Restoration Notes: A Day in the Life of a Railway Museum.

Friday, September 29, 2000

"Moving the Crane" - Part 1, an update from Greg Ramsey

Since about last April, the spur in Hawthorne where we have been storing our crane has been on a deathwatch. Costco was building a new store nearer Rosecrans Blvd., and then planned to redevelop the property where the old one sat, through whose parking lot the Hawthorne Spur passed. Since Summerville Plywood, our landlord since about November 1999, was the only customer, there wasn't enough traffic to sustain the spur and BNSF agreed to sell it.

Requests for us to move the crane became much more serious as the summer came, and we began to reexamine some of the other options we had for on-track parking or direct trucking of the crane. We finally settled on the lead of the spur that led to the Levitz furniture store just across the river from the Gene Autry Museum.

BNSF was happy to let us make the necessary move on the Harbor Sub again, as long as we had a place to put it off their track once we reached Redondo. After a lot of phone calls, emails and a few letters, Metrolink also agreed to let us operate over their tracks between LA and Glendale provided we did it at night or on a Sunday.

All that was left was someplace to layover between moves. The 8th Street yard or the Redondo Roundhouse seemed the logical candidates. Bryan Reese offered to talk to his superiors at Amtrak and with a few follow-up emails from me, all the permissions were received.

After another round of phone calls and emails and some last minute coordination about parking by Bryan, the schedules were set to move from Hawthorne to LA on the morning of the September 29th, and then from LA to Glendale on the evening of October 1st.

We were scheduled to meet with Mr. Parnel, the BNSF track supervisor at 9:00 a.m., but he called me as I was on the way to say we would not be starting until 10:30 a.m. which was fine. I was running a little late and my brother, Mike Ramsey, who was going to be my fireman/mechanic, was also slow starting and I still wasn't sure who was going to show to be my conductor.

I parked the Blazer in the Costco parking lot adjacent to the track and then walked back down the ROW to inspect the track for any new significant defects and to clear any debris from the rail. I found my brother parked in his truck in the Best Buy lot, about halfway back. He joined me and we walked the rest of the way. We soon had the crane started, and as it built air, we oiled around and inspected.

Once air was up, we took down our blue flag, rolled off the skate and out the gate. Closing the gate behind us, we continued down the spur to stop just short of the derail protecting the mainline from us. Costco was not yet open, but we still had to negotiate a number of vehicles at the grade crossing, including one that insisted in stopping right under the descending gate.

Once at the end of track, we loaded up the crane with tools, a fire extinguisher, flagging kit and our FRED. And then we waited. My wife, Yvonne, called me on the cellphone to tell me that Mike Vitale was on his way to be my conductor. Now we had a full crew and just had to wait for our pilot.

Steve Devorkin also soon arrived on scene. I had asked him to chase the train and be our "official" photographer. I specifically wanted some images of the crane going over some of the bridges and especially the Rosecrans overpass. He hung around until Mr. Parnel showed up, and then he and his assistant drove over to get in position for the first shots.

Leon Parnel and his assistant, Mr. Brooks, rolled up the main and backed down into the siding ahead of us about 10:40 a.m. He told us that we had to wait for two freights to go past and then we would be on our way. Our top speed on the crane with a tailwind is about 10 mph. The max speed on the sub is 20 mph with a number of slow sections that drop it to 15 or 10 mph, but even at that, we didn't want to have any trains being held up because of us. As promised the trains cleared past us by about 11:00 a.m. and we prepared to pull out.

Our crane is strictly mechanical drive with air operated clutches. It takes a fair amount of finesse to get it rolling, especially in 2nd gear. As a consequence, it is easy to stall when first starting, especially when the clutches are cold. And that is of course, what I did. Normally not a big deal, but the crane had been idling for the better part of 2 hours with the headlights on. And of course, the engine wouldn't crank. I alerted Mr. Parnel to our problem and he decided to let another train go by. At the same time, I sent my brother running back to get his diesel pickup. In the meantime, Mike Vitale brought his small car over next to the crane and got his jumper cables. We rigged them up (fortunately, the crane is 12v) and after a few minutes charging, started it back up.

