Waking a Tired Workhorse: Bringing WP917D into service for 2015

Originally posted on Feather River Rail Society Blog:

Following the troubles with getting 917 to turn over on March 4, Poindexter (Matt Elems) and I decided to put the batteries on a charger for a couple of days.  I returned two days later on the sixth and found the voltage of the batteries had come up and that the charger was putting out the expected amperage.

Hopeful that I’d finally get the prime mover to turn over I started watering up the locomotive, leaving the charger hooked up as long as possible.  While waiting for the cooling system to fill, I opened all the cylinder relief valves and barred the engine over to clear the cylinders.

Eventually the cooling system was filled; at 200 gal, it takes some time.  Once the charger was disconnected and all the cords and the hose pulled, I gave it another go.  Giving the layshaft a couple of inches I pushed the start…

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Waking a Tired Workhorse: Bringing WP917D into service for 2015

Following the troubles with getting 917 to turn over on March 4, Poindexter (Matt Elems) and I decided to put the batteries on a charger for a couple of days.  I returned two days later on the sixth and found the voltage of the batteries had come up and that the charger was putting out the expected amperage.

Hopeful that I’d finally get the prime mover to turn over I started watering up the locomotive, leaving the charger hooked up as long as possible.  While waiting for the cooling system to fill, I opened all the cylinder relief valves and barred the engine over to clear the cylinders.

Eventually the cooling system was filled; at 200 gal, it takes some time.  Once the charger was disconnected and all the cords and the hose pulled, I gave it another go.  Giving the layshaft a couple of inches I pushed the start button; the engine turned over, but not fast enough.

At this point I suspected a problem with the batteries, and decided that it would be best to not draw a load from them until checking their condition.  Voltage wise they hadn’t dropped significantly, which means the batteries were low on water or there was a shorted cell.  Steve Habeck, the keeper of the batteries, was thus sent a text message of the situation.  At that point nothing could really be done until the next day in which Steve and I  would have to take a look at the batteries.

The following day, being Saturday the seventh, was a board meeting day.  Following the board meeting a group gathered at the West end of the shop for the verdict on the batteries.  Each battery was checked individually while the engine was turned over (via the starting circuit).  The discovery being that the fireman’s side battery had indeed developed a short.  The decision was made to pull the batteries and replace them with the ones in the rotary plow snail.  This would have to wait though, due to scheduling constraints from my classes and other people’s work schedules.  It would be another week and a half before anything more would be attempted.

I arrived early on Thursday the 19, and set about cleaning in and about the machine shop, waiting for Habeck and Poindexter to arrive.  About an hour later, I was greeted by McClain and Whetstone who had come up to install the hydraulic rams back onto the white forklift and continue repairs to QRR 1100.

With their help 917 was moved over the oil pan, a location more readily accessible by the electric forklift.  Within an hour and a half Steve arrived, and work could finally begin on getting the batteries swapped.

The batteries were removed and the battery boxes washed out.  Clean battery boxes are important!

Right battery box.

The right side battery box.

Left battery box.

The left side battery box, sans offending battery.

While waiting for the battery boxes to dry, Habeck and I needed to rearrange the battery house to get 917’s former batteries put away.  It’s a little easier to walk inside, having swapped the over-sized pallets by the large swing door with one of a more reasonable size.


Steve Habeck places the first of the two batteries on the rack.

The habeck shuffle.

Everything placed back in order, Steve shuffles off in triumph for a quick rest while we await the arrival of Poindexter.

Having completed the the task of getting the batteries put away and the battery house arranged to Habeck’s liking, we then took a brief respite while we waited for Poindexter to arrive.  Luckily that wasn’t long, and we were back to work within the hour.

At this point we had to fire SP2873 back up and pull four rail to get the rotary set over to a ‘forklift accessible’ location.  Once both batteries were removed from the rotary snail, everything was put back on four rail and 917 was spotted at the loading platform alongside three rail.  Before placing the batteries into 917 we decided this would be an opertune time to service them, and both batteries had their water levels topped off.  We were about to start putting batteries back in 917 when we noticed that the connectors were different; both locomotive and batteries had male connector ends.  We utilize welding lead connectors to ease in connection/disconnection of batteries during servicing.  Luckily the connectors are not hard to swap, and soon we were back to the task at hand.

Use protection.

Steve applies terminal protector after installing the lead connector, whilst Poindexter waits at the helm of the electric forklift. It’s important to remember to use protection.

Battery replacement.

Steve places the battery into its box. Photo taken from 917’s cab door, right side.

