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918D @ Castro Point
918 At Castro Point

The following pages detail the work performed while 918 was
at Castro Point (just north of Richmond). At the time that 918 was
delivered to Castro Point, it did not run. It was missing traction motors
and was in need of a total electrical rewiring. Howard Wise was in charge
of this phase of the project and describes (with his own photos)
each stage of the following restoration points...
page one
page two
-Fuel Tank
-Dynamic brake removal
-Traction motors
-Fuel tank

The Crew (3/85)
Back Row:
Jim Ley - Shannon Smith - Richard Hulbert - (unknown girl) - U.P. Joe
Passentino - (unknown guy sitting on engine) - John Follansbee - Randy Leber.
Front Row:
Dan Furtado - Howard Wise - Scott Sims - Dave McLain.

The Story
When the 918 was donated to the PLA, an official from the WP said that we were nuts to take it as it was junk.  After having a first look inside it, I agreed.  At the time, I was working on the Pickering Shay 7 but the thought of that burned up hulk kept nagging at me so one Saturday, I took a good look inside.  I found that under all the grease and smoke and crud was still the heart of a warrior.  So, after talking to our general manager, I decided to take it on as a project. 

918 awaits her fait next to U-30-B 3060 in Stockton in 1981.
WP photo

First and foremost amoung the problems, was the burned up electrical cabinet.  The back wall of the cab in a F-unit is about 30" thick and is the cabinet where most of the electrical system lives.  The interior of the cabinet was pretty crispy and I set out to find out what happened.  After some investigation, I decided that the fire was started by a combination of events and was initiated in the bottom of the cabinet, below the power contactors.  In a F-unit, air is drawn into the main generator cooling fan from within the carbody.  Carbody air has a fine mist of oil in it and this oil was pumped into the generator.  There is a passage from the generator to the electrical cabinet which is designed to pass some pressurized air into the electrical cabinet.  The theory here is that the higher pressure inside the cabinet will keep dirt out.  But, the pressurized air contained that carbody oil and it accumulated on the floor of the cabinet where the passage entered the cabinet.  Several main generator cables are laying on the floor in this area and this oil was soaked up by the fabric covered wire.  Eventually, the insulation deteriorated to the point where an electrical arc was able to jump from the cable to the floor plate.  In fact, the arc was of sufficient intensity to blow a hole in the floor at this point and totally destroy the high voltage cabling in the area.  The fire was thus started and worked its way through the fabric insulation and anything else flammable.  After a good look at the cabinet, I found that most of the damage consisted of wire so brittle that the insulation would fall off and very dirty relays.  Surprisingly few parts were actually destroyed but everything in there was dirty, cruddy, and smelled like smoke.

Click to enlarge
Electrical cabinet under restoration.
Howard Wise photo

The first order of business was to remove everything from the cabinet.  Most relays and such are mounted on panels with wiring running between them.  Some parts like the 6 power contactors are mounted directly to the cabinet frame.  (6 is not a typo, there are 4 parallel and 2 series contactors.)  The reverser and cam switch (dynamic brake control) were also removed.  Once the cabinet was stripped and the bottom vacuumed out, the extent of the damage to the cabling could be seen.  At least 3 of the 16 traction motor cables were beyond repair and would have to be replaced.  About this time, a friend named Dave McLain told me about a friend of his who had just purchased a F-unit body for use as an office.  Dave contacted his friend and found that this body still had all the motor cable intact.  And, it was ours for a trip to Oroville and a day's work.  A few other large cables had to be made but the S.P. in Sacramento helped out with this job.  This cable, by the way, is 1325 strands of number 24 wire and while quite large in diameter is very flexible.  But, in the F-unit, the cables to the rear motors run to the rear tucked up into the two I-beams that form the frame of the carbody.  In order to get at the cables, it was necessary to remove everything under the locomotive, like the battery boxes, air tanks and fuel tank.  Two of the WP's F7's were rebuilt by Morrison-Knudsen and during the rebuild, the cables were routed outside the frame members and were thus much easier to get at.  At this time, the old fabric insulated cable was replace with a more modern  neoprene insulated variety.  The 918 was not one of these rebuilds and still retained its old cable.  The cable received as a donation was the newer variety, having come from a F9.

