Sunday, August 31, 2008

Museum visit: National Capital Trolley Museum

I was on vacation all last week and capped off my trip with a visit to the National Capital Trolley Museum in Wheaton, MD. Many thanks to Eric Madison and Alex Dvoynoy for showing me around the museum! NCTM will soon be moving to a new location perhaps a quarter mile from its current site for a unique reason: its current home is being obliterated by a planned expressway! The lemonade being made out of this lemon is that grants have been obtained to construct a beautiful all-new steel-and-masonry carbarn (already done), visitors center (construction begun) and car repair shop (to be built). The current visitors center (see below right for a photo of one of the displays, in this case a controller that visitors can operate) and carbarn will disappear and all displays and rolling stock will go to the new facilities.

The highlight of my trip was a chance to operate a 1971 PCC car from the Netherlands, shown below left with one of Washington's unusual dispatcher's towers. It was only slightly different than operating the 309!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Inspecting the 277

Today we hopefully started on a complete inspection of Illinois Terminal car 277, with the goal of being able to operate it on Member's Day this year. Stan W. moved it over to the pit yesterday.

I inspected the compressors and parts of the air brake system. This car has two compressors (actually, it has three, but the third is for the air conditioning system, which we'll ignore for now) since it was essentially used as a locomotive, pulling one or more trailers on a regular basis. I lubricated them, meggered the armatures, and cleaned the filters. One of the compressors looks very good; the other may be marginal. We'll test them next week when Rod is here. Also I did the reverser and looked at the contactor group. Stan inspected the line breakers and repainted the arc chutes with Glyptal. Stan and Joe Stupar will be doing the motors; I had to leave before they had started this part of the inspection. Scott Greig is doing the controller. I also fastened down the trolley hook securely.

Here we see a couple of views of the upper stained glass windows in the car. On the 277 they were left in place, and covered over with sheet metal in the 1930's to make the car look more "modern." On the CA&E cars they were removed and discarded, and replaced with wood. We have no plans to return the 277 to its earlier design, since we'd also have to remove the air conditioning and completely rebuild the underbody equipment to be historically accurate.

Here's what the interior of the 277 looks like today. All of the seats along one side of the car were removed several years ago to facilitate some of the rebuilding that needs to be done. The 277 also has parts for the 518 and Peoria stored inside; we'll have to sort through these parts sometime soon.

I also started looking at the 518. The interior is basically in very good shape. Two inside windows were missing, but I located them in the 277. They need to be refinished, as do most of the others still on the car. Here are the first two on the operating table in the 321.

The Illinois Terminal cars are an exciting new project. And as mentioned before, additional help would be welcome!

Monday, August 25, 2008

757 Roof Work Complete - For Now

Today I installed the replacement roof board on the 757. It's caulked and fastened with screws. I'll let it dry over the winter, and it will be painted when the rest of the roof is done in the spring. Here is a view of the completed installation.

I also finished tacking down the new tar paper along the side of the car. So my part of the 757 project is complete for now.

Then I started work on Illinois Terminal 277. The trolley hook is bolted to trolley boards which are barely attached, and indeed sort of floating in the air. (L) I began by taking a series of photographs of the roof for documentation purposes, some of which are seen here. Later I'll take measurements and create some engineering drawings. But before the car can be operated, the trolley hook, at least, needs to be fixed. Fortunately the base seems to be securely mounted.

Since the bolts were frozen, I had to remove the hook by chopping out part of the ends of the rotten roof boards with a hammer and chisel. If we want to run the car this year, I believe the only secure way to attach it is with lag screws that will go down into the saddle, since the trolley boards are pretty weak. This is not, of course, what one would do normally, but it will be sufficient for a few trips. Unfortunately, I couldn't find the right size lag screws, so I'll buy a couple and do it next time.

Here's an interesting aspect of the 277. There's a trolley base and pole located near the front of the car, but this is not a spare or for back up movements. It's only for sleet scraping; the pole has a special sleet-scraper trolley shoe. The metal plate has a bracket for holding a retriever, which presumably the shops would have mounted in the winter. It's a little late in the day, but I decided to back off the tension on the base, since we'll never use this thing. It's held to the hook with a bolt so it can't come loose.

