Maintaining a loco - not as easy as it looks!

Adults and children alike seem to be mesmerized by old trains. Steam engines seem to capture everyone’s fascination. Although the steam engines are lacking in modern technology, the care and maintenance of these iron work horses is far from simple. The maintenance for the train is not just periodic upkeep as cars are today. The engines require a daily maintenance routine. In addition to daily maintenance and inspections the engine must also be serviced monthly, quarterly, yearly, every five years, and after every one thousand seventy-two days of service.

The train operator and other qualified personnel are responsible for checking the operating ability and safety of the steam engine each day before operation. All grease fittings must be greased and all moving parts must be lubricated. Careful attention is given to the gauges and valves regulating the pressure. Items such as the boiler feedwater delivery system, the draw gear, chafing irons, piston rods and fasteners, the running gear, and valve motion rods are inspected and checked for adequate operation. The engine is checked for leaks. The brakes, signal equipment, and lighting are checked to ensure that they are fully operational. If any item on the checklist does not pass, the item must be replaced or repaired before the engine is permitted to be used.

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A thirty-one day service inspection will require the washing of the boiler. All arch tubes, water bar tubes, circulators, and siphons on the steam engine must be inspected, cleaned, and washed. All of the washout and water tube plugs must be removed and inspected during this monthly maintenance. The staybolts must also be tested. If any problems or defects are found, the engine must be repaired before further use is allowed.

The quarterly inspection and maintenance requires the removal and testing of all of the air and steam gauges of the engine. The safety relief valves are tested and adjusted. The steam gauge siphoning pipe must be cleaned, and the tubular water glasses are replaced. The main reservoir and brake cylinder are checked for leaks. Finally, the tender tank interior must be entered and inspected. If any part is found to be weak, leaking, or in poor working condition, then the engine will require repairs to correct the problems.

Once a year, the boiler of the steam engine must have the longitude lap joint seams checked. The interior must be inspected for defects or weak points, and it must undergo a hydrostatic test. The thickness of the arch, water bar tubes, and the dry pipes must be tested. All of the staybolts are checked and tested, and the smoke box must be inspected. The draw bars and pins will be removed and inspected for signs of wear.

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Every five years, the flexible staybolt caps and sleeves are inspected in addition to the yearly test. Worn parts will be replaced or repaired.

At one thousand seventy-two days of service of the steam engine, the boiler flues will be removed, and the interior of the boiler will be cleaned and have a hydrostatic test performed on it. The interior and exterior of the boiler must undergo a thorough inspection. The jacket and lagging are removed and inspected. This maintenance and testing helps to ensure the safety of the boiler of the steam engine.

People of all ages admire the magnificent steam engines of days gone by. Although lacking in modern technology, the steam engine is a complicated machine that requires careful inspection and maintenance to keep it in adequate repair and safe for use. By completing the needed maintenance, steam engines will be in good repair and fascinating people for years to come.


Copyright Dave Dawes 2009