Status of the 618 Steam Locomotive Restoration Project
As of May 6, 2022
Thanks to all of you who love the Heber Valley Railroad and long for the No. 618 to be back in service. We share with you the love of steam and the desire to see her back on the tracks. Progress on the 618 restoration is slow, and we know that’s very frustrating. But delays in having her back in service are not due to any lack of desire or commitment to complete the project on our part! When will the 618 be back? That’s a difficult question to answer. Here’s why.
Our Right of Way. Our right of way was built in 1899, with some parts being built in 1940. Since 1965, the tracks and right of way have been maintained inconsistently at times and are in constant need of attention. We spend a significant amount of our limited labor and management hours, as well as budget, on right-of-way maintenance. We would love to spend this time and this budget on 618 restoration, but we often times cannot. The safety of our right-of-way must be maintained!
For example, in 2019 and 2020, we spent several hundred thousand dollars and much time, in maintenance work on the section of track from milepost 4-7. This included replacing ties, replacing and transposing rail, adding ballast, and a variety of other tasks. During this time, we also had to rebuild a section of track below the Deer Creek Dam (Horseshoe Bend area). This was also expensive and used hundreds of hours of precious “preservation and restoration” time.
These required right-of-way projects were not only expensive and time consuming, but they also limited our ability to sell tickets. We had several months in 2019, 2020, and 2021 where we could not carry passengers (or sell tickets) past Soldier Hollow (milepost 4) due to this track work.
One reason the 618 restoration is taking so long, is because we must maintain the right-of-way.
Frequency of and Size of Trains. Over the past 5 years, the HVR has run an average of 570 trains per year, with an average passenger count of 200+. Our North Pole Express Trains (this year we will run 83 trains with 11 passenger cars in the consist and 500+ people on every one. These trains are long an heavy and require constant maintenance, repair, and scheduled inspections. During this time we have acquired three 1950’s GP9 locomotives and one F9. We have also acquired more than 20 passenger cars – most of which are 90+ years old. This wonderful equipment, which we are so fortunate to have, brings with it a large commitment of time, energy, and budget. We have what we believe is a well thought out
strategy and plan to maintain the motive power, and improve the passenger equipment’s trucks, power distribution, heat, and toilet systems. We plan on this equipment to be providing great experiences to people for 30 years to come and more.
Another reason the 618 isn’t restored already, is because of our strategy to grow the “business” of the HVR and make it able to thrive for the long term. The 618 is our icon, and our high priority, but it isn’t the only thing we have going on here!
Labor Challenges. We share this labor challenge problem with many other industries and organizations. It is difficult to fill job openings in railroading, and particularly difficult in Utah and the Heber Valley. Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, and Wasatch County has one of the highest costs of housing in Utah. The talented team we have now are amazing and work long hours and produce incredible results. Mike Manwiller, our Chief Mechanical Officer is one the top tourist railroad
experts in the country. His talents and skills, work ethic, networking, and knowledge are greatly valued and appreciated. We’re where we are at this point due to his expertise and train operations vision and management. However, there are only so many hours in a month! We would like to fill several technical positions in our mechanical team and are actively trying to do so. As our team grows our ability to prioritize labor hours to restoration versus maintenance will increase. Labor challenges are preventing us from quickening the pace of the 618 restoration.
Other Priorities. Most of you reading this are train fans and are familiar with many other tourist railroads and organizations. Ten years ago, when I got involved in the HVR’s efforts, I took a poll of some other similar organizations. I learned that there were several things many of them had that we didn’t. Chief among those was an operating steam locomotive, but others included first class equipment, dining capability, event space, and other like things. Some of those other things continue to “argue” for some
of our time and attention. We now have one of the better collections of working heavyweight 1920’s cars. (perfect for the 618 to pull!). But we also have several great 1940’s -50’s stainless steel cars, including dining cars, lounge cars, and, as you know, a sweet F9. Think how great it will be some day to have that F9-pulled 50’s train in service along with our wonderful 20’s train. Getting that done is a big investment of time and budget, and a very attractive priority. Other priorities like this are competing with the 618 for our precious resources.
The Good News.
