You can see them gather along the railroad spur behind the GSA building on 8th Street, three blocks South of Interstate 40 every Saturday. They start work early in the morning and an ear-piercing railroad whistle announces quitting time late in the afternoon.
They are an eclectic collection of people, mostly men. Some are highly educated, some are a bit rough around the edges, but all of them are dedicated and focused on one task, a task that will, if we’re lucky, see its completion in about five years.
I’m talking about the restoration of the Santa Fe Steam Locomotive Number 2926. Presented to the City of Albuquerque by the Santa Fe Railway in 1956, it is listed on the Historic Register of the City and the State of New Mexico. It rested in nearby Coronado Park for more than 40 years and suffered the indignities of weather and vandals. The New Mexico Steam Locomotive & Railroad Historical Society put the money together and purchased it in 1999.
The 2926, as it is fondly called, was one of the largest steam locomotives of its type ever built and it carried freight between Los Angeles and Chicago from the late 20’s into the 50’s. During its heyday, 36 North American railroads operated over 1100 of these one million pound monsters at speeds topping 100 mph and tackled some of the country’s toughest routes.
At this time, the NM Railroad Historical Society is tackling the restoration of the Tender. The Tender is located directly behind the locomotive and supplies it with fuel and water. Every week they contend with rusty, frozen bolts, decades-old sludge, and missing and broken parts. They patiently spend hours sandblasting, priming and painting. They search for missing parts on e-Bay. Sometimes they swap working parts with other communities that own Steam Locomotives but keep them for their aesthetic value and have no intention of making bringing them back to life.
The New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society are determined to bring the 2926 back to life, however: This is no cosmetic makeover. The problems are daunting and sometimes seem insurmountable because they just can't hop in their car and drive to Home Depot to find replacement parts and many of the people who built the 2926 have gone to that great locomotive repair center in the sky.
But these guys are patient, determined and resourceful. They draw on the generous expertise of local companies and the financial support of the community. In a world divided by so many strongly held beliefs, it is truly gratifying to find something that most of us will find awe-inspiring and worthy of our admiration.
So, if you happen to be riding east-bound on the I-40 frontage road some Saturday between 12th and 6th street, hang a right on 8th street, drive three blocks and find a parking by the old railroad spur. Sign the register, grab a hard hat, ask intelligent questions and try not to get in their way.
I guarantee the steam locomotive bug will bite you in no time and, if you’re really nice, the boys will assign you the prestigious title of “sidewalk supervisor!”
When you have trouble reaching something at home, you pull out your stepstool or ladder.
When you’re trying to restore a million pound steam locomotive, a stepstool or a ladder just won’t do the job.
That’s why the guys who are working on the AT&SF 2926 started building a crane a year ago. The recently completed structure, painted a bright shade of yellow, stands 25’ tall and was assembled from scrap steel found in the East Mountain area of Albuquerque.
This “gantry” weighs 3 tons and was designed by a member of the New Mexico Steam Locomotive Railroad Historical Society. It took four weeks just to put the parts together.
The completion of the gantry could not have come at a better time. The “tender” (the car supplies water and fuel) is reportedly “pretty much done” and the crew is starting to focus in on the locomotive itself.
Although the tender still requires quite a bit of work on its trucks (wheel assembly), brake lines, etc., the work that has been accomplished to date is impressive. Three tons of calcium carbonate (caliche) alone was removed from the 50’ long, 10’ high tender by painstaking, backbreaking hard work.
“It is like a big jungle gym in there,” writes Mike Hartshorne, president of the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society, in a recent newsletter. “The black paint on the outside makes it an oven in the summer sun.
“After a few hours inside you become one with the grit,” he said. “The smaller stuff is worse than talcum powder. It moves through the air like smoke. And then gets in your nose, and your ears and places in your body you did not know you had.”
The gantry should make the job of removing cylinder heads, air pumps, etc. on the locomotive safe and easy.
Well, easier than it would be if you were trying to use a stepstool.
I was told that, overall, "Things are coming along nicely. We just need more money. Money could speed it up."
If you would like to help the New Mexico Steam Locomotive and Railroad Historical Society" realize its dream of getting the AT&SF 2926 restored and "back on track," you can access their web page at the following address: http://www.nmrhs.org
In The Belly
of The Whale
It looks like the belly of a whale: Dark and mysterious with ribs encompassing a voluminous expanse.
It’s not a whale however. It’s the firebox of the old Santa Fe Steam Locomotive 2926 and the smoke box needs a modern day Jonah to give it a good cleaning.
The Steam Locomotive Society is looking for some young people with gumption, fresh muscles, tendons, sinew and cartilage that are willing to climb into, and clean out, what is basically a huge boiler: They’re going to get really dirty, they must be careful not to injure themselves and they must be willing to do the job for free. Clearly, this isn’t a job for just anybody.
The applicant must have a burning love for steam locomotives and become part of a spirited volunteer team focused on getting that rusting monolith in running condition within five years or so.
The people who are working on the 2926 have lots of experience but are a little “long in the tooth,” as they say. There are some things that a young person can do better than older folk. Afterall, they do have the advantage of youth.
The Steam Locomotive Society has gone through some disappointment lately. Some kids from a local high school had volunteered to do the grunt work and were promised extra credit for their labors from the principal. The kids went through safety training and were just about to get down to business when the principle told them that they had gotten a reprieve.
“You can either do the job or take the time off and you won’t be penalized,” the principal said. So the kids decided to blow off working on the 2926, leaving the volunteers in shock.
“What about the Boy Scouts?” I suggested. “They’re always looking for some sort of civic project to help them earn a merit badge or two.”
Nope. Modern day Boy Scouts won’t touch the project: Too much liability.
And so, the dedicated restorers of the 2926 faced this disappointment with a brave face and proceeded with their backbreaking labors. Slowly but surely, the project advances.
With the trucks (the wheels) of the tender removed, work has now begun on removing six layers of paint that the city had applied to it while sitting in a nearby park for 40 years.
Is it just my imagination or is it getting harder to find young people willing to take on some responsibilities? Are there less of them being born? Are they too busy playing video games?
Just the other day I saw a young man with a hard hat eager to start working on the old steam locomotive. He told me he had graduated from his days as a punk rocker, completed the safety-training course and couldn’t wait to be put to work.
But it’s going to take more than just one young person to get that old steam locomotive back on track. If you, or somebody you know has a strong back, some common safety sense and a nostalgic love for steam locomotives, why don’t you tell them about the 2926? It might be a whale of an opportunity for some young Jonah. And it will look great on their resume!
Thank you for visiting Chucksville.