J549 Firebox Work (and tractor repairs)

Firebox Welding and Tractor modifications, all in a weeks work!

With K190 pressed back into service on Wednesday last week it was time to do some work inside the firebox of J549. But before we get to that a couple of little jobs that you might not expect to see being performed at a Tourist Railway workshop.

First there was the tractor to attend to. One of the primary functions of this tractor which we bought last year to replace the previous old and rusty Yellow Peril version is to load coal from the bunker direct into the loco tender using the loading ramp. Some of the volunteers were getting a little eager with resulting scratches and dents appearing on K class tenders. With our joint venture partners at Steamrail being understandably protective about their 1940s locos, particularly the freshly painted K190 a solution was needed.


Above we see the ingenious solution thought out by our workshop crew, a modified roller with 8mm of vulcanised rubber was mounted to specially fabricated plates and viola – we have our very own Dodgem Tractor! Warren and Tim can now rest easy knowing that the rubber will be much kinder to their loco and any other equipment such as utes and busses that the tractor may decide to take on.

Next up, some real work – a small weep in the rear tube plate had been noted around one of the 2″ tubes and it was thought better to attend to this sooner rather than wait until a few more popped up. Coupled with that the Boiler Inspector had noted in a previous inspection that he didn’t like the look of one of the other 2″ tube welds in the back plate so it was decided to tackle both at once.

Now some of you may not realise this but a Steam Locomotive Boiler is a Pressure Vessel and so not just anyone can hop in and go at it with a welder. Not even our own Mick who is a qualified Mechanical Engineer and welder can do the job. It needs to be done by a qualified Pressure Vessel welder. Enter Darren Turvey


Now you may be thinking that is a pretty ordinary picture but remember that this is INSIDE the firebox. Just getting in there in the first place requires the skills of a gymnast and the svelte physique to match as you have to slide through the firebox opening in the cab as that is the only way in or out. Anyone who has been in the cab of a steam loco may recall it is not a very big opening. And the black clothing is de rigueur as you get covered in grey ash and dust the minute you get in.


A bit of fireworks inside the firebox as Darren goes at it with an angle grinder (above)

Not the sort of place you want to spend too much time, inside the firebox of J549 showing 2″ tubes and the larger ones for the super heater elements to sit inside (below). Funnily enough the weeping tube welded up just fine but the other one (the one that the Boiler Inspector had asked to be attended to) took forever to get right!


After that is was time for some much needed fresh air so back to the Tractor where Mick needed to attend to some problems with the adaptor plates for the various fittings that the tractor can use. This unit should be able to take a 4 way bucket, large single bucket, fork or slasher when required however if you look at the adaptor plates below there is a bit of a problem. The hooks at the top hold the load while the brackets at the bottom are for the pins to make sure it doesn’t all fall off going over the tracks or other bumpy surface. Notice anything wrong?


The adaptor plates as supplied are not the same and don’t work! So we sent them back to the supplier to be replaced right? Wrong! We modified them to make them fit and work just like bought ones! Now the tractor is ready to do much more than just load coal and will be used for mowing, offloading pallets of heavy oil drums from delivery trucks and who knows, maybe helping the Civil crew out on the track.

With J549 now back on the road and hauling Monday’s Driver Experience train the K is in the shop so next time we will have some more action shots showing the never ending tasks that go into keeping steam locomotives running regular passenger services and special trains 4,5 and even 6 days a week!


Following all of the preliminary work detailed in the last post the faulty Super heater element was identified and removed to be assessed. It was pretty easy to spot, leaking steam leaves plenty of tell-tale marks and we quickly established that one of the ball ends was about to snap off due to extensive cracking.



From here it was a pretty simple fix with a new ball end being welded onto the element, then a bit of a clean up of the Super Heater manifold where the element is mounted to ensure that there is no more leaking and back in she goes.


A bit of action in the photo above, this is how rust reacts to being welded!

The finished product below showing the old part which has been removed (or more accurately removed itself) being held next to the new part which has now been fitted in it’s place


Now after a couple of full days work the whole lot can be pieced back together and so below we see workshop volunteer Pete helping Mick to re-assemble the jigsaw ready for J549 to run on the weekend. As you can see it is a confined space and as already mentioned it is dirty work. The only consolation is when you have to jump in on a cold Monday or Tuesday after the train has run on the weekend, it is amazing how long the boiler holds heat for, on these occasions it is toasty warm and you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!



IMG_3934_previewThis cold and wet month will see work on the boiler tubes of both the J and K class locos.

J549 needs the tubes cleaned (again) to remove the carbon dust layer, which acts as a very good insulator and a damaged super heater element has been reported from some crews. You can both hear and feel when you have a damaged element, the noise of escaping steam echoes down the tube and into the cab via the firebox, you lose power and water consumption also increases noticeably.

K190 has several tubes blocked by cinders & ash, which creates a cool spot in the boiler tubes. This must be cleaned out to ensure an even heat distribution throughout the boiler.

Here we see Mick after preliminary work on the J has been completed. This is a bigger job than many may realise. After opening up the Smoke Box door (held by multiple nuts and clips on an oil burner) you are greeted by the sight of the spark arrester  which needs to be removed. This is a difficult and messy job due to the corrosive effect of the steam and smoke on the metals and the dust which is everywhere. A large hammer or mallet is a handy tool for this operation.

The petticoat is next to go and this is an awkward job which really requires 2 sets of hands. The three bolts and nuts which hold it in place are almost always corroded solid and often need to be ground off. The petticoat is heavy and cumbersome and once it is out the smoke box becomes a bit easier to move around in.

Of course before you attempt this a cover needs to be placed over the Blast Pipe to ensure rust, tools etc don’t make their way down into the cylinders. Just don’t forget to remove it again before you light her up as one of our volunteers discovered the hard way a couple of years ago!

The Smokebox baffle now needs to be go. This plate (or series of plates more correctly) ensures that the hot smoke and gasses from the fire have to pass through the spark arrester before going up the funnel. A heap more rusty and steam corroded nuts and studs to work with here and a great deal of care is required as some of the studs are mounted direct into the Super-heater manifold and you don’t want to break any of those off!

Now we can start to remove the super-heater elements, again cumbersome pieces of heavy metal held to the manifold by big rusty nuts and clamps with very little space around them to swing a hammer against the special VR spanner made for the purpose.

All of the above can be hours, even days of dirty work in a confined space before the elements can even be seen especially if the loco has done a full season without needing any work in the front end.

Next time we take a look at the elements themselves. Those with a keen eye may have already noticed that Mick has already had to do some work on this element.