Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring 2009 Workweek Report

Welcome to a new year for steam work in Portola and another trip for me up the I-5. It is always good for me to clear my head for a few days and get away from the mental fog that is life in the greater Los Angeles area. The date was Tuesday, April 14th, and I was on my way north to the Bay Area to spend an evening with my parents. Unfortunately they were headed south to Palmdale to make my Grandmother’s funeral arrangements, (she lived to be 100, by gaud!) so consequently I got to hang out with my sisters Mary and Patty, which I hardly ever do anymore.

I stopped briefly in Hayward to visit my friend Gary, and his current project, the Cortez Mines Porter locomotive restoration. This diminutive little three foot gauge 0-4-0T locomotive languished out in front of a casino near Boulder City, Nevada for many years, and it was good to see it coming back together again for operation. Noted FRRS director Eugene Vicknair joined us for lunch and we talked of Zephyrs, steam regs, and other topics. We wish the best of luck to Gary and his partner Tom on getting the little Porter out and steaming again for our enjoyment!

Wednesday morning Dana Greely parked his luxury vehicle in my parent’s driveway and we headed east for the climb over the Sierra. After a stop at at Cabela's sporting goods store just across the Nevada border in Verdi, (enough guns to arm the northern Nevada militia, even pink rifles for the ladies!) we overshot Reno by a few miles so that we might witness Union Pacific steam locomotive 844 literally blasting into town. After catching up with them in Sparks, I had to opportunity to meet UP Steam Dept. boss Steve Lee in person, and thank him for his moral support and advice on our project in Portola. Steve is a very down-to-earth guy considering the challenges he meets every day to keep the last US mainline Class 1 railroad steam program functional and relevant. Our FRRS president Rod McClure fired the locomotive the first half of the day out of Winnemucca, we found him riding in the luxury of the tail car coming into Sparks. Hopefully by the end of this tour for the 844 Rod will be a fully promoted steam fireman.

UP 844 westbound a few minutes out of Sparks, Nevada.

As luck would have it, steam team member Roger Stabler was laying over at the Nugget just next door to the UP yard, so we were able to dine with him that evening prior to continuing on to Portola. Once again Roger invited me aboard his private railcar “Two Rivers” the next weekend, and once again I had to decline due to prior commitments. Maybe someday I will get to ride with him. Until then I have to work on my timing, which stinks. Dana and I arrived in Portola and moved into the Pullman, visited with Steve Habeck for an hour or so, and turned in.

Charlie and Steve had switched cars for six hours or so Wednesday so that Thursday we would have access to the 165. Charlie and Dana moved in a steel staircase and placed it at the rear of the cab as a work platform, which made getting in and out of the firebox safer. The remainder of that day and Friday were spent removing tube ends from the front and rear tube sheets, and needlescaling the interior of the boiler shell.


Bill and Duane removing cotter pins in the brake rigging.
Charlie (just his hat visible) in the pit cutting cotter pins.
Dana grinds seal welds on rear tube sheet

Sadly our pals Nathan and James were not able to attend this session due to having to attend a trade show in Las Vegas. They promise to come up during the summer and continue taking ultrasonic readings on the boiler, which we hope to have completed by the end of this season. Roger Stabler was also not available to us this time due to his company moving his vacation around. We do however owe Roger a debt of gratitude for another generous monetary donation to the project. Bob Simms also sent in a check for $1000 and we thank him as well. Without the continued support of fine gentlemen like these our work would come to a halt. Thanks also to John Belluomini for the donation of the magnetic work light. Grinding in the firebox is much easier now that you can actually see what you are doing!

During the work week we were treated to temperatures in the low ‘70s, quite unexpected for this time of year. We didn’t complain. The balmy weather was welcomed by our new steam team members, the Wallace Family of Corte Madera, California. Dave Wallace brought his dynamic family: his vivacious wife Pam, and their twin boys Patrick and William, up to scrub on their new acquisition, Santa Fe caboose 999197, formerly a fixture in the Museum’s caboose train. This car will serve as a cabin for the Wallace’s and an ongoing project, a labor of love. I met Dave (aka “Eldee”) during our time on the steam crew at Rio Vista, maintaining and operating Western Pacific steam locomotive 94. He is a top-shelf machinist, specializing in vintage race car engines, and an excellent mechanic. The entire Wallace Family's talents and spirit of camaraderie are welcome additions to our team!


The Wallace Family aboard their new (to them) caboose.

Dave Wallace suits up for steam work!

Suffice to say the week passed too quickly. Although we did not get to accomplish any of our “big” goals this week due to our small number, we did get the job further along with the removal of the brake rigging, all the tube ends out of the front tube sheet, and over half of the rear tube sheet seal welds ground down by Dana, whose efforts were tenacious. Thanks to Charlie Spikes (and his coffee!), Dana Greely, Craig Ferguson, Bill Clark, Duane Vanderveen, Steve Habeck, and Dave Wallace for their efforts on site. Also thanks to Roger Stabler, Nathan Osborn (aka “Maverick”) and James Cowdery for their continued moral support and desire to be there despite their job responsibilities.

Craig Ferguson cleans up after us.


Come on up and join the steam “family” for the next work session, July 28th-August 1st 2009. After work there is always "social hour" and dinner; either a BBQ on the deck, or dinner at the Pizza Factory (or some other trendy location).

For those attending the 2009 WPHS Convention in Oroville on May 29-30, I will have a table displaying a few of the components that have been restored, so please stop by and say hello. - JCA