Welding Research and Test Milling

Work on Chicago & North Western No. 1385’s running gear has recently passed a milestone. After several months of disassembly and inspection work, the first evidence of the constructive phase on the running gear work has arrived.

As seen in the below photos and linked photo album, a new set of pins and bushings were milled at SPEC Machine for use in the 1385’s spring rigging. A locomotive’s spring rigging consists of a series of springs, spring hangers, equalizers, spring saddles, and other components that protect the locomotive and the rail from damaging shock, like the suspension on an automobile. These first few pieces are test items being sent to a facility to be hardened to the American Locomotive Company specifications. The hardening process can cause the parts to change slightly in size, so this small sampling of test pieces will go through the complete process first before additional pieces are milled.

View the full album: Milling New Pins & Bushings

The 1385 Task Force has also recently been working with Jayson Schaller in preparation of welding tasks. Schaller is a welding expert and educator. He was first introduced to the 1385 Task Force during the museum members’ 1385 open house on April 5. Among Schaller’s talents is research and writing welding procedures.

Metallurgy has changed over time, meaning welding practices commonly known and used today are not necessarily the best practice when working on something as old as C&NW 1385’s frame. Shortly after the 1385 open house, Schaller began researching welding procedures specific to the type of steel in the 1385’s frame. His findings were turned into a report presented to the restoration team. The report will serve as the procedure guide for repairing cracks found in the engine frame so as to get the best strength and life span out of the work being completed. The 1385 team will also be tapping Schaller’s expertise for other areas of welding repair, including the driving boxes.

Jeyson Schaller and Steve Roudebush

Jeyson Schaller (left) and SPEC Machine’s Steve Roudebush (right) discuss the welding research. Brian Allen photo.

More photos available on Brian Allen’s Flickr album.

Driving Wheels Depart for Strasburg

Chicago & North Western No. 1385 turns 107-years-old today! That is worthy of celebration with a new steam status update.

The reach of the restoration work on Chicago & North Western No. 1385 is expanding. Restoration work on various parts of the locomotive has already or is anticipated to take place in shops in Middleton and Fond du Lac, Wisconsin as well as Plymouth and St. Paul, Minnesota. Now components of Mid-Continent’s star locomotive will be traveling even farther from home for restoration work. On Monday March 24, 2014, 1385’s 63-inch driving wheels were loaded on to a semi-trailer for shipment to Strasburg, Pennsylvania. Upon arrival the drivers will again be inspected and a repair plan will be finalized with one of the nation’s premier steam restoration shops, the Strasburg Rail Road.

Driving wheels are usually designated by number, counting upward while moving from the front of the locomotive back toward the cab. A specific wheel can be designated by referring to it as the right side (engineer‘s side) or left side (fireman’s side). For example, No. 1 driving wheel, right side would be the driving wheel farthest forward on the engineer’s side. Simply referring to the No. 1 driver usually infers the wheels on both sides plus the connecting axle. The No. 1 and No. 3 drivers on the 1385 each weigh about 10,000 lbs. The No. 2 driver is the main driver, meaning it is the driver connected to the pistons providing the power. The No. 1 and No. 3 drivers are not directly connected to the pistons but are instead connected only to the main driver via connecting rod. The larger crank pin (cylindrical protrusion) on the main driver necessary to host these connections along with the accompanying larger counterweight needed means the main driver weighs an extra hefty 15,000 lbs.

View more recent photos:

Being sent to Strasburg Rail Road along with the drivers is a list of known repairs as well as items for further inspection. While the entire scope of work needed is not yet known, the following items will be addressed.

The drivers will each be receiving a new set of tires. Steam locomotive tires are a removable ring of steel, usually weighing several hundred pounds, that surround each wheel center. Just as a tire tread on an automobile wears down from rolling along the highway and is designed to be replaced after a number of miles, the tire on a locomotive also wears down over time due to its contact with the railhead and brake shoes and must be reshaped and eventually replaced. Each of the six driving wheels will be receiving brand new tires during their stay in Strasburg.

