Full steam ahead on 1919 locomotive
Lawyers, mechanics, retirees and an assortment of other workers arrive at a machine shop at Cass Scenic Railroad State Park every other weekend, where the Mountain State Railroad and Logging Historical Association (MSRLHA) is restoring a vintage locomotive.
Climax number 1551 was built in 1919 by the Climax Locomotive Works in Corry, Pennsylvania, and worked hauling lumber and coal for 40 years. Number 1551 was one of the last Climax locomotives in service in the U.S.
Volunteers from MSRLHA have worked on the old workhorse for nine years and expect to see it steaming down the tracks in another three. During a recent work session, volunteer club members explained what inspired them to travel - often long distances - to labor in a hot, smoky machine shop for no pay.
Bill Simonton, of Vienna, Virginia, is a lawyer who's done extensive research on the railroad history of Hinton. He created a website, hosted by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad Historical Society, at hinton.cohs.org. Simonton recently learned of the Climax project and became the newest member of the restoration team.
Simonton was painting large, oval-shaped sand tanks with thick, glossy black paint during the recent work session. The locomotive uses sand for extra traction in icy conditions.
"I love steam locomotives, I always have" Simonton said. "I was hoping they would restore the old Climax for 30 years and I recently found out they were doing it, so I started coming down. I've been doing historical research on Hinton, West Virginia for about 30 years. I have a website that is hosted by the C&O historical society. That's what I was doing until I found out they were doing this and now I'm working here, too."
Gordon Barner, an electrical/mechanical technician from Raleigh, North Carolina, travels 300 miles every two weeks to help with the project. He said he works on anything project manager Grady Smith assigns him to. During the recent work session, Barner was chipping rust from steam pipes with a hydraulic chipper.
"I enjoy the company of these old guys and the stuff they have to tell you," he said. "I enjoy doing the work. I like to travel and my wife lets me come up here, so, that's a big part of it."
Lou Aprile retired from the Ford Motor Company, where he held a variety of technical jobs. He travels from the Cincinnati area for almost every work session. Aprile was shaving a long steel "drive line" on a metal lathe, reducing the diameter for gear installation.
"It's a labor of love, that's all," he said. "I've been in love with trains, especially steam trains, ever since I was a kid. Trains are a hobby with me and I'm giving something back to the hobby."
Aprile is also a member of Friends of the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad, which supports a narrow gauge steam railroad in Chama, New Mexico.
Matt Duncan, of Brunswick, Maryland, was machining an axle spacer on a metal lathe. Duncan said it was important to preserve tangible items from the past to help people understand their history.
"Once it's gone, it's gone forever," he said. "The only memories of history we'll have will be in people's minds unless this is maintained. Unless these artifacts are maintained, people won't be asking questions about them and thinking about them and wondering what people were doing. Both of my grandfathers worked on the B&O and that's why I do it."
Project manager Grady Smith, of Marietta, Ohio, said most of the volunteers required training.
"There's only a couple people who have machining and welding skills in the group," he said. "Other than that, you have to teach everybody. But it's not rocket science. It's basically 1800's technology. It's not like computer science, where you can't see things move - electrons and micro-switches and all that. It's all out in the open and there's no mechanical secrets."
Smith said the challenge to accomplish something others said couldn't be done motivated him to keep the project on track.
I'm a mechanical guy," he said. "It's just a rare locomotive that everybody said, 'oh, this thing will never ever run again.' It was totally worn out in 1959, when it was last used and Cass had started a restoration, which was interrupted by the shop fire in 1972."
Smith said the 1972 fire devastated the Cass railroad and put the Climax project low on the priority list.
"The shop fire probably retarded the railroad by 25 years," he said. "It destroyed all sorts of foundry patterns and tooling and jigs that had been accumulated by the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company and Mower Lumber Company for 100 years. Just obliterated in a couple of hours."
MSRLHA built a machine shop for the Climax restoration in 2001 and took over the project. The group has raised more than $50,000 in donations and received a $200,000 federal grant to fund the restoration. The Cass state park provided a boiler and a number of companies have provided services and materials free or at significant discounts.
There are currently just two operational Climax locomotives in the world. One in New Hampshire and the other, right here in Pocahontas County - the Durbin Rocket. Once completed, Climax 1551 will be the largest and the only three-truck Climax locomotive operating in the world.
Status report on major assemblies - submitted by MSRLHA member Bill Liebman.
Boiler: Cass shop inspected the boiler and prepared a report of work needed. The boiler work will be put out on bid.
Drive train: All new drive line shafts are being fabricated. Some are done, another in progress, still others left to be made. The drive line for the rear truck has been recently assembled and installed into the rear truck. All new ring gears have been cast, machined, and installed onto all axles. The original pinion gears have been reconditioned to like-new condition. Two new axles have been fabricated, due to wear and damage from an accident during the engine's working life. New bearings were cast and machined to fit in the driveline crossboxes, that hold the driveline and axles in place.
Cylinders and connecting rods: The engine cylinders have been bored out and honed. New piston castings were made, but have not been machined to fit. New strap ends are being fabricated for the connecting rods. All cylinder covers have been hand lapped for proper seal. Steam pipes and steam pipe cylinder connections are being hand lapped for proper seal.
Water tank/cab/coal bunker: Pieces for new cab, coal bunker, and water tank were fabricated off-site. The water tank has been riveted together, baffles fabricated and the bottom of the tank welded in place. Baffles inside the tank need welded in place, after which the top and the fill port will be installed. The coal bunker is done. The cab still needs the woodwork for the doors and windows.
Trucks: The rear truck for the water tender has been assembled. The drive line for the middle truck is being machined and made ready for assembly. All the cross boxes which hold bearings for the drive line and axle have been machined and new bearings made.
Wheels: The worn tires were removed from the wheels, turned in a lathe so they are all the same size, and then reinstalled on the wheels. Special grade steel was purchased and two new axles were lathe-turned One original axle was ruined by worn out bearings and the other was bent when the locomotive was rear-ended, sometime in the past.
Frame: Special equipment was used to machine the worn crosshead guides back to parallel and new bearings made to fit the crossheads. The frame under the coal bunk and part of the cab had some repair work done to correct corrosion damage. The frame was sandblasted in September 2010 and painted with a special paint to protect it from corrosion. New swivel plates were fabricated and have been installed on the frame, where it sits and rotates on the truck assembly. The water tender frame is finished and the wood platform to support the water tank is in place.