Monday, November 9, 2015

Winterizing the Becky Thatcher Riverboat

Ever wondered what we do with our riverboat, Becky Thatcher, during the winter months? She stays at our dock in Deep River, covered and shrink-wrapped where we do maintenance all winter. Every fifth winter, she's taken to a shipyard where she gets hauled out for a routine hull inspection. In addition to winterizing the engines and water lines, here's how we break down and cover the boat when she's going to be sitting at the dock for the winter.

Thanks, Captain Paul, for the write-up and the foresight to grab this photo sequence!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Progress on No. 97

Readers of this blog with long memories will recall that a couple of years ago we did a preliminary inspection of No. 97 to assist us with the development of a Scope of Work and a budget for the restoration to service of this locomotive.

Early this year, I received a call from Nick Kallas who was planning seminars and workshops for the Association of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums convention, held this past year at the Illinois Railway Museum. Nick wanted ideas that would utilize some the specialized machines and facilities there. Knowing the IRM possesses a number of "McCabe Pnuematic Flangers", I immediately suggested a demonstration of one by the leading authority on their use: Gary Bensman of Diversified Rail Services. And oh, by the way, he could demonstrate the machine by making the firebox door sheet patch that we will need for No.97. 

I asked IRM's Steam Department Foreman, Tom Schnieder if this was possible and Tom thought it was a fine idea. Now, for those of you who don't know, a McCabe is a machine designed to bend the edges of parts for boilers or fireboxes in either straight or curved shapes. They could be used to manufacture new boilers or make repair parts for old ones in odd shapes with steel thicknesses ranging from 3/8" to 1". It consists of a frame to which is attached a large air cylinder, which operates a straight rack, which engages a curved rack, to which is attached a die (straight or curved in a variety of sizes). A corresponding die is mounted on the frame. The steel to be shaped is held on frame with clamps. When the piston in the cylinder moves, the die bends the steel. Of course, many small bends are made rather than a few big ones.

Gary Operating the McCabe Flanger

For the demonstration, Gary explained how to lay out the part to be made (his layout lines can be seen on the patch), how to set up, and how to operate the machine.

Section of No.97 Door Sheet Removed For Replacement

Special thanks to Gary Bensman, Tom Schneider and Kjell Benner (who removed the old sheet from No.97 and transported everything from Connecticut to Illinois).

J. David Conrad
Chief Mechanical Officer

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No. 40 Returns to Service

After its 1472 Service Day / 15 Year Inspection, 95 year old Locomotive No. 40 is back at work hauling passengers.

Valley shop crews began the Federally mandated inspection shortly after the last runs of our 2014 North Pole Express trains.

The work included removing all the piping, jacketing and insulation from the exterior of the boiler and all the fire tubes from inside the boiler. Once this had been accomplished, the entire boiler was cleaned inside and out, "minutely" inspected for defects and ultra-sonicly tested for the current thickness of all its parts. Armed with fresh thickness readings, new "Form 4" calculations can be made to determine the boiler MAWP (maximum allowed working pressure) for the next term of service.

The boiler was painted inside and out with special paint designed for the purpose, a new set of boiler tubes installed, insulation, jacketing and the piping applied.

Mechanical work included babbitting the side rod bearings and making new bearings for the main rods. All the rods were converted to oil lubrication.

It will be remembered that the mechanical work was "fractionalized", with the locomotive's wheels being reprofiled to meet Federal standards two years ago. Also, the spring and brake rigging was rebuilt at that time.

No. 40 is back pulling our "Fall Foliage" trains through October 25th, and will be busy working our 2015 North Pole Express trains (along with No. 3025) beginning in November.

J. David Conrad
Chief Mechanical Officer

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Track Update and Improvements

The Valley Railroad Company just completed a major project to improve its route of tracks in Essex, Deep River, and Chester. 32 hopper car loads of stone ballast, purchased from French River Materials in Thompson, CT, and delivered to our connection at Old Saybrook by the Providence and Worcester Railroad, were distributed along 6-1/2 miles of mainline track.
Work Extra 0901, crossing Chester Creek - Lee Carlson

C&G Surfacing Specialists were hired to laser align, surface, and "tamp" (force the stone ballast beneath the ties) the track. Valley Railroad has been replacing worn crossties for many years, and has very near 100% solid tie structure on this section, the most heavily used of the Valley mainline. This project was funded entirely by The Valley Railroad Company.

The tamper at Dock Road, Chester, with the ballast regulator following. - Lee Carlson
Tamping at Milepost 9 - Lee Carlson
Valley undertook this project to both improve the ride quality for our guests, as well as to better preserve our historic train equipment by having it roll over smoother track. Although we only operate our trains at 20 MPH (and have no intent on changing that) the quality of the track would now support trains of 45 MPH or faster.

