Volunteering — Blog Post #16

Volunteering, Niles Canyon Railway
Posted: May 28, 2017 at 4:00 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

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May 06, 2017

It was the first Saturday of the month, so it must have been time to add to the railway again. We continued building track, but this time, we didn’t have any more 136lb rail track panels. We had to build the track from pieces. This required moving and positioning all the ties and tie plates and then bringing pieces of rail to be spiked in place.

Getting ties in place. Photo by Brian Hitchcock

After we go out to the end of track, the Burro crane refused to keep running. After some investigating and after a long while, things were better. There was air in the fuel line and once that air was forced out, we had an operational crane again.

This day’s track building provided yet another example of why building a railway is so complicated. We had pieces of 136lb rail neatly stacked up a ways west of the end of track. No problem you say, just get the Burro crane and get on with it. Well, not so fast. The plan was to move six pieces of rail from where they were stacked to where we needed them using the two new yellow high capacity small MOW push carts. It would take too long to move them one at a time. A fine plan, until you look at the end of track. The Burro crane grips the middle of the section of rail to lift it. To do this without having the end of the rail hit the cab of the crane, the boom has to be lowered enough that the crane can’t rotate all the way around due to the trees along the right of way. The burro crane pulled the flat cars loaded with rail to the end of track, and could lift the rail off the flat cars, but there wasn’t room to lift and rotate. Time for a new plan. After the loaded flat cars were pulled to the end of track, the Burro lifted the rails off the flat cars and set them down along the track. Then the crane moved west past these rail sections, raised the boom to clear the trees and rotate to face the end of track. Now we could lift the rail section from alongside the track, and carry it to where we needed it. The Rubik’s Cube of MOW had been solved!

Moving rails off the flat cars, step 1. Photo by Brian Hitchcock

Moving rails to end of track, step 2. Photo by Brian Hitchcock

One of my jobs was to get the ties ready for spiking. We are using used ties, which means the spikes had been removed and this leaves holes. When we spike rails to these ties, we will want to have spikes in nearly the same places. The spikes won’t hold very well if they are driven into existing holes. To fix this, we have what are called tie plugs. These are pieces of wood shaped just right to fill up the hole left behind when a spike is pulled out of a tie. Each used tie may need up to eight tie plugs and each plug had to be pounded into place.

Installing tie plugs was my job. Photo by Brian Hitchcock

Once we had ties, tie plates and rails all in the right place, it was time to spike everything together. You really can’t understand what is involved until you have done it. Spiking rail is not for the faint of heart. My job was to use a pry bar to hold the tie up against the base of the rail while others drove the spikes.

When it comes to MOW tasks, there really isn’t an ‘app for that’. To build track or clear air from the fuel line, you need a team that can work together, a team that can deal with whatever comes up.

As always, the more people we have, the more challenges we can overcome. Please join us, the few, the proud, the dirty on the first Saturday of each month.

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