The Headlight

Southern California Scenic Railway Association, Inc.

Serving the Travel Town Museum and the Crystal Springs and Cahuenga Valley Railroad

Volume 14, Number 3............................................................................Fall 1999


By Bryan Reese, M.177 Project Manager

The summer of 1999 has proven a difficult one, at least for me. For the better part of a year, I have been dealing with the stress of the final assembly of M.177's Winton engine. As the engine got closer and closer to completion and still stubbornly refused to run reliably, I found the tension to be great. Add to that tension a death in my family in July and all it entails.

On numerous occasions in June, July, and August, the mechanically complete engine wouldn't run. Theories abounded—everything from the incompatibility of today's modern fuels to incorrect wiring to improper timing.

Finally at the end of July I decided to see if I couldn't analyze the problem systematically. There are really only three reasons a gasoline engine won't run: no spark, no compression, or no fuel. I was reasonably certain that I had compression because the engine turned over on compressed air. As for fuel, the carburetor design, though primitive, seemed to be functioning properly. This left spark. Was the engine really firing at 30 degrees before top center, as designed?

The way to tell with absolute certainty was with a timing light. The light uses a strobe much like your camera that is synchronized to the exact moment that the spark plug fires. In this way one can tell exactly the position of the flywheel at that moment. I made marks on both the flywheel and the engine block corresponding with the 30 degree mark. If the timing was correct, the flywheel would 'freeze' at this position.

I cranked the engine over on air, and not surprisingly, the timing was way off. But why? I had checked and rechecked the timing at least a half dozen times, following the procedure scrupulously.

I sat down with the manual once again and tried to clear my mind. I stared at the drawings in the manual. I stared at the engine. I stared at the manual again. Then, to put it in an almost biblical perspective, the scales fell from my eyes.

The Nash distributors that we had adapted to replace the unsalvageable EMC originals were running backwards. To be more precise, they were now running in the opposite direction than they were designed. This means from a practical standpoint that the lobes or 'bumps' on the cam that operate the breaker points were in the wrong position. These distributors have a double-ended rotor and thus fire two plugs at once. What has to happen is that the contacts or 'points' have to open at precisely the same time as the rotor passes the contact for a given plug.

Had this been a more common single-ignition distributor, I could have simply rotated the drive coupling 180 degrees and be done with it. With the double-ended rotor, it's a little trickier. This has to do with the fact that the two ends are not 180 degrees opposite, but actually 160 degrees, as the wires for each set of 8 plugs have to go in between the others. By changing the distributor coupling 180 degrees, I now had one of the two sets aligned, but the other was at not 160 degrees, but 200 degrees. In other words, every other wire had to be moved 40 degrees in a counter clockwise direction. Confused yet?

It all sounds very complicated, but the actual adjustment was very simple and only took about an hour. With that, the engine took off and ran.

After that, the only problems were leaks. There are still some minor oil leaks around the crank case covers and some fittings, and water leaks at the points where the coolant pipes pass through the roof to the radiators.

Fortunately, the radiators themselves don't appear to leak. Greg Ramsey is working on the water leaks, and the oil leaks will wait until the first oil change. Another small problem is that the spark coil is very weak from two of its four outputs. Doug Stephens is working on an assembly of four automotive-type spark coils to substitute for the original spark coil, until we decide what to do with it. Greg also brought in a stroboscopic tachometer, which told us that the engine ran up to about 500 rpm with no apparent problem.

Another thing that has been accomplished is wrapping the exhaust pipes with fiberglass tape insulation. I noticed that the pipes raised the temperature in the engine room incredibly quickly, and it is my hope that the insulation will help mitigate this situation. The wrapping closely mimics the practice of using asbestos lagging, although the railroad had surrounded the pipes with a sheet-metal housing with a blower. Some of the resultant warm air was directed through tubes to defrost the windshield.

