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

Sunday, October 1, 2000

"Moving the Crane" - Part 2, an update from Greg Ramsey

The second half of the crane's move, from LA to Glendale, though half the distance, was on a much more critical section of track with a lot more visible problems if things went wrong. In addition, we were much more limited in our scheduling since we were maxed out at 10 mph versus the track speed of up to 79 mph. Our options were either between 9 PM and 3 AM or after 6 PM on a Sunday. I chose the later.

This move also required a lot more prep at the terminal end. The spur we were going to be using was long out of service. Metrolink had built a fence across the track and the spur itself was heavily overgrown. Mike Vitale and I had picked up some gate panels on Saturday and I arrived at the spur a little after 10 AM with them on the trailer. Since I was the first to arrive, I started loosening Metrolink's fence panels from the posts. We weren't allowed to actually take the fence down until a Metrolink flagman arrived, and he had been rescheduled to 2 PM.

Danny Price and Jeff Barrow arrived soon after I did followed shortly by Tim Riley. Danny and Jeff quickly got started on the weed and brush removal. I finished up what I could do on the fence and then Tim and I turned our attention to installing gates on either end of our parking area. After a quick parts run to Home Depot and a stop at A.O. Richardson to pick up a post hammer, we set about driving posts and installing gates. Once we had the two posts driven and one of the gates halves in place, Tim ran the hammer back to the rental yard and Darlene Sexton, who had come by to help, ran for sandwiches.

By the time Darlene returned, our Metrolink flagman, Greg Metoyer had also arrived. We quickly gulped down our lunches and then after a quick safety brief and rule of the day, we proceeded to disassemble the fencing across our spur under the watchful eye of our flagman. Once the fabric was down and the poles had been cut and spliced back, we put the fabric back up with cable ties so it could be easily removed when the crane arrived.

Once we were complete with that, Danny and Jeff returned to the weed clearance. As Jeff mentioned at the beginning of the day, railroad weeds are the worse kind, and the job was proving that prophecy. It was hard going. While they struggled away, Tim and I finished installing the rear gate and setting the front gates in position.

It was getting past 4 PM and it was time for the train crew to be heading to downtown LA. I had hoped to use my brother again to be my fireman to monitor the machinery, but he had other commitments, so I enlisted Darlene to ride behind me and, with Yvonne as conductor, hitched a ride with Steve Devorkin to 8th Street.

The plan was either to have Steve ride in the hyrail truck, or failing in that, chase us and get as many photographs as the light would allow. We arrived at the crane a little after 5 PM, and after placing a blue flag, began the process of lubricating the machinery inside the turret and greasing and oiling around the running gear.

By 5:50 p.m. we had air up and were ready to roll. I asked Yvonne to call our POC for the Pilot, and he advised us we were not scheduled until 6:30 p.m. No problem, at least we were ready. But we would soon be losing our daylight. About 6:40 p.m. a truck pulls up and an Amtrak employees walks over, introduces himself as Danny Esparza and asks if we are the ones supposed to be moving the crane. We confirm we are, and he says he is supposed to be the Pilot, but doesn't know what is supposed to happen. He says "They just told me to be here, but they didn't say what I was to do". We spend several minutes discussing what we thought was going to happen, what the crane can do (max speed, can it shunt signals, does it have a horn, no radio, etc.) he makes a few phone calls and then says he will be back in a few minutes.

For approximately an hour, we watch the sun set and keep looking for a hyrail truck to back down to us or our Pilot to come back. Finally, around 7:30 p.m., a truck pulls up and out gets our pilot and a 2nd man. They walk over to the crane, throw their grip aboard and immediately call their dispatcher. I listen in to the conversation, and they are copying down their track and time orders for us to move out alone. We won't be escorted by a hyrail this time.

Some time ago, shortly after the crane was donated, someone painted it with the reporting marks SCSX 711. They are bogus numbers, but I never got around to painting on something authorized. But here I listen to them repeating back that SCSX 711 had permission to proceed on track 1 from CP Olympic to Mission tower (I don't remember the exact track and control points, but you get the idea). Somewhere in the future, some railfan archeologist is going to be reviewing some computer record and find a listing for a movement of SCSX 711 and is going to go nuts trying to chase it down. But in the meantime, it satisfies the dispatcher and our pilot. As long as they are happy, I am happy and we prepare to move out. He turns to me and says, so run 8 (a locomotive's maximum throttle setting) on this is 10 mph? I nod and he says then lets make the most of it.

Our Amtrak conductor, Daniel Scott, walks down the track to throw the switches, and upon receiving a highball, we roll down the track and halt on the main while he realigns the switches behind us and climbs aboard.

The pilot leans into the cab window and says the Dispatcher wants us to protect all grade crossings, which means to stop at each crossing until the gates are down and the crossing is clear. I want to tell him that with the clutch and gearing in the crane, that if we stop completely on a grade, we might not get back into 3rd gear, but he steps away and gives me the highball. I feather the clutches and get it rolling in 2nd under the I-10 freeway. A few hundred feet later, I make a rolling shift into 3rd, and push the throttle all the way to "run 8". We're cruising down the Amtrak mainline now, well below track speed, but making definite progress and Piper Tech, with the police heliport and county jail, passing behind us on the left.

