Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Public Service Announcement

One of the nice things about being retired, or at least semi-retired, is that you have spare time that can be devoted to the public good.  So here's my contribution to the campaign for grade crossing safety awareness. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

North of the Border

Frank writes...

I was out at IRM on Sunday afternoon; it was a pretty decent day, overcast and chilly with low public turnout but there were still several projects that were seeing action.  I briefly checked on the 319 roof progress when I arrived before turning my attention to the M-1, where I started out by-

Wait, you say, the M-what?

Glad you asked!  Milwaukee Electric M-1 is one of the many pieces of the museum's traction collection that you never see out on the railroad.  It's a steel freight motor built in the company shops in 1918; it operated on the "TM" system north of the Wisconsin border until the interurban lines there were abandoned, at which point it was one of a handful of work cars transferred to the Port Washington, WI power plant railroad.  It continued in operation there into the 1960s, was sold to the (first) museum group in East Troy in 1972, and was resold to IRM in 1988.  It's very similar to M15, which operated in last year's trolley pageant.

Anyway, unlike the M15, the M1 is in very poor condition.  It deteriorated significantly at East Troy (it likely wasn't in very good shape when it arrived there either) and the roof is shot.  It's mostly intact, though.  In 1997 my father and I worked with the late Jim Blower to give it a quickie paint job because at the time it was the worst looking thing in Barn 7.  Since then not much has been done to it, but last year it was switched to the west end of track 83, right at the front of the barn.

As can be seen above, the biggest eyesore on the car currently is the fact that the windows on the west end of the M1 are badly deteriorated.  Actually the bottom stiles on these windows have completely rotted away, causing the glass to drop several inches and presenting a poor appearance, though probably not a safety hazard.  Still, Rich Witt with the wood shop crew had offered to begin work on layout out and building new window frames for the car, and I agreed to fund the relatively minimal material costs.  So much of my Sunday afternoon was spent gingerly extracting the remaining windows, or what's left of them, and cutting plywood blanks to fill the holes.  The end result is shown below.
This is far from a high-priority project, but hopefully over the coming year we can get four new windows made for the west end of this car and improve the appearance of what is now a somewhat prominent display piece.

I also opened up the 309 for a guided tour of a photography club and joined a few other Car Department workers in a quick visit to the Steam Shop to see the newly-painted 1630 (above).  It's awfully exciting to see all the progress on this locomotive and everyone is looking forward to seeing it out on our railroad again in about month!

And of course there was progress being made in the Car Department itself, as always.  Above, Jeff Brady (left) and Norm Krentel work on installing roof access ladders on the roof of Michigan Electric 28.  Over the past couple of weeks they've reinstalled all of the car's saddles and roof boards.  The stove smoke jack and one of the twelve ventilators (fabricated a few years ago) have also been test-fit.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

In and Out

Before canvas can be attached to the roof, it must be thoroughly soaked.  Here's the first section laid out on the grass, getting a nice gentle bath.  This causes the canvas to shrink, but once it then dries out, it can be stretched to final length on the roof.

It's not easy to get it all in place without sliding off (you've heard of the one-armed paperhanger, right?) but once it's there, the slack is taken up as much as possible.  And then we wait for it to dry out.

In any case, I needed the exercise.

Then the last side door on the 36 was put back into place and assembled.  And I worked some more on the third rail beams.  I couldn't find quite the right mounting bolts, so they'll have to be ordered, and then at least the first two can be mounted on the trucks.

And I worked on the walkover seats in the main compartment of the 309.  With some adjustments and lubrication, we're down to four that don't work properly.  This is a big improvement.  The defective ones are scattered, so at least the cable ties holding the seat backs together are gone, a big improvement to the general appearance.

Meanwhile, there was a lot of switching going on today.  The CGW combine has been painted, in post-merger North Western colors, but it looks great.  And back at the Cretney barn,there are several pieces that are seldom seen.

This is CTA locomotive S-105, which Scott Greig is working on.

And the Lackawanna IR boxcab, coupled to the 803, are seen outside in the sun for a change.

