Checkmarks showcasing each bearing on both sides of the locomotive which were converted to roller bearings.
As the title goes, sometimes in life you just got to roll with it. Of course, when you include 440 tons of unexpected circumstances and challenges into the mix, that can be a bit of an understatement. The operation of big mainline steam locomotives, like the Pere Marquette 1225, is littered with these unexpected circumstances and challenges resulting in borrowed time for these machines to roam the high iron. In today’s world, extending that time results in significant upgrades and improvements which involve compensation versus historical preservation. Some see it as necessary, some see it as evil, others as a necessary evil. This is that story in a four-year long project to the 1225; she’s the first of her 39 sisters to receive this significant upgrade, and will also be the last…
First popularized in the 1940’s and 50’s, roller bearings are grease packed tapered rollers on the axle of locomotives, rolling stock and other railroad equipment which required minimal maintenance while sustaining more reliability and efficiency. These key factors championed them into the standards of today’s railroad industry. Even with the growing popularization of roller bearings in 1941’s railroad industry, the Pere Marquette Railway remained cost-conservative when making the big splurge in the order of three batches of the 2-8-4 superpower steam locomotives.
These Berkshires of the Lima Locomotive Works rolled out of the plant on plain bearings, or “friction bearings”. As the older and cheaper option, they are a babbit-lined brass bearing surface that sits directly on the axle; relying on an oil-soaked pad that coats it in journal oil for better rotation… most of the time. For 74 years, this vintage practice had done its job well for the 1225. But in today’s railroad industry, where safety and efficiency are paramount to keep the wheels turning, the inevitable was right around the corner.
Newly built PM 1225 at Lima, November 4, 1941. Riding on all plain bearings for the next 74 years.
John B. Corns collection
Volunteer Jeff Lis installing new oil lines to the trailing truck of PM 1216?! You heard right! During her years on the Pere Marquette Railway, 1225 had parts swapped with her sisters as they were interchangable as designed by the Advisory Mechanical Committee (AMC).
2016 saw the Pere Marquette 1225 turn 75 years old and still steaming. As an early birthday present from her owners at the Steam Railroading Institute in Owosso, Michigan, the old girl received the first of many new pair of shoes in late spring of that year. The trailing truck, which is used under the cab to support the massive firebox, was rolled out and completely dissembled down to the bare frame for a full refurbishment. New oil lines, pins, bushings and hubliners were fabricated both in house and with the help of Pluta Rail Options & Services in conjunction with the different repairs needed to the truck. Of course, the highlight for this project being the conversion of the plain bearings to roller bearings.
New pins and bushings machined in house.
Due to the four wheel’s unique diameters from today’s railroad standards, both wheelsets were sent to Lyons Industries in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania for machine work and AP bearing installation. This was after the tires on the rear axle where heated to a certain temperature for removal and new ones reinstalled. By early June 2016, the roller bearing trailing truck was completed and back under the 1225 just in time for her first trip of that year to Cadillac.
Trailing truck wheelset ready for reinstallation after receiving new tires and roller bearings from Lyons Industries in Ebensburg, Pennsylvania.
The AMC prided itself on interchangeable parts. Based on the year of 1944 etched into the upper casting, it's believed that the lead truck frame was originally from one of the last batch of Berkshires ordered by the Pere Marquette Railway.
After a two-year hiatus, the opportunity in continuing with the roller bearing conversion was back on track in 2019. The "lead truck – pilot/engine" truck – was removed in late spring of that year for the same TLC as the trailing truck. The lead truck sits just before the driving wheels and is used to help the locomotive negotiate around curves. 1225’s was actually damaged while enroute to Michigan State University in East Lansing for display in 1957 and was later repaired in the 1970’s by the MSU Railroad Club. Completely stripped down to the frame; followed by necessary repairs along with new oil lines, pins, bushings, hubliners and of course the wheelset being sent to Lyons Industries for the conversion as well, the refurnished lead truck – now fitted with roller bearings - was reinstalled in late summer 2019 after a three-month process.
Containing roughly 22 tons of coal and 22,000 gallons of water fully loaded, the 1225’s tender needs a pair of trucks to withhold that straining amount of weight when on the road behind the drawbar. The six-wheel tender trucks from Buckeye Steel Casting were just the ticket.
Diagram of the six-wheel tender trucks from Buckeye Steel Casting Inc.
The rear truck was the first to be worked on in 2019 followed by the forward truck in 2020. Unlike both the lead and trailing trucks however, both Buckeye’s had a lot more pieces to an even bigger puzzle. This is especially the case with the frame of each truck being multiple, separate movable parts instead of one giant casting. While the refurbishment would take more time, the advantage was that the wheels were the same diameter as most wheelsets on today’s railroad equipment. This meant that the current wheelset wouldn’t have to be converted to roller bearings, just simply replaced with ones already fitted with the bearings themselves. Six new roller bearing wheelsets were delivered from Progress Rail to the Steam Railroading Institute in April 2019.
Many pieces to an even bigger puzzle. This was to help give the tender trucks more flexibility.
Refurbishment to the rear tender truck was completed in late summer 2019 with the forward truck in late 2020; both having their old plain bearing wheelset swapped out with their new roller bearing set, along with new pins, bushings, wear plates and wearing blocks.
A unique opportunity to view the brake rigging as not usually seem while under the tender frame.
Ready to Roll!
The beginning of 2021 see’s the Pere Marquette 1225 with nine new pairs of shoes, apart from the driving wheels. What does this mean for the old girl who will turn 80 in November? It’s hard to say at the moment. The 2020 global Covid-19 Pandemic has nearly put the entire world at a standstill, especially at the Steam Railroading Institute which put all excursions and events on hold for that year. While we wait to safely steam up again, we know that 1225 will be ready with more reliability and efficiency. Whether it’s home at the Steam Railroading Institute or out on the road, she’s just like all of us and will have to roll with it.
Special thanks to...
- Pluta Rail Options & Services
- Lyons Industries
- Progress Rail
- Great Lakes Central Railroad
- Amherst Railway Society
- The staff, volunteers and supporters of the Steam Railroading Institute...