Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Blue Brothers

Today was the first day of public operation for the two-car blue train this year; the train was made up last night and both cars operated successfully for five trips today with Jim Nauer operating and myself as conductor. The day was not without incident, though. The 308 had some issues with a finicky triple valve that did not always release when a light brake application was taken (there were no problems with heavier applications). Other than a few hard stops there were no real issues, but this will be addressed. Fortunately we currently have a functional spare M3A triple on hand and will probably swap this in until the problems with the triple valve on the car can be fixed.

The other issue was that one of the springs on the 308's #2 end trolley base broke, as shown at right. This didn't affect operations at all; since the two-car train is bused together we simply used the poles on the 309 all day. This should be a straightforward and, hopefully, fairly simple fix.

After the end of operations I changed into work clothes and went over to Barn 4, where
Joel Ahrendt, Joe Stupar and Stan Wdowikowski, with help from Dan Mulvihill, were working on reassembling rebuilt components for North Shore 757's type DH-25 air compressor. I mostly just sat around and watched (and took photos) though I did lend a hand for a few minutes.
Shown here, L-R: Joel and Stan tighten down the crankshaft; Joe, Joel and Stan working on lining up the reconditioned armature (foreground); and Joe replaces the top cover after installation of the field coil assembly (foreground, around the armature).

Saturday, May 30, 2009

309 In Operation

The 309 returned to service today. Early in the morning, I made a test trip, helped by Stan, Charlie, and Joel. The oil problem appears to have been solved, and the car was released for service.

Since I only had one trainman, Joel Ahrendt, and the attendance seemed rather limited, we ran all day with only the 309. We made a total of six revenue trips, and all went well. I was too busy to take more than one picture! Mostly we operated out of 50th Avenue again. We had many compliments on the car and on the ease of boarding from the high-level platform.

Also today we started picking up train orders from the new hoop frame near Spaulding Tower, which was a first, at least for me. The orders are caught by the conductor, of course, and I didn't get a chance to take any pictures of this, but I'm sure some will be posted soon. Among other things, we got a chance to talk to Tom Hunter who was visiting, and he took a lot of good shots.

We learned that our friend Bill Thiel had had serious health problems; after a liver transplant he was in hospital for six weeks but was scheduled to be released tomorrow. Several of his friends and relatives visited the Museum, and Frank Sirinek was showing them around. Here's wishing Bill a complete recovery!

We made up the two-car train at the end of the day, so tomorrow both the 308 and 309 should be operating.

In Memoriam

Oliver James Sturdee Hicks, 1914-1941

May 30th was the traditional Memorial Day to remember those who gave their lives in the defense of freedom. This is my father's cousin Sturdee, who was a seaman on the cruiser HMS Calcutta. The Calcutta was sunk in the Mediterranean while covering the evacuation from Crete in May 1941. Thousands of men like him died to protect the freedom and security we enjoy today.

Rest in peace!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Platte Valley Trolley

The Platte Valley Trolley is an operation of the Denver Rail Heritage Society. At present it has just one car, a Gomaco-built open car powered by a Diesel generator. It runs along the Platte River through Denver from downtown, past the football stadium, along a mile or so of an abandoned railroad spur. The two volunteers shown here, a man and his wife, were taking turns running the car and providing commentary as we rolled past various places of interest, such as a children's museum.

Here the car is approaching its terminal under a major downtown highway bridge. The Gomaco car is an excellent replica; it uses trucks, motors, etc. from Melbourne. The society, as you can see from the webpage, has big plans: they want to build a carbarn and museum, install overhead wire, and move their Denver & Interurban car there when it's restored. (In the background is the Elitch amusement park.)

This waycar currently serves as an office and workshop for the operation. Unfortunately, the open car is stored outside, behind the chain link fence, and is showing its age. But it's an interesting and enjoyable ride, and demonstrates another facet of railway preservation in contrast to the two I already posted from our trip to Colorado.

