First Look: 1385 Boiler Courses to Begin Assembly

The first images are now available from the Continental Fabricators factory floor in St. Louis showing Chicago & North Western No. 1385‘s new boiler courses waiting to be assembled.

The pics are courtesy of Gary Bensman who is working at Continental Fabricators on another project at the moment. Continental reports they are moving the courses onto the set-up table this week.


Construction of the new boiler is anticipated to be completed in late March or early April 2018. The boiler will then be shipped to SPEC Machine in Middleton, Wis. where it will join the running gear and cab so final assembly of C&NW 1385 can begin. After reassembly is completed (estimated late 2018), the locomotive will be shipped via heavy-haul truck to Mid-Continent Railway Museum where its already-rebuilt tender awaits its arrival.

Upon its return home, 1385 won’t be quite ready to begin pulling passengers trains immediately. It will first need to go through a period of break-in runs and adjustments as well as undergo Federal Railroad Administration inspections before it is cleared to enter revenue service.

Running Gear, Shop Prepares to Receive Boiler

Specs and drawings are finished for the boiler and all current drawings have been released to Continental Fabricators in St. Louis, the manufacturer of Chicago & North Western #1385’s new boiler. Continental spent late November and December working on the firebox. The stay bolt layout is in full swing with cutting and fitting the sheets taking place in December.

Stay bolt sleeves and washout components are currently in process at SPEC Machine. Stay bolt lengths have been compiled so that work can begin on machining these components in preparation of the firebox assembly.

There will be an amount of trial and error with the sizing and tolerancing of some of the components. The welding process that each will endure during fitting to the boiler has the potential to distort the parts significantly. SPEC Machine is building some sample parts to try to simulate the installation process. These samples will better estimate how much distortion to expect so the appropriate adjustments can be made. This will require some extra work but will minimize the potential for these parts to cause issue on on the actual boiler.

The latest engineering work has been centered on the the steam dome. Designs are currently being reviewed by Continental Fabricators with an emphasis on compliance with American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) code.

Continental Fabricators is currently set to begin production of the bulk of the boiler in early-to-mid January. Once production ramps up, things should move quickly with the new boiler anticipated to be completed in late March or April 2018.

Upon completion of the boiler, it will be shipped to SPEC Machine in Middleton, Wis. where it will be set onto the running gear. In the intervening three to four months, the 1385 Task Force and SPEC Machine personnel are doing their best to have the balance of the locomotive ready. The goal is to for the most part complete the repair phase on the rest of the locomotive so by the time the boiler arrives, efforts can be entirely focused on reassembly. The plan calls for having as many parts as possible finished being machined or cast so workers can simply grab an item from the shelf, attach it to the locomotive and move on to the next item. Areas that are going to be seeing attention in the coming weeks include items like grates, grate bearers, brackets, water glasses, throttle linkages, lubricators, journal pads, oil celler liners, and many other small but crucial parts.

Part of preparing the locomotive for the boiler’s arrival involved moving it into SPEC Machine’s new shop bay. The preexisting shop did not have adequate clearance for the 1385 in a fully assembled state so an expansion of the shop was required with a larger door and higher ceiling clearance. That construction project was completed in late fall 2017.

With the new shop bay ready, the next step was to move the 1385’s running gear to its new berth. What sounds like a relatively small task was anything but. Even without the tender, boiler, or cab to worry about, the locomotive’s running gear alone still weighs approximately 90,000 lbs. The first task was to construct temporary panel track into the new shop bay. Volunteers gathered at SPEC Machine on November 11th to construct 60 feet of new track.

MCRM volunteers Ed Ripp and Dick Gruber, both of whom’s careers are in the Wisconsin & Southern Railroad’s maintenance-of-way department, led the effort. The other volunteers, all of whom were new to track work, were ready and eager to be imparted with knowledge. Lessons included using the proper tools for the job and how to work smarter, not harder. Each person got a chance to try all the various tasks. Nancy Kaney, one of the first-time gandy dancers commented, “It was a great learning experience. Dick and Ed were really good teachers.”

With the panel track prepared, the next step was to move the partially reconstructed locomotive into the new shop bay, a distance of only about 30 feet. This took place December 18th. Volunteers began arriving around 5 a.m. to lubricate and tow the locomotive out the shop door. A crew from Ideal Crane Rental arrived at 7 a.m. and began setting up the crane and adding the necessary 100,000 lbs. of counterweights.

MCRM volunteer Ed Ripp looks on as the crew from Ideal Cranes readies for the lift.

By 9 a.m. a small crowd of 20 or so volunteers, family, friends, and well-wishers had gathered to watch the process. The first lift attempt occurred shortly after 9:30 a.m. but was was halted so that a few small brake components could be removed to avoid taking damage from the lifting cables. A few minutes later they were ready to try again but had to stop when the the fireman side of the locomotive was raising slightly faster than the engineer’s side. After a few minutes of adjusting the cable lengths, the crane operator tried once more, this time gracefully hoisting the roughly 90,000 lbs. and four years worth of hard work off the ground.

While the locomotive was suspended in the air, ground crews slowly spun the the locomotive’s running gear 180 degrees. Completing this maneuver now will simplify steam-up tests later this year by making it so the locomotive will only need to be pulled forward by 20 feet or less to have the smokestack clear of the building.