Track expansion to the north has been steady, and our Essex Clipper Dinner Train now may operate to Milepost 13.25, which is a full mile north of the Route 82 crossing in Haddam.

Robert W. Bradway, Jr.
VP & Track Superintendent

Want to keep up to date on Valley Railroad Company track and rolling stock projects? Visit the I Like the Valley Railroad group on Facebook!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Rolling Tubes

Boiler tubes must be expanded to make them water and steam tight using a tool commonly called a roller.

Here Wayne rolls another of the 253 tubes. The machine he holds is an air motor which drives the roller.

Once all the tubes have been rolled, the next step is to form a bead on the end with an air hammer and special forming tool. - J. David

Thursday, July 9, 2015

We See What You Did There....

Yesterday, the Hartford Yard Goats, a minor league baseball team affiliated with the Colorado Rockies, announced their new mascot, logo, and look.

Hartford Yard Goats Unveil Logo, Pay Tribute To Whalers With Colors - Hartford Courant / July 8, 2015
The name, submitted by a New Jersey man who attended UConn, is an old railroad slang term that had no apparent connection to the market.

There was an effort to incorporate the train theme into the logo, from giving the goat a conductor's hat to including railroad tracks at the base of the image.

"It felt too cartoonish," Domino said.

Domino Googled the defunct New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Company and was struck by that logo. He loved the lettering — classy, old-school and traditional. "I realized this was the way to honor the railroad part of it," Domino said.
 Now why is that logo so familiar? 

Ah yes, the Friends of the Valley Railroad Boxcar 35386, repainted and lettered in 2008, and captured here in all it's glory by Lee Carlson. 

The Valley Railroad (operating company behind the Essex Steam Train & Riverboat) was part of the New York, New Haven, and Hartford Railroad (or more commonly, the New Haven) system from 1892 - 1968.  

We're proud to have the railroad heritage of the "Yard Goats" recognized in their new font, and wish them the best of luck as they get ready to bring professional baseball to Hartford in 2016. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Only 246 to Go...

A milestone in our rebuilding of No. 40 has been reached: All of the new boiler tubes are in the boiler! Wayne and Kjell, assisted by Morgan and Ron made short work of sliding the tubes into their holes in the front and back tube sheets.

Here Kjell lines up a tube in its hole.
Now the process of expanding the tubes into their holes making them water and steam tight will begin. Once expanded, the ends at the back (fire box) end will be beaded using an air hammer and specially shaped tool. Then any excess material at the front (smoke box) end will be trimmed off, the beads seal welded to the rear tube sheet and then lightly expanded again.

When all this has been done, No. 40 will be ready for a hydrostatic test of the boiler. - J. David

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hot Stuff!

As part of the 15 year inspection of our No. 40, all 253 boiler tubes were removed from the boiler to enable a minute inspection of its interior. A new set of boiler tubes were purchased to replace the old ones.

Here, Kjell anneals the ends of the tubes in our rivet forge. Annealing softens the steel so the tube can be easily expanded into the tube sheets and made steam tight. - J. David

FVRR Cabin Car Nears Completion

A last minute push by numerous volunteers brought the restoration of the former Pennsylvania Railroad cabin car (most railroads called this type of car a caboose), now owned by the Friends of the Valley Railroad, almost to completion.

Last year the lower portions of the sides were replaced with new steel. This year all of the welds were ground smooth and the entire car sanded. After cleaning, it was primed, painted and minor repairs made.

Here, Tom repairs a window while the car sits in the sun with fresh paint. - J. David

Lee Carlson was kind enough to capture some images of the lettering and finishing work, and a lovely shot of the cabin car making its debut on the July 4th Saybrook Special.

Veronica, checking the layout / Lee Carlson
Veronica, mounting the big stencil / Lee Carlson
A work in progress. Not finished, but coming along / Lee Carlson

PRR 477449 / Lee Carlson
July 4th Saybrook Special, near the RMNE yard,
with Roman Daniels and Paul Goodman / Lee Carlson

How Thick is the Firebox?

Our steam locomotive No.40 is in the midst of its 15 year inspection as mandated by Federal Law. This inspection must be completed before No.40 can operate again.

One of the requirements is for us to recalculate the maximum pressure every part of the boiler can withstand. To make our calculations, we must measure the actual thickness of all parts of the boiler and firebox. An Ultra-Sonic Thickness Tester is used to make the hundreds of measurements.

Here, Kjell measures a portion of the firebox. The numbers seen are the thicknesses he has found.