Before the new tires are applied, the wheel centers will be turned on a wheel lathe. This process means a thin layer will be shaved off the wheel center (see below photos). By doing so, places of uneven wear or other imperfections will be removed, providing a uniformly smooth and round surface on which the tires can be mounted. As the tires are applied to the wheel centers they are heated which causes them to expand. They are then slid onto the wheel centers and gauged to ensure proper distance between the tires and proper placement on the axle before they cool. When the tires cool and shrink they will grip the wheel centers tightly and, with the freshly prepared surface of the wheel center, will not slip out of place during normal operation.

Worn tires are reprofiled on a wheel lathe at the Chicago & North Western 40th Street shops in Chicago in Dec. 1942. C&NW 1385's drivers will be turned on a wheel lathe similar to this one. Jack Delano photo. Library of Congress collection.

Worn tires are reprofiled on a wheel lathe at the Chicago & North Western 40th Street shops in Chicago in Dec. 1942. C&NW 1385’s drivers will be turned on a wheel lathe similar to this one. Jack Delano photo. Library of Congress collection.

A tire is heated so that it may expand and be fitted to the wheel center. Photo from Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe shop in Shopton, IA, taken Mar. 1943. Jack Delano photo. Library of Congress collection.

A tire is heated so that it may expand and be fitted to the wheel center. Photo from Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe shop in Shopton, IA, taken Mar. 1943. Jack Delano photo. Library of Congress collection.

Volunteer Nancy Kaney cleans one of 1385's drivers. Important parts are identified. See the Jan. 11, 2014 post for more photos from that day. Brian Allen photo.

Volunteer Nancy Kaney cleans one of 1385’s drivers. Important parts are identified. See the Jan. 11, 2014 post for more photos from that day. Brian Allen photo.

The hub liners, identified on the above photo, will also receive a final inspection at Strasburg.

The journal is the portion of the axle onto which the weight of the boiler, cab and everything else supported by the frame, rests. The weight is transferred from the frame to the journals via a driving box. Housed within the driving box is the crown brass, a bronze composition that wraps over the top of the journal. When moving, a thin film of grease prevents excessive friction between the two surfaces, but some friction does still occur. This is the reason the crown brass is composed of softer metal than the journal, to ensure the crown brass receives the majority of the wear. Crown brasses are more easily and cost effectively replaced. Despite these designs, the journal can still be subject to wear over time. The journals of the 1385’s drivers will be carefully inspected and reported on by Strasburg.

In the photograph of the driving boxes the crown brass is the bronze-colored arch seen inside the box. Also shown is the wear plate on the driving box. The wear plate is lined with babbitt which is a relatively soft material (like the brass) and bears on the hub liner of the wheel center during normal operation. The wear plate takes up the side-to-side movement of the axles and provides a relatively easily replaceable component during normal repair.

If no surprises are found by the Strasburg shop crew, the refurbishment of 1385’s drivers could be completed as soon as late 2014. When it comes to restoring historic railroad equipment though, not encountering a least a few surprises along the way might be considered… surprising.

Back at SPEC Machine, work will continue on the frame and additional running gear components. The latest activity has centered on the rear frame plate. On March 24, what the drawings refer to as the footplate was removed. This is a large steel casting at the tail of the locomotive frame that is bolted into the frame. The drawbar that connects the locomotive to the tender – and thereby the rest of the train – attaches to this casting so all the power the locomotive generates is applied to this point. Several cracks and major necessary repairs were found during inspection. The worst crack is highlighted in the photograph below. The cuts in the casting were part of the extraction procedure. For the safety of crew and passengers of future 1385-led trains, as well as to ensure long term operation, it was decided to replace the footplate.

View more photos of recent work:

Open House Exceeds Expectations

The C&NW No. 1385 Open House event held, Feb. 15-16, was a smashing success. Leading up to the event, the 1385 team was hoping for an attendance of 300 for the weekend. To their surprise, an estimated 1,100 people made their way to the open house at SPEC Machine outside of Middleton, Wis.

Locomotive parts were arrayed throughout the shop to facilitate easy viewing. The team did an excellent job of turning an assortment of locomotive parts into an impromptu mini-museum. Major components of the locomotive were labeled, a poster and slide show provided visuals of work on the 1385 completed elsewhere, artwork was on display, and 1385’s headlight was illuminated, giving the disassembled locomotive an almost subtle prescience of the renewed life it is about to receive.