And in L car news, the two new Budd cars have acquired retriever mounting brackets.  These are trolley bus retrievers, but they'll look right at home mounted as shown.  Rod did the engineering and welding on this project.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Parts Is Parts

Last fall, several of the Car Dept. regulars had helped me extract four third rail beams that we received from Trolleyville out of their storage location.  The wooden beams varied from partly rotten to mostly non-existent, but it's the big metal parts that are important.  Last year I made four new oak beams for car 36, and two of them were completed.  The other two original beams spent the winter buried under snow behind the car shop, and now that they have emerged, Rod was glad to help get these eyesores out of the way.

The process of removing the rusted bolts went easier than expected.  The impact gun did most of the work, and only three or four needed to be torched off by Rod.  All of the irreplaceable hardware is now stored inside the shop, ready to be installed on the new beams, one of which is visible at the left.  So there's another project to keep me gainfully employed.  Say, did I ever mention that these *&^%$ things are heavy???

And then there's the side door, which got its final coat of paint for now.  It will be installed back on the car next time.

Notice the mirror-like finish on the metal plate of the door.  You could use this for shaving, at least until the paint dries.

Then I worked on the 319's roof a little more.  The side canvas was removed and rolled up; next time I plan to wet it thoroughly, then roll it out on the car, stretch it, and start tacking.  That's pretty exciting!  And then I spent some time collecting parts and getting ready to install the first two third rail beams on the 36, when I can get some help.    No CA&E car is complete without them.

While we're in the shop, notice the new roof for one cab of the D-13 under construction.  All new carlines have been cut out using the old ones as a pattern, and soon Gerry and the others should have it assembled.  It's so small, I almost wonder if you could put the entire roof together in the shop, including canvas, and then just bolt it onto the cab?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Monday Report

Getting caught up here, on Monday the 36 side door got closer to completion.

And on the 319, the canvas was trimmed to fit the complex shape of the ends of this "railroad roof" style.  The stretching of the canvas reveals some parts that need to be sanded down smooth.

And there was time to work some more on fixing and lubricating seats in the main compartment of the 309.  More than half of them now seem to be working OK, somewhat of an improvement.  We really don't know why the 309 seats had so many more problems than any of the other cars.

Inspection for these cars is coming up soon; as Joel has mentioned, we'll be doing it during the week, as the pit is already fully booked on weekends.  

Tour Guides Needed

Our old friend Ray Bellock writes:

We are already exceeding the number of groups that we entertained in 2013, and the phone calls with new inquiries are coming constantly (four on the message machine from last weekend).  Last year, a couple of volunteers, including me, were able to handle all requests for docents (tour leaders) and I anticipate a larger need this year, so the call is out for anyone who meets the minimum criteria: enjoys talking with visitors, and has a working knowledge of the museum, railroads, and their history particularly as it relates to Illinois. I have a set program for children's groups that serves as a good foundation and an outline as to what I think the casual adult visitor would want to see in a limited visit.  Did I say they also are in a unique position with these  groups to sell the museum as a  destination and worthy of their support?  Sales person attributes come to mind.  Anyone who would want to contribute their time in this effort should contact me first by e-mail: rayb749 at msn.com, and I will then be in a position to find out their interests and what they would like to contribute.

This is an excellent opportunity for you to help out the Museum without committing a lot of time on a regular basis.  And you won't even get dirty.  It would only be the docent thing to do!  (RH) 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Saturday Report

Sorry for the delay in posting -- our home computer died, and it took several days to get a new one up and running.  I believe this will eventually be an improvement, once I master the new operating system and so on.  Here's a report from last Saturday.

The side door for the 36 is getting painted and reassembled, as seen here.

And here is Rich Witt, working on the blueprints for replacement doors and windows for one of the steam locomotives.

 And while we're here in Barn 4, there are some relics of long ago.  Back in the seventies, there was a platform built along this wall for working on roofs.  I believe it was built for the 101, and when that project was finished in 1976, I inherited it for work on the 309.  This box still contains some old paint cans and brushes, but it's now inaccessible, since the platform was removed many years ago.  The hokey lighting system I installed with the help of the late Fred Disch is still in use.  Those were the days....   but I digress.

