She Caught the K Class (and left me a mule to ride)

The Workshop Blues

We all love Steam Engines right? But sometimes they do leave us wondering if the great Taj Mahal was really singing about his hard headed woman or the motive power itself in his 1968 Train Song made famous by a little ol’ film in the 1980s.

Hello and welcome to another post from the Mechanical Branch of the Victorian Goldfields Railway in Maldon, Central Victoria. In the last post we covered the efforts to get Steamrail’s K153 ready for the big Maldon Steam weekend. Many trains later and with the weekend done and dusted the VGR’s own oil burning Steam locomotive J549 hauled the last train back to Maldon. We’re not sure if she was already missing her shed mate who had just headed back to Newport to prepare for Steamrail’s Hurstbridge Shuttles or if it was just the knowledge that she would be doing the job solo for the rest of the steam season but the old girl decided to make her displeasure known.

Coming up the grade towards the Ganger’s shed at Maldon our hero was emitting a loud squeal. Luckily Blues Brother number 1 Banjo Baz was about the place and assisted the crew to gently coax the loco into the workshop compound leaving the Y class diesel to do the evening’s shunting work. The J was going nowhere in that state. Monday morning arrived cold and wet and Baz along with Blues Brother number 2, Guitar Mick, got to work.

Spring Sprung early

It was pretty obvious that the problem was with the front Pony Truck, an area which had caused it’s fair share of problems  on the K a while back. The leading wheels of a steam locomotive are carried on the Pony Truck and are used to help the locomotive negotiate curves and to support the front portion of the boiler. The truck pivots from a point behind the front wheels and is actually sprung to enable it to return to centre. This pony truck wasn’t steering much at all.

The hard working crew had only recently done some repairs to the same area on K153 but it would prove to be a far bigger job on the J class. The broken spring was pretty easy to spot but the large degree of movement of the axle due to the failure had in turn severely damaged the bearings. The J rides a little higher on the front then the K which was part of the problem but the bigger issue was where the spring had broken.


In the picture above we see the culprit. When the spring on the K class failed the break was much further along but this time with it breaking so close to the end it has also bent over the fingers below. The axle stayed level on the rails but the bearings stay with the axle boxes which are no longer supported by the spring and so the axle is at a severe angle to it’s support structure. The result is that approximately 4.5 tonnes which was supported on around 40 sq ” of bearing is now supported on around 8 sq”. This causes a massive increase in heat, the lubrication fails and the white metal begins to melt. Everywhere. The squealing which had announced the loco’s arrival to Baz was the sound of Axle on Brass. Not good.

The Pit Stop Blues

With the J being the only Steam Loco available for traffic time was of the essence but this was a big and important job so nothing would be left to chance. A plan was hatched with the turntable pit to be used as a wheel drop pit –  we have the equipment used in such a pit we don’t have the actual hole in the ground to fit it into!

First job was to position the loco on the turntable road not far from the pit. With running boards removed the front of the loco was jacked from under the buffer beam about 3 feet to enable 2″ steel blocks to be inserted above the axle boxes. A big RSJ was then placed across the front end and the pony truck wheels were chained up to that.


At left we see the wheels chained up and ready to go while at right YVG member Riley admires the handy work.

The next step was to grease the rails in front and underneath the loco and then diesel electric loco Y133 was used to very slowly push J549 (with hand brakes fully engaged) out into the void. The grease was to enable the braked loco to slide gently along the rails and some precise driving ensued as the J was inched far enough to allow the pony truck to be clear of the ground. Then after application of chocks and more checking of brakes the chain blocks were used to lower the wheels which caused the axle boxes to come out of the horn blocks so that the axle boxes could be lifted away from the axle.


In the shot above we see the “wheel drop pit” in action. Below we can see some of the damage caused to the axle box bearings.


There was plenty of work to do in cleaning up the mess, white metal had got everywhere including into the wool pads and the axle had even rubbed on the cellar causing more damage to be repaired and cleaned up. Items were cleaned, filed etc and then it was time to repair the bearing itself. New material was puddled in to replace the old and the assembly was then set up in the lathe and machined. Below we see a bit more of the action.


After the machining was done, checked and double checked it was time to fit the whole lot back together. Work had been going continuously since Monday morning and by Thurday it was done. We had missed Wednesday’s service which was hauled by the Y class but it was a fantastic effort by the hard working workshop gang to get the J back on the rails in such a short time after such a failure. Quick thinking, good planning and the requisite skills of the full time staff as well as the (tiny) army of workshop volunteers got the job done in great time.

Your blogger (more on that below) managed to get out and snap a shot of what was thought to be the test run after outshopping of the loco. It was only when the consist returned on the Down from Castlemaine with a load of passengers that I realised that this was actually a charter – for V/Line apparently – so it was a good thing that our hero was ready to go!


Jake! Elwood! The Blog Brothers!

Well this is where I normally sign off with a quick “that’s all for this time” but this time is a bit different. Shortly we will be welcoming a new blogger into the Mechanical Blog fold. I will continue to (try to) keep you up to date with goings on at Maldon but with the VGR’s old stalwart K160 currently undergoing a major overhaul at Newport Workshops the job will be split with a second blogger reporting on goings on from Steamrail HQ. So we’ll leave you with a shot of Guitar Mick cutting steel for K160’s Ashpan mounting frame before drilling it ready for assembly.  This work was done in Maldon but with parts and materials being  transported back and forth between Newport and Maldon to keep the K160 project moving there is never a dull moment eh!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s