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Heated Turntable Pits

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Heated Turntable Pits
Posted by Water Level Route on Thursday, April 06, 2017 5:39 AM

Somehow I got to thinking about turntables in snowy locations and the relative rarity of fully decked turntables and wondered about snow removal from the pit.  Seems like any snowfall or decent wind in the winter and the pit would have filled in with snow.  Were the turntable pits at locations like this heated with steam from the shop's main boiler to melt the snow, or were track gangs tasked with keeping them shoveled out?  Thanks guys!

Mike

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Posted by rrinker on Thursday, April 06, 2017 6:38 AM

 Labor was cheap in those days, my guess is if there was that much snow, the foreman grabbed a couple of the most junior guys, handed them shovels, and told them to go dig.

 Neighbor who owned a construction company once told me, on a job you might need 3 guys all day to dig a certain ditch. A machine could do it in an hour or two. Most times, they would use the three guys with shovels, because 3 guys for 8 hours cost less than the one skilled guy to run the machine for 2. That was in the 80's, may not be true today.

                     --Randy


Modeling the Reading Railroad in the 1950's

 

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Posted by mbinsewi on Thursday, April 06, 2017 7:23 AM

And along with the skilled operator, there is a charge per hour for the machine, 3 guys it is.  Problem today is, finding 3 guys that will work.  I can also imagine if steam was used to melt it, you have to deal with the water, in freezing temps.  Winter time construction, always means digging things out by hand, before work can resume.

But, I've never been around a turntable, just thinking about the task of removing heavy amounts of snow from a pit.

Mike.

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Posted by ACY Tom on Thursday, April 06, 2017 7:59 AM

Most turntables have several inches of clearance between the pit floor and the bottom of the turntable itself. In my experience growing up in Northern Ohio, we had snow every winter, but snow didn't accumulate more than about 10" more than once or twice a year. It seems that these wild fluctuations of recent years are a fairly recent phenomenon. There were exceptions, such as the Thanksgiving Blizzard of 1950, which struck Ohio and paralyzed the area. I imagine very deep snow might have been a problem, but it was probably pretty rare in most locations, and I'm sure coal scoops were quickly repurposed into snow shovels when that happened. I don't recall ever seeing a turntable pit without a drain. The melting snow quickly drained away in the form of water. 

The situation might have been much different in Minnesota or Michigan or Maine or Canada. You might be able to find a very old timer around Ludington who can tell you, but those guys are getting scarcer by the day. Interview them while you can. 

Tom 

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Posted by DSchmitt on Thursday, April 06, 2017 8:38 AM

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Posted by BRAKIE on Thursday, April 06, 2017 8:47 AM

I seen a photo in Trains (?) of laborers shoveling snow out of a turntable pit after a blizzard on on either the DM&IR or the GN.

Larry

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Posted by Water Level Route on Thursday, April 06, 2017 9:07 AM
Thanks guys. I suppose shovels were the answer most times. Time for it was probably planned in the daily work in the right locals. It just hit me that with large shop boiler facilites right there they may have put them to use by burying heat pipes in the pit. I know in the '80s here in northern Michigan we always had a lot more than 10" of snow on the ground, but all the old timers I've found so far all worked on the car ferries. Haven't found a soul yet that worked in the rail yard.

Mike

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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, April 06, 2017 9:52 AM

If you put steam pipes in a turntable pit, they will be below the level of the boiler.  Which means that any condensate will stay in the pipes at their lowest point, rather than flowing back to the boiler.  And that water might well freeze up and block the flow of steam.  Right when you need it the most.

The alternative would be to be SURE you had steam in the lines whenever temperatures got in the freezing neighborhood.

Neither way seems as failsafe as having guys go in the pit with shovels.  Add in capital expense and maintenance costs.

 

Ed

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Posted by SouthPenn on Thursday, April 06, 2017 9:59 AM

DSchmitt: great pictures. Thanks for sharing.

Ed: the steam lines could have been cleaned out with compressed air when they were not in use.

South Penn
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Posted by 7j43k on Thursday, April 06, 2017 11:26 AM

That's a good point.