But mostly, I was working on the roof of the 319.  The woodwork for the lower canvas is done, so I took one of the rolls of canvas over to the car for a test installation.  Tim helped me move a rolling scaffold over to 8, and found the right clamps for stretching the canvas.

I practiced unrolling the canvas and getting it in place.  It should work out well.  I'm making sure everything is in place to start installing it permanently.  And Rod has ordered the canvas paint we'll need. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014


Six years ago I started a tradition, more or less, of posting a railroad-related hymn for Easter.  Unfortunately, there aren't many, so I'm getting more and more desperate.

This tune is called "Restoration" and it's very catchy.  There are lots of different opinions of what "restoration" means, you must admit.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Roof Work

As you shall eventually see, railroad car roofs are enjoying a huge surge in popularity.  It's the latest craze.  And of course we here at Hicks Car Works don't ever want to be left behind in what's happening now!

Be that as it may, I started by finishing the tack molding for the lower canvas on the 319.  The end block was reinstalled, and all of the molding was painted black.  We should be ready to start installing the lower canvas soon.

For the upper canvas, we still need new tack molding.  The carlines tend to be split at the ends, so the solution is to install sisters, glued and nailed in place.  Here we see a couple new ones installed.  More sisters need to be made at home, but this job should be done soon.

After that, it was time to work on the side door for the 36.  Larry Stone had started stripping it, but my old heat gun finally died and was given an ignominious burial.  With a new gun, the work went quickly, and here is the main frame with brown primer.  This is the inside.
And this (R) is the outside.  The door itself is in very good condition and needs no structural repairs.

I also painted the metal strips for the drop sash tracks on both sides, and stripped the red paint from the drop sash itself.

But that's enough about me.  Let's see what the other guys are doing.   For a Thursday, it was busier than usual today.

Jeff Brady was working on the roof of the Michigan Electric car.  The saddles are being installed.  Oddly enough, they are bolted through the roof structure.
So that requires somebody down inside the car.  Here we see Walt Stafa helping install the bolts.  Walt drives to IRM from his home near Columbus, Ohio, every so often to help out.

Project leader Norm Krentel was working on various parts of the project, and supervising.  And among other things, he talked Rod into helping by fixing some bolts on the trolley base for the car.  Since it's a single-ended car, there's only one trolley base.

And Steve Iversen is seen here working on the roof of the Newark PCC.    Frank Sirinek reports that they now have the lights working inside the car.

For variety, inspection is always an important springtime activity.  Rich Schauer and Warren Lloyd brought four L cars over onto the pit lead; Warren can just be seen underneath the third car.

Finally, Tim Peters arrived with a load of long Southern White Pine planks which will be the roof boards for the 24.  This is old wood that was resawed by a man we know in Sycamore.  It's really nice stuff!  Tim has been putting in a lot of work on the roof of the car, of course.

So that's our report for today.  Of course, we can always use more volunteer help on the many Car Dept. projects that are going on.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Will It Ever End?

I hate to keep whining about the weather, but here it is, the middle of April, and the day starts off with a mixture of rain, snow, sleet, and hail.  Whatever happened to all that global warming we were promised?

But since I wasn't planning to work outside, it wasn't much of a problem.  While the rain/snow was falling, though, inside these tin buildings the noise can be deafening. 

I finished installing the curved tack molding at the #1 end, and sanded it all down.  So the woodwork for the lower canvas is now complete.

There's more to done on the upper canvas moldings, some of which needs to wait until the lower canvas is installed and painted.  But this is the first new tack molding the car has gotten since sometime in the 40's, I believe.

All of it was then painted with primer, and next time it will turn black.

There are a few minor leaks in the roof of the barn.  Most of them seem to be over the sidewalk, where they do no harm, but I noticed one over the 319.  Next time, if it's dry and I can get somebody to help, I should be able to caulk it up.

After that was all done, I just had time to fix up the Kevin sign for the 308.  Its wooden frame had started to come apart for some reason, and I fastened it back together with new screws and nails in the shop.

