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by Rick Henn

"The Blue Flag" - 3/2019

         The Car Department has basically been in hibernation since putting the cars away after Polar Express. However, with a little luck the weather will soon warm enough that we will be able to get to work. We will be finishing the replacement of the seat backs in coach  #2932  as well as the aisle and end carpets. All of the parts and pieces are available to finish the bathroom floor restoration in  #2941.  There is also some "heavy" work to be done. One car has a noticeable but not dangerous lean to it so we will be tracking down the source of the problem and making the needed repairs. Another car's buffer plates are not lining up with the car next to it so we will have to see which one is wrong and correct that. Hopefully by next time we will have some good stuff to report.

(3/11/19) - Today, Art and I removed the first dozen seat backs from coach #2932 and delivered them to the upholsterer. They should be ready in a week to ten days.

(3/23/19) - Yesterday, Cody and I remove the next set of seat backs from coach #2932. Today, Art and I picked up the first set, delivered them to Medina and brought the second set to Upholstery Unlimited. They should be ready in 10 to 14 days. While we have things torn apart we should grease the seat mechanisms so they can be turned. When it gets warm enough, we should repaint the exposed seats frames or at least touch them up. Also, we need to get out there to look at leveling those cars before Mr. FRA comes around again, Ha!

"The Blue Flag" - 4/2019

by Rick Henn

       It is that time of the year when I ask for more help for the Car Department. I recently heard that someone commented that they didn't want to get into the really heavy and dirty stuff like brakes and other underbody jobs. That's fine. However, there is also a need for people with basic wiring skills to replace defective light sockets, switches and wiring. The department could use a carpenter to assemble window sills at home, which could then be picked up and brought to the cars by others for installation.

Additionally, it isn't required that you give up every weekend to come out and help. Whatever works for you will help us. We usually have fun and there will be lots of railroad talk. Even if you are not sure, come out for a visit and give it a try. You can contact me at and I will let you know when we will be out.

The job we are focusing on right now is the upholstery of the seat backs in coach  #2932.  This car has long suffered from seats in which the foam stuffing has literally turned to dust and falls out in small piles when the seats are removed. At this time 12 have been completed and 12 more are at the upholsterer to be picked up. That leaves 32 to go. Along with the replacement of the backs we will have to lubricate the swivel mechanisms of the seats while everything is off of them and we would like to freshen
up some of the paint. This is another job that doesn't require any special skill except a steady hand. Most of the interior work requires nothing more than a willingness to come out. Most of all our work is not especially technical it just takes time. The picture above shows that there is more to do than just heavy "grunt" work and also what can be accomplished when enough hands are present.

"The Blue Flag" - 5/2019

by Rick Henn

(5/11/19) - Recent work has focused on coach #2932, which for a long time has been in need of some tender-loving-care. In this case TLC translates to dollars. Over the past few weeks we have had 36 seat backs reupholstered for coach #2932. At one point we had all of the seat backs and bottom cushions off the frames so we took advantage of that to lubricate the frames and repaint the frames. The repainting of the seat frames in a
slightly lighter color really helps to make the car seem brighter and cleaner. It would be nice to repaint the ceiling and the walls above the windows to really finish the job, so any painters out there that would like to help just let me know. Today we put everything back together since the Thomas© trips are next weekend. After Thomas we will remove the last 20 backs to have them done and then we will move on to removing and replacing the worn center aisle carpet and the slippery rubber flooring at the ends of the coach. It's going to be a busy summer for the Car Department.

(5/21/19) - After another successful three full days of "Thomas the Tank Engine©" events, it is time to get back to work on the cars before the next round of trips in the fall. I know it seems a long way off but it goes all too quickly. In addition to all the work the Car Department already has lined up for the summer we found a new problem. The buffers between coaches #2932 and #2941 are not lining up properly. The Falls Road crew separated the cars so we can inspect the buffers to determine what the problem is.