The numbers for each portion of the boiler will be compiled and the lowest values will be used in the calculations. The weakest part of the boiler divide by four (the allowance for safety) will determine the Maximum Allowed Working Pressure (MAWP), for No. 40's next term of service. - J. David

Happiness is a Rebuilt Jack

Visitors often ask: "How on earth do you get under the cars to work on them?"

Well one method is to jack them up. Of course the jacks we use are not anything you might use to jack up your auto, our cars weigh between 55 and 85 tons, so we need jacks designed for the job. Recently, we had our set of 35 ton, air powered jacks rebuilt, load tested and re-certified.

Here, Wayne and Morgan have car 601 raised up so the springs can be shimmed to level the car body (a second jack is on the opposite side of the car).

Keeping the cars level side to side and front to back and the proper height off the rails insure that parts wear evenly and, of course there are governmental regulations to be mindful of as well. - J. David

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Meet the Goodspeed!

We are pleased to announce the arrival of our newest member of the VRR passenger car fleet. Last Friday, the long-awaited arrival of our new First-Class car Goodspeed came to fruition. Formerly located in Florida, the car took a circuitous journey to finally be delivered to the Old Saybrook wye by the P&W Railroad. Valley crews brought her home to Track 11 where she now awaits renovations for future First-Class service, adding capacity for our popular North Pole Express.

Kevin Dodd adds: We owe a debt of gratitude and appreciation to Dave Conrad for his time, during his vacation, to make repair, inspect, and prepare the Goodspeed for its journey north.   Dave’s efforts to find good and exceptional investment opportunities like this have been a huge factor in the success of the Essex Steam Train.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Engine House News

Bob Wuchert reports: Over the winter months, the Engine House was, and continues to be, a beehive of activity.  Work progresses on Locomotive 40’s boiler; coach cars have been in and out of the shop receiving inspections and repairs; the Open Car received a great amount of steel work, floor refurbishment, seat painting and staining, new lighting throughout the car, a service bar, new beverage holders and other improvements.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Diesel 1606 Placed in Service

On February 13th, we conducted a test run of our newest Diesel Locomotive, Number 1606, purchased from the US Air Force back in March 2014. Normally, a new piece of motive power is big news around here, but this got a bit buried in the preparation for our annual Eagle Flyer excursion, several snow storms, and the resultant need to plow our line. Fortunately, Lee Carlson took a few photos to commemorate the event!

Rob Bradway provides the following update:

"The Valley Railroad's latest motive power aquisition made its road debut, pulling the Eagle Flyer trainset on a test run on Friday. GE 80 ton diesel-electric 1606 successfully pulled the 650 ton train across the snowy landscape from Goodspeed Station in Haddam back to Essex.

Completely rebuilt by the US Air Force prior to being purchased last year by Valley, the 1606 is identical to our old reliable 0900 and, once in a coat of fresh paint (scheme to be determined - suggestions??) will become the railroad's primary vintage diesel power on the Essex Clipper Dinner Train."

Welcome on board, 1606! Even though we're known for our Steam Locomotives, we love our vintage Diesels as well!

Look for a more formal dedication and commissioning once we get her painted up and bring her into full time service!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Plowing the Right-of-Way

We pulled out our historic Hoosac Tunnel & Wilmington snow plow for the second time ever this week, to clean up the 2' of snow that storm Colbie dropped in Essex and along the CT River in preparation for our Eagle Flyer excursions, Feb 14-16.

Brad Horrigan / Hartford Courant

We were fortunate to have two media outlets come along for the ride, and the results are in!
Much thanks to the Valley Railroad crew for their hard work and for inviting the media along - providing Connecticut residents with a behind the scenes look at vintage railroad equipment and operations.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Around the Shop

The new Locomotive Servicing Facility is being put to really good use this winter as the boiler work on Locomotive 40 gets underway, work in preparation for the annual FRA locomotive inspection nears completion and work on Locomotive 1606 progresses.  This addition to our shop facilities has greatly enhanced the capabilities of our Engine House crews to get necessary work on the equipment accomplished in a protected environment.

Locomotive 1606 "under the hood"
 Meanwhile, inside the shop itself, two passenger cars are receiving much needed work.  At the south-end, Great Republic is receiving a restroom upgrade and some steelwork, while in the north bay, the Open Car (Riverview) is receiving extensive repairs and upgrading. 

Riverview Upgrades and Renovation

Once space opens-up, Coach 603 will be in for major restoration work and Dacosta will be back in to receive its generator, power control systems and air conditioning.  All of our space in the shop facility will be fully in use throughout the winter months, as we fulfill our mission to maintain and restore historic railroad equipment.

Much thanks to Bob Wuchert and "The Smokestack" for a thorough update of what's happening behind the scenes!