A Dream Comes True


Photo courtesy of David Pulliman, Ark. Valley News, Valley Center, Kansas.

David Pulliman

Content Tools

Route 3 Valley Center, Kansas 67147

At some point in life, every man has probably dreamed of being a locomotive engineer. A few have made that dream come true and even fewer have had the privilege of operating a steam powered locomotive.

I am proud to say that I can be counted among the latter group. However, before I could run the locomotive, it had to be built.

This story really begins in August, 1984 while I was helping Tom Terning prepare for his annual steam show held on Labor Day weekend near Valley Center, Kansas. One day the conversation had turned to trains and steam locomotives, when the comment was made by someone that a train would make a nice addition to the show. Well, that was all it took to start the wheels turning in Tom's head.

During the next year a lot of ideas were kicked around about where a train could be found, how much it would cost, and how much work would be involved. The idea of building a train was even brought up; but at first, that seemed like a huge project. As time went on and more information was gathered, the idea of building a train sounded better each time we discussed the subject.

A week or so after the 1985 show, I was looking through a copy of Trains Magazine and found an advertisement about a 1925, 2-4-2 Baldwin locomotive for sale. The advertisement included a builders photograph, and a later photograph, as well as the diameter of the driving wheels.

When Tom saw the advertisement, his comment was 'why can't we build one of those?' (Where Tom Terning is concerned, that kind of question needs no answer.) With that, the decision was made to build a steam-powered train.

Initially, the work force consisted of Tom Terning, Dane Hutcherson, and myself. Our work schedule was Tuesday and Thursday nights, and all day on Saturdays. This was done in part to help our lovely wives schedule projects at home. We knew from the start, if we did not have the support of our wives, our project was doomed. So, with all of us combining our talents, the project was underway.

Working only from the photographs, we found that by using the same cylinder castings that Tom uses on his half-scale 65 HP Case engines and with a 20 inch main driver diameter, we could build a respectable 5/8 scale model of the locomotive in the advertisement. This also allowed us to use a track gauge of 30 inches.

The next few weeks were spent building the pattern for the drive wheels and making drawings and computations. By the middle of November, 1985, the four driver castings were ready to be machined. By the first of December, the drivers were finished and sitting on the rails. We also built a wooden mockup of the frame so we could check measurements and clearances.

During the month of December, 1985, the following work was completed:

Disc brake rotors were modified and mounted on the driving axles. Eccentrics were machined and mounted on one of the axles and the drivers were then pressed onto the axles. Patterns were made for the side and main rods, front and rear truck wheels, spacer bars, cross heads, and truck frames. The driver suspension system, (designed by John Forney, Bellwood, Nebraska), was fabricated and mounted on the frame. The axles and frame were then assembled. The cylinder mounting plate, the front frame extensions, and the front boiler saddle were built and installed. The cab was constructed during the week between Christmas and New Years' Eve.

When the New Year began, we had something standing in the shop that was beginning to resemble a locomotive.

January, 1986, brought more progress. The lead and trailing trucks were built and installed, along with their respective suspension components. The side rods and crankpins were machined and the crankpins were installed in the drivers. With this came our first major milestone. At 12:30 AM, January 31, 1986, the side rods were installed and all four drivers turned in unison, with no binding.

By this time the word was spreading that something quite extraordinary was taking place in the Terning shop. The comments and reactions of different people ranged from 'you guys are completely crazy' to 'what can I do to help?' However, when we told them we planned to carry passengers during the 1986 show, we really got some strange looks. One person told us it would take at least 3 to 5 years to complete the train. We did not let this slow us down.

In February, the cylinders, pistons, valves, crossheads, and main rods were all machined and installed. The wheels for the tender were also machined during this time. Our second milestone was reached about 3:00 AM, February 17, when the engine was run on compressed air for the first time. (Temporary linkage had been fabricated to connect the Wolf gear to the valves.)

With American flags flying, number 6 takes to the rails.

By the end of February, we were able to complete the permanent valve linkage allowing us to time the valves more precisely. With all of this completed, we laid 30 feet of track through the shop door and went for a ride, back and forth many, many times.

This was an exciting time for all of us. We had all of this work behind us, but so much more work ahead, and time was slipping by. Our success thus far gave us the incentive to work even harder to achieve our final goal: that first trip around the loop.

With the completion and successful testing of the engine portion of the locomotive, we started concentrating on the boiler, tender, cars, and track.

The month of March was a slow month for us. The trucks for the tender were assembled and the boiler components were cut and tack welded together. We set the first steam up for Memorial Day, May 26, 1986.

In April, the pace picked up. Gone were the two nights a week; now, every spare hour was spent working on the boiler and tender. The last rivet on the tender was driven during the third week of April. It was about this time that we finally confirmed a source for the rail.

Work on the boiler continued into the month of May. On May 15, the welding was finished and the boiler was placed back on the locomotive frame for the last time.

