Mid-Continent Wins Chamber’s Pride and Promotion Award

We are excited and honored to have been awarded the 2017 “Pride and Promotion” from Reedsburg Area Chamber of Commerce at the Chamber’s banquet held February 27, 2018.

Pride and Promotion Award 2017 plaque

Pride & Promotion Award plaque awarded to Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

The anonymously written nomination letter praised Mid-Continent’s efforts to expand dining services and special event offerings:

…the last few years they have offered many more special rides, like the Taco Train, Pizza Train, Beer Train, Margarita Train and Macaroni Train! It seems like they are really trying to attract more people to the area all of the time, and it is easy see why tourists would want to come! Everything they have come up with sounds like so much fun, and I hope they just keep doing it.

The award was accepted on behalf of Mid-Continent by Jeffrey Lentz, Office Manager, and Bobbie Wagner, Director. Lentz gave a brief acceptance speech, sharing the museum’s appreciation of the recognition and news that the museum will soon be doing even more to bring visitors to the Reedsburg area. In particular, the museum’s steam locomotive #1385 is anticipated to be back in operation in time for the 2019 season which is expected to bring in additional visitors to the museum and surrounding areas.

Lentz also shared with the banquet audience that Mid-Continent is also affecting repairs to its bridge over the Baraboo River. This will reestablish the museum’s connection to the Reedsburg-Madison railroad line, opening the possibility of future museum steam train excursions to Reedsburg. The C&NW 1385 steam locomotive last visited the city in 1998 for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration.

C&NW 1385 at Reedsburg depot

C&NW 1385 at Reedsburg, WI for the city’s sesquicentennial celebration. May 1998. Don Meyer photo.

Washout Couplings and Plugs

An important part of caring for a steam locomotive is time-honored boiler wash. Performing boiler washes at regular intervals is mandatory to conform with Federal Railroad Administration regulations and ensures that the locomotive’s boiler is kept free from all corrosion and scaling which would otherwise lead to reduced operating performance and eventually cause damage to the boiler. Boiler washes must be completed after every 31 days the locomotive is in service and is one of the many steps of regular maintenance required to keep a steam locomotive operating. During a wash the boiler is first emptied and then high-volumes of water are flushed through the interior of the boiler and smokebox until no sign of rust, scale or other detritus is detectable in the drainwater.

In order to perform a boiler wash, it is necessary to have numerous access points to the boiler’s interior to direct the water into the boiler as wells as locations for the drainwater to escape. This is achieved through the use of removable plugs of a decent size that can easily be removed and put back in with a steam tight seal.  SPEC Machine is reproducing steam era Huron style [Huron Manufacturing, Inc.] couplings and plugs from certified materials for the task.

washout couplings arrayed on table

New washout couplings for C&NW #1385. Pete Deets photo.

sample washout coupling and plug

New washout couplings with sample plugs from the C&NW #1385’s old boiler. Pete Deets photo.

The couplings will be welded into the boiler shell and the two plugs shown in the above photo (which are actually from the 1385’s old boiler) demonstrate how the plug sits in the coupling and also shows the wide sealing surface that makes the Huron style so easy to use.  With a clean thread and sealing surface a gentle tap or two with the heel of your hand on the end of an 18-inch wrench is all that is needed for a perfectly steam-tight fit.  Much more force than that will only distort the plug and seat and ruin the sealing surface.

bronze rods

SPEC Machine’s Steve Roudebush opens a shipment of new bronze rods which will soon be formed into washout plugs for 1385’s boiler. Pete Deets photo.

Recently the steam bronze arrived for the new plugs and was photographed being unboxed by SPEC Machine’s Steve Roudebush.  Those two sticks total over 300 lbs. of material.  The next step is to whittle away anything that doesn’t look like a Huron plug.

Engineering calculations show the threads should be able to withstand pressure up to 13 times greater than the boiler’s design pressure but calculations alone aren’t good enough. One extra coupling was made to serve a dual purpose.  First, it will be welded into a piece of test material so we can gauge how badly the heat of the welding process will distort the coupling.  The test material will also have a fitting applied to allow the 1385 team to hook it up to the hydrostatic pressure test pump.  Once a plug is made, it will be screwed into the coupling and can be pressure tested as a system to further prove the safety of the design before it gets installed on the actual boiler.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, Missouri, Continental Fabricators has continued production work on the new boiler. This photo recently shared by Continental Fabricators’ staff shows the front courses welded together.

three boiler courses welded together

Welded front courses of Chicago & North Western #1385’s new boiler. March 5, 2018. Photo courtesy Continental Fabricators.

