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.

Mid-July 2015 C&NW 1385 Update

Although updates have been a bit sparse of late, activity on the Chicago & North Western #1385 has continued forging ahead. The work completed in the last few months is not the kind that make great headlines, yet all of it is equally important toward achieving an operational 1385. Without further delay, here is the latest:

  • The driving boxes, shoes, wedges and hub liners are all now complete, save any modifications needed for grease or oil lubrication and any adjustments found necessary at final assembly of installing the drivers into the frame.
  • The footplate has been fitted, holes reamed, and tapered bolts installed to hold it place.
  • The locomotive’s spring rigging has been fully rebuilt. It is being installed onto the frame and will be stored in place unless it proves to be in the way of other work.
  • Most recently, work has begun on the machining and renewal of the connecting rods and bushings.

Other tasks coming up in the near future (In no particular order) include:

  • Rebuilding of the front truck.  The wheels on the front truck are currently being assessed as to whether they can simply be re-profiled and still offer adequate service life, or whether replacement is necessary.
  • Renewal and machining of the valve cages.
  • Cleaning/polishing of the finished rods.
  • Boring of the cylinders.
  • Cleaning and test fitting of the valve gear to determine wear and repairs needed.

The 1385’s new boiler is nearing the end of the engineering review phase and is expected to enter the build phase within the next several months. The boiler will be discussed further in a future post.

Photos provided by Brian Allen. View full album at

1385 rebuild_07102015_spec machine_004


1385 rebuild_07102015_spec machine_009

1385 rebuild_07102015_spec machine_00101385 rebuild_07102015_spec machine_0023

Brasses, Bolts, and More

To start this post is some photographs and videos taken earlier this year but never posted until now. These document some of the work that was performed at Hercules Precision, LLC in Baraboo on C&NW 1385’s crown brasses and driving boxes.

A driving box is a box-shaped casting which is fitted to slide vertically in the pedestals of the locomotive frame. The driving boxes hold a brass that rests on the journal of the driving axle. The weight of the boiler, locomotive frame, and the cylinders rests upon the driving boxes, with the exception of the weight that is carried by the 1385’s leading truck.

Inspections revealed one crown brass out of the six required replacement. The remaining five had a good amount of service life remaining.

Photos and video courtesy Donald Blausey, Hercules Precision, LLC.



In more recent photos, taken June 17, 2015 at SPEC Machine, the finished driving boxes can be seen being installed into the frame pedestals. Additional photos show holes continuing to be reamed for the many custom tapered bolts being created and installed as the frame and it’s components are reassembled.

Also of note in the photos is the new footplate that has been installed. The original was found to have a significant crack (see March 30, 2014 post). The drawbar, which connects to the tender and thereby the rest of the train, is attached to the footplate. Given the heavy stresses these parts are placed under, it was determined that for safety reasons, it was best to replace the footplate entirely rather than attempt repair of the original casting.

Photos courtesy Brian Allen.


Frame Welding Repairs Underway

Posts to this page on the rebuild of the C&NW 1385’s has been a bit light as of late, but the same cannot be said of the type of work that is taking place on the locomotive’s running gear. This first set of photos taken in mid-May show some of the work going into the removal and marking of inside and outside wedge bars as well as inside and outside shoe bars and preparation of the frame for weld repairs.

An excerpt from a 1945 locomotive repair text summarizes:

The primary purpose of shoes and wedges are to keep the driving axles in proper alignment (perpendicular to frame), to take up lost motion between the driving box and the pedestal as wear progresses, and to prevent the pedestals from taking wear.

When the locomotive is shopped for general repairs, the frames, the pedestals, and the driving boxes are all trued up and the shoes and wedges that are badly worn or that are broken or too thin for the maximum thickness of liner applied, are replaced with new ones.

These alterations require that the shoes and the wedges be again marked off and machined so that the locomotive will be in tram.

All photos in this post our courtesy of project photographer Brian Allen.

