May brings a change on the Alaska Railroad with the addition of regular passenger service, cruise trains and 80 car trains of aggregate joining the regular freight service. Over 10 trains a day pass by the 557 Engine House. At the same time section gangs and summer track maintenance join the dance card looking for track time. The Wasilla Section marshaled in the yard next to the Engine House on May 1st for the start of the construction season.
Nate Hagelin, age 10, brought his dad, Peter, to the Engine House on May 4th 2017. His Mom, Julie, had called in advance from Fairbanks, to schedule their visit. Obviously Nate was in the throes of an attack of Ferraeqrineosis, a condition we commonly deal with here at 557. With no known cure, Iron Hose Disease is easily controlled with frequent visits to steam engines where one can lay hands on the old iron. Nate took to the engineer's seat and rang our bells as part of the tour. He even managed to get an invitation to operate an EMD F7 locomotive on the Alaska Northern Railroad at the Northern Lights Model RR Club. When 557 is in need of her next FRA boiler review after 15 years or 1472 days of operation, Nate will be just the right age to help out.
On May 5, 2017, I had a 20 minute meeting with Mr. Blake Hillis, Senior Vice President of NRC Alaska. NRC collects used lubricant oils among many other environmental services world wide. Engine 557 was converted from coal to burn Bunker C in 1954. It has been our intention to burn used oil as that is the industry standard for firing steam locomotives. Mr. Hillis, set me back on my heals when he committed NRC to providing all the filtered used oil for our first two seasons of operation. Then he added “longer depending on your utilization.” What could possibly be better? When we need fuel they will deliver trackside and pump it into the tender. We will sign for the delivery happily. This is a major in-kind commitment by NRC and a huge weight off the shoulders of 557 management. We save not only the cost of fuel, the regulatory burden of secure storage and handling but also the risk associated with fuel storage. It is truly wonderful when the best laid plans come true. Give a chorus of thanks to Mr. Blake Hillis and NRC Alaska!
On May 22, 2017 four couples, including Roger Ryba and Wayne Ness, pulled up to the 557 Engine House in Wasilla in motor homes. These Minnesota Ramblers came into the shop where volunteers are working to restore Alaska Railroad’s last steam engine to operation. I soon found they were on their way to Anchorage to turn in their rented motor homes. They said “Warren” told them they had to see Locomotive 557 and all the work being done by volunteers. My response was “You have just been on the Hurricane Turn”. They still had the glow of that experience, so I gave them the “tour” while the crew worked away in the back ground. After about an hour they had to depart to meet their turn in time for the RV. Then they began bringing in bags of paper towels, cases of bottled water and a brand new four slice toaster. They were cleaning out the RV and donated these items for use by our crew. Minnesota generosity meeting Alaskan hospitality thanks to “Warren”. They commented “Best day of our trip”. You too can take a trip with Warren Redfearn on the Hurricane Turn.
On May 27, 2017 an informal meeting of the Engine 557 Board of Directors was convened at the Historic Anchorage Depot. Only one item was on the agenda, to welcome and honor John Combs the creator and web master of alaskarails.org. This was instigated by Shane and Casey Durand and embraced by the Alaska Railroad management. What followed was a total surprise for John Combs, a 557 Board Member, host of No. 557 info pages, and noted as the Alaska Railroad’s Number 1 rail fan.
In Kind Donors have provided services and products valued at over $600,000.00 for the restoration of 557. Rodda Paint of Wasilla provides all our exterior Cloverdale primer and Armor Shield top coat paints. Justin Larrabee (here in the background) came on board with 557 over 4 years ago and continues to enthusiastically support the project. Remember Rodda “when it’s the finish that counts”.
So what do all these various activities have to do with a locomotive “Restoration”? Everything! Engine 557 Restoration Company endeavors to be a good corporate citizen. Part of our mission is education and shop visits serve that purpose while building a constituency in support of 557. Our in-kind corporate donors, big and small, all contribute to that sense of community and can share in progress made by our volunteers. Financial support comes from organizations and individuals who can see tangible benefit from the restoration of engine 557 even before she has steam in the boiler.
Steady progress is being made welding sleeves for flexible staybolts. All 408 of these will be welded by Rod Hansen so there is consistency in the finished product. Rod has been with ENSTAR natural gas for 21 years and welding since 1975. We have had professional boiler makers look at the results and say, “Wish I could do that”.
Ron Dudley is here removing damaged nuts which were welded to the sheet as stud anchors for appliances such as the power reverse quadrant. After stay bolts have all been installed, new anchor nuts will be welded in place. Bolts holding strong backs in place on the back head sheet were finally cut loose by Lynn Willis, when enough stay bolts were in place to stabilize the sheet.
Fill in work for the volunteers included needle scaling years of accumulated scale and high temp aluminum paint from the smoke box front. The headlight bracket was an Alaska Railroad addition and was quite crudely done, obviously in a hurry. Many abuses were revealed as the smoke box front was broken down. Some missing rivets, damaged studs, and the distinctive S-160 lift ring had been flame cut down flush with the front sheet leaving this remnant. Two 1” rivets and some new studs for the door dogs were installed. The sand blast action of fly ash and sand inside the smoke box is evident on the example of two nuts shown at the right of the photo.
As a bonus this month here is that distinctive smoke box front as 557 is setting in steam at the Nenana Depot in 1962 when she was rushed into service during flooding conditions. She operated in water 30” over the rail head for several days moving trains through the flood waters to waiting diesels on either end.
If you are a Fred Meyer customer, here is a painless way to contribute to Engine 557. If you do not have a Fred Meyer Rewards Card here is a good reason to apply. The Community Rewards Program allows you to direct where Fred Meyer makes contributions to non-profits like 557. Please do forward this flyer to friends and family along with your endorsement of 557 and ask that they follow through. The wider we cast the invitation, the more likely it is this will become a meaningful source of income.
When in the Wasilla area, plan to visit Engine 557. Just a call to 907 350 4340 will gain an invitation.
Patrick J. Durand, President
President Engine 557 Restoration Company
Make all donations to: Engine 557 Restoration Company at the address below.
An Alaskan 501(c)(3) Nonprofit Corporation, EIN 46-2663256
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