Sunday, August 28, 2005

Wow - What a year ! 

Sorry that I could not continue with my Blogs. I was hit by a car and had my spine crushed. I was hospitalized for a few months and continuing with therapy. I can not work very long at the keyboard and mouse.

I am able to use a camera so I will have photos in the future.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Sunday was a Public Run Day! 

I had planned to meet the University Railroad Club people on Sunday morning but it would have been hectic. They cancelled the week before so my arrival was unencumbered with the possibility of a tour.

I got there about 10:30 and the place was jumping! Already the assembling of the consists for the running was in progress. The lot was half full and visitors and members were hard at work steaming up their engines. I found the powers that be and found out that I would work as Stationmaster in the 1.5" station as usual. As I headed up there, I looked for a radio and found none. I was told that they were all being given out to the train crews. This is OK with me as I do not like the radios anyway. They are too loud on the minimum setting for the earphone and do not stay turned on if you put them in a pocket. The only thing I use them for is to keep abreast of the train movements coming into the station (out of Johnson Tunnel) but the train crews have to remember to call me when they are at that location for the system to work.

Since Walt and others were working the station as well, I knew that I could rely on them to keep track of the incoming trains and switch them correctly onto the two main lines into the station.

It started out at about 11AM and was busy from then on. But first I got Roger to give me a check ride for diesel engineer certification. He showed me his engine and explained all of the controls. Then we started down the track after signaling a forward train movement with two blasts of the horn. He coached me slightly as we went along but most of the operation was left to me. I signaled each time we approached a hazard and slowed where it was expected. I found out his locomotive is different than others I have used as his is a straight hydraulic so it does not have any tendency to slow if you back off on the throttle as the other locomotives we have. He had pointed out the air brake controls and I used them but they did not work well at all. When we got back to the station we found out that a hose had come undone so they did not work on my trip. He was pleased with my operation and told me he would sign my certificate if they would bring it to him so I asked Bill to bring it to Roger as he had just certified me!

After a couple of hours, Cliff came to take over as Station Master and Roger wanted someone to take over his train so I volunteered and took eight trips around. It was fun to be certified and be a member of the engineer's club.

It turns out that the engineer's training and certification was not as I had expected. The things I thought were important turned out to be trivial and the things that seemed to be trivial turned out to be important. Part of the problem relates to the fact that the tests and the training materials were written by different people. I would have expected the tests to be extremely closely related to the study material. The training material made several points that were not on the tests and the tests had questions not in the training material and referred to the SCRR rulebook. The SCRR rulebook is not currently available, I was told, when I asked for a copy to study for the test! Some of the problem is that the club still uses the old-fashioned way of publishing material - on paper. They do not use an ftp server with a copy for the members to download and print themselves. I am going to scan the club signal materials and put them on my website for the club members to use to make it easier to disseminate the information. It seems like an idea whose time has come.

When I came into the station about 3PM, the line was disappearing so I asked if I should tie up (park) the train as we seemed to have several others still running. That was the thing to do I was told. Then I was put onto a train as a conductor for the next hour and 15 minutes so I got some riding in as well. My back was starting to hurt when we finally ended as the seats were not the best - no back on them most of the time.

I was happy to finish up and turn in my radio, whistle and flag for the day and head on home.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

What a Wonderful Fall Meet! 

This last week we have been hosting the Fall Meet at the SCRR. The weather was fairly cooperative except for some scattered rain in the middle. Enthusiasts came from far and wide to take part in our meet and help with the projects going on at the SCRR as well as to just have fun. Running trains day in and day out and pulling passengers on the final Sunday makes for a satisfying time for all.

Chuck Hackett brought his 1.5" Union Pacific consist and steamer for the meet and it is a real beauty. The cars have very nice seats built in and have nice passenger car roofs to cover the seats when the seats are not in use.

The variety of locomotives and traction equipment that came is hard to describe. There is the EB&L tank steamer that always looks like a bloated engine - not in a bad way. There were traction cars from several different owners and many 1" and 1.5" locomotives and consists. Even a 2.5" steamer from Loess Railroad in Iowa came to visit again. I love this locomotive with its wood cab and sit in tender.

Rick and I spent the early week working on signal problems and finished on late Thursday. We heard on Saturday that there was a problem that the block up near the summit did not function to prevent a head-on meet on the 1" track. We looked into it and found that the two signals were not working correctly and eventually found both problems. It is very difficult to troubleshoot track problems when there are trains running on the blocks because if you cannot see it the block is actually clear or occupied, you have to guess or wait to see if a train is actually coming or leaving the blocks. It turned out that one signal was not detecting the block at all. We had to replace a wire in the ground that we found was open. The other signal had tracks that were missing connections between track sections (jumpers) so the signal was going green prematurely then turning yellow when the train hit the next block.