The 918 was equiped with dynamic brakes which had been disabled sometime in the past.  Unfortunately, the brake grids (resistors) were pecular to the F-unit and very hard to get.  In the 918, the grid which powers the brake cooling fan had failed in such a way that the fan over revved and exploded.  A search for grids and a fan was fruitless so I decided to forget the brake wiring.  The 918 is still equipped with the cam switch but this is only because the cable received was cut for a dynamic locomotive.  If some nut came along who really wanted to reinstall the dynamic brakes, it could be done, but not by me.

Click to enlarge
Dynamic brake hatch being removed for the first time.

In the electrical cabinet, there are several terminal boards mounted at the top of the center cabinet door area.  These are where the wire bundles from the rear and front of the locomotive are attached to the components within the cabinet.  Some of these wires are a bit crispy but are not a danger to the electrical system or the crew so they were left alone.  The interior of the cabinet was sand blasted and then painted.   All other wire and cable within the cabinet was replaced after all the components were cleaned, repaired  and tested. 

Many other parts had to be acquired.  When delivered, the 918 was without batteries, many brake components, traction motors and some engine parts.  Thanks to the W.P., S.P. and a friendly neighborhood scrap yard, we turned everthing needed to complete the rebuild, except traction motors.  These would take a while to get.

All the work culminated on October 7th, 1989 when some friends came down from the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento to assist in getting the 918 started.  After a lot of cranking, she started up and ran great.  All systems were checked out as completely as possible and a good time was had by all.  But, she could not move because of the missing motors.  I won't go into the dirty details but motors which were promised to the PLA by another organization were never to appear, even thought the PLA kept its part of the bargain.

On a subsequent Saturday, borrowed Geep dynamic brake grids were connected to the main generator and we found that the 918 was producing power, just like EMD intended.  With the grids sitting outside the locomotive on the ground glowing red, someone observed that we had the worlds largest electric barbeque.

When the PLA was forced to leave Castro Point in 1986, the 918 was taken to storage on the Oakland Army Base in Oakland.  In October 1988, I managed to trade for a set of trucks destined for scrap at a local yard.  Arrangements were made to take the 918 to the drop pit  at the S.P. in Oakland.  It was at this time that I discovered that my plan to simply swap trucks was not going to work.  The problem was that EMD changed the diameter of the plate that sits down in a pocket in the truck  (called the center plate) in June of 1950.  The 918 was bult in January, 1950 and I had no idea of the size of the plate.  I did know that the replacement trucks had the newer plate as the trucks had come from a scrapped S.P. Geep.  So, the decision was made to remove the motors and wheels from the new trucks and install them into the old truck frames under the 918.  With a good crew and a lot of cooperation from our friends at the S.P., the work was accomplished.  Subsequently, the motors were connected to the locomotive and each motor was tested in turn by forcing the locomotive to run on each motor.  All was well and a lot of folks took their turn running the 918.  This day was 8 years after she had burned up on the Altamont and after thousands of hours of work.

I did not do all of this work alone and want mention those who contributed to the effort.

Dick Hulbert contributed his years of knowledge of EMD electrical systems gained while working as an electrican for the S.P. in Roseville.

Randy Leber took on the chore of cleaning out the nose area and also worked on the rebuild of the cab.  This work included replacing all of the oil-soaked cab floor and rebuilding the brake system and control equipment.  Randy put in nearly as much time on the project as I did.

Click to enlarge
918's restored cab in 1986.
Randy Minton photo

John Follansbee earned the title of "Mr. Clean" for his wonderful work removing inches worth of filth from the engine area and anywhere else he found it.  John also made replacements for some missing car body parts.

Scott Simms also served yoeman duty.  He just needed to be pointed at something and it would be done.

Dan Furtado came along when he was only 18 and did anything asked of him.

Dave McLain and Shannon Smith worked on the engine and equipment rack preparing for the day when she would be started.

Randy Minton worked on the cab a bunch and was a good overall helper.

Many others contributed to the effort and one of these days, the 918 will be a fitting tribute to them when it is running in Niles Canyon.

-Howard Wise


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