The one question most asked about the 1309 project is the most difficult to answer: When will it be done? We have a best guess, but that is really all we can do. This is a complex and unpredictable project. WMSR has to “get it right” the first time around.
This is a “return to specification” overhaul. The locomotive will be a superior machine to the one that rolled out of Eddystone in late 1949. It will have a more modern air brake system (26L), forced lubrication of many additional wearing surfaces, temperature sensors at critical points, a more functional electrical system, case hardened pins and bushings, and other subtle improvements.
In November and December of 2016, the WMSR shop crew installed a new rear tube sheet, the lower door ring patch, and new lower firebox interior corners. The boiler still needs a small patch and some pad welding. Almost all of the brake and suspension rigging has been removed, rehabilitated, and is ready to be reapplied. The pony truck is largely complete, with newly-turned wheels. The tender has been finished for several months. It involved a great deal of basic restoration and upgrading work.
The major boiler tasks remaining are installing roughly 300 flexible and 70 rigid staybolts, rolling in the new tubes and flues, setting up the superheater units, and reinstalling the renewed front end. It represents a substantial amount of basic industrial production work. WMSR’s restoration crew is painting the new cab (the old one required too much work to be salvaged). Other WMSR craftsmen are fabricating a new ashpan and hopper. 1309 will get all new jacketing. One of the most critical components will be the water columns and tri-cocks, which WMSR had to design from scratch. The Engineer and Fireman always need to know where the water level is in the boiler.
The railroad has been “painting as it goes.” That does a vastly better job of protecting the metal and avoiding hidden bare spots where rust can get a toehold. The engine will retain the number 1309, and will be lettered “Western Maryland” in classic Railroad Roman.
Major reassembly will begin in January, 2017, and proceed in stages. WMSR will run all new copper lubrication lines and install additional mechanical lubricators. Some of the existing steam piping will be reused, with many new components. New schedule 80 heavy duty pipe will need to be cut, bent, threaded, and fitted up to replace all existing piping. It makes almost no sense to rely on original piping. The air brake system will be similar to the 26L schedule used on second generation diesels and modern steam locomotives today. Most of the materials and rebuilt appliances to finish the 1309 are on site or in transit.
At some point (probably in February or early March), two large cranes will “wheel” the locomotive. The drivers are done, as are hub liners and the driving boxes. Wheeling will be a day-long, complex operation to set the locomotive on all six drivers simultaneously, as WMSR has no drop table. That will represent a major milestone.
For the first few months of 2017, WMSR will be beefing up its shop crew and working with specialty contractors to kick the project into higher gear. Many tasks will happen simultaneously. There are only a few things that need to happen in sequence, and WMSR CMO Kevin Rice has mapped the project out in considerable detail.
Every year, the State of Maryland provides a small portion of its general bond funding to not-for-profit and public projects throughout its 23 counties. Allegany County applied for, and was awarded, $400,000 in the current funding cycle, which will allow for the completion of the project. WMSR itself has invested roughly $600,000 in the 1309. The railroad anticipates using the 1309 for at least 50 years, or through three 1472/15 year FRA inspection cycles.
At the moment, the best estimate for 1309’s return to service is mid-May. WMSR anticipates boiling water sometime in April, with the usual flurry of final tasks that pop up in any project of this nature. There will be a period of test runs, crew training, and other special operations. If things go well and we can start revenue service sooner, we certainly will. The 1309 will have a “soft roll out.” There will be a ceremonial first weekend of trains and activities, but it is impractical to schedule an “official” first run. WMSR will post information about 1309’s debut as reliable information becomes available.
If things take longer than anticipated, we hope everyone will understand. No matter how well you try to plan a project like this, it is impossible to anticipate how long the work might actually take to complete. For example, to our knowledge no one has retrofitted a completely new and innovative mechanical lubrication system on a mid-sized 2-6-6-2 compound—at least, not in the last 70 years. WMSR knows what to do. There is simply no realistic way to gauge how long it might take, or what additional issues and opportunities might arise.
The WMSR Board, CEO John C. Garner, and CMO Kevin Rice made a commitment that the 1309’s rehabilitation would be done correctly the first time around. No short cuts, no leaving known issues to be dealt with later. Think of that as the 765 , 4014, or 261 model of project management: Have the patience to do the plan, execute it well, and resist pressures and expectations for quick results or artificial deadlines.
The 1309 has not turned a wheel under steam for over 60 years. Probably no one on Earth thought it ever would again. But sometime in the next several months, that classic American Mallet will again be burning coal and boiling water in the Central Appalachians. It will be one of the largest, most accessible and most regularly operated steam locomotives on the planet. It is our sincere hope that it will be in service for a very long time.