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.

Driving Wheels and Frame Reunite

It has been over four months since the last Chicago & North Western #1385 steam status update was posted. What has been happening on the locomotive in that time? The short answer is quite a lot.

SPEC Machine, located outside of Middleton, Wisconsin, continues to serve as the center of the action under the care of SPEC’s Steve Roudebush and the 1385 Task Force. Work continues on a near daily basis inside the well-equipped shop. Several different tasks are in progress at any given time, allowing for work to continue no matter what hurdles are thrown in the way.

Here are the latest areas of the project undergoing work.


Replacement of the footplate was a time consuming task but is finally complete. The footplate sits between the frame underneath the cab and serves as the connector between locomotive frame and drawbar, thus massive forces are transferred through the footplate when pulling a train. The original footplate casting, already repaired in the past, was found to have more cracks and was deemed unsafe to attempt further repairs. A new weldment was manufactured. It is now fully mounted to the frame using tapered bolts to ensure no movement.

CNW 1385 footplate

CNW 1385 installed footplate.

Lead Truck

The lead truck is almost fully disassembled. Pins and bushing of the swing link suspension were found to be badly worn and require replacement. The holes in the truck casting where the swing link suspension connected were also worn well out of round and will require welding up and reboring. Inspections also found the bolts holding the jaws to the truck loose, allowing axle wear if left uncorrected.

The wheels are being assessed whether they can be turned on a lathe and machined to a proper profile. All wheels were well worn, but only one wheel exhibited significant wear to the flange, but possibly not too much as to not be fixed with a session on a lathe. If turning the wheels are possible, it would save what could be a rather involved process of trying to locate a suitable replacement wheel or wheels.

Crown Brasses

Four out of the six driving wheels’ crown brasses were found reusable after machining. The remaining two had to be replaced with new brasses due to being too thin according to American Locomotive Company and C&NW specifications. The reused brasses are expected to be able to be turned once or twice more before they too require replacement.

Spring Rigging

The spring rigging is fully installed. New pins and sleeves were installed throughout. Some had been replaced in the past using improper material which caused excessive wear not only to the pins and bushings, but also caused excessive wear to other spring rigging components. Some of the beams were found to be worn thin enough to cause concerns over the safety of welding up and reboring. Instead those equalizing beams were replaced with new custom fabricated beams.

The springs underwent a deflection test. All springs proved to have near-equal deflection, meaning they are all equally good or equally bad. Equality among spring deflection is desirable so as to avoid one set of springs taking on more weight than the others.

Rod Brasses

The rod brasses fit inside the locomotive rods and accept the wear associated with the movement of the rods (which serve to connect the wheels to the piston and to one another so that driving force can be applied).Four out of twelve brasses were found to be in serviceable condition. They were machined and reinstalled. The remaining eight brasses were replaced with new brasses machined on the lathe.

Delays were encountered in this process due to the materials taking time to arrive and subsequent computer hiccups with the CNC machine. Fortunately, the malfunction did not occur while machining the expensive brasses. Following the computer’s sudden bit of moodiness, substantial testing of the repaired CNC machine followed prior to resuming brass work.

Valve Cages

Valve cages fit within the valve bore and house the valves which control the admission of steam into the main cylinders. The fireman’s side valve cage was found to have broken pieces requiring replacement of the cage. Cuts to the cage were made to allow for its removal. The engineer’s side valve cage was found to be serviceable and is undergoing reboring.

The use of the CNC milling machine on the brasses is an example of using recent technological advancements to repair the historic C&NW 1385. However, when it comes to reboring the valve and cylinder bores, the 1385’s team have gone decidedly old school by bringing out Mid-Continent’s Underwood Boring Machine, a tool nearly as old as the locomotive it is repairing.

C&NW 1385 project volunteer Pete Deets explains the operation of the Underwood Boring Machine in the following video.