On the weekend of May 16, we stopped work on the locomotive long enough to haul the rail home. To complete this job, it took one evening, two days, one large fork lift, three semi-trucks, and several smashed fingers. In all, about 60 tons of rail were hauled home from Wichita, then sorted and stacked. With that job done, we resumed our work on the locomotive.

A steam manifold was fabricated and installed to distribute steam to the injector, blower, turbine generator, air compressor, water pump, and tender water heater.

Finally, at 9:34 PM on May 23, 1986, a fire was started in the boiler for the first time. As pressure built up in the boiler, everything was made ready for the first run under steam. At 10:42 PM, with the steam pressure gauge reading 100 lbs., Tom inched the throttle open. The locomotive and tender rolled forward, almost without effort, to the end of the 120 feet of track. Tom reversed the engine and it came rolling back into the shop 'as smooth as silk'.

The last week of May was spent installing manual hydraulic brakes on the locomotive, and running it back and forth some more.

Due to other business commitments for everyone concerned, no work was done on the train between June 1 and July 17. However, a lot of planning and thinking went into the project during this time.

Construction on the first of four cars was started on July 18. During this final phase of construction, the work schedule mentioned earlier was changed to 7 days a week, with our hours ranging from 14 to 24 hours a day. With only 42 days remaining until show time, the railroad took top priority.

On July 30, Kirk Excavating Service Inc. of Wichita started grading the sub-roadbed for the track. Laser-guided equipment was used to insure a nice, level roadbed.

The route was laid out around the parimeter of the show grounds with a curve radius of about 150 feet. The total length of the track was 3200 feet.

Between August 1 and 6, we spread the rock ballast using a spreading sled especially designed and constructed for this job. In all, over 250 tons of rock were spread.

Late in the afternoon of August 6, we laid the first rails in place. The ties were made of 4 inch channel iron and spaced approximately 10 feet apart. Steel lugs were welded to the ties to hold the rails in place. The rail ends were welded together and then ground smooth. Track laying progressed slowly because of the unusually wet weather. We would spend one day laying track, and then wait a day for the ground to dry out from the previous night's rain. On good days when everything went right, and when we had the manpower, we could lay about 300 feet of track. On the days it was too wet to lay track, we would work on the cars. On August 22, late in the evening, the final rail was laid and welded in place. There were times during the track laying process that the 3200 feet seemed more like 32 miles.

By August 29, the last car had been painted and the locomotive had received a lot of detail work. During that day the entire train made several test runs to make sure everything was working properly before the show opened the next day.

With all of this behind us there still remained one unknown factor: would the locomotive pull the loaded train? We estimated that the train could carry over 100 people, but we had no feasible way to test the train with that much weight. So, with our first load of passengers on the opening day of the show, the final test was made. With about 120 people on board, Dane opened the throttle for the first 'revenue' run. The train gently rolled forward and began to pick up speed. The exhaust became sharper and more rapid. (I was riding in the fireman's seat and Tom and my wife and son were riding on the tender). As the train started into the first curve there were a lot of nervous glances. Would the engine have enough power to pull the train through the curve? The sounds from the stack remained sharp and steady all the way through the curve and into the straight. Those sounds were 'beautiful', and they told us we had a winner.

The only problem we had was in the suspension system on the tender which showed up after about two hours of running. The problem was quickly solved and service was resumed and maintained for the remainder of the show.

Paul (at front of engine) and Maurice (at rear) Miller of Fulton, Michigan assist Mahlon Giffen and Tom Terning in getting number 6 on the rails.

Now for the name of this railroad. Most great railroad names have been derived from the geographical locations they serve and not from the people who built them or the equipment they used. We wanted to honor the people, but to include everyone's name who contributed to the project would have produced a very long name. So the letters D S M & W were settled upon. They stand for Dedicated Steam Men & Wives.

As with any project of this type, there is always room for improvement. Our plans now are to spend the winter making improvements where they are needed and to finish up some detail work that did not get done last August.

In this article, I have attempted to give you some idea of how this project materialized and evolved into a steam train that we are all very proud of. However, I cannot begin to describe the feeling of pride that only me and the other people who endured the long hours of sometimes 'back breaking' work could feel when we hear the whistle screaming for the grade crossing. For this I owe a special thanks to: Tom and Dane for allowing me to be a part of this project; to Lois, Tom's wife, for the countless miles she drove, and hours she spent gathering the parts and materials that went into the project; to my wife, Aleta, for her understanding and patience while I chased a dream; to Dane's wife, Suzanne, and daughter Kirstin, for their delicious cakes and cookies that kept us going; to all of these ladies who cooked one or two meals a day, under less than ideal conditions, to keep this bunch of 'train nuts' fed; to my son and daughter, Matt and Sara, and Tom's son, Aaron, for their willingness to help whenever there was a need.

Space does not permit me to list all of the people who contributed to the project in some way; but as they read this, I would like to say thanks to all of them for their help, but most of all, for their friendship.