On Wednesday night, July 28, Travel Town hosted the Griffith Park Resources Board. M.177 was open for viewing, and the project was introduced to Recreation and Parks new General Manager, Ellen Oppenheim. Although I wasn't present, it is reported that she was favorably impressed with Travel Town in general, and M.177 in particular.

What lies ahead? The last major piece of the puzzle is the main generator, for which about $25,000 is needed for completion. In the mean time, I may be starting on the power truck, the condition of which is yet to be determined. Work on the interior has finally gotten back off dead center, with Tom Graham reinstalling the ceiling panels in the Smoking Compartment, with a commitment to finish that part of the interior. I'm still also looking for someone to spearhead the exterior paint and lettering.

Finally, I have just received additional spare caps, rotors, and points for our Nash distributors. This should ensure many, many more years of operation.

In closing, let me offer my thanks to all of you who so kindly offered expressions of sympathy following the loss of my father. Looking back, I realize now that the stress and strain of the situation weighed upon me far more than I realized. When I expressed a willingness to have visitors come through the motorcar to see the engine, Gordon Bachlund remarked to me about how we could do that if it weren't for that "crabby guy who stays in the engine room." I can't imagine who he's talking about.

Don’t forget M.177 when you make your end-of-year charitable donations!


By Sue Kientz, SCSRA President

Greetings to all of my fellow associates! I’m truly honored to be elected by the SCSRA board as its new president for the next three (3!?!) years. I’ve been associated with the SCSRA and Travel Town for six years now, since 1993, but I never dreamed that one day I’d be its president. I’ve always been just happy to edit your quarterly newsletter, and help get all the printing needs of the club taken care of. I have, however, done more than that over the years. One Saturday I even spiked my own rail! It was a lot harder than I imagined (I had been warned), so I don’t try that anymore.

Many of you associates know me fairly well, but I would bet not many of you understand just why I’ve continued to volunteer to do the Headlight over the years, since I don’t strike anyone (I’ve been told) as the “railfan” type. Greg Ramsey told me recently that he believed that I’m not here to play with the trains, I’m just here because of a loyalty to the people I know in the association. I admit I originally came out because my close friend and motorcycle buddy, Joe Barilari, volunteered here a lot; it was either come out here and volunteer, or not get to spend much time hanging out with him. (The first time I went to meet him out here, by the way, his directions weren’t clear and I ended up at LALS. Luckily, I was persistent and found Travel Town the next time.) But it became more than that, when former associate Greg Broom decided he no longer wanted to do the Headlight, and Joe suggested to Gordon that perhaps I could take over the task.

What was significant about that was at the time I was an assistant editor for the UCLA General Catalog, and I worked for an editor who never assigned me much responsibility. Joe knew how this galled me (because he had to listen to me complain about it constantly), so he thought this would be a perfect match: I could edit the Headlight and prove to myself that I had what it takes to put out a quality publication, and Greg could get off the hook and not have to do the Headlight anymore. I had help in those early issues from Ted McConville, Steve DeVorkin, and Ed Sikora, who were on my publications committee. We all would get together regularly at Ted’s workplace, Complete Post, and watch outtakes from NBC shows. OK we also talked about what to put in the newsletter, but more importantly, I began to start hearing the stories that people who were involved in the SCSRA would tell about why they volunteered and what it meant to them to be a part of making Travel Town a great place to visit.

Steve, for example, always points to being present on the day that Charlie Atkins, our switcher, arrived at the park. I remember him telling me, “This huge crane just had it in its jaws, lowering it down onto the track. It was the biggest bird I’d ever seen. I was hooked.” Then as I began editing each newsletter, I started not only proofreading but really reading and enjoying Chell’s “Prairie Echoes” columns. The details he forwarded to us, from all these different people who reminisced about M.177, were so touching, so human. I began realizing that what we are doing is more than just getting a huge piece of machinery working just to “play with it,” or even to prove we can accomplish something hard. We, intentionally or not, are making the past come alive again for a lot of people: those who actually remember M.177 in service, those who remember the days gone by here in Los Angeles when the red cars ran, and also people like me, who still remember the first time they were on a train and just how exciting that was. (I was excited, actually, because I got on a NY subway express train, and I meant to get on a local, but that story at another time.) It’s to help preserve something good from the past that I volunteer for the SCSRA. To listen to some great stories from my fellow associates, and to help share them in the Headlight. And, I hope someday to get to play with the trains more.