Visitors in the foreground watch a slide show about the 1385 and its restoration to-date while other visitors view the locomotive’s various parts spread throughout the SPEC Machine shop and speak with project leaders. Steve Roudebush photo. Click the photo for more images from the day.

Representatives of Mid-Continent and SPEC Machine were spread around the shop, answering questions and explaining the locomotive’s ongoing work, its history and its future. The steady stream of people proved interest in the locomotive extends beyond just dyed-in-the-wool railfans. Mike Wahl, C&NW 1385 project manager notes, “It was great to see that a lot of the visitors were just general interest people who had seen it in the paper. This event has opened the door to a new group of people interested in the restoration of the locomotive.”

Bobbie Wagner of the Wagner Foundation and a Mid-Continent director, was impressed by the experience. “The enthusiasm of the crowd was amazing. I heard several remarks like ‘I never thought I would see the 1385 running again in my lifetime, and now I am looking forward to it.'”

While excitement certainly centers on the locomotive’s return to operation, the chance to learn about the restoration process was also greatly appreciated. “There was much reminiscing, but also a huge interest in the logistics of the project itself. They were especially grateful to have the opportunity to see a project such as this first-hand and up-close,” Wagner says. “They were very appreciative of the information that Mike [Wahl], Pete [Deets] and Steve [Roudebush] were able to give them.”

Aside from the knowledge of steam locomotive restoration gained, visitors who made a $5 donation were offered another keepsake from their visit. A computer numerical control (CNC) milling machine has been utilized during the disassembly stage of the restoration to produce durable part ID tags, allowing for the easy identification and reassembly of all parts when the time comes. Only a slight modification to the ID tag design produced a unique souvenir that could be machined right before the eyes of their new owners. “The medallions were a big hit,” says Wagner. “There was a line waiting for them most all day long.” Over 150 medallions were produced during the weekend.

Media outlets also picked up on the open house event. Here are some news links discussing the open house:

Television Station Video:

WISC-TV 3 (Madison, WI)

WMTV 15 (Madison, WI)

Newspaper/Magazine Coverage:

Trains Magazine

The Waunakee Tribune

Wisconsin State Journal (and others via Associated Press news wire)

Online Video Coverage:

Madison.com YouTube Page


Midwest Zephyr Media YouTube Page


Two New C&NW 1385 Displays Up, More Planned

Just in time for Snow Train visitors, two new displays about the C&NW 1385 have been put up in the depot. One new display breaks out all the parts of the locomotive and describes the restoration status for each element. The second display discusses the importance of the 1385 to the museum as its “Ambassador of Steam,” traveling around the Upper Midwest in years past providing a chance for thousands of people to experience steam railroading in their own cities and towns.

Additional displays on the 1385 (and other equipment) are planned for the 2014 season as well. Special thanks goes to volunteer Randy Long (Long & Associates Creative Services) for doing the lion’s share of work on getting these together!

Speaking of the Ambassador of Steam, a new 1385-exclusive special edition of the Mid-Continent Railway Gazette is at the print shop and is expected to be going in the mail to Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society members sometime next week. At 52 pages, it is the largest Gazette ever and covers the locomotive’s 1983 travels over the Chicago & North Western system to events at Butler, WI, West Chicago, IL, Boone, IA, Marshalltown, IA, Marathon, IA, Duluth, MN and many other points along the way that year. Once it arrives from the print shop, the issue will also be made available for sale to non-members by calling the Mid-Continent office.

Cover of Mid-Continent Railway Gazette No. 46, No. 4. The issue recounts the C&NW 1385's travels around the Upper Midwest in 1983. Cover photo by Brian Allen shown is the 1385 leaving the Wisconsin State Capitol behind on Sept. 6, 1983.

Cover of Mid-Continent Railway Gazette No. 46, No. 4. The issue recounts the C&NW 1385’s travels around the Upper Midwest in 1983. Cover photo by Brian Allen shown is the 1385 leaving the Wisconsin State Capitol behind on Sept. 6, 1983.

Steam Legends Meet

The Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin, and Steve Sandberg, president of North Star Rail, Inc. in Minneapolis are joining forces to further the restoration of the museum’s premiere steam locomotive, the Chicago & North Western No. 1385. Sandberg will serve as project consultant, bringing to this project a love of trains and an expertise in steam locomotive restoration which began for him at a very early age.