Mike Wahl, 1385 Project Manager (Left), and Steve Roudebush, owner of SPEC Machine (right) check the locomotive’s alignment before it begins its decent down to the rails.

With seeming ease, the crane operator lined the locomotive directly over the track and gently lowered it onto its own wheels once again – the whole operation taking only a couple minutes once the wheels were off the ground.

With the locomotive back on the rails, volunteers and crane crew went about removing the cables and attaching a custom made drawbar to allow a tractor to tow the locomotive inside its new berth. With the job complete, the crew disassembled the temporary panel track and headed into the shop for a chili lunch and to make plans for the next work session.

2018 Calendars Now Available

Mid-Continent Railway Museum’s “Whistle on the Wind” 2018 calendars are now available. The calendar features five color and eight black & white high quality images. Images included are a mix of historical railroad imagery as well as more contemporary scenes from Mid-Continent Railway Museum. Many dates feature “this day in history” factoids about railroads of the Upper Midwest and Mid-Continent’s own history. Quality metal binding keeps the calendar flat against the wall.

2018 Whistle on the Wind Calendar cover

To arrive by December 25th, orders must be placed by December 18th. All orders are shipped via U.S. First Class mail.

Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society members receive one copy free as part of their membership benefits. Members also receive discounted pricing when ordering additional calendars.

Quantity Public Price Member Price Shipping*
1 $8.95 $6.50 $3.00
2 $17.90 $13.00 $6.65
3 $26.85 $19.50 $6.65

*Price shown is for shipping calendars to a single US address.

Order Your Calendar

To order your calendar, call the Mid-Continent office Monday-Friday 9 AM to 4 PM at (608) 522-4261 or toll free (800) 930-1385.

You can also order online using Paypal (Paypal account not required). Select the appropriate button below to begin.

Public Price Member Price

Putting on the Brakes (In a Good Way)

The Steam Readiness team is gearing up for the return of the C&NW 1385 next year. In late July an order was placed for a new water pump which is to be installed at the end of the line at Quartzite Lake. For the foreseeable future, it will serve as the museum’s primary locomotive water supply source. The water tower at North Freedom is not presently able to hold water due to deterioration of the wooden tank, plus it used to be fed by the Baraboo River, but the river’s poor water quality makes it unsuitable for future use. The museum’s well is only low capacity and is just adequate to keep up with restroom usage.

The new pump at Quartzite Lake is rated at 300 gallons per minute (the 1385’s rebuilt tender has a capacity of 7,500 gallons). A 2-1/2 inch fire hose will be utilized to get the water from the pump to a bottom-feed port built into the tender tank. This will eliminate the need for crew members to climb on top of the tender tank to take on water using the old water column—an important safety consideration given that many Mid-Continent volunteers are retirees and may not be as agile as the typical steam crews of yesteryear.

The 1385’s boiler progress continues to move forward at a steady pace. Initial assembly of some of the fundamental components identified several minor discrepancies. It was noticed that a few pieces of the raw material did not conform to the design tolerances. While the discrepancies did nothing to jeopardize the boilers construction, they did warrant an extensive review of the computations and detail drawings that support the firebox. This review was completed and addressed all of the issues adequately.

Continental Fabricators has spent the following weeks updating their engineering data to accommodate these revisions. This has caused some delay in the assembly of the boiler but fortunately no alterations are necessary. The task force members, working in conjunction with Continental’s Engineering team are nearing completion of this task. As soon as the data streams are re-aligned, work on assembling the boiler will resume. A new fabrication timeline will be developed as soon as work is ready to be resumed.

Meanwhile, Steve Roudebush and company at SPEC Machine have stayed busy working on other components of the locomotive. The photos and captions that follow highlight the recent work taking place at SPEC Machine’s shop in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Report by Jeffrey Lentz with contributions from Brett Morley and Steve Roudebush.

Flood Impacts July 2017

UPDATED: Wednesday, July 26, 2017 9:13 AM

The museum remains open and all trains are departing as scheduled.

The high water has caused Museum Road (a.k.a. Diamond Hill Road) to be closed until the water recedes. Museum Road is the primary route used by visitors to reach Mid-Continent Railway Museum.

When arriving from the direction of Baraboo/Wisconsin Dells/Madison, a detour route is available which requires an additional five minutes travel time.

White ground-level directional signs pointing the way to Mid-Continent are placed along the detour route, starting at the 4-way stop sign in downtown North Freedom. Directions are as follows:

  1. From the 4-way stop sign in North Freedom, follow County Hwy PF south for 3/4 mile
  2. Turn right on Ulrich Road, follow it for 1 mile
  3. Turn right on Museum Road, follow it for 3/4 mile
  4. At the stop sign, turn right. Continue for 500 feet. The museum depot is located on the left side of the road.

Google Map of Suggested Detour Route

White temporary directional signs point the way along the suggested detour route.

For visitors approaching from the west via Reedsburg, State Hwy 136 between Reedsburg and Rock Springs has now reopened to traffic after being closed earlier in the week due to high water.

For any questions, please contact Mid-Continent Railway Museum at 608-522-4261 or toll free at 800-930-1385.