Tubular Hells

Hello and welcome to another update from the Maldon workshop of the Victorian Goldfields Railway. Continuing on the musical them that we went with last time out we bring you Tubular Hells, a masterpiece of high voltage locomotive maintenance.

Each Summer our steam locomotives are rested due to fire restrictions. The VGR works very closely with the area CFA and it is they who decide when and what we can run. Steam locos in the hot, dry Victorian Summer are a definite no-no, so while our Heritage Diesel locos take over hauling our trains, the workshop takes the opportunity to attend to some of the work required after a long steam season.

J549 was withdrawn from service on January 6th after a stellar season and washed in preparation for her A exam. A few years back the railway decided to change the annual boiler inspection to January as it made far more sense doing it while the loco was not able to be run so a boiler washout was done on Jan 14th in preparation.We have posted previously about the way these exams and boiler inspections work so we won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say that the A exam is supposed to be pretty straight forward…….

Unfortunately there were no takers for Mick’s offer of a training day so the workshop crew did the boiler washout job ‘in house’. All prospective firemen and drivers should get involved in this training, as someone who has done one or two your blogger can attest to what a great addition it is to your boiler knowledge.

One of the 2″ tubes which was known to be a possible future problem was replaced before the inspection and the loco passed with flying colours on Feb 5th. Of course this required the removal of a whole bunch of super heater elements in order to achieve enough room to swing the tube expander – boiler tubes are expanded & welded in at the Firebox end but simply expanded at the smoke box end and this expansion needs to be very carefully done. It seems that every job on a steam loco requires removal of the super heater elements!

The shot of the front end below shows the new concrete floor in the Smoke box as well as the blast pipe (covered to prevent tools and other junk falling in) which shows no wear. Note that some of the super heater elements have been removed to provide working space for expanding the new 2″ tube. In addition the Table plate mounting rails have been removed for greater (& much safer) access.


The entire tube plate also needs to be needle gunned prior to the boiler inspection so that the inspector can get a good look at any potential problems – a loud and laborious task best left to experts!

Along with replacing the 2″ tube other issues that had been raised during the running season were attended to. Victoria Railways J and R class locos have separate Clack valves and these are prone to wear which causes cracking in the seat. Work was performed to get these back up to scratch but the long term plan is to source some spares which will be modified to take a screw in seat similar to those found on some starting valves. That way the worn seats can simply be replaced giving the valves a much longer service life.

Next up was a leaking stay which was situated behind the Driver’s side blow down valve. This necessitated removing the refractory from the firebox floor because the broken Stay was in the very bottom row, along with part of the brick arch to gain better access for expanding the new tube. As soon as removal of the arch began it became apparent that the whole lot would need to be replaced as brick after brick crumbled on removal. Oh well, in for a penny, in for a pound!

Below we see a (fairly ordinary) picture of a couple of stays removed from locos by Mick and the crew. The one on the left is from J549, the one on the right from a job done on K153 a while back – Note they’re not parallel but tapering off. This is the thinning or wasting that causes stays to fail.


After this it was back to the front (so to speak) where the table plate needed renewal. This area cops a real punishing with corrosion from steam, smoke and heat damage all combining to bend, buckle and wear away the steel sheet. The concrete floor in the smoke box was also beyond it’s use by date so it was removed which involved “heating the crap out of it” before chiselling it out ready for a new floor.


The photo above shows one of the modified Table plate mounts. Shown is the extended & milled section to allow rails to be bolted instead of welded to the smokebox which will save a lot of time and aggravation in the future when similar work is required.

While all this was going on the regulator valve also came in for attention. This has been a bit of an ongoing project with various fixes tried over the last year or so but crews were still not happy with it. A new main valve sleeve for the pilot valve ring was machined up along with a new valve ring and Baz also braised up and re-machined the pilot valve itself.

In the photo below we see Mick measuring the pin size with a Micrometer to check clearances


The Driver’s Side intermediate coupling rod bush required re-metalling, among other “small” jobs, but although this was only one bush, it meant removal of the Eccentric Rod, Eccentric Crank the Big End bearing, the Connecting Rod & both Leading & Trailing Clevis Pins just to access the Intermediate Coupling Rod. so a bit more than a couple of hours work.

Below we see the crew inspecting White metal damage to the thrust face. Oh how everyone loves the job of redoing the White metal bearings!


Then it was back to the Tender which was hosed out to remove a heap of old gunk that had built up. As seems always the case when you clean out a locomotive tender you discover the hard way that the only thing holding the H2O in is the gunk itself and sure enough a couple of holes revealed themselves and 4500 gallons of water poured out from under the drivers side locker! These holes had probably been weeping for a while but the act of removing the sealing layer of built up grime from the inside was too much and out it all came! Another job for the welder.

While we were in the front end your blogger took the opportunity to grab the photo below peering down the Blast Pipe which is looking really clean. This shows the quality of the Morris steam oil, as there is almost no carbon deposits inside the exhaust. We did not clean this pre photo! Clean pipes = less work for the workshop crew. Hurrah!


Come March and the local CFA had once again given permission for the oil burning J class to ride the rails and so just in time the workshop crew had her steamed up and tested before she was back to hauling our regular services on Sunday March 1st.

We hope that you enjoyed this post and that it gives you some insight into the effort that goes in to keeping the VGR trains running. Don’t forget we are always looking for help in the workshop, so if you think you have something to offer, drop by during the week and talk to Mick. Till next time.