The other train (the Watson Switcher I think) rumbled past and after recovering both Mikes, we followed the hyrail out onto the main. Immediately after the switch, the line starts a steep climb to reach the Rosecrans overpass. Because we were starting out on the incline, we had to climb the hill all the way in first gear. That meant a whopping 1-mph at max throttle and it must have taken us 15-20 minutes just to climb that first hill. I had cautioned Mr. Parnel that would be the case, but looking at that truck a half-mile or more ahead of us, just waiting, really amplified just how slow we were.

Finally we crested the hill and off to our right were our photographers snapping away. Gravity was in our favor now, and I started the process of up-shifting, and soon we were roaring downhill. As we hit the bottom of the grade, we entered a slow turn to the right and I started blowing the horn for the Green line station and the first of several dozen grade crossings. Here the grade was fairly level for the next few miles except for a few more street overpasses. I lugged up the first one in 3rd gear, but then realized that it was better all around if I downshifted to 2nd and did that for all the rest.

Every now and then I would look out the cab window and see Steve hanging out his yellow van's window with a big grin under his camera. I even took a few pictures from inside, but keeping on top of grade crossings prevented me from taking many.

We paralleled Aviation Blvd. for several miles and up near LA Airport, we had to pass through our first construction area. MW forces had closed a grade crossing and had some track panels staged, ready to replace the track and crossing surface. Just north of the airport, we started another turn to the right and suddenly we were on the bridge over the San Diego Freeway. I'm not sure why, but this seemed like a major milestone. Perhaps it was significant because we were no longer in the Southbay and were really moving into LA.

We were following West Florence Ave. now and we snaked right and left as we started a long slow grade through Inglewood and past the Inglewood Park Cemetery. Then a turn to the right and we were now parallel to Slauson Ave. There were lots of grade crossings through here, and a lot of them blind. Mr. Parnel had cautioned me about this area and wanted to make sure I leaned on the horn for these. The problem was that the hyrail would activate the signals and then would clear the street as I entered the circuit. The concern was that people would get impatient waiting for the gates to raise and would go around and then get tagged by me as I followed. Fortunately we only had one truck attempt to go around a gate as he left a parking lot, but a strong and early blast on the horn caused him to quickly back up and wait.

Things were running well except I could smell the clutch getting warm. It was apparently slipping and needed adjustment, but this was not the time or place to go to work. It would have to last. Finally we passed under the Harbor freeway and approached the Alameda Corridor project. MW crews had built a shoofly around the excavation for depressed tracks and we had to get clearance from a flagman to go through.

The tracks then made another turn to the left and headed north and our destination, with the skyline of downtown LA visible in the haze, was just ahead. Unfortunately, now is when our reverse clutch (even though the cranes turret was facing the direction of travel, the crane had technically been backing all this way) decided it had had enough.

We called Mr. Parnel and asked him where we could stop to cool off the clutch and he said a half-mile, but the clutch wasn't having any of that and we rolled to a stop. Mike Ramsey started pouring water over the outside of the clutch to try and get it cooled and contracted, and by the time the hyrail had backed back down to us, we were basically ready to roll again. So off again we went and within a half-mile we were stopped just shy of Redondo Junction, over 16 miles from where we started, while the hyrail got off the track and we got clearance from the dispatcher to proceed. After about 15 minutes and a Pacific Surfliner, and with Mr. Parnel now riding with us, we proceeded west and stopped on the bridge over the LA River. The switch behind us was thrown, and then we backed around into the Amtrak yard right next to the new flyover being built for the San Diego bound trains.

As we came next to the site of the old Redondo Roundhouse, we were met by several Amtrak employees including Bryan Reese, who then climbed aboard and was our pilot into the 8th street yard. We moved north another half mile and then switched off the main and moved south into a short pocket track. We had made it. But our backing maneuver had another advantage. We were now pointed so the crane would now be traveling forward and using the other clutch. All that was left was to rotate the turret so that the operator would be facing forward. And here it would sit until our next move on Sunday.



Charley AtkinsE-mail questions and comments to SCSRA Dispatcher
Copyright 2000. The Southern California Scenic Railway Association Inc.