Here's a view of the 518's roof from the 277. The 518 is a trailer with no controls, but it has one trolley pole for back up movements. The IT had turning facilities at every end of the line, but since we don't, the 277 can only be operated with the 518 along so we can back up! As I mentioned before, the trailer is in good condition. Yes, I can see there's a hole in the roof, but we'll patch it up. The cars will not be cleared to run in the rain, that's for sure.

And in the other direction, the roof of the 205 looks pretty good from up here! This, of course, is only a cosmetic job.

I also went to the container to check on our spare parts storage, and spent some more time straightening up in the 321.

Lots of people were busy cleaning up after Thomas. I was tempted to take a picture of the abandoned right-of-way of the kiddie car track. Sort of like Rails to Trails.

Instead, on a more serious note, here's a view of the War Memorial.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Thomas Part 33 1/3

I was running the 415 in circles all day today, so I didn't have many chances to take pictures. The car was running an average of four trips per hour for eight hours, so you do the math. (I did get a couple of breaks - Henry Vincent was on relief duty.) But at least I got an unidentified visitor to take a picture of me at the controls (left).

But seriously, folks, Day Out With Thomas just wouldn't be a success without a lot of hard work from a lot of people, many of whom put in much more time than I do. One of them, for example, is Paul Sprenger, who is the 4391 motorman for all five days. (L) And to the right, Mike Stauber and Ray Pollice (not pictured) do their usual efficient job of guarding the busy Depot St. crossing. And there are too many others to list -- but hats off to all of you!

Breaking News!
Here's a slide I took of Illinois Terminal car 277 in revenue service about thirty years ago. This car has been stored unserviceable for most of that time, as you have probably noticed. But it can now be revealed that since a major focus of the Car Dept. is on getting a greater variety of equipment into operation for our visitors, we're planning to work on putting the 277 and 518 back into serviceable condition. We're hoping to make a run or two with the two-car train this Member's Day, or at least have them out for inspection.

The trailer, #518, is basically in very good shape and needs mostly window work. I'm planning to start refinishing and repairing the windows in my 321 workshop over the winter. The 277 is going to require some major roof repairs. But we inspected the roof a couple of weeks ago, and we believe that only a limited part of the roof needs heavy repair - basically the center section of the back half of the car. A complete roof replacement should not be necessary. I cannot yet provide a tentative schedule of how long this will take, but it will be far less than the 321 would have required. Help in getting the IT cars back into service would be eagerly welcomed!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Worship This Week, Pt. 2

Another in our continuing series of car cards. But say, that reminds me....

Three preachers were discussing their problems with railroads. "The railroad is a real nuisance at my church," said one. "Every Sunday, just when we're having prayers, the Burlington comes through the middle of town blowing its whistle and making an awful racket, bothering everybody. It's very annoying."

"The problem at my church is much worse than that," said another. "Every Sunday, just in the middle of my sermon, the Rock Island runs right alongside the church with a long freight train. It's so loud I have to stop, wait for several minutes, then try to continue the sermon. It's just unbelievably frustrating!"

"The problem at my church is even worse than that," said the third. "Every Sunday, just when it's time to take up the collection, the Nickel Plate comes right down the center aisle!"

Monday, August 18, 2008

Working On Roofs

I started today by doing more work on the roof of the 757 - my part of this project is nearing completion. The rotten part of the trolley board shown earlier was cut away, and I trimmed the end so the new piece can be lapped in. Fortunately, the saddles are in very good condition, and the new wood will have a solid foundation.

You might notice that I needed to get the trolley pole out of my way. The base has a latch for holding the pole in the horizontal position, so it can easily be swung over to the side, after carefully removing the rope from the retriever.

I then tacked down more of the new tar paper. This isn't quite finished, since I need more tacks, but it will be soon. Now it only needs to get a coat or two of liquid roof tar/sealant.

I then worked more on the 321. Mostly this involved cutting out and installing a sister for one of the carlines on the end of the roof, seen here. It's attached with glue and carriage bolts, visible in the picture. This is actually more work than just replacing the carline, so I may not do too much more sistering on this part of the roof.

