2010 Railcamp Report
by Adam Chilcote
We boarded a bus after breakfast. The bus was taking us to Amtrak’s Wilmington, DE maintenance shop. Wilmington maintains the AEM-7 and HHP-8 locomotives used on the Northeast Corridor. We toured the entire facility, walking halls that once housed GG1 electrics for the Pennsylvania Railroad. They showed us every stage of maintenance, from rebuilding of individual components to assembling them back into complete locomotives. After watching two passing Acela trains on the adjacent mainline, we climbed back on the bus for a short ride to the Bear, DE shops.
Bear is a car shop for the Northeast Corridor, servicing Amfleet I and II cars. We started at one end of the building which contained tracks of nearly complete cars, and worked our way back through the process to cars freshly entering the shop. Many cars were having ADA-compliant bathrooms installed along with a general refurbishment. We were told that several cars were being refurbished thanks to stimulus money; one car had last run in 1980 and was sidelined due to minor end damage unable to be repaired at the time. Again, we saw areas where smaller components such as seats and coffeemakers were refurbished, and the final products of finished cars coming together.
Once again, we boarded the bus. We routed through Eastern PA, passing the Strasburg railroad and paralleling much of the Amtrak Keystone Corridor. We then arrived in Harrisburg, at the Harrisburg NRHS chapter’s Harris tower. Unfortunately, we were unable to see their simulation of the interlocking machine in use, but we saw a few passing Norfolk Southern trains before getting on the bus a final time to return to Scranton. We ate dinner in Enola, PA across the street, and though we were all hungry, all the campers agreed we would rather be across the street from the restaurant, overlooking the Enola yard.
Tuesday began our program at Steamtown. The first thing we did was to learn how to give an interpretive presentation on a piece of equipment. The goal was to tell more of a story rather than giving a list of facts. Even though for many of us this was the first time we had given this type of presentation, the presentations all went smoothly and were actually pretty good. After this was over, we were taken on a tour of the shops there at Steamtown. We were briefly shown some of the restorations in progress, such as Baldwin 26 and Boston & Maine 3713. We didn’t spend too much time there that day because we would be back later in the week for a more detailed tour. We ate lunch in the restoration shop lunchroom and then got on another bus to go to the nearby Lackawanna Coal Mine and Anthracite Museum. The mine tour lasted over an hour and we learned about mining technology over the years, different jobs in a mine, and conditions for workers. After that tour, we went in the Anthracite museum and learned about the other aspects of life for a miner and his family. Life was hard and full of tragedy in those days in the anthracite region.
After lunch we had two more traditional presentations in the Steamtown Theater. The first was from some Amtrak employees about careers with Amtrak. First we heard from Brian Gallagher, who is the Director of Government Affairs, and a former engineer. He had gone with us Monday on our tours of the shops, and mainly introduced the other presenters and assisted them when necessary. After the introduction, we heard from two Amtrak design engineers. They told us about the different types of project Amtrak engineers work on, and showed a few recent infrastructure improvement projects. One of these was the current renovation of the Wilmington, DE station. After this we heard from an Amtrak dispatcher. He showed us on his computer how he is able to monitor any Amtrak train in the nation and also to take pictures of the engineer’s view at any time. He could also see any information about the train at any time. It was surprising how few people at Amtrak actually control and observe their trains, and most from one centralized location. The last presenter was the one that most of the campers were most interested in, a locomotive engineer. He showed us some pictures he had taken of his trains and told about the varying schedule of an engineer. He also brought with him his locomotive keys, some small electric locomotive parts, and some paperwork filled out on every trip. Many of us said that we had not considered a job with Amtrak in the past, but after learning about the many opportunities, we now would think about it.
After that presentation was finished, we next heard from one of the counselors about steam locomotives. We learned about the inner workings of a steam locomotive, from pictures of the cutaway switcher at Steamtown. We also learned some of the process of firing and running a steam locomotive, and also a bit of maintenance. He works as a fireman and engineer at the Wilmington & Western Railroad, so many example photos came from their 4-4-0 #98. I knew a good bit about how steam locomotives work, as did most of the other campers, but we all learned something from the presentation. I didn’t know much at all about running or maintaining a locomotive, but now I have a basic knowledge of it.
The first activity on Thursday morning was a presentation from a Canadian Pacific railroad policeman about his job and also about Operation Lifesaver. We first watched a few OLS safety videos as a sample of what the program is about. Then we were shown a slideshow of how a railroad policeman compares to a regular policeman, and some of this officer’s personal experiences on the job. We learned that in addition to monitoring the railroad, a railroad policeman can also be called on to assist local law enforcement.
After this presentation, we headed to the different Steamtown shop facilities to take a closer look at their functions. In the locomotive shop we took a close look at Baldwin #26, and some of the tools used in the restoration. We learned about the Steamtown process of in-kind restoration where parts are replaced with the same materials in the same manner. We went inside the tender to see the coating applied to prevent rust, and inside the boiler to see the new firebox pieces and how they are attached. Then we walked over to the machine shop and were able to see some of the parts being fabricated for #26.
Finally, we went outside to the Reading FP7 diesels behind the roundhouse to learn how a diesel works. We saw the purpose of all the machinery inside one of these early diesels, and how some of it had been reconfigured in more recent years. Then we sat in the cab for a few minutes.