Sunday, 16 March 2008

State Railroad Museum, Boulder City

The Nevada Department of Cultural Affairs provides support for railway preservation in Nevada. The main Nevada railroad museum is in Carson City. Staff from this museum restored Engine Number 18 'Dayton', a classic American 4-4-0 with diamond stack, which I believe is displayed at the Comstock History Centre in Virginia City. Southern Nevada has its own State Railroad Museum at Boulder City which I was able to visit.

To support the construction of what we now call the Hoover Dam (originally called the Boulder Dam), around 1931 the Union Pacific Railroad built a standard gauge, single line railroad from existing lines near Las Vegas to Boulder City, using 90 pound flat-bottom rail and ties (sleepers) every two feet. The original rails are still in place and the dry desert conditions have allowed the ties to survive as well. The Bureau of Reclamation, responsible for the dam's construction, extended this line to the top of the dam site and then the building contractor for the dam extended the line to the bottom of Black Canyon, where the dam is situated, and to the various worksites. Altogether, 52 miles of track supported the project and, at its peak, 300 cars of materials passed over these lines each day. All traffic on this historic branch ceased some years ago and the track to Las Vegas, whilst retained in place, became severed at the grade crossing (level crossing) in betwenn Railroad Pass Casino and Henderson, when this crossing was concreted over following a series of auto accidents.

Weekend tourist trains now operate from the Museum at Boulder City along about four miles of the currently-isolated track, as far as Railroad Pass Casino. Passengers can only join and leave the train at the the Museum. The weekend operation, and much of the ongoing maintenance and restoration of the artefacts, is enthusiastically supported by volunteers. Following the completion of the new road bridge currently under construction at Hoover Dam and the associated by-pass works intended to remove through traffic from the top of the dam, planned improvements in the road in the vicinity of Railroad Pass Casino may offer the opportunity to re-instate the railroad link to Las Vegas by means of a bridge over the road. It is to be hoped that the authorities recognise the role the re-connected railway could play in enhancing the dam experience for visitors and in the reduction in traffic congestion and carbon footprint which would result.

The star exhibit at the Museum is Union Pacific 844, a diesel electric which has been fully restored and looks very smart in full Union Pacific livery. On the day of my visit, she was in the shop for water pump repairs and number 1000 was running the passenger operation.

In 1938, the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors built two diesel-electric locomotive prototypes which toured the country, seeking to demonstrate to the railways the advantages of diesel-electric traction. One of these locomotives was used as a switcher by the Union Pacific, latterly carrying black livery. It is now preserved by the Museum as Number 1000, in the attractive blue livery adopted by the tourist train operation called the 'Nevada Southern Railway'. The power-plant is a 1,000 horse power 2-stroke compression-ignition (diesel) engine (type 567V, I believe) coupled to a 600 volt d.c. generator. The engine is water-cooled and a large radiator at the front is provided with two fans. Air is provided by a 3-pump reciprocating compressor in front of the engine with pumps set at 9, 12 and 3 o'clock, relative to the driving shaft. Two pumps provide first-stage low-pressure air and the third pump delivers second-stage high-pressure air for the braking systems and auxiiaries. Driving controls are arranged in an early form of the 'classic' American configuration of power interlock switch, direction selector and power controller. Engine idle is around 150 r.p.m. and notch 6 gives around (?) r.p.m. The train air brake application valve is provided with a brake force selector settable to 'PASSENGER', 'FREIGHT' or 'OFF'. Below the train brake valve, there is a 'straight air' locomotive brake application valve. Small levers are provided for air sanding and the the bell used in station areas. A cord from the roof controls the air horn.

Pictures around the Museum
Pictures of loco 1000