I’ve Been Working on the Railroad …

All my live long days For a couple of weekends

I’ve been working on the railroad

Just to pass the time away Beause I thought it would be interesting & fun

A couple weeks ago I sent an e-mail to the local railroad museum suggesting that I was interested in volunteering and wasn’t averse to getting dirty & working hard. The first response was from the head of the diesel locomotive shop, where getting dirty and working hard goes with the territory.

The museum’s diesel shop is working to get a couple of old diesel-electric locomotives ready for the summer rail trips on the tourist railroad that’s associated with the museum.

I’m a total novice when it comes to diesel engines and railroads, but in the first two days at the museum, I’ve helped swap out a brake line, capped off a busted water line for the cab heater, helped with an oil change and routine maintenance on one of the locomotives.

A couple of the volunteers are locomotive mechanics in their day job. They keep unqualified street urchins like me from doing the wrong thing.

Minnesota Transportation Museum
Jackson Street Roundhouse
On the left is an EMD GP-7, Numbered 559.

The museum is in the old Jackson Street Roundhouse, built in 1907 as a steam engine maintenance shop for the Great Northern Railroad. About a third of the roundhouse is dedicated to the public museum. The rest is divided between the diesel shop, a rail car shop, and a machine shop.

Everything at the Jackson Street Roundhouse is huge. The locomotive I worked on (an EMD GP-7) weighs 250,000lbs & has a 16-cylinder 2-stroke diesel engine. Each cylinder has 567 cubic inches (9 liters) displacement – more displacement than an entire big-block V-8 automobile engine. It’s functionally identical to an old 2-stroke Detroit Diesel truck engine, but much larger – it weighs roughly 30,000lbs. An oil change takes 200 gallons of oil. Built in 1951, it’s a mere 72 years young. I was told that it’s their newest locomotive.

I wasn’t there very long before I noticed that one of the parts for the EMD locomotive engines was very familiar looking.

Back in 1984 I worked as a CNC machinist at a job shop, and one of the parts that we machined was a ‘valve bridge’ for diesel engines – a device that opens two valves with a single rocker arm and cam lobe. At the time I didn’t know for whom. Now though, I’m quite certain the ones I machined were for EMD locomotive engines. I machined a thousand of those things before I left that job.

So far, my ‘work hard and get dirty’ expectation has been well met.






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