I hope that I can do a good job for the Association, and I look forward to the first self-powered ride on the M.177, a dream when I first came to the park in 1993, and now about to come true!


Click on the thumbnail to see the full-size image.

The Culvert: Before, After, and After-after...




Photos by Greg Gneier

The Douglas Crane at its previous job


All-Women Train Crew!

Yes, it finally happened! On Sunday, November 7, 1999, the third shift operating crew on the demonstration railway comprised four women and no men, a first at the Travel Town Museum. Newly qualified hogger Darlene Sexton was in the cab with 'fireman' Nancy Gneier, and the back platform duties were handled by Conductor Yvonne Ramsey and Brakeman Charity Lawrence. We see this as a harbinger of times to come as we welcome more women into the operating department.


Left to right - Nancy Gneier (fireman), Yvonne Ramsey (conductor), Darlene Sexton (engineer), Charity Lawrence (brakeman). Next stop, major league baseball!! Photo by Mike Vitale


By Greg Ramsey, Assistant Superintendent, Diesel

Charley's long missing #1 engine may be soon returning to the Park. I met with Mike Cavanaugh at LA Trade Tech on September 3rd, and inspected the progress. Our biggest problem with parts had been getting a head to replace Charley's original one. I had gotten several donated, but none of them turned out to be serviceable. We were faced with having to pay approximately $1,000 for a refurbished head, which forced us to delay work. Fortunately, Mr. Cavanaugh was able to use other resources of his, was able to get a head, and has had his students complete the assembling of the engine. When I was there, they were missing two relatively minor, but nonetheless critical parts. I took the missing pieces with me and then spent the rest of the afternoon searching diesel shops in the Wilmington and Long Beach areas. After visiting several outfits, I finally obtained both parts at different vendors. Thank you Associated Power, LA Diesel, and General Diesel. By the time you read this, the engine should be done and may have already been test run.

The radio in Charley has been unreliable of late, so it was sent off to the technician for servicing and for installation of a headphone option to help hoggers hear critical radio transmissions during operations. If the headphone works, we will so modify the radio in CWR No. 56.

The battery charger in CWR No. 56 was somehow overloaded, perhaps by someone carelessly trying to crank the engine without first disconnecting the charger, which resulted in several blown diodes and the welding shut of some relay contacts. Andy Evans rose to the occasion by troubleshooting and repairing the charger, and it is once again doing what is was designed to do.

As always, I can be reached at home (805-984-0332), work (805-982-9720), or via the Internet.


Welcome aboard to all of our new friends who have signed up this past quarter:

298Michael Vitale
299Tim Riley
300Charity Lawrence
301William Doran
302Sharon Riley
303Kay Sexton
304Carl Nelson

Charity Lawrence, Tim Riley, and Mike Vitale have all passed Rules tests, and Sharon Riley is our newly appointed Fund Raising Manager. We’re also grateful to Mike for a wonderful picture of the all-women train crew.

You others be sure to drop by and introduce yourselves the next time you are near Travel Town!


Through the third quarter of this year, we have 63 Associates whose membership renewals are past due. Since we currently show 167 total Associates on the 'active' list, the 63 past due is a very large number. To allow the SCSRA to continue to be a solvent, viable organization, we encourage all Associates to verify the status of their membership and to turn in their renewals as soon as possible. It is the policy of the SCSRA to take back Associate numbers from those members that have had a past-due status for 1 year or more. We don't want to lose you but will be cleaning up our records and removing Associates who are in the 1 year or more past due category. The Associate numbers will be retired and all rights and privileges will be removed.