"The Blue Flag" - 6/2019

by Rick Henn

(6/6/19) - I had a great plan for today. I was going to Lockport to pickup the last set of seat backs from #2932 before the car went back to Medina. I got to the yard about 10:30am and found no train. So, off I went to Medina. I caught up with the local just west of Middleport and was waiting for it in Medina. They shoved the cars in before continuing their trip east and I got the last of the seat backs off. After that I went to the museum, which shot the rest of the day. The backs are in my garage until the upholsterer has the others ready.

(6/15/19) - Brody and I removed the rubber flooring from the "B" end of coach #2932 and took up the center aisle carpet in preperation of having the new carpet installed soon. Our plan included installing the wood sub-floor over the new stainless at the A end but we could not find it. Admittedly, we did not do a thorough search of the train but it wasn't in any of the obvious places. We thought it might have been moved to the museum's storage facility on Salt Works but it seems there are no keys to that place at the museum. It appears that the spring that attaches to the top of the "B" end buffer of coach #2941 has broken and will need to be looked at more closely.

(6/18/19) - Today I picked up 12 completed seat backs from Upholstery Unlimited and dropped off the last 7 to be done for #2932. Cody and Brody helped to install them. After lunch we found the two pieces of wood to finish the floor at the "A" end of #2932. The museum did move them to its Salt Works road storage facility, however it appears they need to be trimmed. Strange, since I thought we had already test fitted them. The museum had also moved some old seat covers over there when they made room for Polar stuff so we went through them, saved the newest and tossed some of the older ones.

(6/23/19) - Well, today did not go quite as well as George, Adam and I would have liked since we were not able to accomplish everything we had hoped but it wasn't a total waste either. Adam and I were able to install the wood flooring at the "A" end of #2932 after a bit of trimming so they'd fit. However, they didn't lay as flat was we would have liked. The wood had taken a slight warp from being stored. So, we will have to go back to drill some pilot holes and secure the floor to the stainless underfloor with some flat head screws. While George and Adam worked on the side bearings of #2941 I started work restoring the bathroom in #2915. I got the one piece of stainless in easily but not the second. There is not much room to work and the second piece of stainless might have to be cut into two pieces and then fit into place. Another problem I had was trying to see past the sweat dripping onto my glasses. While I was dealing with that, George and Adam were having their own problems. trying to correct the spacing on the side bearings means, in this case, installing a shim. However, to do that you first have to be able to remove the old bolts, which are situated in a rather inaccessible place. Probably easy as can be without a car body sitting on the truck.

The last thing we did was to examine the leaf spring at the "B" end of #2941  that connects the top of the buffer plate to the car body, keeps it centered and allows it to move. One end of the spring is completely gone. It broke off and has vanished. We might have to take it somewhere to have a new one fabricated.

(6/25/19) - Today I picked up the last of the seat backs and took them to Medina where Brody helped me to install them. This part of the project on #2932 is complete.

(6/29/19) - Adam, Cody and I checked a few things off the to-do list today. Adam and Cody spearheaded repairs to the hand brake in #2906. It would often slip when being applied. Adam traced the problem to a weak spring, which he was able to find a replacement for and now it works fine. We cleaned out a store that had many old seat covers in it and took them to the museum's dumpster. We also did an inventory of windows that need replacing. Most of them are the sliding windows, which are much easier to do than the double pane sealed windows.

"The Blue Flag" - 7/2019

by Rick Henn

        The jobs of the Car Department are often somewhat scattered in that it can be difficult to see one project through from beginning to end without other things getting in the way. Often these articles reflect that so projects come out in bits and pieces rather than a nice flowing narrative. Before I get into talking about what we’ve been up to recently perhaps I should go back, especially for those of you that are new to the Society, and talk about the fleet.

To start I want to differentiate between the revenue fleet and the cars that are stored OOS, which in railroad parlance is "Out Of Service." The revenue fleet consists of five ex-New York Central, 56 seat, stainless steel coaches built by the Budd Company from the end of 1946 through the beginning of 1947. Due to the quality of the stainless steel and the workmanship these cars will be around a lot longer than many of us if properly cared for and that is what the Car Department tries to do. These cars were built as part of the Central’s Great Steel Fleet. The other car that completes the revenue fleet is the ex-Pennsylvania Railroad parlor car Francis McGrath, which was originally built as the Leonard Calvert. It is also a Budd car but has 29 high back swivel chairs and a five passenger drawing room. The coaches are currently operating in Medina, NY on the Falls Road Railroad for the Medina Railroad Museum’s excursion trains. The McGrath has been based out of Olean on the Western New York and Pennsylvania where it is used for shipper specials as well as Santa and other public trains.