And I checked all traction motors on the blue cars, after their latest round of revenue service. Everything looks fine, so we're ready for operation in September. Ugh, what an annoying job. And I spent two or three hours straightening and sorting tools and parts in the 321.

Finally, for this week's view of the campus scenery, we feature the Goddess of IRM. I don't think she has an official name, so I prefer to worship her as Athena, the Goddess of Heroic Endeavors. I would have liked to sacrifice a bullock to Athena as part of the 309 dedication, but was sure they wouldn't let me. So I hope she was satisfied with an offering of chocolate cake instead.

Allen's Corner

Allen's Corner ("Since 1921") is an old truck stop restaurant about nine miles east of the Museum on Rt. 20, about a mile and a half west of Starks. Currently it's only open for breakfast and lunch. (They were open for dinner on weekdays until recently. Debbie is waiting for the economy to improve, they say.) As you might expect, it's informal and serves basic American food. Many of the customers are regulars from the area. Prices are very reasonable, and the food is good. Service is usually very fast -- if you sit at the counter, the food is handed to you as soon as it comes off the grill. Because the place is so small and nearly always crowded, tables are reserved for parties of two or more. I'd recommend it for anyone on their way out to IRM from the east.

And it's safe -- you can see from the picture that the building is protected by huge concrete blocks and steel pipes, so it can't be taken out by a truck missing the high-speed curve on Rt. 20. I wouldn't be surprised if that's what happened to the original restaurant at this location.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Day Out With Thomas, Part Deux

The Thomas event continued at its usual frenetic pace Saturday and Sunday. I was fortunate enough to be Paul Sprenger's conductor both days on CTA 4391, which is definitely one of the cushier jobs in the event - I get to sit in a nice comfy seat and flick toggle switches all day! I also got to sub in on the 144 as conductor for a little while, which involved more exercise. The crowds were quite big, especially on Saturday, and I was struck by the good mood everyone seemed to be in. The weather was fantastic, which probably helped. I even had someone tell me how impressed they were last year when they came out for the "rain make-up" day and experienced the whole shuttle-bus phenomenon. Anyway, here's a before-and-after photo from the conductor's booth on the Hornet:

The "before" photo shows the car when first going into service, the "after" photo about an hour and a half later at the height of the day's rush, when long lines at the streetcar stops resulted in standing-room-only streetcar trips (this would typically only last until the next stop, though). And, of course, the "sea of people" shot out the 4391's back window as WC 7525 leads the Thomas Train back into the loading track:

It's always very impressive to see the museum handle huge crowds like this; with three mainline trains, four streetcars and the Thomas train in addition to all the temporary attractions, there was an awful lot happening.

Update: Fox News had a news feature on Day Out With Thomas here.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Take the Throttle

You may have heard rumors that IRM's "Take the Throttle" program had to be cancelled due to the great difficulty and expense of replacing all those throttles the visitors were taking. Not true! It's still very much active; for $150 anyone can sign up to run a train for an hour or so. The 308 and 309 are scheduled to run on Monday, Sept. 1st and Saturday, Sept. 6th, so those might be good days for you to sign up if you're interested. Call the IRM office for information. (Illustration by an unknown artist from an old issue of Rail and Wire, but after Don Martin, obviously.)


Friday was the first Thomas day, and as usual, a good time was had by all. Here we see Henry Vincent on Thomas, and Roger S. along for the ride, I guess....

Of course, Friday is usually not as busy as the weekends, so it's a good opportunity to make sure everything's in place.

Besides the train rides, there are always lots of other activities, such as the magic show...

... and the little hand cars (L) just like Riverview! I used to love those things. To the right, some of the PADS volunteers guarding the crossing.

I was doing car line relief duty, since I had to leave early to go to Ravinia. I'm singing in the chorus for several Mozart opera productions this week. Here are some pictures of the new signals on the car line. The system is not yet fully functional, but getting close. The wig-wag at South Jct. is working.

