Thursday, July 22, 2010

Truing the Wheels of a Steam Locomotive

I read an article yesterday from the St. Paul Pioneer Press about a rail buff group in Minnesota that is refurbishing one of their prized old steam engines.  This engine, No. 261, was built in 1944 by the American Locomotive Company and was used on Milwaukee Road passenger and freight runs between Minneapolis and La Crosse, Wisconsin.

The engine, which has eight drive-wheels over six feet in diameter, had developed a problem:  the drive wheels were out-of-round and need to be turned on a lathe to make them run true again.  In the old days of steam locomotive maintenance, this was a common problem.  The engine was driven over a track equipped with a special area known as a Drop Table and the drive wheels were lowered into a pit for maintenance.  Drop Tables no longer exist, so this time they had to pick up the entire locomotive with two cranes and pull the drive-wheels out from underneath and then set the locomotive back down on its forward and trailing trucks while the repairs are being completed.

Members of the group were taking bets on how much the boiler and frame of the engine weighed as the could measure it when the cranes lifted them off.  The answer: 227,000 pounds. That's a lot of iron and steel (and it doesn't include the weight of the wheels).

I am always encouraged to see groups like this who work so diligently to keep prime examples of past technology operating.  The plan is to put the engine back to work after the wheels are turned.  No. 261 will be the largest, active coal-burning steam locomotive in the world. Impressive. (This photo and more in the Pioneer Press article).

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