Last year it was decided to put a lot of time, effort and money to upgrade one coach, #2932. , because it really needed help. Over the past year I have described what has been happening in the usual scattered way because that is how the work is completed. However, as we near completion of this project you will see that there was a plan in place all along. It just takes time to bring it all together. The biggest single expense was having the seat backs, all 56 of them,
completely stripped down and then built up again with new materials. It was an expensive project but the results were well worth it. Thanks to Upholstery Unlimited for both doing a great job and for giving us a few breaks along the way. Now, all of the seats, backs and seat cushions, have been completely renewed. Next in line was the carpeting, which dated back to Amtrak times and was showing signs of wear. Soon new carpet will be installed from the end doors all the way down the center aisle. The carpeting under the seats will remain for a bit longer.

(7/14/19) - I want to thank Adam and Bill for spending a rather frustrating day in Medina. Our intention was to start adjusting all the brake rigging and slack adjusters but we soon found that either we do not know how to do it or something was not working properly. So, essentially we ended up with everything where it was and having to get more info on how to do this. We did remove two seat bottoms that need to be recovered. We still have material left from the seat back project so it will just cost labor.

(7/27/19) - Today George and I, but mostly George, removed two of the side bearings from coach #2941. These are assemblies that allow the weight of the car to shift from side to side when going through curves so that extra pressure is always on the outside set of wheels to limit them from hunting. In this case that means trying to climb the outer rail of the curve. As you might remember these were cited by the FRA last year as being out of specfications. First we will see if replacement parts are available and proceed from there.

(7/31/19) - I placed an order today for polycarbonate for 10 sets of windows for the sliding windows and two full sized double glazed windows. They will be delivered to Medina in about a week or two at the most. I will need lots of help to get these installed so please figure out when you can come out to help. I will do whatever I can to accommodate your various schedules.

"The Blue Flag" - 8/2019

by Rick Henn

(8/2/19) - I picked up the finished seat bottoms we had covered. We had already paid for the material and they donated the labor. Joe K. thinks there might be parts to repair the buffer on #2941 in Hamburg and we have the shims for the side bearing.

(8/4/19) - I want to thank Dave Fleenor and Adam for coming out today and working on the brake rigging we started a week ago. Our coaches are equipped with a device called a "slack adjuster." This is an air driven motor that keeps the brake shoes a certain distance off the wheels when the brakes are released. It controls the distance they travel. However, it can only adjust so far before it runs out of travel and then cannot be adjusted any further. Dave Fleenor, our
truck expert, has been coming out to get them back into proper adjustment. They were able to get it to where it was supposed to be and came up with a couple of questions to be answered by the experts, which Dave will handle.

(8/11/19) - That gets us to a project we started on today, August 11, which was replacing the clouded windows in #2932 . By the time we are finished, all of the sliding windows will have been replaced with new polycarbonate. Shawn and I replaced three sets today. The last thing the car will need is some fresh paint inside. Dave F. and Bill G. adjusted more brake rigging and laid out plans for the next car in need. I think most of all the windows I ordered will go in #2932, since now the ones that were not replaced look awful. Obviously the right way to do this would be to replace every window in a car all at once. However, the cost and amount of work makes that difficult.

(8/25/19) - Thank you to Dave and Bill for getting more brake rigging adjusted and to George for cleaning up and preparing the side bearings.

"The Blue Flag" - 9/2019

by Rick Henn

(9/8/19) - Thanks to Adam, Cody and Dave for going to Medina and getting more work done. Dave is continuing his project of adjusting the brake rigging. Adam and Cody spent time putting bits and pieces of #2932 back together. Things like the door at the "A" end of the car and window stuff that was left undone from the replacement of the sliding window glazing.