We’re Committed to Completing the 618. The Heber Valley Historic Railroad and its Board of Directors are committed to returning the 618 steam locomotive to service as soon as possible. It is on essentially
every board meeting agenda and is constantly discussed. Mechanically, we have the expertise (Mike Manwiller and team) and physical plant to complete the project and maintain a steam program.
Our Growth and Stability. In some ways the growth of the HVR, and its larger maintenance requirement are reasons for the 618’s delays in getting back; but in the long run this is a very good thing. The HVR is here to stay. Over the next year or two our right-of-way will get in much better shape. Our rolling stock and locomotives will have more consistent mechanical systems and hopefully require less maintenance. This will allow us to schedule more time and more budget for important priorities like the 618.
The 618 is Very Important to Our Long-term Success. We need the 618 back in service. It is the icon of our railroad. It is the “heart” of most railfans love for this place. When back in service, it will increase our visibility and our stability. The 618 will bring a dramatic increase in filming, special events, and general awareness and appreciation for what we’re doing here. Our scenic trains popularity will grow when it returns, and dedicated rail fans like you who are reading this post, will become more interested and
active in helping us in all aspects of this operation.
618 Project Status.
Where are we on the 618 restoration? First a general comment. Most mechanical things are “consumable.” On your car, the tires, the oil, the seats, the transmission, etc., all get consumed over time and have to be “refreshed.” The same is true with a locomotive – and especially a steam
locomotive like the 618. When the 618 was moved off the Utah State Fair Park grounds, it was a certain level of “consumed.” After arriving in Heber, it operated at varying levels of use until June, 2010, when it was parked due to FRA use requirements for inspection. At that point, many of the “consumables” were consumed, and the 618 required much more than an inspection and Form 4. In 2010 the HVR was also in serious financial trouble, and without the resources to inspect and restore the 618. In October, 2014, the 618 was moved into the shop and work started on its inspection, as well as scoping a restoration effort. This scope
included converting the 618 to oil-burning, rebuilding the cab, and significant work on the running gear. Later into the project additional restoration work was revealed and added to the list of tasks. Between 2012 and now financial conditions improved, ridership and train frequency increased, and labor maintenance labor demands increased with it.
Here’s a partial list of tasks completed so far:
Sign agreement to turn wheels – wheels turned
Donation by Ogden RR Museum – oil firing controls and castings
Donation by City of Riverside – valve gear components
Collect/refurb/clean donated steam parts
Cleaning, repair, testing of superheater units
Chemical clean of boiler prior to dismantling
Form 4 measurement and testing
After deep cab inspection, new cab being designed/built
Tender trucks overhauled
Purchase and install new tires
Purchase Hub liner mater 937
Driving wheel centers turned, crank pins quartered, turned, and one replaced
Driver journals and hubs remachined
New springs purchased
New driving boxes cast (full set for all 8 journals)
Suspension system new parts, pins, bushings
Repaired 3 wheel lathe centers
Haul wheels to ATK Baccus plant
Machine Wheel centers for new tires
Machine Hub surface on wheel centers
Purchase misc. schedule 80 seamless pipe
Service and assemble injectors
Finish cleaning frame for inspection and paint
Corrected measurement deviations from original drawing
on all side rods. Clean and polish
Install tires on wheel centers
Repairs to running board walkways on E&T
Removed top rear tube sheet knuckle and replaced with
new flanged piece.
New springs custom made – rear half drivers
Rebuilt boiler water delivery check valves
Of note is that almost the entire scope of work thus far has taken place in house by our highly skilled team.
We’re organizing our shop to facilitate this last important stage of the 618’s restoration to service. This summer we will see some exciting visible progress as the 618 gets set on its wheels. Stay tuned!
If you have questions or comments on the 618 restoration, please direct them to me: Mark Nelson – email@example.com
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Our grand old 1907 steam locomotive, No. 618 is in the shop undergoing its required boiler inspection and some major restoration including new tires, and conversion from coal-fired to oil-burning. We need your help to get it back on the tracks.
Your generous donations will be applied 100% to the costs of completing this inspection. You can donate any amount by contacting the Heber Valley Railroad at 435-654-5601 ext 102, or by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We are also looking for talented and hardworking volunteers to help us in the restoration! If you have skills and would like to help, please contact our ticket office for more information.