Rich and I worked on his riding car from time to time sanding it and primering it then he painted it. I really admire him for building a car from scratch out of wood and getting it ready to run. I have thought it would be fun to build a car but I thought it would have to have a metal frame and I did not have the where-with-all to afford to buy a welded frame or the welding equipment to make such a frame myself. Maybe a hardwood frame and car is an alternative for a design.

Speaking of Richard, at the semi-annual banquet our President Tim Kirby was talking about the people that go somewhat unnoticed at the track and how they deserve recognition and it was time for the club to give a Broken Spike Award to someone who puts in long hours and has been overlooked - Richard Kruger! I was happy to see Richard get some recognition and whole-heartedly supported the award. Richard got up to speak and said that he could not have done so much with out my help and recognized me! I was flattered and appreciative that he shared his moment in the spotlight with me - even though I think his contribution is several times greater than anything I have done for the club.

Richard and I have been wondering if we will ever get certified to run locomotives at the SCRR as we have been unable to get the tests out of the way. The club announced that it will be giving classes and tests during the Meet and we should look forward to the sessions. I found out that they had a class on Thursday at 2PM to get my Conductors and Engineers tests administered. I showed up and finally got the handout for the class. Unfortunately the materials and the tests do not agree about the answers. I had hoped for a structured class that had a basis in the rules and procedures that they wanted followed at the track. The tests were very simplistic and, in fact, the engineers exam was just 5 questions. The certification requires a check ride by a certified engineer and I finally got Roger Johnson to train me on his locomotive and consist and then certify me to carry the public on Sunday morning.

I will have Meet pictures shortly and add them to the links on the menu soon.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Work, Work, Work 

Since I last wrote, the weekends have been filled with planning and repairing. Rick and I have been planing for installing PVC conduit from the roundhouse up the hill to several locations for running AC & signal wiring. The club needs electric lighting in the tunnels and this is a key piece of the puzzle. We would like to get the existing AC feed to the battery boxes into a safe conduit and get the signal wires into a structured environment. We surveyed the locations and measured lengths and now it has come down to getting the pipe and digging the trenches.

We spent this last weekend repairing the tracks for the upcoming meet. A major problem is the bonding wires that connect track into blocks for the signaling system. These wires break off especially when they corrode and they then shorten the block area that is protected. We were fortunate to get a second train to aid in the testing and on Saturday we went around the 7 1/2" track stopping at each break and drilling the track and installing new wires and screws at each location. The second train made it possible for the person at the signal to be able to catchup to the first train that was stopped at the problem point and help fix the problem then back up to the signal again and verify it was working for the rest of the block to the next signal block.

We use two-way radios and the GMRS band is so much nicer than the old 49MHz radios that we use for operations. We can actually adjust the volume and listen comfortably! What we need now is to get some headsets that plug into the radios so we can talk without having to hold the unit up to our ears.

I expect next Saturday we will finish working on the block problems and perhaps start on the conduit installation.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

A weekend in the country 

On Saturday, I arrived late as I had an appointment to have car repairs done first thing in the morning to find Rich already hard at work. We went down to the roundhouse to look at the club 1" diesel (electric) to decide how to exactly work out the modifications required to change over to a key switch for the power switch. We also wanted to find a way for the user to recharge the battery without having to open the case of the engine each time as the case was showing some wear and tear. We had talked about this before so we were not plowing new ground. We concluded that the reason the existing connectors and switches were recessed into the locomotive as far as they were was because of the frame of the case which rests on the frame sill of the locomotive chassis. We had talked of moving the connectors closer to the surface of the case but that would impede the process of removing and replacing the covers. Obviously the new switch and connectors would have to be on the recessed plate so they will be hard to get to.

I suggested a spacer collar for the new power switch to make it slightly easier to get to the switch - perhaps a ring cut from a piece of conduit to move the switch closer to the rear end of the train. We will run a cable from the "A" unit existing jack to the rear of the "B" unit to make a place to plug in the charger and add a contact to the existing connector for the new power switch.

As I walked by Rich's locomotive and riding car, I mentioned that when he wants to sell it to let me know. He said he would and I did know that I was free to use it whenever I wanted to. I thanked him and he then showed me the details of getting it going. I thanked him again and mentioned that I might use it on Sunday.