Lots and Lots of Staybolts

A brief update to yesterday’s discussion on staybolts:

SPEC has received the stock to be used for C&NW No. 1385’s rigid staybolts and is cutting it to the length, engraving the heat number and drilling the tell-tale holes per Continental Fabricator’s specifications. There will be over 1000 new rigid staybolts created in all, cut to five different lengths as required by 1385’s boiler.

Our New Display Building

Mid-Continent Railway Museum has one of the largest restored wooden car fleets in North America and is continuing to obtain and restore additional wooden cars. Nowhere else is there anything like it, and its potential is tremendous. At the present time the restoration department is actively restoring two wooden passenger cars and has many more cars waiting to be restored. Of those cars waiting restoration, many are stored outside and subject to further deterioration by the elements. The Car Shop, where the restorations take place, has room for approximately 8 cars and is currently full. If you would see, or have seen, the wooden cars that have been restored by the member volunteers, you would agree that the restored cars are works of art.

Currently once a wooden car is restored, there is no place to display or store the car. Mid-Continent has only one building on the property that is currently used for the display of restored cars, the Coach Shed, and that building is filled to capacity (13 cars). Three of the cars currently stored in the Car Shop are fully restored and take up room where other wooden cars could be stored pending restoration. It would be totally impractical to place a restored car outside, subject to the elements, especially a Wisconsin Winter, as the car would have to be restored again in just a few years. The only reasonable solution is to build additional indoor railcar storage and display space.

Tarped train car

A shortage of indoor storage and display space leaves tarps and temporary coverings as the only means of providing a modicum of protection to many of Mid-Continent’s treasured collection items – obscuring them from public view in the process.

In 2016, Mid-Continent received the final payment from a bequest from the estate of Laurence H. Dorcy totaling $968,046. The funds received from the Dorcy estate were restricted, but could be used to build “a structure for the restoration and storage of railroad cars.” The Board of Directors of Mid-Continent approved the building of a new structure, Coach Shed #2. As of February 2018 great strides have been made toward the completion of Coach Shed #2 and it is expected to be completed in summer 2018.

Proposed site plan for new display building.

Site plan for new display building.


UPDATE: October 20, 2017

Site grading for the structure is complete and concrete subwalls are poured. Construction of the structure is now underway. The creation of the fire access road paralleling the building is underway as is installation of the subgrade for the interior railroad tracks. Over 1,100 new railroad ties for the project have been ordered and are expected to arrive in late October. The final phase – construction of the nearly 1/3-mile of new railroad tracks to access the building – is anticipated to occur in spring 2018, assuming adequate funding is available to complete the task. Your support toward completion of this final stage is appreciated!

Wall posts going up on the morning of October 20, 2017.


UPDATE: November 16, 2017

On Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017, Cleary Builders wrapped up installation of the walls and roof and windows. The building looks fantastic, although there is still a lot of work before the building can be put to use. The walk doors, three overhead doors in the rear of the building, lighting and electrical are yet to be installed. There is also no floor in the building as of yet. The building will have concrete walkways running the length of the building (an improvement over the brick walkways found in Coach Shed #1). With colder temperatures setting in, the pouring of concrete has been pushed back to the spring.

Outside the structure itself there is still much work to be done. Many truckloads of rock need to be hauled in to form the roadbed of the new tracks and the ballest. Trackwork will be completed next spring by Knapp Rail Builders, a railroad construction firm used by Mid-Continent numerous times in the past few years for larger-scale track projects. Ditches need to be further shaped and seeded and culverts installed. Walkways must also be placed between the entrance of Coach Shed 1 and the new building.

UPDATE: January 22, 2018

Progress on the new display building has continued through December 2017 and January 2018. Walkdoors and the roll-up train doors have been installed. Inside the building, electricians have been busy installing wiring and lighting throughout the structure. Outside, as weather permits, the excavator has been adding finishing grading to the fire access lane that runs alongside the length of the structure.


UPDATE: March 28, 2018

Since the last update, electrical service has been installed throughout the building. In addition to the translucent panels along the top of the walls, primary lighting is provided by 31 energy-efficient LED overhead lights. As a result, Coach Shed #2 will be noticeably brighter inside than Coach Shed #1.

Abundant electrical outlets along the walls provide easy-to-access power sources for lighting and displays for the car interiors. Electrical outlets were also installed on some of the trusses for easy access to power for cars located on the middle track.

Automatically activated temperature control fans have been installed on the south end of the building. The fans, combined with the screened windows on the north end of the structure, will create an air flow through the building, maintaining more comfortable temperatures without relying on keeping doors open for air circulation – unlike Coach Shed #1.

Additional landscaping, track installation and pouring the concrete floor is still on hold pending proper ground conditions and temperatures. Because of the uncertainty of the weather, it is not known when the work will be completed, but it is anticipated the building will be open to the public within 3-months time.