I think steam lines are a pretty neat idea, and DO wonder at their history.  On the plus side, sort of, is that if the steam lines fail for any reason, you're just right back where you would be without them--no big disaster.  Well, except for the guys who get to shovel snow.  But then, it's paid work--generally considered a good thing.  And it doesn't smell bad, unlike SOME things you might get paid to shovel.

 

Ed

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Posted by kingcoal on Thursday, April 06, 2017 11:35 AM

The Canadian National had a similar issue in Northern Ontario. The creative solution at Hornepayne, Ontario was to build a square - roundhouse, with a covered turntable. It's still there but not utilized for locomotives at this time. You can see it in google maps.

Algoma Central had a similar installation.

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Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, April 06, 2017 11:35 AM

Reminds me of a story related to my by the shop foreman at the B&O's W. 3rd. St. roundhouse, Lou Panek. 

Snow was forecast and there wasn't a crew on duty during second trick so somebody got the idea of setting the turntable controller (this one had a Westinghouse streetcar-type controller) on low speed to keep the bridge turning and prevent the snow from piling up. It had worked in the past.

Well, when third-trick showed up at 11 PM, they found the smoldering remains of the operating cab, which had completely burned down, some of the ties already burning, and, of course, the pit filled with snow anyway. Seems like the snow turned to heavy, wet stuff and the bridge got stuck. The resistor grid got toasty-hot and...

Somebody had some 'splainin' to do!

There were some places in the plant where I worked that had steam lines run underground for snow removal, shipping docks and lift truck ramps and truck scales and such.

The condensate just dumps into a pit and is pumped back to the boiler house. There are condensate return pumps designed into big systems for this very reason. 

Regards, Ed

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Posted by dknelson on Thursday, April 06, 2017 11:40 AM

I have been on some steam era turntables and it is a considerable distance down to the base of the pit.  I am sure snow did accumulate but I'd think there's have to be several feet of snow before the turntable would be interfered with. 

I am reminded that into the 1960s, the UP kept a 4-6-6-4 in steam so that it could be used for snow melting purposes in the yards.  I don't think it was just ambient heat from the boiler, but rather hoses of some sort from the cylinders.  Not exactly sure how it was equipped to do that, but I wonder if similarly a steam locomotive on a turntable could be used to melt snow in the pit.  Whether this was ever actually done I have no idea.

Dave Nelson

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Posted by BRAKIE on Thursday, April 06, 2017 3:33 PM

gmpullman
Snow was forecast and there wasn't a crew on duty during second trick so somebody got the idea of setting the turntable controller (this one had a Westinghouse streetcar-type controller) on low speed to keep the bridge turning and prevent the snow from piling up. It had worked in the past. Well, when third-trick showed up at 11 PM, they found the smoldering remains of the operating cab, which had completely burned down, some of the ties already burning, and, of course, the pit filled with snow anyway. Seems like the snow turned to heavy, wet stuff and the bridge got stuck. The resistor grid got toasty-hot and...

Ed,Thanks for sharing that story.. I wonder what those third trick fellas faces looked like when they saw that mess?

Larry

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NDG
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Posted by NDG on Thursday, April 06, 2017 5:12 PM

 

Thank You.

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Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, April 06, 2017 5:28 PM

BRAKIE
I wonder what those third trick fellas faces looked like when they saw that mess?

Ha! I'll bet there was a lot of finger-pointing going on. You know how the railroad worked, Larry "It wasn't our fault— It was those guys on the other shift!"

The shop superintendant was a really nice guy and I'm sure the report to HQ just listed it as an "electrical problem", he stuck up for his guys. Today there would be a dozen Federal Agencies snooping around looking for somebody to hang.

Wish I could remember all the other "roundhouse chat" that went on back then...

NDG
Cold weather made everything 'Tight' including the bearing in the centre.

That reminds me, the turntable I'm refering to had a "balanced" center bearing, that, and it was just plain worn out. The whole bridge would rock a few inches when the engines moved on or off it. So with a steam engine, and if the tender was near-empty, you had to stop the engine with the rear tender wheels almost to the end of the rail in order to balance the whole mess. You could actually feel the tipping action as you ran the engine "over-center". With a full tender things balanced out much easier. If the bridge wasn't balanced the drive wheels would just spin. Sometimes we had to toss scoops of sand onto the pit rail, especially in wet weather.

