Thursday, November 29, 2007

Part 3: The Chippewa Creek's Cross Country Adventure - Home Again in PRR Territory After 25 Years

by Bob Andrews & George Payne

Photo 6:
Kansas City, Missouri
Union Station
Monday, October 1, 2007
Photo by Bob Andrews

Our last physical inspection of the car was last night in La Junta, Colorado, having traveled some 347 miles and 8 hours east from Albuquerque. During our inspection we noticed that some of the car’s brakeshoes were beginning to override. We noted the condition and discussed the uneven and/or accelerated brakeshoe wear that could result. We agreed to check the car again at our next timed stop in Kansas City. Again, we listened to the railroad radio throughout the night. Good news, “NO DEFECTS”.

It’s early Monday morning, and we’ve covered an additional 548 miles and 11 hours since La Junta. The news wasn’t good, we were seeing accelerated brakeshoe wear. While the condition was not unsafe, we knew we would have to change brakeshoes and adjust the brake rigging before we could leave on the Capitol Limited on Tuesday afternoon. And as George is fond of saying, “there’s no place better to work on a passenger car than a car shop. Lucky for us there was just such a shop at Amtrak 14th Street, Chicago. The problem was going to be finding cast iron brakeshoes of the right size in Chicago, knowing that Amtrak would not have them in stock. So, with 437 miles and 8 hours between the Chippewa Creek and Chicago, we began to work our cell phones, and Bob’s laptop computer with the handy Sprint wireless connection, to find the quantity of brakeshoes we would need and make arrangements for the Chippewa Creek to make a cameo appearance at Amtrak’s 14th street shop, the same place the PRS found and purchased her, some 35 years ago. For those of you wondering why we didn’t stock extra brakeshoes – we left Los Angeles with new brakeshoes all the way around, and we hadn’t anticipated overriding brakeshoes……. Additionally, we intended to replace the vintage cast iron shoes with composition shoes as part of the renovation and 40-year truck rebuild. However, regardless of our good intentions, we now had a challenge before us.

Bob has a Fire Chief colleague who is fond of saying, “make your friends before you need them”. That saying was no more appropriate than now. Our first call was to Becky Johnson with Amtrak Maintenance in Chicago to let her know we needed to get into the shop once we arrived in Chicago at about 3:20 p.m. We exchanged information and she provided us with the names and numbers of the appropriate managers at the shop. We found the General Superintendant to be extremely cooperative and understanding who told us that General Foreman Jim Lewis would be expecting us. Becky advised that the shop could charge expenses to our existing account (very important to have). For those of you that know Becky, she is wonderful to work with. Fortunately for her (unfortunately for us) Becky is due to retire at the end of 2007. We can only hope that her replacement will be as cooperative and competent as she was.

Meanwhile, George was working the “alliance” to find cast iron brake shoes. His first call was to our partner Brad Black, who suggested we reach out to RPCA member Nick Kallas. George spoke to Nick and explained our predicament. For those of you that know Nick, you know he is simply a class act. Nick embodies the RPCA spirit of “helping one another”. At the next station stop, we measure the breakshoes to make sure the replacement brakeshoes will match the Creek’s 36-inch wheel diameter, and that they are the correct length. We phone this latest information to Nick. After a couple of hours, Nick called back and said, “I have what you need”. Bob commented, “Since I joined the RPCA six years ago, I never cease to be amazed at how impressive and helpful RPCA members are. The value you get from your membership dues is just incredible”.

George, always cautious, suggested that we also obtain a spare brakehead, in the event a brakeshoe split and a breakhead wound up in contact with a wheel. Bob called Dan Pluta at the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and asked him if he had an extra breakhead. Dan replied that he was looking at a pallet of suitable breakheads. What luck, we thought! Then Dan reminded us that they were ours. Dan is currently performing a PC-2 rebuild on the trucks from our other PRR car, the Catalpa Falls, and the pallet of breakheads were from the Falls, and on the pallet awaiting the reassembly of the trucks. We agreed that Dan needed to FedEx a breakhead to our hotel in Chicago for early morning delivery, just in case we needed one. If at all possible, we were going to leave tomorrow on the Capitol Limited – as originally scheduled.

One final phone call with Nick Kallas where it is agreed that we will rent a car at Union Station and drive to Nick’s place on the Wisconsin border to fetch the brakeshoes.

So, with our repair and parts arranged, we rode the rest of the way to Chicago and listened to the railroad radio – “NO DEFECTS”. Most excellent.

We arrived Chicago Union Station at 3:15 p.m. – 5 minutes early. Good job, Amtrak.

Once in Union Station, Bob makes sure that all of our stuff is out of the Amtrak Family Bedroom and onto the Chippewa Creek. George visits with the Amtrak brakeman to see if he knows of our need to go to the shop. He advises that he has already been briefed. We come up with a quick plan. George will ride the Creek into the yard as Bob hotfoots it into the station to pick up the rental car. George then gives Bob very detailed directions, “You get to the yard from Roosevelt Road…..”.

Bob, as a volunteer cop, used his well-honed investigative skills to locate the consist – while still underway, and actually beat George into the yard and just in time to see the Chippewa Creek go through the car washer. Her Rustoluem Red Primer (Fuehring Red) never looked better! Dismounting the now “squeaky-clean” Creek, George was off to meet with the Amtrak shop folks.

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