May 26, 2014

The Shady Boys Take a Ride!

The entire Shady gang poses in front of their chariot
The Experimental Aircraft Association, headquartered in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, is the proud owner of one of the few remaining Ford Tri-Motor aircraft.  It goes on an annual tour of the U.S,. taking passengers up wherever it stops.  As the EAA Website describes this plane,

"From 1926 through 1933, Ford Motor Company built 199 Tri-Motors. EAA’s model 4-AT-E was the 146th off Ford’s innovative assembly line and first flew on August 21, 1929. It was sold to Pitcairn Aviation’s passenger division, Eastern Air Transport, whose paint scheme is replicated on EAA’s Tri-Motor. This is why EAA’s Ford resides in the Pitcairn Hangar at Pioneer Airport in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, when not touring the U.S. Eastern Air Transport later became Eastern Airlines.

In 1930, the Tri-Motor (NC8407) was leased to Cubana Airlines, where it inaugurated air service between Havana and Santiago de Cuba. The airplane was later flown by the government of the Dominican Republic.

EAA’s Ford Tri-Motor returned to the U.S. in 1949 for barnstorming use. In 1950, it was moved from Miami to Phoenix and was refitted with more powerful engines for use as a crop duster. With two 450 HP engines and one 550 HP engine, it became the most powerful Model 4-AT ever flown. In 1955, it was moved to Idaho and fitted with two 275-gallon tanks and bomb doors for use as a borate bomber in aerial firefighting. Then in 1958, it was further modified for use by smoke jumpers.

After working for a variety of crop spraying businesses, EAA’s Tri-Motor moved to Lawrence, Kansas, in 1964, where its new owner flew barnstorming tours. During this period it had a variety of roles, including serving as the primary setting for the Jerry Lewis comedy, The Family Jewels.

In 1973, the aircraft was still being used for air show rides, including an EAA chapter’s fly-in at Burlington, Wisconsin. While at the 1973 fly-in, a severe thunderstorm ripped the plane from its tie-downs, lifted it 50 feet into the air, and smashed it to the ground on its back. EAA subsequently purchased the wreckage.

After an arduous, 12-year restoration process by EAA staff, volunteers, and Ford Tri-Motor operators nationwide, the old Tri-Motor took to the air once again, where it had its official re-debut at the 1985 EAA Fly-In Convention in Oshkosh.

It was displayed in the EAA AirVenture Museum until 1991 when it returned to its former role of delighting passengers on its annual tour across the U.S."

This weekend, the plane was in Huntsville, at the executive airport in Meridianville.  I heard from my friends, Dan, Deron, and Daniel Shady.  All three generations of the Shadys have now flown in a Ford Tri-Motor!  What an experience!  I can't wait to hear the details...

May 17, 2014

An Important Event for Railroad Fans...

One of the Big Boys in action

I grew up in Schenectady, New York.  When I was a child, Schenectady declared itself to be "the City that Lights and Hauls the World."  This was because it was the home to the main plant of the General Electric Company (GE) and the main plant of the American Locomotive Company (ALCO).  Throughout World War II, it was a bustling place, as machinery, tanks, guns, and locomotives were produced at record rates.  Among the most spectacular products to be produced in my home town were the locomotives numbered 4000 through 4024 built for the Union Pacific Railroad.  These were the largest steam locomotives ever built and earned the nickname "Big Boys."  

ALCO built 20 of these giants in 1941 and another 5 in 1944.  Each locomotive connected to its gigantic tender weighed 1.2 million pounds!
The Big Boys last saw service in July, 1959.  The UP kept them ready for service until 1962, at which time they began scrapping or giving them to museums.  Fortunately, because of their unique place in railroading history, lots of museums wanted one.  Remarkably, of the 25 locomotives built, eight still survive.  Until recently, they were located at:
4004: Holliday Park, Cheyenne, Wyoming
4023Kenefick ParkOmaha, Nebraska

Union Pacific had developed the "Challenger" locomotive to pull long freight trains over the Wasatch Mountains.  However, the climb eastward from Ogden, Utah into the Wasatch Range reached 1.14%.grade, and the railroad had to double up it's locomotives to pull sizeable trains over that grade.  Their solution was to acquire larger engines that weighed more, had more power, and sufficient traction to be used solo over these mountains.  The Big Boys met that challenge.  

The locomotives had a so-called 4-8-8-4 configuration.  A heavy 4-wheeled "truck" guides the front of the locomotive.  It is followed by two sets of eight 68-inch diameter driving wheels.  Each set of eight has its own pistons and power cylinders.  And these wheels are able to pivot under the locomotive frame in order to negotiate curved track.  Finally, there is another hefty 4-wheel truck that supports the mammoth firebox, made even larger by UP's need to burn low-grade coal that came from their mines.  With their tenders, each of the Big Boys was just shy of 133 feet in length!  A most impressive sight when underway pulling a 600-car freight train.

A couple of years ago, the Union Pacific decided they would re-acquire one of the Big Boys and restore it as part of their corporate steam restoration and preservation program.  They negotiated a deal with the RailGiants Museum in Pomona to get 4014 in return for some other locomotives.

Recently, after several months of meticulous preparation, Big Boy 4014 left Colton, California under tow by three modern diesel locomotives (one of which bore the number 4014) and proceeded to Cheyenne, Wyoming, where it will receive the full restoration treatment.  4014 will roll again under its own incredible power!  I couldn't be happier.