As you probably know, we are continuing to expand our programs, from Operations to Track work to Restoration work. Exciting times are ahead as we have begun our work outside of Travel Town with railroad construction that will take us to the Los Angeles Zoo! We encourage you to continue to be a part of the "New Travel Town." The park has a new entrance and the City of Los Angeles has repainted all of the static equipment. The place is looking great. The "zoo railroad" construction continues to provide excitement for the future as we build this unique tourist railroad in the City of Los Angeles. Restoke your fires and rejoin us. We are always in need of more help on our projects. Pass the word to your friends and relatives — the SCSRA is on the move!

Please renew your Associate memberships as soon as possible and do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or comments. Thank you.


Jerry Price, General Superintendent


By Gordon Bachlund, Mechanical Superintendent

From the World of Steam — Chris Rippy has made some tentative progress in lubricating the AT&SF 3025, which, if you haven't seen it lately, has been repainted by City staff. This large Atlantic has a powered trailing truck (booster), which exacerbates the complexity of lubricating for movement.

Motor Pool - The Ford pickup truck continues to lie fallow. Who will nurse it back to life? Battery Servicing - Ah, the neverending story. The hot months of summer took their usual toll and so, on September 25, Jim Vicars topped off the locomotive and caboose batteries, as well as the M.177 batteries.

Buildings, Equipment, and Grounds - Greg Ramsey's uncle, Wes Ramsey, visiting from Oregon on July 24, noticed Jim Fontenot's chainsaw reposing unused and asked what was wrong with it. Jim responded that it needed a new chain. Wes responded by sharpening the old chain and, with the help of nephew Greg, sawed down several pine tree branches that were in danger if falling or, worse yet, being ignited by Yvonne's barbecue. Good work, guys! Thanks!


by Gordon Bachlund

During the past quarter there was significant progress in track rebuilding within the park and earthwork and drainage for the tail track project outside the park, this notwithstanding continuing City construction equipment availability problems. This makes us all justifiably proud of the M/W Department.

But, during the same period, our principal project, M.177, moved very slowly ahead beset by funding problems. To get back on track with M.177 will require about $25,000 to pay for the rebuilding of the main and exciter generators. When these items are installed and the traction motors are serviced, M.177 will be able to move on her own, leaving only cosmetic items to complete her full restoration, and that will really be exciting.

If you have ideas for fund raising, please let us know.

Thanks, Mobil Foundation! — Some time ago, then Prez Greg Ramsey, while visiting the offices of the Mobil Oil Corporation in Torrance, found a pamphlet describing a Mobil Foundation grant program that matched employee or retiree volunteer hours with cash donations. He later mentioned this to Alan Weeks who advised that he had worked for Mobil in the past, and Alan agreed to submit an application. On October 2 we received a check from Mobil for $500, a match for some of Alan's volunteer hours.

So, dear reader, please check with you employer, and your spouse's employer, to see if they have a similar program, and then request the appropriate forms and guidelines.

Also, check on matching gifts programs. Your donation of $50 might result in a matching donation of $50 from your employer, doubling the value of your donation!

Rail Heritage Southwest (RHS) News — The RHS needs people like you to lead and staff its various activities, including docent work and fund raising. If you'd like to get in on the ground floor, contact Nancy Gneier. Do it today!


By Dan Price, Maintenance of Way Foreman, Track

"Often the difference between a successful man and a failure is not one's better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk—and to act." — Maxwell Maltz

The summer of 1999 saw the successful completion of one of the most ambitious track construction projects in Travel Town's history. The goal of this grandiose project was nothing less than to completely rebuild the passenger station area of Track 5 within the 26 days between the August and September operations. Some said it was an unnecessary project, but when many of the ties were so rotted we could pull the spikes with our bare hands we decided it needed to be done, and fast. Many more people expressed doubt that it could be completed in such a short time; however, we had a plan so ludicrous, so insane it just might work.

