We saw the last of Santa (finally) on December 29th after the final North Pole Express of the season. After putting away the Christmas lights, etc. for another year, we have moved inside the (relative) comfort of the Engine House and have turned our attention to preparing for the 2009 season.
The first order of business is usually the annual inspection of the steam locomotives by the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) and our inspectors. We try to have the boilers tight and dry well before the big day. Cab valves and the like are ground in and all fittings are made tight so there are no drips or damp spots. The boilers must be warmed so that they are between 70 and 120 degrees during the hydrostatic pressure test. To do this test the boiler must be completely filled with warm water. Then (while the inspector is watching) the boiler is pressurized to 25% above it's MAWP (Maximum Allowed Working Pressure) by means of a small pump. Once the test pressure is reached the inspectors make a minute examination of the boiler and firebox looking for any leaks or other signs of distress. Typically the final testing takes about an hour. Of course, we will have tested the boiler ourselves days before the FRA arrives. It would be embrassing to have something leaking. Once the hydro has been done, we drain the water and remove the domecap from the steam dome so we can get down inside to make the required internal inspection. Happily, both Nos. 40 and 97 passed their tests and will be operating during the 2009 season. Soon, repairs and betterments on the locomotives will be finished so they can be winterized for outside storage until we begin operations again in April.
Next: the coach fleet comes in (one or two at a time). More on that later. Stay warm!