Arlington repair and machine shop Newell Corp. recently took on a unique contract: restoring a historical 1947 steam locomotive to working condition.
After a year and a half working on the steam engine the business sent the finished train up to Alaska last week where it will spend its time shuttling tourists along a train route that used to be used by mining companies.
“We contracted from Whitepass Yukon Railroad,” said Jeff Newell, owner of Newell Corp. “We tore it apart and rebuilt it from the ground up."
The No. 73 engine used to travel along the Whitepass Yukon Railroad until it was retired in 1964.
“It was a work horse in its day,” said Newell.
It was restored in 1982 and returned to the Whitepass Yukon Railroad line as a tourist train. It required a new restoration recently and was brought to Arlington.
The vast majority of the parts for the 82-year-old engine were no longer available to purchase, which meant that Newell Corp. had to build them themselves.
“We rebuilt the cylinders, wheels, bearings, a lot of valving,” said Newell. “We built new connected rods and piston rods. It’s basically a new machine,” he said.
Although he said that “amazingly” there was still airbrake machinery being manufactured for steam trains.
The rebuild presented more challenges than just the parts though. Newell said that many of his employees had to learn the intricacies of how the steam train was supposed to work because there are no more mechanics who are experienced in steam engine repair available.
“We have a pretty knowledgable crew, between all of us. There are still some things we had to research and make right because there’s no old steam engine mechanics left. They’re all retired or in the grave,” said Newell.
The new train also still has to follow all the regulations of the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration).
“Like how far the cowcatcher has to be off the ground, there’s a certain measurement for everything,” said Newell.
The company also laid 400 feet of railroad track on their property to build the train on and to be able to test it.
“As you get it steamed up to pressure you find leaks and you got to keep refining it,” said Newell.
The local business has had big projects before but nothing quite like restoring an 82-year-old train.
“Definitely not this big on this type of machinery. We’ve done some restorations on big process machinery for steel mills and cement plants, but not anything quite this long and drawn out,” he said.
“Some projects we have last years, but they’re usually repetitive,” he said.
He appreciated working on the train and said his employees enjoyed the challenge of it.
“The skill level and the refinement of it, it’s something you can sink your teeth into,” said Newell.