Since I had some extra time, I also worked on the roof of the 757 some more, rather than stand idly about. One end of one of the roof boards is rotten out, as seen here, and needs to be replaced. I started sawing it off.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Walleye Grill

Here's another exciting new feature from your only full-service IRM blog: restaurant reviews!

The Walleye Grill is located about nine miles from the Museum at Sun City, Huntley, and is the only fine dining establishment of its type in the area. It overlooks the golf course, as seen here.

Service is very friendly, and all of the meals provided generous portions. Prices are in line with other restaurants of this type. Entrees run from $15 to $23, including soup or salad, potato, and vegetable. You can also order burgers in the $7 to $9 range, or pasta. We ordered the orange roughy (mildly seasoned), a dinner salad, the parmesan-encrusted walleye, and roast duck. All were excellent. There's a full bar attached to the restaurant, so cocktails are available, and the house wine was a bargain at $3. There's also a dessert tray which we didn't try. I understand there's a discount if you live in Sun City, by the way.

This obviously is not a place to go after a long hard day of work at IRM, but I would recommend it highly for a fine dining experience, such as if visitors happen to ask. Unfortunately, it's hard to explain how to get there via the back roads if you're not familiar with the area. The restaurant is inside the main Sun City center, so take the Huntley blacktop to 47, and south to the Sun City entrance and follow the signs.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Tacks and Spend

Mostly I worked on the 757 again today. I started by caulking up the new tack molding, and trimming the old tar paper and canvas to a straight line so it will look better when I'm done. (R) Then I cut out some pieces of tar paper left over from the 205 project, and installed them, helped briefly by Bob Sundelin. I need to buy more tacks, especially for the seam between the old tar paper and the new, and the liquid roof sealant to make it all watertight. It now looks like this (L). I also worked on removing part of the one rotten out trolley board. Luckily, I found that the saddles beneath it are still in very good condition.

I also talked to Rod Turner and others about long-range plans. Basically, I've decided to put the 321 on the back burner. This car has so many serious problems, as I've known for a long time, that it can't be put into service for many years. There are several other possible projects that should yield results much sooner, in terms of operable electric cars. More about this later. At a minimum, though, we're going to wye the 321 to put the good side towards the aisle, and I'll letter the letterboard. This will then be a good display car.

Elect Dewey and Warren

This car card is a campaign message for 1948. Thomas E. Dewey and Earl Warren were running against Truman and Barkley. I asked Julie Johnson for a couple of copies of this car card, and received about 40 of them. So if anybody has a car that needs some 1948-specific car cards, please see me. I installed two of them in the 309 today, since that's the target year for that car. My favorite comment about Dewey, and I've forgotten where I read this, was that he looked just like the little plastic groom on a wedding cake.

Remember that this is paid political advertising. Hicks Car Works does not endorse any particular party or candidate for the 1948 (or any other) election.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

CA&E Floats

I just received this picture from the Wheaton Fourth of July parade. These floats were created by Clarice, a day spa owner, and her employees, with some input of pictures and color samples from Hicks Car Works. Of course, we can't take credit for all the details and hard work that went into building them. These floats won first prize - naturally!!! Picture from Bill Moran, who works in the IRM steam shop.

Update: More pictures from Clarice herself (L) and John Gleich (R).

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Don't Fall Into This Trap

One of the trap doors on the 308 had come loose during operation a week and a half ago, so it needed to be fixed before we could run the cars in regular service again. This is not the world's greatest trap door design, but it's what we've got, so I spent most of the day fixing it - permanently, I hope. (R) First, I removed the side door. Otherwise you're working in a very tight corner.

Then (L) I drilled out all the holes where the wood screws had pulled out and filled them with short sections of 1/2" hardwood dowel. One of the hinge straps was bent, so I had to straighten it.

After the glue dried, I repositioned the hinges and checked that the trap would raise and lower correctly. (R) Then I drilled new holes and installed the trap itself.

(L) Here I am checking the hinge alignment. It's almost impossible to adjust once it's in place.

But now it closes nice and smoothly every time. (R) And then I put the side door back on. I need to do some touch-up with blue paint next time, and we'll be ready for action.