March 2018 brought more winter than we have experienced in the last 4 years. The volunteers making the 50 mile trip from Anchorage, braved black ice, heavy snow and crazy drivers to make the 9:00 a.m. work call. Persistence and dedication never wavered. We had one weather day and took another day off when a loaded tractor trailer took out one bridge member of the South Eagle River Overpass and created 3 to 6 hour traffic snarls.
When the snow finally began to melt, the flooding started and our trusty Case 721 loader came into action. Our neighbors at All Seasons Clothing borrowed the loader and began cutting a channel through the snow dumps to allow the River Nile passage through the parking lot. Lynn Willis and Mike McKervey removed ice to allow the sand blast tent to drain out. We had almost forgotten how winter typically impacts projects in Alaska. We stayed toasty warm at 47° F in the 557 engine house on a typical day.
Saturdays usually begin with a safety meeting where CMO Jeff DeBroeck reviews work to be done, here with Ron Dudley, Tom Walker and Terry Douglas.
Dean Sawyer and Ken Morton continued dressing the tender truck side frames and bolsters to receive T-1 wear pads to ensure the trucks are in tram. They have now been trial fitted and when the weather permits the components will go back into the sand blaster and paint tent to get their final finish. When the new wheel and axle sets with Timken bearings come back from the Alaska Railroad wheel shop they will be ready to assemble.
Tom Walker and Jerry Peters have completed the electrical connections on the cab and made temporary connection to the Tender junction box. They conducted a “smoke” test by connecting the shore power unit providing 32 volts DC to the system. It all worked beautifully (no smoke) with all the switched fixtures and the headlight dimming resistors doing their job. High fives all around for these guys. Jerry has spent hours documenting the system and providing a complete wiring diagram. He started as an apprentice electrician and retired in 1992 as Master Mechanic from the Alaska Railroad.
Jerry is with us three days a week and often picks up the mechanics job maintaining our fleet of support equipment such as rebuilding the propane fuel regulator for the Cat V80 E fork lift. Then he is right back on the bench to assemble one of the three Pyle National K-240 dynamos (steam turbine generators) that are being rebuilt.
Our in-kind supporters are as patient as we are persistent. Mr. Warren Dick of Independent Truck Lift of Alaska has provided the loan of a small Cat 4 ton fork lift since we started the project. The machine is indispensable in the engine house. From the top management to Johnny in the Parts Department they continue steadfast support for Engine 557.
Daily work in the engine house must focus on the major tasks at hand such as preparing for the installation of all those flexible stay bolts now that the sleeves are in place on the fire box wrapper. Another priority has been completion of the pilot braces so Jerry Cunnington and Terry Douglas have been reaming the tapered holes in the frame where they will be attached. New tapered frame bolts have been produced by machinist Doug VanWingerden.
Ken Elmore assists welder Rich Jensen with the fabrication and weld out of the right side pilot brace. This work proceeded in phases with careful temperature control and use of the air hammer to relieve each welding pass.
It is typical that we have from four to 8 volunteers show up, so we need to have projects at all skill levels. Last week Joan Taylor came in and set up our new printer. Gene Augustine inventoried the 8 journal box lubricator hoses and cleaned them up.
Lynn Willis and Ron Dudley salvaged fittings from the lubricator lines that supplied the journals and cylinder block. The old copper lubricator feed lines are kept as patterns and will be replaced with new material. Ron cleaned the fittings and discovered there are three different styles. These will be silver soldered to the new copper lines made to fit at installation.
We had a number of visitors in March.
Ms. Lorin Dunlop, a Program Director for the Murdock Charitable Trust met with our 557 Board Members on March 5th at the Engine House. This provided an on-site inspection and meet and greet for Lorin in support of our grant request for $100,000 in support of 557 Restoration. We are hopeful of a favorable decision from the Murdock trustees.
The Sons of Amvets representatives Chris Murphy, Craig Crumbly and Mike Gagne and wife Sherry came by to make sure their generous donations are being well spent. They have made a commitment to share some of their gaming income with 557 in unrestricted grants.
Richard, Nick and Jordan Means of Rockford, Ohio took the tour.
Aaron Rohan and the boys, AJ, Micah, Logan, Titus and Shilo came from Talkeetna to see what the excitement was about.
Paul Dulleska, former master of #152 in Flynt Michigan, is now living in Eagle River, Alaska. Paul visits now and then and has provided some reference material.
Ship Creek Industrial Complex, affiliated with Central Environmental Incorporated acquired a 50 year lease with options on the old CEA power plant building and have gutted the structure to redevelop over 200,000 square feet of space. In the process they obtained three former Alaska Railroad cars that had been abandoned on the property. They were last serviced in 10-91 and were last in service with the Air Force Alaska Command as a mobile command center.
Coach 88 and combine 43 were heavily modified in the process. CEI has offered to donate the three cars including P-5 a former Troop Kitchen that was converted to a power car. Upon our acceptance CEI will then remove all the interior modifications and 2 inches of urethane insulation sprayed on the inside of the shell. This is conditional that we find a place off the CEI property to store the cars until they can be worked on. The alternative is that the cars will be scrapped where they set.
Jerry Peters had extensive experience with these cars when in service at the ARR. He and our CMO Jeff DeBroeck, Terry Douglas and Pat Durand conducted a mechanical inspection and noted they had been converted to AB brakes and the trucks and wheels are acceptable for our interim service on the Palmer Branch. They would never be in interchange service or likely leave the Palmer Branch. Starting life as U.S. Army hospital cars they were obtained surplus and converted for use with the AuRoRa passenger train in 1948 in their blue and yellow paint. They represent the equipment historically in use behind Engine 557.
The Engine 557 Restoration Company and the volunteer Mechanical Department have the stated purpose of restoring locomotive 557 to service and training a crew.
The 557 Operations Planning Committee is charged with developing an initial operations plan for a tourism railroad operation incorporating the existing use agreement from the Palmer Depot to the Alaska State Fairgrounds, the Palmer Airport Spur and eventually round trip operations from Palmer to Matanuska Junction. An initial budget of $10,000 is available to the committee.
On reflection I realized we have a depth of collective knowledge at hand to meet the challenge of operations. I have named the following individuals to the Operations Planning Committee:
Professional consulting service would be available from Mr. Robert Franzen of Steam Services of America, the professional engineer contracted by Engine 557 Restoration Company, has prepared the Form-4 required by the Federal Railroad Administration. He has provided guidance in the restoration process and expressed interest in providing professional consulting services in regards to operation of 557. His experience with Steam Railroad operations is extensive. As examples: Mr. Franzen developed the operations plan and was General Manager of the Grand Canyon Railroad in Williams, Arizona. He also developed and was General Manager of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad in Bryson City, North Carolina.
Board members, Doug Engebretson and Dale Wade had a discussion about the proposed idea to segregate the board into two distinct groups, namely, restoration and operations. We agree this is the right direction. Remain as one board, but with distinct areas of focus. Doug and Dale will jointly lead the operations committee. Although, not an exhaustive list, they would like to focus on the following from a 2 phased approach.
Phase I – non PTC compliant operations
Phase II – PTC compliant or PTC waiver operations
Engine 557 is charting a path forward to get back on the tracks.
Looking forward to a busy summer here at the 557 Engine House.
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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