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.

C&NW 1385 Open House Held for Mid-Continent Members

Yesterday, April 5, a special C&NW 1385 open house was held at SPEC Machine for Mid-­Continent Railway Historical Society members. The much larger public open house held in February took place during Mid­Continent’s Snow Train weekend and thus prevented numerous museum volunteers from being able to see the 1385’s progress for themselves at that time. This members-only open house was scheduled in the hours before Mid­Continent’s spring member meeting and banquet.

With the driving wheels already shipped out for repairs at Strasburg Rail Road’s specialized shop, what currently remains behind at SPEC Machine has perhaps become difficult for the casual observer to still identify as being from a locomotive. Recall that the original boiler remained behind at Mid­Continent’s engine house (and construction of the replacement boiler has not yet begun), the tender which holds the locomotive’s coal and water was completed last year and is on display near Mid­Continent’s depot, and the cab is being worked on separately in a shop in Fond du Lac, Wis. While it can be difficult for many people to see one of their favorite locomotives in such an advanced state of disassembly, it is the ideal point from which to begin a “from-the-rails-up” complete repair job that is currently underway and will once again make the 1385 a mainstay of Mid­-Continent’s operating fleet for many years to come.

People viewing open house

Mid-Continent members look around the SPEC Machine facility on April 5, 2014. Brian Allen photo.

View more photos of the open house on Brian Allen’s Flickr album.

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.

Chassis Sandblasted, New 1385 Displays Taking Shape

Following a premature end to sandblasting on Friday due to cold weather conditions causing equipment hiccups, Howard Grote & Sons’s Surface Preparation Division was back on site at SPEC Machine in Middleton, Wis. on Monday, January 20th. While last Thursday’s sandblasting featured work on the driving wheels, Monday’s work centered on clearing grease, paint and rust form the chassis.

Sandblasting of C&NW No. 1385’s running gear continued on Monday, January 20th. This time, efforts centered on the locomotive’s chassis. Click on the image to browse more photos from January 20th on photographer Brian Allen’s Flickr album.

Not all work on the C&NW 1385 involves grit and grime. There has been a great deal of work lately on 1385 in the non-mechanical realm. A meeting date later this month has been set with officials from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation and the Village of North Freedom to inspect the rebuilt tender and associated display. The 1385 project has had the fortune of being aided by a TEA-21 grant administered through WisDOT and the Village. The successful completion of the tender rebuild and its subsequent display is anticipated to release the final set of funds from the grant which began during the locomotive’s initial overhaul work shortly after being pulled from service in 1998.

Design work on additional displays about the 1385’s career and current restoration efforts has been an ongoing effort with members of the restoration team and volunteers coordinating their efforts. A special tip-of-the-hat goes to Randy Long of Long & Associates Creative Services. Randy and wife Lynn have been a boon to the 1385 project since joining Mid-Continent in 2013. The Long’s have been crucial in the creation of the new display sign created for the 1385 tender and is currently making headway on new 1385 displays planned for inside the depot. The 1385 project team is putting forth a great deal of effort to not only put 1385 back under steam, but also make sure museum visitors are able to appreciate why the locomotive is worth restoring.

Sandblasting of Running Gear In-Progress

Sandblasting of C&NW No. 1385’s running gear began on Thursday, January 16th at the SPEC Machine shop in Middleton, Wis. All three sets of drivers were sandblasted along with one pallet of parts. Work was done by Howard Grote & Sons of McFarland, Wis. The chassis was to be sandblasted on Friday the 17th, but Mother Nature intervened with temperatures in the teens causing the hoses and air lines to freeze up. The unfinished sandblasting was rescheduled for Monday, January 20th, but as of the time of writing this post, temperatures are predicted to be similar to that on the 17th.

Sandblasting is used to help remove all the past accumulated rust and layers of paint. Exposing the bare metal makes inspections of the parts much easier and more accurate as as layers of rust, paint and grease can serve to hide cracks and other defects which need to be identified at this stage of the restoration.

A Howard Grote & Sons employee works through the snow and cold to sandblast the a set of drivers belonging to C&NW No. 1385. Click on the image to browse more photos from January 16 on photographer Brian Allen’s Flickr album.

BEFORE (photo taken January 11, 2014)

AFTER (photo taken January 17, 2014)