We went up to the track by the station and started rewiring the electric feed from the battery to the wiring box with the new grease filled cable. Recently we had determined that the resistance in the wiring was the cause of the voltage drop at Tommy's new turnout. I had a new cable buried from the station down to that turnout and it improved the situation by about 2 Volts. The new wire had not been connected into the turnout control box yet so I got a piece of wire and made the connection and wired the station cable into the terminal strip in the junction box.

Rich got a shovel and dug a trench from the battery box to the terminal cabinet and we put in a new piece of UF wire to connect the battery to the system. Rich also replaced the battery terminals with new marine type connectors with wingnut terminals on the battery. We use a deep cycle 12V car style battery with a charger permanently connected to it for our track power. This powers the signals as well as the switch machines. Replacing the wires and terminals will give us a more reliable power with lower resistance as the wire is new and we took out the older corroded wire.

Sunday morning it was nice. The track was not exactly jumping with users but there were enough people to make it seem that we would be waiting for the track to clear from time to time. I walked down to the roundhouse and got to Rich's trainset. I opened the roundhouse door and then went to the locomotive and removed the cab. You have to remove the cab to add fuel to the gas tank. It was almost full anyway but I filled it up just to be sure. I then put the cab back on and pushed the train out towards the turntable. Outside, I put on a glove and re-installed the chain on the sprocket and tensioned the chain. Next the gas was turned on and the choke set and after turning on the ignition, I pulled the starting rope and pulled and pulled again. finally I fiddled with the choke setting and it started immediately. I aligned the turntable and ran it onto the deck and stopped in the middle. Then I rotated the turntable and aligned it for the track going out to the main line and started backing out of the yard. Cindy came over and I got her situated and then we continued to back up onto the mainline. After throwing the switch back to the mainline we then proceeded.

The route takes you alongside the roundhouse past the site of the new proposed 1.5 inch carbarn then past the new 1 inch carbarn site and under twin bridges. Bending around to the right the mainline runs through a pine tree forest and then turns right again and heads for the golf course. Just as you get to see the golf course, you encounter a long curved trestle and you again get turned to the right to face Johnson Tunnel. After the tunnel you are on a high levee that has a small viaduct and then you pass behind the two pole buildings that make up the main buildings on the complex. Then bend right as you cross the roadway and come into the station area. Leaving the station you proceed past the 1" carbarn site on your right and bend right to go over twin bridges and re-enter the pine forest. Now you make an "S" turn and come over next to the 1" track and then they abruptly turn off and you bend to the right again in a long slow 180 degree turn to go through the long tunnel. Emerging from the other side, the route bends past the picnic table areas and then encounters the switch lead back to the roundhouse on the mainline track. This is where we started. We made another trip or two and then I put the train away.

I then got the club diesel out and a riding car and some seats so we could take a trip on the 1" line. The 1" is much more difficult to use as you not only have to get the train out, but you have to get it up a hill to the depot area while the track is crossed by other elevated track. This means you have to run it under the track and then climb over the track quickly so it does not roll backwards down the hill while you are climbing over the elevated track. At the top there is another switch back so you have to zig-zag and hop twice from the roundhouse to the station area. Finally in the station, Cindy boarded and we started off. Leaving the station you bend left and cross a long black steel bridge. Then you immediately turn left pass under a trestle and start to climb up "Akinback" hill. Then you bend right and start running above the 1.5" tracks and then another bend to the right takes you around the hill to the tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel you now run parallel to where you were before just about 8 feet higher on the hill. Rising on the track you bend right and cut through the hill to bend right and spiral higher then you cross a bridge and you are at the summit. Now it is all down hill as you leave the summit station and again turn right to head down. Here a long grade has a 2 mph sign and it runs straight to a long curved trestle that brings you around and over the tunnel entrance and continue descending on the hillside facing the station. The track then veers left and takes another trestle with a bend at its beginning and a straight finish down to grade level where we bend left and cross twin bridges then bend left and circle around the new 1" car barn site and then into the station. We did the trip again and then decided to call it a day. When I was in the station, I neglected to notice the switch under the riding car was set for the divergent route and when I backed up the car front truck went on the main line and the "B" unit went on the divergent line and cracked the coupler! Cliff helped me to get the train back on the track and I then had to get it back down to the roundhouse which proved a bit difficult as the riding car did not stay connected to the locomotive and wanted to either run away or smack into the remains of the coupler on the "B" unit. I was happy to get the train back to the turntable and while it rolled onto the turntable, it derailed! This was quite a day all around. I got it back to the stall in the roundhouse and got it connected up for the charger and filled out a report about the damage and then a group of kids and an elderly member of the club came by and wanted to see the roundhouse. I took them through the roundhouse and pointed out some of the interesting trains and facts about the equipment and then I took my leave and Cindy and I went home. What a day!

