Sunday, December 23, 2012

December, 2012 Work Weekend + North Pole Express

This blog entry covers the December Work Weekend (although there is a definite lack of photographic evidence!) and three weekends of the 2012 North Pole Express.

As part of the upcoming North Pole Express, MCRR volunteer Elliot H. enhanced the cab curtains which were built for the 2011 NPE. While the curtains kept the cab crew warm they had a challenge when it was time to run No. 6 in reverse. Lacking windows, the engineer's rear curtain had to be unsnapped to allow a clear view of the rear of the engine. The constant unsnapping and snapping took its toll on the curtain, leaving only a few of the original snaps in place by the time NPE 2011 was complete.

If you have a look at the January, 2012 Work Weekend blog entry, you will see some of the enhancements made to the curtains. Besides the engine number applique nearly every edge was reinforced to cope with the snapping and unsnapping. The reinforcements solved the strength issue, the mere fact that the curtain needed unsnapping to back the locomotive up was still a bother.

Solution? Install clear vinyl windows in the rear curtain sections. The next two photos shows a window being installed in the curtain and the completed product.

The engineers thought the addition of windows was great. Now, the cab stayed warm and they could see behind the engine. A bonus was that the cab was much brighter during daytime operations.

During the November Work Weekend, both locomotives (No. 12 and No. 6) had their boiler and tender plugs installed but neither were "watered." Starting Thanksgiving Friday, No. 6 was readied for use while No. 12 was bypassed due to some pending maintenance. The first task on No. 6 to complete was fueling the tender, watering the tender, filling the boiler and finally testing the boiler for leaks. Once that was completed, a natural gas fire was set in its firebox to start the warming process.

On Thanksgiving Saturday, we pulled No. 6 outside at 5.30 AM to start a natural gas fire while we had breakfast. We knew it was cold that morning (16F!) with a steady 10MPH northwesterly wind it but didn't hit us right then as to a problem we would soon discover.

After breakfast we extinguished the natural gas fire and with the assist of the gasoline air compressor, lit an oil fire to get the boiler on its way to operating pressure. At about about 15 PSI of boiler pressure we weaned the fire from its air compressor assist. With the air compressor disconnected, we had steam available to get the fuel tank heater running.

Note: We installed the tank heater due to fuel flow problems encountered on the sub-freezing weekend of the 2011 NPE. The tank heater was installed throughout the late winter and spring work weekends and was minimally tested during the Old Threshers' Reunion and Midwest Haunted Rails. There was every indication it would work well and allow us to use the heavy (less expensive) oil instead of light (more expensive) fuel oil.

We turned the steam valve on -- and nothing happened!

Residual water in the steam line had frozen in that 90 minutes or so from when we pulled the locomotive out of the shop. By disconnecting the tank heater's flexible steam line, we determined the blockage was between the fireman's steam manifold and the tender (that is, not within the fuel tank). A heat gun and a rosebud tipped torch solved that problem and the tank heater was soon on its way to doing its job.

During the time the tank heater was serviced, the boiler reached sufficient pressure to test the injectors. It was little surprise that its lines were frozen as well. Using a flexible steam hose, we easily thawed the injector lines and continued to ready the locomotive for the 11.00 AM train.

Student Fireman Rex F. services the steam turbine.

We had the locomotive completely serviced and ready to move by about 10.00 AM. Engineer Dave R. arrived and we were ready to move!

After connecting the coaches, Engineer Dave ran the train to the North Depot to fetch our first load of passengers. A few passengers arrived after the train parked at the North Depot and had to walk to the fireman's side of the train to enter the coaches.

After we leave the train at the North Pole (known the rest of the year as the South Station), the locomotive waits on the South Station's west side until the passengers are ready to return to the North Depot.

Ashley D, our "Snow Princess," is first to meet the passengers as they disembark at the North Pole.

One of the "things to do" while at the North Pole is to visit Santa...and where does Santa hang out? Well, this is a railroad, so of course Santa is in the caboose!

After the train leaves the North Pole (that is, the South Station), it carries the passengers back to the North Depot (North Pole? North Depot? South Station? This is confusing me!).

While one side of the train discharges passengers, the other side loads the next train's passengers.

Here is an interesting series of pictures: No. 6 backs up and connects to No. 12. Apparently No. 12 needed fuel and wasn't ready to move under its own power, so No. 6 pulled it over to the fueling station. Once free of its load, No. 6 took a few laps on its own.

No. 12, fueled and ready to go, connected to the coaches, met up with No. 6, and the two locomotives pulled the coaches around the track so both could stop for water.

Fireman Elliot H. gets to sit in the engineer's seat while the tender takes on water. His student fireman kept the boiler at the correct pressure while parked at the watering spot.

Watered and fueled, the complete train makes it way to the North Depot for the first set of passengers of the day.

After leaving the coaches at the North Pole (or is that the South Station?), the locomotives run a few light laps.

Engineer Abe C. at the throttle of No. 12 as it passes the man lift for this odd photo angle.

Passing the east gate.

On Monday, December 10th, while everybody thought the 2012 North Pole Express was over, a few cab crew (also known as shop crew) stayed an extra day to put the locomotives away for the year, in a seasonal ritual known as "boiler washing."

What is boiler washing? Besides the obvious, the general steps are:

1. Drain the water from the boiler and tender.
2. Wash the smoke box and other outside elements of the locomotive.
3. Fill the boiler with compressed air to blow water from the steam cylinders, turbine, air pump, injector lines, and tank heater lines.
4. Remove the boiler plugs.
5. Wash the interior of the boiler.
6. Insert 110VAC blowers in several of the boiler plug ports to dry the interior.

The next few pictures are "step 1."

The next few pictures are "step 2."

The cameraman was too lazy to get pictures of steps 3 through 6!

The next four are special to this year's boiler washing. In anticipation to some maintenance on No. 12, it was decided that the tender be removed from the locomotive for easier access in and around the locomotive for the winter/spring projects.

I must admit, No. 12 doesn't look quite the same when it is separated from its tender.

(Pictures courtesy steam.airman, John G, and Braden G.)