(9/15/19) - We had a productive day in Medina. George, Al, Shawn, Cody, Dave and I were there and through various combinations of teams got a lot done. Dave and Cody were able to pretty much complete his project of adjusting all the brake rigging. There is one that seems to want to defy being moved at all but we'll get it. George and Cody were able to reinstall and properly shim the side bearings on #2941 so they now meet FRA standards.

Al made the final cuts necessary to drop the new stainless steel floor into place in the bathroom in #2915. He also was able to make a minor fix to the new floor we had installed at the A end of #2932 so it now fits properly and does not bind the door. Cody, Shawn and I replaced three more sets of sliding windows in #2932. That leaves one more sliding window to do in that car and we'll have a couple more sets to put elsewhere in the train.

(9/22/19) - Adam and I installed the last set of sliding windows in #2932 and then installed three sets of sliding windows in #2918. This uses up all the sets of sliding windows I ordered. There are two more that it would be nice to replace but our budget is shot for this year. There are two large windows that can be installed.

"The Blue Flag" - 10/2019

by Rick Henn

(10/13/19) - I went to Medina by myself today and repaired four sliding windows where the bottom screws had broken off by installing a short bracket to hold the sections together. I also tried to free up the seized trap on coach #2915 but I could not budge it.

(10/26/19) - As you have read, a lot of money and time was spent in coach #2932 which has greatly improved its looks and comfort level with new seat backs and carpet that are now complete. #2932 was also the recipient of many new windows.

"The Blue Flag" - 11/2019

by Rick Henn

The coaches are now in their lull period between the Fall Foliage trains and Polar Express. This was an exceptionally good year for the Car Department. Many projects were completed that improved the cars to be more attractive and comfortable for the passengers.

There are still a few jobs that need to be completed. One is to finish the work in the bathroom of coach #2915, which has suffered from a rotted floor. The floor is stable and now just needs new vinyl flooring and the toilet re-installed.

(11/3/19) - It should be no surprise to learn that these 73 year old coaches could not let the year pass without a couple of mechanical problems. One came in the form of a trap on #2915 that would not open. Some of you might remember this happened a few years ago with #2941 and it turned out to be for the same reason. The shaft around which the “folding” steps pivot seized in the bearings and nothing would move. Three weeks before the start of Polar Express we were out on a windy and chilly fall Sunday to start repairs. First we cut through a 1” steel shaft in two places so we could drop the steps out. Then George Specht took the bearings home so he could press out the pieces of the shaft still in them and then resurface the bearings. The new shaft is on order and the job should be done in time for Polar. We then took a look at two toilets that were not operating. On one the screen assembly had come loose with its piping so it could not prime. Both will be tested by the museum to see if they need more work. In the meantime, Al will order parts to have on hand.

(11/7/19) - We received the new trap shaft today. It is now very smooth and shiny. So, that means we can hopefully install it on the steps on #2915 on Sunday. There are also a few inside jobs to complete. As I walked the train I found several of the slack adjusters have crashed, does that mean we have other problems? Once the Polar Express trips are over, it will be time to start thinking about 2020.

(11/10/19) - It was a good day in Medina. Al, George, Dave and I installed the new shaft for the folding stairs in #2915 and they work like a charm. Somewhere in all of this the realization hit that we only have this problem on steps that are left open. Most of the traps are closed but one is left open at the west end of the train so the train crews can access the hand brake. We need to leave one open during the year so the museum staff can easily
get into the cars. It is these open traps that have the problem. So, we saturated the bearings with oil and, once the season is over, we’ll close up the traps to protect the bearings from the weather. We then added a handle and a door latch to one of the spare rooms so the door would not swing open allowing people to see Santa in #2918.

(11/17/19) - Adam and I got the bathroom in #2915 mostly back together. I am going to need some better drill bits to drill into the new stainless steel sub-floor so we can install the toilet itself. We used a vinyl flooring from Valu that did not have to be glued down. It was very soft and flexible and, so, very easy to work with. It looks nice. We'll have to keep an eye on it to see how it reacts to the extreme cold but, hopefully, there will be no problems.