New IRM Recruiting Posters

Dateline East Union, Illinois -- Today, the Illinois Railway Museum unveiled some new recruiting posters. The posters are to recruit new volunteers to the museum. It's unclear whether the posters will have the intended effect. The posters, designed to capitalize on the popularity of a certain politican from Illinois, were unveiled at a ceremony at the East Union Depot. Details are sketchy, but the following images were released to the assembled media:

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Happy Birthday, Frank!

Here we are celebrating Frank's birthday in 1985. This must be IRM, but a lot of things have changed!

Oil and Water

My highest priority is to get the 309 into revenue service, so today I started by removing the excess oil from the #4 armature bearing with a siphon; I then cleaned the commutator with special solvent to remove the oil and gunk which had been deposited on it. I then tested the car by running it out to the road and back a couple of times. I didn't want to go any farther because I was by myself and didn't want to be stuck if something went wrong. The commutator was still clean after these brief runs, but that's not much of a test. We'll need to do a main line run before deciding the problem has been fixed. Thanks again to Stan for his help on this.

After that, I started installing the new piece of canvas for the 277 I purchased yesterday. First, I rolled it out on the grass and soaked it on both sides with the hose.

After a thorough soaking, I managed to get it up onto the roof of the car and started to stretch it in place as well as I could. It's not easy to do, since this is just a patch piece. My primary objective was not to fall off the car and die. Actually getting the canvas tight is relatively minor. I'm hoping it will shrink somewhat as it dries. To the right is a picture before I really started stretching it.

After that I turned to the inside of the 277. I removed a piece from the ceiling so I can get the ceiling paint matched. That will be the next step. Joel is helping by repainting the baggage racks, and I will need to roll the ceiling before they can be reinstalled. I then put another coat of white primer on all the parts already installed, as seen here. It's looking good, I think.

Tim Peters continues to make good progress on the 1268. Here he is painting the sides.

Finally, for this week's scenery on the IRM campus, we have a nice view of Schneider's Grove.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Forney Transportation Museum

The Forney Museum of Transportation is located in a large warehouse-type building in downtown Denver, right across the street from the Coliseum. The collection is mostly antique automobiles, with many bicycles and other things, and it includes a small number of well-preserved railroad cars and locomotives.

The most impressive item is of course the UP Big Boy 4005. The cab is fenced off, but you can look in and see the labels on many of the valves and controls.

There is also a UP rotary, a C&NW 4-6-0, and a Rio Grande dining car set up and well lit so you can see both the kitchen and dining areas.

The Forney museum has exactly the opposite preservation philosophy from CRRM. Everything is stored inside a large climate-controlled building. Lighting is kept low so the upholstery won't fade. As a result, photography is difficult, especially of the railroad equipment. (I should have brought a tripod!) But the artifacts should last forever. Of course, most groups don't have the funding to be able to afford a building like this.

One amusing thing is the large number of wax figures displayed in and around the cars. This happened because a Denver wax museum went out of business and gave their entire collection to the Forney. I'm told there's still more down in the basement awaiting placement.

On the left is Denver Tramways #77, pretty much an empty shell. The cable grip, on the other hand, is complete and in excellent shape.

This museum is well worth a visit if you're in Denver.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day Operations

I was planning to operate the 308 and 309 today, but there's a problem with one of the motors on the 309, as explained below. We're hoping this is only because I put too much oil in one of the armature bearings, but we'll see. So instead I operated a two-car North Shore train, 251 and 714. The 251, a combine, doesn't operate very often, so it was something different for most of the visitors.

Here's the crew: myself, Joel Ahrendt, and Randy Allegrezza. Thanks to Max and his crew, 50th Avenue station is now open for revenue service, so we spent all day operating from there. It's an interesting change from the depot. Adam Robillard did an excellent job as dispatcher, and nearly every trip was different in some way. Several times we operated through station track 2, for instance, while the Zephyr or coach train loaded on track 1. The two car CTA singles also used 50th Avenue as a base. We occasionally used the west track, which has a wider spacing from the platform, without incident.

