Thursday, February 27, 2014

War stories - Episode 8: "White hot trouble?"

Having survived our trainee rotation to Hollidaysburg Car Shop in the summer of 1978, we moved on to the Juniata Locomotive Shop in August.  Part of our rotation to there was spending a few days in the Altoona Car Shop.  Wait. What?  Another car shop?  What was all that time in Hollidaysburg about?

At the very south end of the Juniata shop complex was the Altoona car shop.  They did specialty repairs there.  In fact, Conrail housed the K4s there during it's brief return to excursion service.
cavernous Altoona Car Shop in background

The 1361 in place to be fired up for a weekend excursion

Juniata Shops K4s May 1918

The work they did there was specialty work.  For example, it was where they kept and maintained the ex-PRR monster heavy duty flat car, the "Queen Mary".

A lot of basic car repair is the same everywhere you go.  This was true of Altoona Car Shop.  They did all the basic stuff.  They just didn't have a production line.  The car held a spot in the shop and the work came to the car.

There was one major difference.  While Hollidaysburg had begun using Huck bolts in place of rivets, Altoona still used hot rivets.  I was unfamiliar with hot rivets. We didn't do any hot riveting in our manufacturing methods class in college.  I was particularly unfamiliar with how the Altoona car shop went about doing the riveting. 

The basic science behind hot riveting is simple. A rivet is a chunk of steel with a head on one end and a blank shaft on the other.  You heat the rivet up until it glows red, put it in place, then hammer the blank end down into a head.  You can do this by hand, but usually an air hammer is used to form the new head on the blank end.  Then the rivet cools and shrinks slightly putting the shaft in tension and making a very tight joint.

That's what they did at Altoona.  But, here's the amazing thing.  They had their soaking oven in one spot and then transported the hot rivets to the spot they needed them.  Okay.  That doesn't sound very amazing.

How about this?  They didn't carry them to the spot.  They threw them.  These two guys, who to me seemed about half past retirement age, did the throwing.  One guy would grab the hot rivet out of the oven with some four foot long tongs.  The other guy stood about 60 feet away holding a tin cup.  Literally.  A tin cup - with a handle on it - an ugly version of what you see Civil War reenactors tote around.  The guy with the tongs launched an underhand lob, letting go of the rivet with the tongs at just the right point.  The rivet sailed through the air.  The guy with the tin cup staggered around underneath it like a drunk centerfielder.  And the rivet the cup!  Sometimes.  Sometimes it would miss and roll around on the floor.  Sometime, it would hit the lip of the cup and bounce God-knows-where.

Now, we were all dressed appropriately.  Long pants, jacket, hard hat, googles, steel toed boots, etc, but the thought of a 1500 degree rivet bouncing off in some direction of it's own choosing was a bit hard to comprehend.  This was just how they did it.  Must have been doing it their whole career.  Must have learned it from carmen from the previous epoch.

I could not think of a more dangerous way to deliver white hot rivets (actually, they were only red hot) unless it involved hungry Bengal tigers.

Amazing.  And I thought I was going to be bored!

1 comment:

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