WP917D was now complete, with two serviced batteries.  All that was left to do was place them on a charger overnight.  A cord was ran into the cab, and the charger turned on; initial output was 11 amps.  This dropped to 8 amps after about an hour or so.  Steve figured that the engine would be able to be fired up the next day.


The charger putting out 11 amps. Photo by Matt Elems.

I arose from my berth in the Edenwold sleeper next morning around 07:45.  It was March 20, the first day of spring; and an uncomfortably warm morning.  The Battery charger on 917 had dropped down to 6 amps overnight.  At 13:30 I flashed the engine and started filling the cooling system.  With the locomotive being parked at the water riser, I was able to use a shorter hose that didn’t leak; filling time was 26 minutes.

This time around, the engine turned over and fired.  Mechanically the engine ran pretty good, aside from the smoking rear stack.  The only issue at this point was an air leak at the drain valve on the number one main res. tank, which wasn’t to big of a problem.  The repair work done by Etan Doty back in January also seems to have held up; the oil jumpers between governor and load regulator are leak free as is the water hose on the block discharge header.  The engine loaded up in both directions and is more or less ready for the coming season.

The following day I returned to the museum to repair the leaking valve.  My father, Greg Elems, drove out with me for assistance.  We fired up SP2873 and let it warm up, as we would need it to move 917 from the pan to the loading platform were there is enough ground clearance to crawl under the locomotive.  This also allowed for some running inspections of top deck of 2873’s prime mover, which still has a slight knocking; it would seem to have a sticky hydraulic lash adjuster on one of the valve bridges of the number one cylinder.  Once 2873 was warm enough for operation, 917 was spotted in position for repairs.

I worked on getting the valve off the air tank and then repaired on the work bench while Dad scraped reflective striping off WP1503 to help prep it for painting this season.  The valve had lost two of the four nuts that hold it together because the threads on the associated bolts had been stripped.  This allowed the valve body to partially separate.  Once rebuilt, the valve was reinstalled and 917 was fired up again for more inspections.  With my fathers help I was able to trace the knocking and smoking of the rear stack to the number nine cylinder, which is next on my list for maintenance.

At the moment, the unit is ready for service.

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Around the Museum – 4 March 2015

Another unseasonably warm day at the Western Pacific Railroad Museum brought Fritz and I up from Reno to begin the work of making the RAL fleet ready for use this coming season. Our goal: Pre-lube, check, and start WP 917D.

The day’s work started out fine, if a bit annoying (Someone had pulled the crimp-connection on the water hose too hard, and caused it to come loose and leak significantly) with beginning to water up 917. No new leaks. Excellent.

Fritz uses the specially designed tool to turn over the flywheel of the 917's Prime Mover.

Fritz uses the specially designed tool to turn over the flywheel of the 917’s Prime Mover.

A survey of the locomotive’s other non-water fluids showed it was slightly low on oil, but fine on all others. This was not a concerning detail, since we would be pre-lubing it anyway, which adds some. We opened the cylinder relief valves on the block, and flashed the engine with the baring-over tool.

Fritz operates the yellow forklift.

Fritz operates the yellow forklift.

A quick trip with the Museum’s big yellow Yale forklift, and some running of extension cords, and we were ready to begin pre-lubing the locomotive. Pre-lubing is important when a locomotive hasn’t been run in a while, since it ensures the bearings and moving parts are sufficiently lubricated after oil may have run out and off over time.

Pre-lubing complete, time to start it up! Complication: Not enough battery power. Out comes the charger, and the helpful mag-mount Battery Charging Flag. Maybe tomorrow.

Inside the engine under the top deck covers, displaying the moving parts that require lubrication.

Inside the engine under the top deck covers, displaying the moving parts that require lubrication.

Fritz with the magnet mounting Battery Charging flag.

Fritz with the magnet mounting Battery Charging flag.

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So Long Winterail…….

So long, Winterail.  Today, 3/14/15 /Gail, Alicia LaBreque and I  set up, sold merchandise, renewed some memberships, and visited and networked with old friends at the last Winterail railfan event held in Stockton, CA.  The FRRS has been attending the event for most of the 37 years it has been in existence.  As of this year, the event will no longer be located in Stockton, CA instead moving to Corvallis, OR, the new home of event producer Vic Neves.

