Mid-Continent News

A Riveting Experience on Tap for the Steam Shop. (2/16/05)

It could be called a Riveting Experience…literally. Mid-Continent has operated vintage steam-powered railroad passenger trains at its site since 1963. That is until five years ago this month (February 2000) when the last operable steam locomotive was pulled from service for major repairs to comply with new federal government boiler regulations.

The museum’s trains have been diesel-powered since that time while the steamers are in the shop for overhaul.

“A steam locomotive isn’t an easy thing to rebuild,” states the museum’s manager Don Meyer. “Not only does it take special knowledge, but also lots of manual labor. Every part has to be made from scratch, as we can’t order them from a parts warehouse.”

Old Western Coal & Coke #1, a 55-ton steamer that has been at the museum since 1965 and pulled the trains for many years, is currently the center of attention down at the museum’s locomotive shop.

Pete Deets, the shop foreman, has been overseeing the latest work. “We have an army of volunteers that come in on the weekends and have been concentrating on the boilerwork the last couple years.”

In fact, this weekend (February 19-20) is a monumental occasion for the museum’s shop forces. Two boiler course patches have been completed on the long barrel of the boiler and are ready to be riveted together.

“Riveting is a nearly lost art of steel construction that was used worldwide throughout buildings, bridges, and all of industry until welding and pressure forming surpassed its usefulness,” explains Deets. “Holes are drilled through the pieces to be riveted and then they are tightly bolted to maintain alignment. As a rivet is being heated to red hot in the rivet oven, one bolt is pulled out and the hole is reamed to the exact size needed. When it is ready, the rivet is pulled from the oven with a set of tongs by a worker called the ‘heater,’ passed by a person called the ‘passer’ to a person called the ‘sticker’ who sticks the rivet in the hole. The ‘gunners’ are now signaled to quickly hammer the rivet down from each end with specially designed, very powerful air guns.”

The process must go like clockwork to place the rivet quickly before it cools from its red-hot malleable state.

“Using this rivet process not only helps us preserve the historical construction methods of the steam locomotive artifact, it also helps us preserve and teach the nearly 150-year-old skill of riveting to our shop forces,” according to Meyer. Indeed, the museum has been teaching rebuilding skills and maintaining railroad equipment for over forty years at its North Freedom location.

A old removed rivet.
WC&C #1 in service in 1985.
Museum shop workers Mike Wahl (right) and Ed Ripp check the thickness of firebox sheets with an ultrasonic tester. The locomotive's long boiler barrel can be seen above them, looking toward the front of the locomotive.
WC&C #1 as it appeared when it first arrived at the museum in 1965. It operated at the museum from 1970 until 1994.
A new rivet before installation.
Locomotive shop workers, 2/19/05.
New rivets installed in the smokebox.