Top of the Hill, It’s Coming Back

Robert Aulicky

Everybody is wondering and asking about the Park Train. I can report the problems are under repair on two different fronts, track and mechanical. On the track side work started on the track between Howell Station and the trestle behind Duluth Depot.

The objective was to replace every other tie with a good used tie that would hopefully last for two years or so while the new ties arrive. Other repairs started were frozen splice bar bolts cut away, splice bars greased, track joints adjusted to proper specs and new bolts reinserted. As the track joints were opened the track sprung. This caused us to add rail bending to the process before replacing the bolts and securing the line rail and then the gauge rail to the turned old ties. It doubled the work. If you go by to look you will see the process started.

Next up is to shoot grade level bed points and realign the track from Howell Station over the trestle to the Duluth Depot crossing. The crossing will be straightened to better handle the heavy truck traffic for events. As part of the process the crossing needs to be match to the road grade so low trailers will not drag. The replacement boards are specially made long, laminated and heaver treated to better weather and distributes the weight evenly on the new ties. As track repair work progresses bed leveling and alignment will continue to make the system true and smooth. Not only is this a more pleasing ride but it is the best defense against premature ware of wheels, track and equipment in general.

Drainage ditches will also be machined to make the water flow better. Pipe laid under the track bed in some areas will assist drainage from the other side removing slow running water quicker. This will allow for better drainage and the underside surface of the timbers to dry quicker. As a bonus the pipes will allow temporary water hoses, electrical lines and the passing turtle a fair crossing point, not interfering with train operations. Even the Killdeer birds might use them with their babies preventing them not to get trapped in the tracks.

Next up is shop work while the entire track is under reconstruction the trucks will all go to the shop matching tire diameters and removing wheels with warn flanges. With two engines and eight cars we are hoping to have enough wheels to match even if a small turning is necessary.

The Living Tunnel is still under construction. A temporary water line was placed in the center of the rails for the summer. This is the most important time to water all the trees. Trees will use 10 gallons every other day as a minimum to survive the first summer. Most of the hard to get to work is completed so the track reconstruction can go through the tunnel area without an issue. There are still more trees that need to be planted and two that died. We had an idea these would not make it due to root ball damage caused on another job site. We took our chances knowing the nursery would make good hoping for the best.

In back of Howell Station are new roses, two azaleas and two trees. (See photo) The roses are climbers that will encompass the rear wall in a few years. We hope the area will allow a picture area as well as a nice place to sit and have a bite. And a bite is what is planned for the area towards the Duluth Depot. Right now there is a frame sitting on the ground. This is one of two pavilions found on Craig List that should fit in the new Picnic Area (name to follow). The access to the picnic area will be is just behind Howell Station with a new pedestrian crossing over the track. Material is already acquired coming with the new tie material. It will have gates that block the train tracks as well as guests from the tracks as the need requires and controlled by the station Conductor. More plants and climbing vines will soften the look of the trellis over the crossing.

I would like to add something here to make one point about the train. The Park Train was an unknown to the Museum. By unknown I mean the nuances of the machine, the details weighed for time and money restraints, the success of project was a gamble; the outcome unknown. Would it pay its way? All these questions and hesitations turned out to be a huge success for the Museum and guests. It brings much needed revenue and a lot of fun to the guests and volunteers alike. To listen to a grandparent say to the grandchild ‘I rode this train when I was your age and now we are going to ride it together’, how do you process that value. Chuck Hardt and all the volunteers involved did a fantastic job of making a reality out of a pile of rusty rails and machines in much need of rebuilding. Everything done was a success bring the museum to a new place in the hearts of all kids from 3-90. Now we need to backup and replace, adjust, make a few changes. The train will be back and soon. It will be around for a very long time. It is a real success story to all the volunteers involved. This is what fuels the repairs forcing us now to keep the machine running. While the repairs are coming out of this year’s budget donations are appreciated and welcomed. There is one box at Howell Station and another just inside building one. Checks, cash and even credit cards are welcome. This is not a major money spender but a major revenue and smile asset for the Museum and Guest alike.

We need help on track starting very soon and shop with the wheels/trucks. We all would greatly appreciate the opportunity to share the work with all who wish to attend. Call or email me or stop by on Saturday. The timber arrives in a few weeks.

That is this month’s view from the “Top of the Hill”

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