"Is it just like it used to be?" "Is it a lot of work to keep it going?" "Why do you keep it running?"

by Arnie Holden, PRPA member

Visitors to the locomotives ask questions. Some, such as, "How do you steer it?" or "Where do you put the key to start it?" make us laugh. But any question gives us a chance to explain the reality and the powerful history of these engines.

Sometimes the questions get more complex and more formal. Last year while getting the SP&S 700 listed on the National Register of Historic Places, thoughtful questions were raised by two evaluation committees and by the specialists who safeguard the Register. They were interested in what changes had been made to the locomotive (many railroads made extensive modifications to their engines); what was involved in steam locomotive rehabilitation and maintenance; and how important is it (and how unique is it) to keep it running like new.

In essence they wanted to know, like visitors on a cab tour or at the Roundhouse, "Is it just like it used to be?" "Is it a lot of work to keep it going?" "Why do you keep it running?"

Here are the answers I prepared in the listing process for the SP&S 700.

Is it just like it used to be? Is it a lot of work to keep it going?

The SP&S 700 is today very much as it was when manufactured in 1938. All of the features that exemplify the 700's character as "state of the art" were incorporated when it was built. The SP&S Railway found no reason to add to or improve those features during the 700's years of service between 1938 and 1956.

[The SP 4449 is also very much today as it was manufactured in 1941. The OR&N 197 (built over a hundred years ago) is not, for the good reasons that 1) it is only part way through its restoration process, and 2) it was extensively modified by the railroad in 1923.]

All steam locomotives experienced major maintenance and repair throughout their service. A major overhaul was typically completed every five years. The overhaul, disassembly, and rebuild of the boiler, controls, and running gear enabled inspection, replacement of worn parts and painting. Driving wheels received new steel tires.

In 1947 the 700 hit a rockslide east of Pasco and was thrown down the canyonside. It had to be taken apart to get it back up and to the shops in Tacoma. The repair restored the 700 to service in the same condition it was prior to the wreck (except for that nick on the fireman's side of the cowcatcher).

There are indications that during the 700's last years of service (as the railroad anticipated its replacement by Diesel- electric locomotives) some repair and maintenance was deferred. Deferred repairs, combined with the years of exposure to the elements in Oaks Park, meant that significant restoration efforts were needed to return the 700 to high-speed service as a passenger train engine. The following are the repairs, major maintenance, and restoration work done on the 700 over the last 20 years.

1985 1987 (at Oaks Park): Removed asbestos and replaced it with mineral wool and other safer materials; repaired exterior of the boiler; boiler frame and jacketing replaced; wood deck on tender replaced; repaired sheet metal and painted tender; and repaired electrical lines and switches for lights.

1988 1994 (at Brooklyn Roundhouse (as was all further work)): Firebox sidesheet and boiler repaired, sheet metal repaired and locomotive painted; drawbars inspected; cab windows, seats, and woodwork replaced; feedwater pump replaced with same model as original; cylinder valves and main pin bored and milled; brass bushings on driving rods inspected and repaired; mineral wool insulation installed on boiler; superheaters tested and repaired; boiler washed out (5 times) and four Federal Railway Administration (FRA) inspections.

1995 1999: Radius rod replaced (engineer's side); valve cage re-bored; driver equalizer pins and bushings inspected, some replaced; all driver main springs replaced; tender water tank repaired and cleaned; electrical system repaired; and four FRA inspections

2000: Boiler completely rebuilt to comply with the new FRA Form 4 requirements, including: new tubes and flues; ultrasound testing of boiler; sandblasting of boiler, boiler coating; certified boiler work including welding; and removal and replacement of insulation and jacketing.

2001 2002: Rebuilt the power reverser; new valve cages, rings and bull rings in valve cylinders; removed, inspected, and repaired drive pistons and cylinder heads; rebuilt the feedwater pump; all superheater tubes removed, tested, repaired and reinstalled; removed and rebuilt the cylinder cocks and mechanical lubricators; removed three-fourths of firebrick in the firebox and replaced it with new brick and mortar; replaced all wheels and roller bearings on the tender; inspected and machined driving rod connectors; measured and analyzed driving wheels and main suspension; added Multiple-Unit (MU) controls; repaired one of two air pumps; painted locomotive; boiler maintained and washed; various steam valves machined and repacked; draw bars inspected, and inspection by the FRA.