This may also be the last one the FRRS attends for reasons beyond the distance involved from Portola. Let me explain.  I’m sure most of you have heard of an ongoing crusade by a small, vocal, and boorish group of FRRS members that want to throw out the existing incumbent Board of Directors and officers by spreading misinformation and untruths to anyone who will listen and replacing them with their three candidates.  Well as of today, they have gone public with their fantasies and untrue statements about the existing Board members (with a few exceptions).  And unfortunately the people who produce Winterail have begun allowing it to be used as a one-sided political stumping platform by allowing this group to set up a table and spread their blather to anyone who would listen. This includes a couple of interesting hand outs that are posted here:



As you can see, the three members responsible for these claims are also candidates for this year’s three open Board seat elections running against the current incumbents, Steve Habeck,  Gail McClure, and Eugene Vicknair. These three members were also sporting name style badges stating “S.O.S.  Save our Society”.  It was noted that current Director Wayne Monger was wearing one in support of their crusade.

In order to make this post as short and to the point as possible, I will address a few of the untruths with FACTS, and leave my personal opinions out of this forum.  I am sure that we will hear from the incumbents on all of this as well as other items in the very near future. In response to the items they present under Item 2 of their hand out: Build an open and welcoming environment.  Last time I checked, we have this environment already and most of us go above and beyond to welcome new volunteers and bring them in to the family, explaining to all that our goal is for everyone to have a safe and fun experience at the Museum.

(a) Reopen the WP Historical Archives to the membership and visitors    FACT: the FRRS Archives have never been closed.  A new policy was adopted by the Board a few years back addressing access and use of FRRS Archives.  For reasons that can only be called selfish, some are against this new policy because it prevents prior problems including of a lack of accountability and reporting.  No longer can certain members rampage through our Archives unsupervised.  In September of 2014, I had long discussions with Mike Mucklin regarding the policy, its intent and the responsibilities of the Historical Department to protect our Archives from loss or abuse.  Mike agreed to take on the temporary position of Department Head.  Along with instituting these new guidelines and policies, he is working with me and others to refine them and include an easier form of access, while protecting the contents of the collection and improving accountability.  During these discussions, Mike suggested that Kirk Baer become the “custodian” of access to all the archives with he and Mike being the only ones with access to the collections along with Dave Pires, the editor of our Headlight Publications, unless someone requests access under the terms of the policy. I agreed and Kirk was given keys to all the Archive storage locations.  Kirk has been vocal about the previous department head not doing anything or cooperating with people wishing access, so now he has the responsibility for access requests and has told the Board he is planning on work parties to begin identifying and sorting the archives located in multiple places into an organized, easy to find subject library. According to the previous department head, he received only two requests for access during his tenure:  One from Wayne Monger to bring a visitor in to see some of the archives, and a request from Bill Meeker and his brother to access the Meeker collection.  Wayne Monger was provided with the access requested and the materials that the Meeker’s stated they wanted to see was brought to a mutually agreed upon meeting location and they were allowed to review it.  Both requests were honored and no other requests were made.

It is important to note that prior to the last department head, there were few, if any, controls over what came and went into the collections nor were any regular reports regarding the status and use of same made to the Board despite requests that such reports were to be provided.  And the TRUTH is that access has always been available to those who have asked, just like most other railroad musuems where appointments must be made to do research within their archives.

(b)  Develop cooperative partnerships with other museums/organizations.   FACTS here are simple and easily confirmed.  We have great relations with the following museums/organizations: Golden Gate Railroad Museum, Western Railway Museum, Niles Canyon/PLA, California State Railroad Museum, Illinois Railroad Museum, Association of Tourist Railroads and Railway Museums (TRAIN/ARM), Railroad Passenger Car Alliance (RPCA), Oregon Railroad Foundation (Friends of the 4449) , Central California Traction Company, Union Pacific Railroad, Virginia and Truckee Railroad, California Zephyr Railcar Tours, and others. I guess these don’t count?

(c) Build programs that include involvement of the local community.   FACTS here are simple also.  Recent meetings and conversations with Portola City Manager and  Portola Public Works department regarding our plans for the future expansion and working with the City to provide them with a couple of pieces of  our rolling stock for display at each entrance to Portola on Highway 70 to promote the Museum.  The City’s  ordinance waiver allowing us to paint “Railroad Museum” on the roof of the shop in full view from Hwy 70 through town.  The City Manager along with his staff have recently offered their help in obtaining grants for our expansion projects by instructing their Grant writers to work with us and help us with any of our projects needing grants and funding. Also, we get help anytime we need it from J’s equipment rentals, ACE Hardware, NAPA auto parts among other local merchants. If this does not qualify as including the local community in helping each other make Portola a better place for all of us, I don’t what is.