UPDATE: July 11, 2018

Rainy conditions persisting for much of early summer combined with the characteristically wet soil in the area slowed progress toward grading the new tracks servicing the building. However, dry ground inside the building did allow crews to install track within the structure. Crews also installed a new switch on the museum’s mainline that will connect the new structure to our existing track network.

With the wet conditions finally subsiding, work on installing culverts and grading the final few hundred feet has resumed, after which, the track construction contractor can return to complete installation of the remaining track and final landscaping work can begin.

crews installing track switch

Crews install a new switch in the Mid-Continent mainline which will connect the new display building. The new building is visible at far left.

Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society, Inc., a not-for-profit Wisconsin Corporation, is an outdoor living history museum and operating railroad, and is accredited by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)(3) organization. All contributions to Mid-Continent are tax deductible. To make a contribution, visit our Donation page.

This is an update to our original post: Your Help is Needed to Complete Our New Display Building.

Staybolts Help 1385’s Boiler Keep in Shape

The Flannery Bolt Company is long gone but their products live on as their staybolt and staybolt accessories are reproduced today for projects like the Mid-Continent’s Chicago & North Western No. 1385.  In the steam era staybolt production and replacement were a regular occurrence and such parts were readily available in large quantities. Even in 2018 there are at least two shops readily producing them as a specialty item, but for the 1385 project Mid-Continent has opted to keep it local, producing them in-house at SPEC Machine where the bulk of the locomotive’s overhaul and assembly is taking place.

1385 project volunteer Pete Deets explains, “We decided to have Steve Roudebush [owner of SPEC Machine] make them as the best way to control the cost and delivery schedule.” He adds, “The bolts to go with the sleeves and caps are on the way… there are 72 flexible staybolts on the 1385 but there are also a few hundred rigid stays that will go into the boiler.”

diagram of boiler showing staybolts

The majority of the boiler is cylindrical, a naturally strong shape, but there are also some flat and irregular surfaces within the boiler too, especially around the firebox. With the intense pressures up to 250 psi inside 1385’s boiler, these surfaces would weaken, bow, and eventually fail without staybolts to support them.

The flexability afforded by a flexible staybolt is critical to maintaining the boiler’s strength while still allowing for the expansion and contraction that occurs as temperatures change from one extreme to another within the boiler.  Deets explains:

A flexible staybolt has a ball shape on one end and is threaded on the other.  The ball end fits into and will be held by the cup shape of the inside of the sleeve.  The sleeve will be welded on the outside or wrapper sheet of the boiler above the firebox. The bolt is then dropped into the sleeve and the threaded end is screwed into a threaded hole in the firebox.  The bolt is hammered or “upset” to cause it to swell into the threads and form a steam tight seal and a copper gasket is applied with the cap to seal the sleeve end.  The ball end of the bolt can actually swivel in the cup shape of the cap and it allows the firebox to move in relation to the wrapper sheet of the boiler as the engine goes down the road.  [Locomotive designers] found that allowing that slight bit of movement was better overall for the boiler than trying to hold every bit very stiff and rigid. If things were too rigid the boiler would break the staybolts anyway.  It was also noted there were fairly specific areas of a boiler that were prone to breaking stays so the Railroad Master Mechanics Committee came out with recommended patterns of placement for the flexi’s to alleviate or at least minimize the breakage.

The photos of the staybolt caps reveal a series of numbers stamped on each one. The number represents the part’s “heat number.”  That is a jargon from the steel industry as they refer to every batch of iron or steel (or any metal) that comes out of a furnace as a “heat.”

Deets elaborates on the importance of heat numbers:

That number is vital because every piece of metal that goes into the pressure retaining portion of the boiler must meet very specific requirements of physical strength, mechanical properties and chemical properties and we have to be able to prove the materials we use meet those specs.  Every batch of steel made is tested for chemistry and physical properties and is assigned a unique number.  The records of those batches made for specific applications such as boiler plate follow the steel through the finishing process of the mill and each piece is marked with the heat number and other information.  Those records are the certification that this particular batch or heat number meets this specific set of requirements and we must get a copy of and keep on file the material certifications or “certs” for short.  That heat number represents the “pedigree” of each of those parts.

The below YouTube video produced by Wasatch Railroad Contractors while working on a different locomotive restoration provides a good illustration and explanation of how flexible staybolts work.

Last but not least, SPEC Machine has also been busy finishing up more work on 1385’s brake equipment. Brand new brake heads were cast last summer (see post from Sept. 1, 2017) and are now being machined in preparation for installation.

break head machining

One of the newly cast brake heads is machined to specification. Each brake head supports one of 1385’s brake shoes.