Here's our train next to the Electroliner, which was on display on the west track. I'm sure there will be more and better pictures posted of the North Shore cars.

At 3PM, we observed a minute of silence for Memorial Day, while a bugler from the West End Jazz Band played taps in honor of those who gave their lives for their country.

Motor Issues

I went out to the museum on Sunday to try and finish up the 309's inspection in preparation for operations on Monday. Charlie Strong and Stan Wdowikowski had completed most of the inspection work on the car, leaving me with only the contactor boxes and controller to examine. I did this (more information on contactor operation can be found in the next post down), finding no real issues, and sequenced the car successfully with help from Tim Peters. (Sequencing involves visual inspection of all contactors in operation - obviously with the motors cut out - to ensure proper operation.) The work wasn't quite done, though; Stan had found that the #4 motor had some oil on the commutator, which if left alone can lead to a flashover. He had cleaned up all of the oil during the week, though, and we were planning on taking the 309 out on a test trip on the main line to see if the problem was solved when something else caught our attention.

CTA streetcar 3142, which is our standard service streetcar and sees use virtually seven days a week from Memorial Day to Labor Day, suffered a motor failure in service. The failure occurred at Car Line Junction, tying up operations out of Station Track 1 until IT 415 was able to push 3142 onto the tail track. This deals a tough blow to the museum's streetcar operations; stay tuned for information on plans to get the motor sent out for repair.

Anyway, following this incident we did actually take the 309 out on the line for a trip, even carrying a full load of passengers. Upon our return the #4 motor was inspected again and more oil was found on the commutator, meaning that the car shouldn't be put into service until the cause of the oil leakage is found and repaired. The timeline for this is unknown since we don't know exactly where the source of the oil is, but the motor has not had any electrical issues so the fix ought to be something we can do in-house. Outside of the Car Shop, there was a lot of interesting stuff happening. The Nebraska Zephyr made its celebrated return today; the Electroliner was on display on the west track of 50th Avenue Station; the Track Crew was hard at work tamping and leveling the east track (pictured, L-R: Frank DeVries, Adam Robillard, unknown (back to camera), Tom Hunter, Steve L., John Neglich); and the last two C&NW-painted diesels owned by the UP even made a cameo appearance in Steamland.

Contactor Operation

Annual inspection work on the 309 provided a good opportunity to document and explain the operation of the contactors on this car. First, some history: the first successful multiple-unit operation was in Chicago, in 1898, using a system designed by Frank Sprague for the South Side Rapid Transit. Three years later, General Electric developed the first widely-used form of electomagnetic contactor control, known as Type M. Type M was a system which used a master controller to energize different high-voltage, low-current circuits which in turn activated large contactors under the car. These contactors were activated in combinations that routed motor current through different sets of resistance grids, thereby controlling motor speed and, hence, acceleration.

