Thursday, July 17, 2014

War Stories - Episode 21: "I want to make a locomovis"

Some war stories are old.  Some go all the way back to age two.

Legend has it, I stated my first career ambition at age two. "I want to make a locomovis!", I announced.  Over the next couple decades, I learned to say "locomotive", tried to catch my American Flyer trains on fire by walking away from a derailment with the power on, painted my American Flyer trains with Rustoleum and a brush, changed career ambition to "Astronaut" (didn't we all?), changed it again to "Mechanical Engineer", got a degree in Mechanical Engineering and went to work for Conrail.  In that order.

I got to work with locomotives at Conrail, but never made one.

Career ambition: Unfulfilled!

That was until Conrail got into outsourcing.

Why did Conrail start outsourcing?  Because they had a shop capable of supporting a 5000 locomotive fleet and only had a fleet of 2000 locomotives.

Why did Conrail have a shop so large?  Because in the mid-1950s, the PRR fleet was that large.  The Industrial Engineering Dept at Altoona came up with a plan to modernize the shop to support that fleet.  The recession of 1958 hit.  The plans got filed away.  In 1976, Conrail had a fleet that large.  The 20 year old plans came out of the file cabinet, dusted off, and implemented.

By the time the modernization was done, the fleet had shrunk to 2000 locomotives.

Big, modern shop + high overhead + company desperate for income = outsourcing!

Conrail set to work marketing it's capabilities.  NJT came knocking.  They had some GP40Ps that were getting long in the tooth and needed rebuilding.  Not only were they old, they had some serious problems.  They originally had steam generators in the end of the long hood.  The locomotives were about 3 feet longer than a generic GP40, had partitioned "fuel" tank for water and fuel and weighed in at a whopping 294,000 pounds!  When NJT shops took out the steam generator and put in an HEP engine generator set, things got worse.  The HEP weighed more than the steam generator and threw the weight balance off.  They also modified the fuel tank so that the whole of it could hold fuel - which was bad since the inside of the "water" portion of the tank was badly corroded and prone to leaks.  The first one into Juniata weighed an astounding 305,000 lbs!

NJT wanted to make this a 100 mph locomotive and there was no way to get that certified by Amtrak unless the locomotive went on a serious diet.

There was one change we suggested that they rejected.  We wanted to partition off the HEP compartment so we could restore the mild carbody pressurization that keeps dirt out of the engine compartment.  The HEP cooling fan intake comes through louvres in the carbody doors at the rear and creates a slightly negative pressure in the carbody.

In the end, we had new, 2000 gallon fuel tanks built, reconstructed the end of the long hood to accomodate a new, functional anticlimber and improved mounting for the HEP skid, cooling and exhaust and installed air start with an air reservoir to support it.  Even with the new fuel tank scootched all the way forward, we still had to add a few thousand pounds of steel in under the front platform to get the weight balance right.  Another change was modifying the brake rigging to single shoe, but leaving both brake cylinders and the full-size elliptical springs.

The result was a locomotive weighing in at roughly 287,000#.   Subsequent testing by NJT and Amtrak certified the locomotive for 90 mph running, but Amtrak wouldn't budge on testing for higher speeds because 287,000# locomotive is still a significantly heavy beast.

Rebuilt ex-CNJ GP40P as GP40PH-2

Still, NJT was pleased and this set the stage for more insourcing.

We knew that NJT and others were hunting for more power.  We had a small pile of stored locomotives we'd likely never need again.  U23Bs, GP30, 35, and 40s.  Could we use these to make what they needed?

We started kicking around ideas such as trying to put an HEP gear box on a U23B - which pretty much made everyone queasy for different reasons.  Being able to sell a GE to roads that were either all EMD or becoming all EMD, trying to get good commuter performance out of a slow loading, four cycle diesel, and the unique engineering challenges with likely unforseen consequences from putting HEP on a U23B.

We finally settled on stretching a GP40 four feet just ahead of the rear truck and installing an HEP engine/gen set. It turned out that splicing in an additonal four feet just forward of the rear truck center bearing was fairly easy to do.  A lot of weld, for sure, but nothing tricky.

We settled on four feet for the extension because it allowed us to keep the standard radiator compartment for a GP40 with the 6 row cores instead of having to build a new radiator cab to accomodate 8 row cores and still have room for HEP engine/gen set cooling.  It also kept the overall weight at at reasonable level and allowed the fuel tank to be mounted right in the middle of the platform, which provided for good weight balance even as the fuel was consumed.

The extra four feet between truck centers was also helpful in raising the maximum speed before hunting became an issue - a problem area for most four axle locomotives.

Construction started on a demonstrator, but before we had it completed, NJT surprised us with a specification for creating some GP40PH-2s that would be nearly identical to their recently rebuilt GP40Ps.  Trying to sell them on the virtues of our design led nowhere, so we would up doing exactly as they specified.  I guess we were TOO successful with those GP40Ps.  In fact, they had MK build some clones as well.

The MK clones and the Juniata GP40PH-2Bs have been successful locomotives, running off miles all over NJ.  They are now into their third decade of work.

GP40PH-2B in original "disco stripes" scheme rolls by ancient stone MP 16 in Berlin NJ on it's way from Atlantic City to Philadelphia.

GP40PH-2B in new paint scoots by restored 1854 Long-a-Coming train station.
The NJT work turned out well enough that Juniata Outsourcing kept a steady stream of work coming into the shop. Everything from supplying rebuilt components to paint work to patching up and selling surplus locomotives.  It kept the shop busy and continues on to this day under Norfolk Southern.

That 4 foot stretched demonstrator was completed in the lull after the NJT order and later sold to MetroNorth by Conrail's insourcing sales staff.  It's generally used on the MNRR's West of the Hudson service to Port Jervis operated by NJT.
Here it is in action.  Looks good to me!
Career ambition fulfilled?  Technically, I did not build a locomotive or even design one.  But, I did have a big part in helping "kitbash" something original and successful.  MNRR 4190 is the epitome of that effort in my opinion. I'm checking "make a locomovis" off my career ambition list!


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