Above photos taken May 13, 2014. More photos on Brian Allen’s Flickr album.

The following photoset was taken on June 25. The welding research conducted discussed in the previous post is being put to good work. As this series of photos illustrate, the 114-year-old locomotive frame has numerous cracks in need of attention and have begun being repaired. The 1385 will hopefully not need to be taken apart to this degree again for many decades, making this the opportune time to most easily conduct repairs.


As described in the April 6th posting, the 1385’s 63-inch driving wheels were shipped to Strasburg Rail Road for repairs at their facility which includes a wheel lathe capable of handling 1385’s drivers. More photos and info should be forthcoming, but for now here is the one photo available thus far courtesy of a Pennsylvania railfan.

One of Chicago & North Western steam locomotive No. 1385's 63-inch drivers with tires removed at Strasburg Rail Road for maintenance and repair.

One of Chicago & North Western steam locomotive No. 1385’s 63-inch drivers with tires removed at Strasburg Rail Road for maintenance and repair.

In-Depth Running Gear Inspections In Progress

The completion of sandblasting on the C&NW 1385’s running gear last month has cleared the way for detailed inspection work to begin. Without the years of paint, grease, and rust interfering, clear views of the condition of various running gear components can now be had.

On February 3 and 4, 2014, project members gathered at SPEC Machine to inspect the locomotive. While in its disassembled state, this will be the best opportunity to find and correct any existing or developing issues. With any luck, it will be another 107 years (the locomotive’s 107th birthday is next month) before the locomotive would be disassembled to such an extensive degree again. Aside from inspecting for signs of defects and fatigue, the inspection included taking many measurements of the frame, driving wheels, driving boxes, and other components and comparing the current measurements with the original Chicago & North Western specifications to examine the amount of wear.

Today, the Wisconsin State Journal published a nice story about the C&NW 1385’s restoration work. Unfortunately, there are a few items in the story in need of clarification. They include:

  • The article gives 2016 as the 1385’s “likely” completion date. That date is a goal among the those working on the engine and depends on keeping a tight project schedule as well as being reliant on the continued success in fundraising at a pace faster than the restoration work expends those funds. The latter is an especially difficult challenge. Because of the inherent uncertainty in fundraising timelines along with the chance for unforeseen delays, Mid-Continent Railway Museum does not have an official estimated completion date for No. 1385. The best way to help finish the restoration in a timely fashion is to make a contribution.
  • The article states “In 1998, the last year the 1385 ran, about 50,000 visitors made the trek to North Freedom. The following year, without operating steam, attendance plummeted to half of the previous year.” There are two errors here. The first is that 1998 was not the last year of steam at Mid-Continent – it was the last year the 1385 ran. Steam engine Saginaw Timber Co. No. 2 actually continued to operate until Feb. 2000 before it too had to be pulled from service for repairs. The second is that while attendance has fallen by half, that drop has occurred over the span of 13 years during this period in which Mid-Continent has been without steam, not one year as the article suggests.
  • Phrasing of the article suggests the original 1907 boiler is being repaired. Rather, a new boiler is being manufactured. Engineering work is ongoing. Look for further information on the boiler in future updates.

Don’t forget – the C&NW 1385 open house takes place this coming weekend (Feb. 15-16) at SPEC Machine (see previous post). Mid-Continent Railway Museum’s Snow Train special event also operates Feb. 15-16.

Mike Wahl, C&NW 1385 project manager provides light for the group as they comb the locomotive’s frame for any possible defects that need to be addressed. Inspecting up close is Steve Sandberg. chief operating officer of the Friends of the 261, the group responsible for returning Milwaukee Road No. 261 to operation. Sandberg has been brought on as a consultant for the C&NW 1385 rebuild. Mid-Continent’s Ed Ripp and Kyle Gehrke along with Steve Roudebush of SPEC Machine also look on. Feb. 3, 2014. Brian Allen photo. Click on the image to browse more photos from the day on photographer Brian Allen’s Flickr album.