Starting in late July we began to construct prefabricated panels of track. These 33-foot long sections were completely assembled within the Restoration Yard and would later be moved to the work site. During this phase, and for most of the project, work was done in the evenings on Saturday and weekdays to avoid the summer heat and extend the time available to work. Once the last spike was driven into the fifth panel we were ready. Now we only had to wait until the end of August operations the following Sunday.

Finally the Sunday came; it was the point of no return. Literally within minutes of the last train of the day we began to rip up the old track. Our first priority was to install the first panel as quickly as possible because we needed to detour people around the park while it was dug up. However, within days we had the first panel installed, ballasted, tamped, and the rubber Omni crossing material installed.

Once pedestrian access was restored throughout the park we began to furiously work on the remaining four sections. A trench was dug for the entire length of the station area. Then each panel was then placed on two small MofW tie carts and pushed, with the track liner, to the end of the work area. They were then carefully unloaded and the sections lowered into the trench. The panels were bolted together and the process was repeated. After all the panels were in place we lined, ballasted, and began to tamp. This was the most time consuming process of all. Because we lack the proper tamping equipment we had to use hand-held machines that are painful at best to use. Nevertheless by the Saturday before the start of September operations we were done. That night the first train ran over the completed section to the delight of all present.

While the next quarter does not have such an ambitious project planned we still have a lot of work to do. Another section of track still needs to be added to the track-5 station area before the project can be declared done. Work is also continuing on the tail track drainage system. In the next few weeks concrete for the catch basin and drainage pipes will be poured. Additionally in the next month or so the Department of Water and Power will be pouring concrete to cover their reclaimed water line. Once this work is complete, grading and retaining wall work can begin. Slowly but surely progress is being made. Unfortunately this progress has been severely hampered for the past few months by the lack of a city skiploader for regular use on Saturdays. Thanks to everyone who helped this quarter.

Wig-Wags and Semaphores (Signals) — The south crossing gate mechanism of the pedestrian grade crossing has continued to fail intermittently during operations over the past few months. Several repairs were attempted, but none proved satisfactory. The main problem was that the electric-hydraulic motors were not designed to operate at 80+ cycles a day. As a result it was decided, after the October operations, to replace it with a more durable straight electric system. This work is ongoing and will be complete prior to the November operations.

I would like to extend my thanks to everyone who helped this quarter including Jeffrey Barrow, Andy Evans, Jim Fontenot, and Daniel Price.


By James G. Hoffmann, Operations Superintendent

Well, it's been quite a quarter, and a lot of good things have been happening.

The Rail Heritage Southwest docents are doing a great job on our operating weekends. Nancy Gneier has been in the community recruiting volunteers, and as the RHS grows, the workload will be less and less as more and more folks volunteer and become trained.

If you have a friend or neighbor, young or older, who you think might enjoy working with the visiting public as a car attendant docent or a tour guide docent, please do ask them to contact Nancy Gneier.

For some reason we have been experiencing staffing problems on Sunday afternoons, both operating crew and docents. Several folks who have long commutes to the Museum like to get an early start on the drive home which does contribute to the problem. Several new folks are in the training program so the crunch may ease, but meanwhile, if you are a qualified brakeman, conductor, or engineer, and have not been out for a while, please consider signing up for Sundays, especially Sunday afternoons. Thanks.

Due to the increasing work and school pressure placed on Tom Graham, Alan Weeks was appointed as a Rules Examiner. Alan has really taken the bit into his teeth and has signed off several new volunteers on the Rules, and they are now in training. Please join me in welcoming Charity Lawrence, Tim Riley, Doug Stephens, and Mike Vitale. Alan has also begun the arduous task of cleaning up the Department's records and is working on a Seniority Roster which should be published soon. Thanks, Alan!

