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.

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 https://www.flickr.com/photos/7777754@N08/sets/72157655692852722

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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.