(d) Make improvements to the FRRS property to attract visitors.  FACT:  This is an ongoing project that is easy for someone who does not understand or ask why things are where they are on the property.  It not only includes placement of equipment for display, but things temporarily stored in the parking lot, in the shop, or other locations that don’t fit into the uninformed mind’s understanding.  Things are usually where they are in view of the visitors because it has no permanent home yet, or is a heavy or big item that needs to be moved with the Derrick or other heavy equipment.  One of the selling points to our visitors is that we are an operating railroad museum and most of our visitors enjoy this presentation.  Those who call for placing our “pretty” rolling stock where some feel it would look really nice don’t realize there are reasons for this:  The museum is not a model railroad in someone’s basement. It is easy for people to say “pave the parking lot” or “plant grass here” or make other “improvements”, but there is usually a good solid reason why it is not that easy or simply cannot be done.  We have an approved Master Plan that includes improvements which take into account legal restrictions on the property, shared ownership with the City on a portion of the parcel, safety and security, track requirements and restrictions, and other issues that cannot be ignored and which is often not taken into account with many of those advocating visual change or equipment placement.  Running a railroad museum is not the same as running a theater or arts group.

I believe I have provided facts to the accusations that were presented.  Not all of the accusations or in complete detail, but as short and simple as I can.  Please note that of the three new candidates, Reininger has never been to a Board meeting or has been seen on the property to my knowledge, Meeker has attended two Board Meetings that I know of, but has not asked any questions of the Board or Officers in regards to the allegations their group has made, and Mason had been the FRRS Treasure for around two years , has been on the property many times and knows the facts as well as most of us, but chooses not to acknowledge, twists or fails to remember these facts.

I am sure you will hear more from them and others before it is over. But if you want FACTS, just contact me anytime.

For now…and with more to follow,

WP Lives (and also fought off two hostile takeover attempts),


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Crew Training for 2015 Season

That time is rapidly approaching again!

Crew Training and Orientation will be held on April 11 and 12, 2015, as well as May 2 and 3, 2015.  If you wish to be on the operating crew this season, please make an effort to attend at least one of these days.

General information, training, and rules exams will be given.  RAL Engineers should stay after the rules exam for the RAL Meeting, though anyone is welcome and encouraged to attend.

NOTE: The Calendar listing the dates of 5/16 and 5/23 are incorrect.

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Western Pacific Historic Convention 2015! – Registration open

April 24-26, 2015 – Elko, NV

Registration for the 2015 Western Pacific Historic Convention in Elko, NV is finally open! (Took some doing to nail down the venue) This year we have a special event on Sunday, April 26, following the convention: a tour and exclusive steam powered excursion on the Nevada Northern! This is limited to only 50 riders, so sign up early!

Go to http://convention.wplives.org for more information!

We still need a few things for the convention: we’re looking for someone to promote and coordinate model exhibit and contest, also we’re looking for a few more clinics and shows with at least one more being about a modelling topic. If you would like to help and / or do a show, please contact Eugene Vicknair at convention@wplives.org or eugene.vicknair@gmail.com.

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Current Progress for Winter 2014-2015

Currently, the museum is closed to the General Public, however, that doesn’t mean the lights have been off and the gate locked, on the contrary, there are many MANY good things happening to further the preservation and presentation of the WP.

This past Holiday Season, we added a 3rd “Santa Train” to our ever popular Christmas event. While the recent Santa Train was our best attended ever, the best result was that over HALF A TON! of non-perishable food items were collected from our guests to benefit the local EPCAN food pantry. Santa Train is a holiday tradition for the Habeck Family, as each member of the family spends countless hours helping Steve string Christmas lights, decorate the cars and facility, and coordinating the hot beverages and goodies for the event. Volunteers spent several weeks assisting in getting the equipment switched and staged, cleaned, serviced and ready to accept our holiday guests, not to mention Santa & Mrs. Claus. Gail McClure and her assistant Jasmine did a fair amount of business in the giftshop during the event and we couldn’t have pulled off our most successful Santa Trains EVER without the assistance of our merry band of volunteers. Look for an in depth feature article coming soon in “The Trainsheet”, soon to hit your mail box.