The first widely-used Type M system consisted of DB-15 contactors, DB-20 reversers and C-6 controllers designed in 1901 for the electrification of the large Manhattan Elevated system in New York. When the Aurora Elgin & Chicago (predecessor to the CA&E) was built a year later, the most modern MU system available for heavy electric equipment was the system developed for Manhattan. The AE&C wanted four GE 66 motors per car, though, and since the DB-15 contactors were only designed for two of these motors, the early AE&C cars were basically two two-motor cars back-to-back. Each car had two complete sets of contactors, reversers and grids. Car 309, though built five years later after the development of more modern Type M systems, was equipped with the earlier DB-15 contactors - probably because it was fitted with electric equipment at Wheaton Shops, which likely used whatever spare parts they had lying around.
Pictured above is one of the contactor boxes under car 309. Each of the two sets of contactors consists of 13 contactors, carried in three separate boxes. Shown above is the third box for the #1-end contactor set. In the background left is the second box, on which the cover is closed. DB-15 contactors had doors on the arc chutes that could be opened; the two contactors nearest the camera have their doors opened and the two further away have their doors closed. This was an unusual feature of the DB-15 not used on later contactor designs.
Here we see an individual contactor. The arc chute, which was designed to sheild the arc created when motor current was shut off from anything metal that might provide an electrical path to ground, has been painted with red insulating varnish. The contactor is closed by energizing a solenoid, behind the arc chute and next to the assembly frame (1), which raises the contactor arm (2) attached to the lower contactor tip (3) and brings it into contact with the upper tip (4). The motor current passes through whichever contactors are raised at the moment via heavy cables (5). To shut off the motors, power to the solenoid is cut, dropping the contactor arm and separating the contactor tips. The resulting arc is extinguishes safely with the help of a blow-out coil (6) and, on this design, "horns" on the contactor tips (7). During normal operation, the arc chute door (8) is closed to assist in containing the arc.

I also recorded a brief video demonstrating the components and operation of the DB-15 contactor, including interlocks. Interlocks are safeguards incorporated into the design as separate circuits that prevent various bad things from happening accidentally, like activating the reverser while motoring or energizing series and parallel circuits simultaneously.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Colorado Railroad Museum

While on vacation in Colorado, mostly to visit relatives and hike in the Rockies, we paid a visit to the Colorado Railroad Museum. This is a volunteer organization located in Golden, a Denver suburb. It has a superb collection of equipment, both standard and 3' narrow gauge.

Limited operation takes place on a loop of narrow gauge track around the property. I spoke to a volunteer there named Steve Lee (not the same Steve Lee who runs the UP steam program, I suppose) who was very helpful and informative.

You may notice that there are no barns, only a small roundhouse. The CRRM board has made a deliberate policy to keep everything outside so that it can be viewed and photographed in its natural environment. That's nice, but as a result the entire collection is slowly being destroyed by the weather. I, of course, could not disagree more with this policy, but so it goes.

In any case, the museum is an excellent place to visit and is nicely arranged. It has several informative displays and a large model railroad in the depot. It's highly recommended for anybody travelling through the Denver area.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Up in the Air

I took the day off of work and went out to the museum with the intention of finishing up the inspection on the 309. When I arrived I moved the car over to the inspection pit in Barn 4, but as it turned out a crew was gathering to replace the overhead wire on the west station leads and I joined them instead. Spending the day working with Adam Robillard, Charlie Strong, Stan Wdowikowski, and Henry Vincent to help Line Department Head Max Tyms was a change of pace and quite an education. It was also quite enjoyable since it was sunny, in the 80's, and breezy!

We started out by detaching the 1/0 round wire between the west end of Station Track 2 and the West Switch, about 1,000 feet to the west, and hanging it off to the side with rope. The hangers were replaced with "dollies," or pulleys, and a guide rope was threaded through these, taking the place of the old wire. (In the photo at left, taken by Adam Robillard, Max is replacing the round-wire hanger with a pulley and I'm about to hand him the guide rope.) When finished with this, we went and got a reel of new 3/0 grooved wire, which was connected to the end of the guide rope and pulled through the 1,000 foot's worth of pulleys.

I had to leave early, but later on the line crew connected the new grooved wire to the frog at the West Switch and started hooking it up to the hangers heading eastbound. The intention is to replace all of the 1/0 round wire on the west station leads, including installation of brand new frogs on the Station 1/2 switch and Station 1/West Wye switch. This will make it unnecessary to "hop" the pole over the wire gap at the Station 1/West Wye switch and will be a big improvement! More photos taken by Adam of this work can be seen here.

While I was out with the line crew, Gerry Dettloff (right) was back in the shop doing inspection work on the 309. He was able to get all of the motor and truck inspection work done on the car, which is some of the toughest and dirtiest work of the inspection process. Thanks, Gerry!!