(11/29/19) - Today George and I completed the repairs to the bathroom in coach #2915. We had to install a new pump because the old one had a torn diaphragm and would not prime. Now it's ready to go, pardon the pun.

"The Blue Flag" - 12/2019

by Rick Henn - Superintendent of Car Department

(12/3/19) - Last weekend we developed a problem with the trainline breaker tripping in coach #2915. It was inconsistent but happened several times. Al and I went to Medina to troubleshoot it, but of course, it worked perfectly. Al tested what he could and his gut feeling is that it is a weak breaker. As far as we know it is the original breaker installed some 30 years ago when the cars were converted to AC in place of the DC electrical systems. He will try to get another one before this weekend and get it installed. If he can't, he has some suggestions for further isolating the problem.

Every year, Society member Geno Dailey ventures out into the cold to capture the beauty and the fun at the Medina Railroad Museum's "Polar Express©" train rides. On November 30th and December 1st and again on December 7th & 8th, 14th & 15th, hundreds of passengers boarded our vintage New York Central passenger cars for a ride to the "North Pole." Every train was a sell out as young and old got a chance to visit with Santa and enjoy hot chocolate and cookies.

As we expected, the cars performed flawlessly during the three weekend trips. Geno was out with his camera on the evening of the December 8th trip and captured these beautiful pictures, thank you Geno!

(12/14/19) - Well, the rail car adventures continued and the worst was yet to come. First, the good news. George and I were at the train this morning and found the oil level in the generator under coach #2941 was low. Not by much but enough to trip the low oil sensor. It must respond right about the fill line on the dipstick. He topped it off and it has performed flawlessly since. The bad news is a two parter. One, the circuit breaker for coach #2915 was $200.00, but worth it. Apparently Westinghouse breakers are at a premium because they are being discontinued. So, the breaker worked.

However, while we were preparing to leave the siding for the first Polar Express run of the day, the generator under #2915 shut down. Every once in a great while this happens so you go into the start box, turn the switch off and back on and off you go. This time, we turned the switch off and it restarted on its own with the switch still off. Then we had smoke pouring out of the generator and no way to shut it off. George, finally got it off and used a fire extinguisher to put out the fire. Until we roll it out and look at it we won't know for sure what the problem or the damage will be. George believes the alternator shorted, which melted the wires, which then shorted out and restarted the engine. The Medina Fire company showed up with a big CO2 extinguisher and doused it thoroughly. George rode the first train just to be sure everything was okay and then headed home. There was no damage to the car and no one was hurt. We'll see about the generator later. For now, one generator is carrying the entire load, which it can do but not all the heaters at the same time. One generator will carry 7 of the 10 electric heaters at once. We believe it was the alternator but cannot assess the damage until we roll the generator out from under the car. That will take place sometime in the next couple of weeks.

(12/29/19) - George, Al, Adam and I got our first look at the inside of the burned generator. We found pretty much what George had expected. The alternator is probably fried and a good portion of the wiring harness has melted. It seems that the actual fire was the burning insulation. We'll change the belts and then we will remove the starter and alternator to have them tested. In the meantime George and or Al will put together a parts list and start getting pricing. Thanks to George, here is a photo of the area where the fire happened. You can see the insulation has melted off the wires and the charring on the hoses and paint. The bent tube sticking down is the breather for the crankcase and is supposed to be like that.

A lot of what the Car Department can accomplish is 2020 will depend on the cost of repairs to the generator. Our goal will be to replace more carpeting, replace the last batch of seat covers, I think a bit under 40, and get the last of the clouded windows changed out. Then there is other less costly cosmetic work to do and basic maintenance.

I have often thanked, and wish to it once again, the members of the Car Department. Everyone’s life is busy but when things need to get done these guys show up and do the work. It can be cold and windy or hot and humid but they are there when needed. Thank you!

Wishing all of you the Best of the Holiday Season and sharing your joy with Family and Friends! Sincerely, Rick.

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