2002 2003: Replaced coldwater line to feedwater pump; rebuilt injector, repainted tender and logo; rebuilt and replaced both airpumps; replaced all lubrication lines.

2004 2005: Machined (in place) to resurface all eight driver wheel tires to original profile; replaced broken suspension spring; cleaned and inspected main suspension, equalizers, and brake rigging; removed lighted number boards (not original) from the top of smokebox.

2006: Certified metallurgical analysis of possible damage from December 2005 derailment (clean bill.) Replace all wheels on pilot truck; inspect and repair pilot truck suspension, attachment, and brake rigging. Inspect and repair airbrake control stand. On the trailing truck, replace broken springs and renew pivots and pins on equalizers.

Steam locomotives are "high maintenance." Most of the work on the 700 after the initial restoration efforts is work that accrued through years of the normal wear and tear of operations and deferred maintenance in service. Repair and replacement parts are like those removed (unless higher quality is specified in blueprints.) Repair technologies are usually those in use in the 1930s and 1940s. In some cases, new and better materials have been used, but they are indiscernible to the untrained eye. All mechanical repairs conform to the constructor's drawings (blueprints.) (Except for the installation of the MU controls to let the 700's engineer operate a following Diesel) none of the work has been an improvement or modification to the locomotive's initial design and construction.

The 700 is very close to its 1938 appearance when it was accepted by the SP&S. In the 1940s, lighted number boards were added atop the smokebox. In its final years of freight service the 700 would have been grimy; with new paint, washing and polishing, the engine now looks like the new engine in the 1938 photograph. For the 1956 "Farewell to Steam" excursion, the engine was cleaned, and the smokebox painted silver. In 1990, the smokebox was again silver, the valve and drive cylinder covers were chromed; and new logos were on the tender. Original logos are now on the tender, cylinder covers are in the original black, number boards are removed, and the smokebox is in its original graphite grey.

Thus, the 700 today is virtually identical in function, appearance, and capability to the locomotive that was built in 1938.

Why do you keep it running?

Of the thousands of large steam passenger engines that ran in the 1940s, few still exist, and even fewer can be operated to pull passenger trains on main-line railroads. To illustrate, the web-site www.steamlocomotive.com reports that of the over 1,100 4-8-4 "Northern" locomotives built for North American railroads, fewer than 50 still exist. And of these, although ten are identified as "operational" only six in the United States have operated in 2005 or 2006*

The remaining large locomotives are in parks and museums; a few are in private ownership. Most are stored outdoors. That previous inventory of work done on the 700 shows the difficulty of bringing a display engine back to life. Cost and effort aside, almost none of them can be revived because of fifty years of corrosion, vandalism, and parts "gone missing."

The 700 and the 4449 are members of a small and unique cohort of large steam locomotives that are complete, in good repair, and capable of the kind of work for which they were designed. The 700 and the 4449 have been inspected and certified by AMTRAK for use with AMTRAK trains. This level of present-day competence is achieved by locomotives unmodified since built in the 1930s and 1940s; it speaks to the strength of their manufacture and the completeness of their design.

Though awesome to look at when cold and still, locomotives were meant to move and do work. In that, they gave off heat and noise, steam and smoke. Little of the historical value of a steam locomotive resides in its existence simply as an object; its value is in action and its sensory impact. This is why the operation of the locomotive, as representative of "the age of steam" is so essential to understanding and conveying its full historic meaning.

The SP&S 700 and the SP 4449, robust survivors, are significant examples of the Nation's achievements in steam and rail engineering, manufacture, and operation.

*The currently operating 4-8-4 locomotives are the AT&SF (Santa Fe) 3751, the Milwaukee Road 261, the Southern Pacific 4449, the Union Pacific 844, the Reading 2100, and the SP&S 700.) To these six, one should add the larger Union Pacific 3985 (a "4-6-6-4".) The two Union Pacific engines are the largest; the SP&S 700 is the third largest [and the SP 4449 the fourth largest] operating steam locomotive in the world.

Announcement of SP&S 700 on National Register of Historic Places listing

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