Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The 2008 edition of Midwest Haunted Rails

Ahhhhhhhh...it feels so good when I stop banging my head against the wall.

"Midwest Haunted Rails" (also known as "Ghost Train," "Spook Train," and a few other unmentionables) is over. This blog entry shows some of the highlights and lowlights of the four weekend event.

The event centers around the animated objects in the south station. A few new things come each year and some of the old things may not reappear. A comprehensive website containing many pictures of the south station's objects can be found at w w w . g h o s t t r a i n . o r g.

Saturday, October 11, was the first night of operation. Mid October can have weather ranging from "incredible" to "incredibly bad." With afternoon temperatures of 80F and a clear sky, "incredible" correctly described the weather.

Several shop crew volunteers rearranged cars to make the two Haunted Rail trains. Between the Old Threshers' Reunion and the two special operating events, the trains were a mess. The staff moved one car at a time to its destination train until the job was complete. While this should be a trivial operation, one car was particularly fussy and refused to pass backward through the Museum B switch, derailing in the process. An otherwise uneventful afternoon turned gray but the new MCRR CASE backhoe saved the day.

Two of the three steam locomotives (6 and 9) were fired up and ready on time. The crowds were light but enough were present to operate two trains for most of the evening.

The next weekend, October 17 and 18, tried our patience.

Friday's weather fell into the "incredibly bad" category. It was cool and rainy all day which made doing anything outside uncomfortable. The ground was still saturated from heavy rains a few days earlier. Our experience of a low Friday night turnout proved consistent with years past. Fortunately the hardware worked flawlessly.

Saturday was the opposite of Friday: warm, clear skies, a gentle breeze...and crowds that we've never seen! Anticipating the masses, all three locomotives were fired up. By 6 PM, the 6 was pulling passengers and the 9 was ready to hook up to its train only there was no engineer. The MCRR's Matt C. stepped into the 9's cab and was off to get the cars. After a successful air brake test, the 9 was ready for passengers. The 16's fire was banked in anticipation of it being needed to replace the 6 or the 9.

On 9's initial trip to the north station, everyone in the cab remarked that the engines didn't sound right. Oh well...just our imagination. With a full load of passengers, the 9 was on its way to the south station.

Then it happened: just 250 feet from the north station, the 9 stopped dead in its tracks (or more aptly, in its "track"). There were lots of MCRR crew members all scratching their heads about what happened. During the head scratching, Dustin B. ran across McMillan Park to get the 16 at operating pressure. Griffin W. raced back to get the 14, the diesel switch engine, with the intentions of pulling the 9 and its train to the north station, discharging its passengers and then pulling it to the shop.

The crowds kept building and were wondering what was going on. Hahaha...the shop crew was wondering what was going on! Meanwhile, engineer Eric S. was squeezing performance out of the 6 that no one had ever seen before. Fireman Abe S. had his hands full keeping the steam pressure high enough for the 6 to pull up the hill but not pop-off and keep enough water in the boiler. Later that evening, Abe remarked that he had never been so busy on that or any MCRR locomotive.

While the 6 was performing miracles in Eric skillful hands, the 16 was at pressure and was moved to the cars left behind by the 9. Murphy struck again; the 16's air brakes would not work! The 14 towed the 16 away and then it was hooked to the 9's train. With some jury rigging, electricity for the coachs' lights was secured and the 14 roared into service, operating for the rest of the evening.

A few volunteers in the shop ("Shop Supervisor" Mike E. and Jim B.) examined the 9's steam cylinders and found that the D valve linkage had come loose effectively setting the front cylinder into reverse while the center and rear cylinders were in forward motion. No wonder the 9 stopped so suddenly. By the time this was corrected, the other trains had been parked and the customers had left the park -- and it was midnight. For the next two weeks further investigations uncovered excessive drive train misalignment which only amplified the original D valve problem.

Weekend 3, October 24 and 25, were repeats of the previous weekend: cold and rainy on Friday, warm and clear on Saturday. The 6 and 16 worked as intended while the 9 absorbed hours of labor correcting the drive shaft misalignment. Having the 6 and 16 pleased the crowds (there is something about steam!) and the two engines pleased the crews.

The next few pictures show Jesse V. taking one of the 9's trucks apart to determine why the drive shaft was out of alignment.

The next picture shows Jesse holding a section of a bandsaw blade which was used as a shim by the previous owners of the 9, West Side Lumber. Not only were sections of band saw being used as shims, the adjustments had been welded in place, apparently to keep them from coming loose while in the field.

Fireman Dustin B. checks the fire inside the 16's boiler early in the afternoon.

With the 16 at full pressure, it was used to move the 9 back and forth so the staff could visually check the workings of the multiple drive shafts.

As the 16 is doing yard work, the 6 is being brought up to operating pressure.

After dark, the engines take on a different look. Here, the 6 passes the water tower at the north station.

Fireman Dave R getting a few laps of operating time with the 6's boiler in between his long shifts as "spook house" manager.

The 16 pulling into north station.

Fireman Dustin opens the firebox door to feed it some more coal for its trip to the south station. A nice thing about the oil burners (the 6 and the 9) is that it is easy to clear the stack for the trip through south station. The 16 requires some planning to insure the stack is clean by the time it reaches the south station. Once there, the fireman is at the fire's mercy for a clean burn.

The final weekend, October 31 had perfect weather: warm and dry. Too bad that nobody told potential customers! The crowds were light all evening. One good thing was that the 9 emerged from the shop and pulled a train flawlessly for an hour. By midnight, the south station had been stripped of its spook house look and was well on its way to North Pole Express.