The “Railroad Passenger Car Alliance” had their annual convention in Reno, culminating with a visit to the museum on Sunday the 25th. We hosted 2 tour bus loads and several car loads of guests from within the railroad preservation and private railcar industry. We made some great new friends, caught up with old friends in the industry, and received a LOT of compliments from within the group regarding our collection and museum. FRRS Directors, Officers, & volunteers Eugene Vicknair, Steve Habeck, Rod McClure, Debbie Reynolds, Alicia La Brecque, Tom Carter, Steve Lee, David Elems, Greg Elems, and Rick & Lissa Grunninger spent the day cleaning and prepping the museum for these guests and showing them around the grounds and equipment. We received lots and lots of compliments from all over the group, who really enjoyed themselves.

During the weekend of RPCA’s visit, Director Tom Carter had the unique opportunity to take lessons and advice from Steve Lee of Cheyenne Wyoming, retired Superintendent of UP’s Heritage Fleet, who came out to our museum to teach him how to paint historic rail equipment. During his time with the Union Pacific Steam Program, Steve, along with a couple other employees, painted both of UP’s steam locomotives (on numerous occasions), the UP 6936 Centennial, the E9’s and their shop switcher, UPP 96. They first went through and performed an inventory of painting equipment and supplies, and explained what was needed in supplies, painting equipment and personal protective equipment to be able to paint our equipment to the standards of the Union Pacific Heritage Fleet. Currently, Western Pacific 1503 is sitting in the shop, having repairs made to it by Rod McClure, David Elems, Seth Adams, and Matt Elems. 1503 is now ready to perform paint preparation so we can paint it back to its as delivered Perlman Green & Orange Paint Scheme. Steve will once again make the long trip out to Portola from Cheyenne to mentor Directors Carter and Greg Elems in the fine art of locomotive & railcar painting. Once WP’s last switch engine, 1503 is complete and fully restored this year, she will join WP 501, WP’s first switcher and first diesel locomotive, as operable artifacts, thanks to the hard work of volunteers Dave McClain and Dwight Whetstone who have quietly labored behind the scenes fixing a myriad of small issues on 501 that were left over from its post WP days as an industrial switcher. Together, these two locomotives represent the myriad of power and innovation of the Western Pacific Railroad and we’re proud to not only have them, but present them to the public as jewels of our collection.

Directors Tom Carter and Gail McClure are currently working on assembling a restoration team for Central California Traction caboose #24, our “Little Red Caboose”. While this project was announced last year, they made the conscious decision to place more emphasis on other more pressing projects, while raising money for the cabooses restoration. As soon as 1503 leaves the shop in new paint, CCT #24 will go inside for a new paint job with reflective vinyl lettering and logos, after receiving new windows, window sashes and end sills. After the exterior is complete, work will focus on the inside, turning this into a VERY comprehensive example of a day in the life of a railroad crewman.

Ethan Doty has made regular visits to the museum working on various projects; his youth and enthusiasm a continued breath of fresh air. Our younger volunteers like Ethan, David Elems, Matt Elems, Deanna Fecko, Debbie Reynolds, Kathy & Jennifer Habeck and Seth Adams represent a future of not only our museum, but the furtherance of the mission started with the founding of the Western Pacific over 100 years ago. Though most of these younger volunteers may be too young to have seen and experienced the Western Pacific before the UP merger, regardless, they are fine examples of the “Willing People” spirit that the WP’s employees were always known for. We at the FRRS greatly appreciate their hard work, enthusiasm and above all, dedication and look forward to continuing to grow and cultivate the skills they will need to eventually carry on this mission in the future.

Director Charlie Spikes has been a regular visitor to the museum as well as volunteers Duane Vanderveen & David Elems, performing various tasks around the grounds, including overhauling “Big White”, our yeoman heavy forklift. Member Bob Simms continues working on restoring our wooden Denver & Rio Grande Western wooden boxcar for use as a steam tool car, as well as his assisting Directors Eugene Vicknair and Tom Carter in setting up our wood shop and turning it into a world class wood artifact restoration facility.

The WP 165 steam locomotive, in the very capable hands of the steam team, led by volunteer Chris Allan, is making major strides towards operating WP steam to return for the 1st time in many years. Much progress has been made on 165 this past year and 2015 will see the locomotive much closer to completion. Check out their blog at steam.wplives.org for more details, and to show your support if possible. They sure could use it.

As you can see, despite the fact that the museum has been closed for the Winter, we have not been sitting around the Christmas tree, drinking cocoa and waiting for Spring to return to the museum to work. Several of us have been busy!  We can use more help though. We need YOU to get involved, whether it is in person with labor, with donations of money or materials, expertise, or with moral support. As much progress and good things are going on right now with your society, we are obviously doing so with a relatively small crew, so we welcome you to join us!

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