I had been cautioned that is it a steady grade all the way from 8th Street to Glendale, but so far the engine and clutches seem to have no problem holding full throttle. I'm starting to calm down and not worrying so much about a breakdown, and actually starting to have fun. As we pass the jail, I'm approaching Mission Tower and its diamonds. I'm only seeing red signals, but our pilot signals me to keep rolling. We are running on "track and time" and won't be governed by the signals. In fact, every signal but one yellow I pass will be at red.

We continue north and approach our first grade crossing. The Amtrak crew reminds me to stop as we approach the crossing, but as I slow and enter the crossing circuit, the gates come down, and with the crossing clear, they tell me to "blow and go". I lean on the horn and sound the 2 longs, a short and long as I glide across the street. With the street empty, I throttle back up and continue north. We are approaching another signal, but this time they tell me stop short of it. The pilot is on the phone with the dispatcher again, getting new authority. 

Soon we are on our way again. The grades are still very manageable and I shift up to 3rd with no problem. We're still on the west side of the river, but shortly we start the turn to the right and enter the bridge approaching the Metrolink yard. I notice that the PV dome "Silver Lariat" is sitting just south the Metrolink building. Not sure why it is here, but I realize I am having a lot more time to sightsee tonight that I did on Friday. As I had backed past Redondo on Friday, I never even saw the ATSF 3751 (SantaFe 4-8-4 steam locomotive) even though we rolled right past it. Knock on sheet metal, things are going real well tonight.

I am concerned about some vibration coming from the drive gear under the deck, but it doesn't seem to be affecting anything or getting worse. It was probably there on Friday too, but the vibration from the track probably masked it. But this track is so smooth all the noise and vibration is coming from the crane.

We continue north towards the UP's diesel shops. Somewhere in here we find our 2nd grade crossing. As before I prepare to stop short, but the gates come down and I get the highball. Later our Amtrak crew tells me that as long as the gates are down and working we can proceed through at less than 15 mph. That's not a problem for the crane.

Darlene has been on the radio since Mission Tower with Brad and Danny and some of the others who are chasing the move by car, but we first see them just after we cross the river. In fact they were so obvious at that point, that our pilot has to ask Yvonne if we knew those people. They pace us as we parallel San Fernando Road, but after the UP shops, we move back to the west towards the river and only catch them at grade crossings. It is too dark for normal photography and I don't see Steve's van, so I assume he has gone home.

I have been down this track many times as an Amtrak passenger, often staring out the cab-car window, but tonight I am seeing lots of landmarks I've never seen before. And I am a lot more aware of the signals and such. It is a completely different view from the engineer's seat, especially with the window up and your hand on the controls.

We approach the Glendale station, and Darlene relays a request from the chasers to blow the horn as we roll through. I ask Mr. Esparza, but he says just to blow for the crossing after it. I'm not sure he understood my request, but decide it isn't worth pursuing.

As we roll through the station, all our chasers are on the platform. And there are a lot of other people that I don't recognize. I don't know if they are chasing us, or were simply hanging around the station, but a number of them were there at the end of our run.

We have two more grade crossings to go, and the last one is at the switch to the spur. As we roll past the Ralph's warehouse, I ask Darlene to call Danny and make sure they are taking down the fence.

As we approach Broadway, we pull to a stop in the middle of the crossing. The layout of the tracks here is that there is a spur off the main where they sometimes park MW equipment, and in fact there is a tamper and regulator parked down the spur tonight. The actual switch to our spur is a few hundred feet down this spur. Mr. Scott gets off and walks the track as we wait in the crossing. He wants to make sure there are no derails or other problems before we move forward. Mr. Esparza and I decide to move forward and clear the crossing, but then continue to wait for Mr. Scott's highball. Finally Jeff Barrow and Mr. Scott walk back to us and say that no one has the key to the other switch. It is an old American SP switch lock. They are asking for bolt cutters. Fortunately, we had already obtained the key and Yvonne hands it to Jeff and we finally start forward to the switch.

The fence and posts are down, but we had cut the posts in such a manner that we could splice them back up and be able to remove it again when we leave the spur. Unfortunately, we had cut two of them a little too high, and they are going to foul the steps. Finally with some quick pipe cutting by Jeff and Danny, we are ready to cross the street. With all the flares, cones and crowd that had developed, it almost looked like a carnival, but everyone stayed back and I slowly crept across the street. The track is downhill here, and I am cycling the brakes on and off to control my speed. Unfortunately, as I get between the building, the brakes are starting to fade and it wasn't stopping as I thought it should. I finally looked behind my head and noticed the air pressure had dropped way low. I had simply used too much air controlling the speed. I knew the air compressor they used when Douglas re-engined the crane was smaller than the original, and in my mind it is too small. We paused and let the air compressor catch up. There are a number of things I want to change when the crane is put in service at the park and among them are a low air warning alarm and relocation of a few gages in front of the operator. I may have to also look at the addition of a 2nd engine-mounted air compressor.

After a few minutes, we went ahead and parked the crane on a skate deep into the spur. After thanking our Amtrak crew profusely, they boarded a Rentzeberger van and we all turned our attention to reassembling the Metrolink fence.

Once it was up, we bid a goodbye to our Flagman, and then finished securing the gates protecting the crane. We were done for the day. As I got into the blazer with Yvonne, I finally looked at my watch. It was around 11 PM. A long but safe and successful day.



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