tube the boiler and hydro test;
Fit (weld and rivet) the new smokebox bottom sheets (inner and outer) and then fit the exhaust assembly into the new steelwork;
Lag the boiler and fit the sheet steel cladding;
Produce and fit a new front beam and walkways;
…………. Plus the various minor tasks to fit accessories and reconnect the drive mechanism.
Several aspects of this work are of the type that would take months to do entirely with volunteer effort but a matter of weeks if we “bite the bullet” and pay people to work full time on them.
On a purely volunteer basis, we should probably be able to get her into service sometime next year. If we have the funds to accelerate the key tasks, it could be a lot quicker.
So a lot rests on the level of interest. If you are in favor of accelerating the steaming of Shay#5 by paying to get key work done quickly, consider a donation to the Shay #5 fund. My own view is clear!. I will offer to match donations received during June up to a total of $2,000.
Now we go into a few months of very different activity. There is a lot of work required each week to address any minor maintenance on #1630 then fuel her and prepare for the next operating session. In parallel with this we hope to progress work on #5, the painting of #938 and various shop improvement projects. But there is always the contending attraction of taking time out to see #1630 running ……. and you can hardly deny us that pleasure!.
Sunday, May 24. 2015
The first day in service for #1630 was very successful. Six trips at hourly intervals with no significant issues. Even the trainee fireman (me) survived the day without major problem (which was probably a bigger surprise!).
The Winter work appears to have substantially improved the operation of the rod bearings on #5 axle as was the objective.
So we are now operating normally as scheduled. (Obviously the essential caveat!. This is a 100 year old machine. Last minute problems can arise. We will try to give advance notice whenever possible but, in the worst case, a problem found during start up can result in a last minute cancellation).
Thursday, May 21. 2015
Two very hard days but the results look good.
The steam test went well. #1630 is available for service Saturday.
Tuesday, May 19. 2015
Steam Department - Fingers crossed! Posted by Nigel Bennett in Steam Department at 22:22
Interim update May 19th.
A lot of work has been completed on #1630 over the last two weeks. As of today she is now complete and ready to be coaled and watered for the steam test.
If all goes to plan from here, she will be coaled and watered on Wednesday for steam testing on Thursday. We have time for minor adjustments on Friday so, unless we hit unexpected issues in the steam test, we expect to run Memorial Day weekend.
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