After lunch, Frank and I went to the annual Safety Meeting, followed by the Rules Test, which we both passed, of course.  Attendance was good; Harold Krewer and Bob Opal were the experienced presenters.  They do a good job of keeping us all focused on the importance of safety.  So everyone is looking forward to another safe and efficient operating season.

Frank adds...

"Will it ever end?" is an apt description for Saturday evening's main event as well.  I was out at IRM yesterday along with my father, of course, and was also able to attend the annual membership meeting in the evening.  Those hoping for a show got their money's worth.  The meeting lasted nearly three hours and went to six ballots, though with four Board of Directors seats open and twelve people running for those positions this wasn't a complete surprise.  Congratulations (condolences?) to Jim West and Joel Ahrendt on their reelection and to Nigel Bennett and Bob Olson on their election to the board.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Don't Get Bent Out of Shape

The number one priority right now is keeping the roof job on the 319 moving along.  And the main task that needs to be finished before the lower canvas can be applied is to install the curved tack molding on the #1 end.  This is made more challenging by the way the molding arches up over the end of the car.  Nearly all interurban cars had the ends of the roof in the same horizontal plane as the sides, so that the end tack molding would be a straight piece of molding bent to a gentle curve.  The only exceptions to this rule I've been able to find are the CA&E and the FDDM&S.  (And it's a real shame none of their big Niles cars were saved, but that's another subject....) 

But first, we need the last corner block installed.  Making these blocks was a challenge in itself, but that was done a couple of years ago.  The block was put into place, and then shaped to fit.  I used the Car Dept. belt sander, after putting in one of the new belts Rod had ordered, and oiling it per instructions.
I'd finished putting the tack molding together at home.  A poplar plank of sufficient size wasn't available, so it's two pieces lapped together and epoxied.  After a little trial and error, I decided it was best to start fastening at one end and bend it around.  The trick is to get it aligned correctly in the vertical direction so that both ends meet the corner blocks at the right height.  It's not easy!  

But things went well, better that I had expected, actually.  Here's the motorman side completely fastened in.
And on the other side, I almost finished the installation before running out of time.  (Farther along than this, by the way.)  The tack molding is about 1/4" too long, and needs to be trimmed to length, by design.  It's also about 1/4" too low, but that can easily be trimmed.  And there's more belt sanding to be done, but on the whole this particular task has been easier than I had feared.

I was planning to work on the side door for the 36 after getting frustrated by the tack molding, but that didn't happen, so it will have to wait.  Tant pis!

Meanwhile, Tim Peters continues to make great progress on the 24.  One of the most interesting aspects of this project is the roof hardware that was mounted on the ends of the first motor cars on the Northwestern Elevated, and which lasted until the merger in 1913.  It's amazingly complicated and bizarre, and since none of it was preserved, it has to be recreated from pictures.

In the center is the roll sign box, which has been fabricated out of sheet metal, and has a difficult shape to follow the contour of the roof.  On either side are marker lights, which can be turned from below.  The one on the left is a wooden pattern, based on careful analysis of photographs, and the one on the right is a brass casting from the foundry in Chicago.  The circular part above it was originally a 36W headlight, which did little to illuminate the track ahead, so it was replaced by a number sign.  Above it is a rectangular part; this was originally the car number, but by 1913 it was replaced by the larger number below it. 

 By studying pictures, Tim realized that the easiest way to get the circular headlight casting was to use a wok frying pan, with the handle removed and a few holes drilled through it.  Here it's just sitting on some blocks of wood behind the roll sign, but Tim will make feet to hold it to the roof.  This is certainly a much more fun project than the usual sanding and stripping and so on.

If you contributed to the Barn 14 construction fund back in 2012, you might have been wondering whatever happened to that project.  Wonder no more!  We're in the planning stages to empty out Yard 14 so construction can begin soon.  This will be somewhat disruptive, but gigantic switch moves are one of our favorite diversions here at IRM,   So the barn should be constructed this year, and you will read about it here first.  If I'm not too busy pushing over telephone poles with my bare hands.