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Railroad work 

One of the satisfying things about being a member is that you can work on things for the common good. Since our club has to maintain the grounds as well as the equipment there is always something to do. Often new people just want to run trains and that is fun but working on the physical plant is something that gives you a sense of well being.

This weekend, I went out to the SCRR on both Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday I worked at troubleshooting a power problem on the North end of the station on the 1.5" line. It was somewhat perplexing as we have 12 Volt batteries spotted about the facility to power the track signals and switch machines and we were having a low voltage problem. Richard had gotten a request from Tommy to troubleshoot why his new switch machine only had about 8 Volts available under load. When I got to the track, I started following the wire back to the battery box and looked at each of the connection points. I found corroded wires and bad wirenuts in several places. Usually the reason for low voltage is that there is a bad connection so the voltage drops over the resistance introduced at that point in the wiring. This did not fix the problem as I had hoped - although it did raise the Voltage about a Volt at the new switch machine.

Tommy arrived and I walked with him and explained what I had done and he said he thought there was a problem in the wires buried between the station and the new switch machine. I suggested we get another piece of wire and run it on the surface to the station and bypass the in-ground wires and see if that fixed the problem. After trying several other things I went down to the roundhouse and got a piece of wire I had salvaged from installing the new grease filled buried cables. It turned out to be almost exactly the right length to replace the existing wires. I connected it up and still not enough Voltage!

Tim O. Came by and said he thought it was wirenuts and after wandering back and forth for little while, we settled at the main distribution box where the power comes in from the station battery box. Tim said he thought it was the wirenuts in the power distribution box and we decided to put the power feed wires into the existing terminal strip instead of using the wires in wirenuts. After cleaning the conductors by cutting off the ends and stripping them back on all of the wires, we finagled them into the terminal strip openings and clamped the screws down. We then doubled up the wire from the battery box to the distribution box to see if there was too much resistance in that run. It did improve the voltage by about 1/2 a Volt and now we had 12 Volts at the switch box on the new wire running on the surface. We decided to bury the new power feed and after Tim called some guys to come and bury the wire, I left for the day.

On Sunday I stopped back out as Richard said he was going to go out to the track. I showed him where I had worked and we noticed that none of the boxes had been closed up so we went around closing the boxes. I brought one of my new roofs for trackside boxes and installed it on the junction box near the new switch.

Stewart brought the 1.5" diesel 4180 up to the station and left. When a steamer came on the same track and was blocked, I told the guys I would run it around and get it out of the way. When I finished the circuit and got back to the station Richard was there and said he wanted a ride. I offered to let him drive but he said no - he just wanted to ride so I took him on board and we took a tour. It had rained the previous night so the track was slightly wet but trees were green and the grass was looking fresh. We talked about the track a little and the signals and then when we got back to the station I backed the train onto a siding at the station by the car barn and left it for Stewart. I said goodbye to the folks and headed home.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

Work Days at SCRR 

Although I have not written much about the SCRR this year, I am going out to the track every week (usually) and putting in my time. Most of what I have been doing is helping Richard get the signals working as they should. I spend the rest of my time either helping the grounds people with cutting and dragging brush to the fire area or Tommy Cebula with the 1.5" track. Some time is spent on the turnouts and some on other track issues. Since the track was laid over the last 30 or so years, some of the track - especially the turnouts are in bad shape. Tommy has been updating the switch motor mechanisms on several of the turnouts and the new motors are a big improvement as they are no longer at track level in the snow and rain water. The actual turnouts have been replaced at several locations and the new turnouts are built in a more professional manner. Tommy is a real asset for the SCRR and I hope they realize that he is so special.

Rich and I are planning to run conduit from the roundhouse up the hill just South of the roundhouse and from there it will split and run East and West to connect the major areas of the Club track area electrically. We see the need for a quality power supply for the signals as well as a lighting source for the tunnels. Our current plans are to bury three conduits to each location for AC power, and 2 for signals. The signals will include trackside signals as well as networking and CCTV cables. Trying to anticipate future needs of the club is difficult at best but trying to think ahead is a necessity so we do not become fixed in the past.  We are looking at renting a plastic conduit bender and a trencher to make the installation far easier. I am advocating pouring a slab at each location to affix the conduit to the location and provide a solid footing for wiring cabinets to be installed at each location.

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