Speaking of training, Darlene Sexton and Andy Evans are now serving as brakeman instructors and assisting Instructor Chris Rippy. Both have an excellent foundation in operating department training and will impart that training to our trainees.

Dan Price and Jeff Barrow, who are both 17 years old, are in training at this time. When they qualify as brakemen, they will be able to work that crew position during public operations under the supervision of a qualified conductor over 18 years of age (my apologies to Dan and Jeff for listing them both as being 16 in my last Operating Department Newsletter. A slap on the wrist to me!)

Last but not least, Andy Evans and Nancy Gneier are doing their Train Servicing Engineer (Hostler) training, and Darlene Sexton and Yvonne Ramsey have recently qualified in that position. Pretty soon we will be able to assign an all-female train crew! (It’s happened! See All Women Train Crew. Ed.) Congratulations, all!

Our public operations were held July 3rd and 4th, August 7th and 8th, and September 4th and 5th.

Saturday, July 3488 $ 225.36
Sunday, July 4327 124.40
Saturday, August 7511 162.00
Sunday, August 8805 404.50
Saturday, September 4 509 194.14
Sunday, September 5733 485.00
Total: 3,373 $1,595.40
Total to date:84,946$38,286.81

Operating Days: 130

The July 4 attendance was light, probably due to people planning family backyard activities or visiting relatives out of town. We ran out of tickets in August, and this is reflected in the low donation count on Saturday. Isn't it interesting how when people receive something material, even so much as a souvenir ticket, they seem to feel more inclined to donate? Let this be a lesson to us to make sure we have plenty of tickets on hand!

And now for this quarter’s Honor Roll. Those with recorded times included the following:

Docents — Jeff Barrow, Catherine Blodgett, Nancy Gneier, Harry Krigsman, Charity Lawrence, Patty Miles, Theo Packard, Dan Price, Annette Sevigny, and Edward Temm.

Instruction and Pilots — Gordon Bachlund, Jeff Barrow, Andy Evans, Dan Price, Greg and Yvonne Ramsey, Chris Rippy, Darlene Sexton, and Doug Stephens.

Revenue — Revenue — Gordon Bachlund, Jeff Barrow, Andy Evans, Jim Fontenot, Charles Forsher, Jim Hoffmann, Jerry and Dan Price, Greg and Yvonne Ramsey, Tim Riley, Chris Rippy, Darlene Sexton, Mike Vitale, and Alan Weeks.

My apologies to anyone I missed. Thank you for your support!


By Greg Ramsey, Acquisitions Manager

The Locomotive crane sans boom and hook is still residing at the end of the Alcoa Branch within its temporary fencing. I inspected it on October 10 and there is no sign of vandalism or break-in, and the tarp, though showing its age, is still in place. I have prepared a letter to BNSF formerly requesting permission to move it over the Harbor Sub to our storage location in Lawndale.

I want to remind folks of their responsibilities as to bringing tools or other property into the Park. Everyone must check on and reinventory any property you already have at the Park and complete the appropriate loan or donation forms as soon as possible. Any property found at the Park without documentation becomes property of the SCSRA (or ASRA) and we may dispose or claim it as necessary.

2000 SCSRA/ASRA Calendar of Events

is published quarterly at Los Angeles, California, and is the official publication of
P.O. Box 39727, Griffith Station, Los Angeles, CA 90039-0727
(323) 667-1423 and via the World Wide Web at

A California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, Incorporated January 4, 1984
IRS Tax Exemption No. 95-3947766

Editor: Sue Kientz

Any article or feature published in The Headlight may be reprinted in whole or in part provided that proper credit is given the source.





Associates with inquiries regarding project work schedules
may contact any of the above by leaving a message at (323) 667-1423.

Questions and comments to Sue Kientz, SCSRA Publications Manager