Ed

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Posted by MidlandPacific on Saturday, April 15, 2017 8:42 AM

I suspect decked turntables (Atlas notwithstandin) were an indoor, rather than an outdoor application: the old B&O car shop (now a museum) has one, and I have seen woodcuts showing a decked over turntable in a locomotive roundhouse built in the same era (late 1880s).  A horizontal wood surface like that would have been a maintenance nightmare outdoors (imagine the water damage from snow melt), and might well have collapsed under  heavy snowfall.  It does make sense in a completely enclosed roundhouse like Mt. Clare, though- more convenient, since workers don't need to walk around the periphery of the pit, and safer- no pit to fall into!

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Posted by tstage on Saturday, April 15, 2017 11:49 AM

Water Level Route
Thanks guys. I suppose shovels were the answer most times. Time for it was probably planned in the daily work in the right locals. It just hit me that with large shop boiler facilites right there they may have put them to use by burying heat pipes in the pit.

I grew up in north FL and our 20s stucco house had a tile floor with radiant heating from an oil furnace.  Worked great the entire time we owned the house.  The folks who lived in the house after us apparently didn't use it and it became clogged with sediment.  Too bad because it was a great way to heat the foundation and keep the house warm.  And, yes - it does get cold in north FL in the wintertime.

I didn't read all the comments.  Did turntables generally have drains at the bottom of the pit for removing water during warmer months?

Tom

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Posted by DSchmitt on Saturday, April 15, 2017 1:18 PM

tstage
Did turntables generally have drains at the bottom of the pit for removing water

Yes.  PRR Standard Plan 61930-A Foundations for 75ft, 85ft and 100ft Turntables has details for a drain.

Union Pacific System  Standard 92 foot Turntable General Plan also shows a drain.

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

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Posted by doctorwayne on Saturday, April 15, 2017 4:29 PM

I plan to add overhead services (steam, electricity, and compressed air) to my engine terminal at Lowbanks...

...and it will include heat for the pit and steam lances for the coaling tower, where incoming loaded hoppers may have frozen loads during the winter months.  The services will be extended to the car shop, not visible in the photos.

The steam (and electricity) will come from a nearby coal-fired generating plant, built when the road was still an interurban line...

The overhead services were inspired by the system at the steel plant where I worked.  There, steam, along with natural gas, and reuseable waste gases from other operations, was delivered all over the complex, which covered several hundred acres.
Even the hot water for the changehouse showers was heated, through a heat exchanger, by plant steam.

Wayne

 

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Posted by DSchmitt on Saturday, April 15, 2017 5:09 PM

Turntable plan on this site shows drainage

http://kettlevalleymodelrailway.blogspot.com/

Photo of PRR Turntable plan. The black rectangle to the left of the pivot is the drain inlet. 

http://i.ebayimg.com/images/a/(KGrHqNHJ!0E8+m+8QBMBP,gVmikTQ~~/s-l300.jpg

 

 

 

I tried to sell my two cents worth, but no one would give me a plug nickel for it.

I don't have a leg to stand on.

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Posted by Water Level Route on Sunday, April 16, 2017 12:00 PM

Thanks for all the replies everyone.  Great info!  Happy Easter!

Mike

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Posted by jjdamnit on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 1:10 PM

Hello all,

I was reading through "Railway Track And Maintenance"; E.E. Russell Tratman, McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. 1926, Third printing 2016, National Model Railroad Association Inc.

On page 184, under the section of Y-tracks it states,

"At a terminal on the Denver & Rio Grande Western Ry., which has a rectangular engine house, a Y-track with 10-deg. curves is provide for turning the engines in order to avoid troubles with a turntable and pit in a district of heavy snow."

From this quote it seems that for many railroads an alternate to the turntable was used rather than trying to shovel-out a snowed in one.

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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Posted by BN7150 on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 1:53 PM

The attached picture is Iiyama station in 1971, and it is one of Japan's foremost heavy snowfall areas.

 

Iiyama, Japan in 1971

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Posted by jjdamnit on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 4:42 PM

Hello all,

Clever!!!

Hope this helps.

"Uhh...I didn’t know it was 'impossible' I just made it work...sorry"

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