Driving Wheels and Rods

In early November, volunteers descended on SPEC Machine to help with the task of reattaching the newly cleaned and polished rods to the driving wheels and getting them back under the frame. This is no small task as the main driver weighs in at a hefty 15,000 lbs. and each of the two other drivers weigh roughly 10,000 lbs. each. They first needed to be connected together with the also quite heavy side rods, and then all 35,000 pounds of driving wheels plus side rods rolled down the temporary track into position under the frame. Before this could happen, the frame and attached parts, well over 40,000 lbs. itself, had to be jacked up high enough for the wheels to pass underneath. This was accomplished through a hydraulic jack and carefully constructed cribbing. Volunteers involved include Richard Potthast, Mike Wahl, Ed Ripp, Kyle Gherke, Guy Fay and Pete Deets.

Photographer Brian Allen was on hand the day the drivers were rolled under the frame. His Flickr album from the day can be seen by clicking the image below.

Upcoming Tasks

The steel side plates for the cab (where the locomotive lettering appears) were produced in October. With these in hand, it is possible to begin drilling holes into the wooden cab components for final assembly and painting. Cab repair and reconstruction is being carried out by CJ Woodworking at their facility with plans to move the finished cab, when complete, to SPEC Machine.

The other major component of the locomotive still ahead is the boiler. Currently 2D drawings are being converted into 3D CAD files which Deltak, the manufacturer of the new boiler, can then use for production. This work was previously being done by volunteer Jeff Westphal. Unfortunately, life can get in the way of volunteering and Jeff had to step down from this role. This and other delays have caused the boiler to not yet reach production stage at this time as was predicted earlier in the year. Despite this, progress on the 1385 as a whole continues at a steady pace. Once the drawings are complete, they will be sent to an independent third party for expert review before beginning production.

With boiler production nearing, your financial help is needed to allow work to continue at the steady pace enjoyed thus far. Gifts both large and small are vital to covering the cost of boiler production and remaining shop work to get C&NW #1385 under steam again. Visit the Donation page to learn how you can contribute toward the C&NW #1385 project.

April 4 Volunteer Opportunity for 1385

The semi trailer containing various C&NW #1385 parts loaded during the March 21 volunteer session has now been moved to SPEC Machine where restoration and repair work is taking place.

Volunteers are needed once again to help unload the parts from the trailer at SPEC Machine. The unloading “party” is planned for Saturday, April 4, 2015 at 9:00 a.m. at SPEC. Please join and lend a hand if you can.

SPEC Machine
7175 Riles Road
Middleton, WI 53562


A small team of volunteers came out to complete the task on Saturday morning. In addition to lending a hand, Fred and Kathy Vergenz snapped some photos of the unloading as well as scenes around the SPEC Machine shop.


Moving Parts to SPEC Machine

We have a new volunteer opportunity to help move the C&NW 1385 project forward. Saturday, March 21st we will be removing all the 1385’s parts parts presently stored in a boxcar at Mid-Continent Railway Museum and placing them into a semi trailer for transport to SPEC Machine where rebuild work is continuing on Mid-Continent’s flagship steam locomotive.

We’ll start at 9 A.M. and, with enough willing hands, should be done by early afternoon – if not sooner. There is very little really heavy stuff left to move, it is primarily piping and jacketing that is just unwieldy. The trailer will be spotted right next to the boxcar so we’ll need people in the boxcar, on the ground and in the trailer. Any time at all will be much appreciated and gratefully accepted. Members can refer to the Locomotive Shop forum on the members’ webpage for additional information.

Video and Print Coverage of 1385’s Progress

Two new high-quality videos have recently hit the internet following the 2015 C&NW 1385 Open House. Both feature video from the open house and interviews with key individuals involved with the project.

CNW 1385: On Track To Operation, One Year Later produced by Midwest Zephyr Media


C&NW 1385 – Hope For a Return to Steam produced by HighIronofWisconsin Productions


Coverage of the event came in several forms. Several Madison-area news channels included the open house in their news coverage.

Stories appeared in both local and larger newspapers. The Wisconsin State Journal ran an article by Barry Adams in the Sunday newspaper a week in advance of the Open House. The same article also ran in other area newspapers, including the Green Bay Press Gazette.

The Wisconsin Southeastern Division of the National Model Railroad Association posted many nice photographs of the open house event on their Facebook page (does not require a Facebook account to view).

An estimated 1,500 visitors stopped by the C&NW 1385 Open House at SPEC Machine over the weekend of February 21-22, 2015.