“My mother and father were founding members of the Minnesota Transportation Museum,” Sandberg says. That was in 1961. “In addition they were instrumental in the formation of the Tourist Railway Association in the early 1970s,” an organization that is best known for uniting the various recreational railroads for mutual support.

“My own experience working with steam locomotives began in 1975 when the MTM pulled former Northern Pacific No. 328 from a park in Stillwater, Minnesota. From 1975 to 1982 I worked closely with the MTM on the locomotive’s overhaul and eventual operation.”

“In 1982 I went to work with Diversified Rail Service in Fort Wayne, Indiana to work on the former Chicago, Burlington & Quincy No. 4960,” Sandberg says. In 1983 he went to work for the Strasburg Railroad, a popular tourist railroad located in Pennsylvania. “My duties included working in the back shop, performing daily inspections, filling in as locomotive fireman, engineer, and hostler.”

In 1985 he returned to the employ of Diversified Rail Services and worked on projects that spanned the country. Steam locomotives are commonly known by initials and numbers and listening to Sandberg talk about the many locomotives whose repair and maintenance he was able to assist invokes a long list of confusing combinations, such as NKP 765, OC 1551, LS&I 18 & 19, GT 4070 and SP 4449.

For most of the people who visit rail museums to see or ride behind the locomotives stamped with these identifying marks they are little more than hieroglyphics. But they are the proof of the dedication of Sandberg and others like him, who have worked hard to keep these vestiges of America’s dynamic railroad heritage in operation and on display for the rest of us to enjoy.

Sandberg himself is best known for the revival of the former Milwaukee Road No. 261 as a functioning steam locomotive. “From 1991 till the present I have been the primary person behind the overhaul, maintenance and operation of No. 261. We have operated over 35,000 miles in 21 different states from 1992 through 2008.”

Sandberg and his volunteer shop crew have just completed a major overhaul on his locomotive and expect to resume offering excursions in 2013, leaving him time now to bring his experience and expertise to the C&NW No. 1385 project.

No. 1385 is the museum’s best known locomotive. “It was the first locomotive used when Mid-Continent first offered its steam-powered train rides in North Freedom in 1963,” says Mid-Continent’s president Jeff Bloohm. “But it attained its popular status as the Midwest Ambassador of Steam when it headed up excursions throughout the Chicago & North Western rail system during the 1980s, including three successive years pulling the Great Circus Train between Baraboo and Milwaukee.” It has since been listed on both the National and State Registers of Historic Places.

The locomotive has been out of service since the summer of 1998 and the museum’s early attempts to restore it to operating condition stalled due to the high cost such ancient machinery requires to meet current standards. Work resumed in June 2011 when Mid-Continent received a $250,000 challenge grant from the Wagner Foundation of Lyons, Wisconsin, but at a pace far slower than desired.

“I am very excited that Steve is joining our team. His background and expertise gives another dimension to the project to further insure its success and timely completion,” says the Foundation’s president, Bobbie Wagner.

Meeting the Wagner Foundation’s challenge is just a start, however. The estimated total cost of No. 1385’s restoration is expected to exceed $1.5 million. “The ultimate benefit to Mid-Continent’s train operations makes the investment worth every cent,” Bloohm says. “The museum’s attendance has dwindled since the last steam train ride was given in 2000 as part of the popular Snow Train weekend.

“Having a steam locomotive at the head of the train is appropriate for our mission, Bloohm states, “but it is essential to the financial success of our organization as well. Having Steve on board will move the 1385 project along more quickly. His track record with the 261 proves he is very capable.”

Both locomotives share a common ancestry. They were built by the American Locomotive Company in their Schenectady, New York shops. No. 1385 is older, with a builder’s date of 1907, while No. 261 came much later in 1944. The younger locomotive is far larger, weighing in at 460,000 pounds, dwarfing the more diminutive No. 1385 which weighs a mere 164,000 pounds.

“For the record,” Sandberg says, “the first locomotive on which I ever sat at the throttle and operated was the 1385.” Contributions to help the railway museum meet the Wagner Foundation’s challenge may be made to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, PO Box 358, North Freedom, WI 53951 or on-line at www.midcontinent.org.

For more information about Steve Sandberg and the operations of Milwaukee Road No. 261 visit http://261.com.