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Railfan Extra Board - June 2013

Extra Board

On June 9, 2013, volunteers from the Pacific Locomotive Association took Southern Pacific 9010 out for a special test run on the Niles Canyon Railway, with SP SD9 5472 providing the power. Part of an experimental order delivered in 1964, the 9010 is the only remaining Krauss-Maffei diesel-hydraulic locomotive in America. Photo by Christopher Hauf

The impossible just takes a little while longer

By Robert Zenk/photos as noted

On a pleasant June Sunday in 2013, California’s Niles Canyon Railway hosted one of the most improbable sights in railroad preservation: a Southern Pacific Krauss-Maffei ML 4000 C'C' diesel-hydraulic locomotive rolling eastbound towards the Sunol depot. This test run by the volunteer restoration crew of the Pacific Locomotive Association was the culmination of a five year effort to revive a locomotive most observers thought to be un-revivable.

Southern Pacific 9010 was built in 1964 in Munich, Germany, as part of a decade-long experiment by the railroad to test the efficiency and reliability of a geared hydraulic power train. This uncommon arrangement for American mainline locomotives eliminated generators and axle-mounted traction motors with hydraulic torque converter transmissions and geared trucks. If the promised diesel-hydraulic adhesion factors of up to 33% weren’t enough to justify interest, these German-American hybrids also delivered 4000hp per unit! The possibilities for replacing worn first-generation diesel-electrics with far fewer new units was tremendously appealing to the SP.

Southern Pacific Krauss-Maffei

Gordon Glattenberg took this classic portrait in Stockton, California in October of 1964. This is the "look" volunteers from the PLA are working towards in their restoration efforts. Photo by Gordon Glattenberg, courtesy Joe Strapac

The KMs were built to last, with heavy AAR-compliant frames, U.S. brake gear and appliances, and SAE fasteners throughout the chassis and hood structures. But their power was strictly European: twin Maybach Mercedes-Benz turbocharged V-16s, Voith turbo transmissions, and Maybach gearboxes driven by stout Cardan driveshafts. KM had guarded hopes for an entry into the lucrative U.S. locomotive market, but the experiment was terminated by SP in 1968. Higher maintenance requirements and the advent of 3600hp diesel-electric road units from U.S. builders were the death knell, and all but SP 9010 were scrapped.

And therein lies the improbable saga of Chassis Number 19106. Yanked from the scrap line, the unit was converted at SP’s Sacramento Shops to a rolling camera platform for the world’s first full-motion fixed-base locomotive simulator. As an unpowered cab control unit, “Simulator Car” SP 8799 served with occasional filming assignments from 1969 to 1984, until the advent of digital desktop simulation rendered it surplus.

Southern Pacific Krauss-Maffei

The unique diesel was rescued from its second scrap line by the California State Railroad Museum in the mid-1980s. The modified nose that contained the cameras and film crew was torched off before further restoration was discontinued. Photo by Howard P. Wise

After an interrupted volunteer restoration in the early 1990s at the California Railroad Museum, the partially dismantled chassis became exposed to vandals and the elements. It was in this gutted condition that the unit came to Niles Canyon Railway in 2008. Under the efforts of a restoration team headed by veteran rebuilder Howard Wise, the unit has undergone a transformation once thought utterly impossible.

From the day it first went up, Wise’s detailed 9010 workblog-and-history website began receiving emails: from former KM techs in Germany, Southern Pacific crewmen who worked on them, and a legion of railfans and photographers who opened their collections to the effort. Rebuilding an historic diesel locomotive is seldom undertaken at this level, but tackling a sole-surviving German-American hybrid whose home factory is 6,000 miles and fifty years distant creates an entirely new set of challenges. Through the community of the Internet, 9010‘s crew and former technicians have been able to dialogue regularly. And many have donated scarce European parts, located original drawings and mechanical data, and assisted with personal recollections critical to the smallest details of reconstruction.

Southern Pacific Krauss-Maffei

Battered original labels were painstakingly restored, and missing gauges turned up in places ranging from German eBay to an old shop workbench drawer in Roseville, California. Photo by Lynn-Kai Chao

From new rubber door and window seals, to missing cab instrumentation, to the ins and outs of reviving a 2000HP Maybach V-16 turbo motor, help has come from Germany, Great Britain, Austria, France, Brazil, and through colleagues in the American railroad restoration community. Where parts simply are not to be found, the artistry of Howard Wise and his crew creates missing items as diverse as radiator sight glasses, hood doors with radiator shutter assemblies and guard screens, a pair of illuminated train indicator boards with chromed over-center latches, and an entire short hood capped by original pop-up ventilators and hand-fashioned, plasma-cut lifting hooks.

This cosmetic restoration has been accompanied in parallel with mechanical and electrical renovations to allow future operation. And it may not be a far-fetched fantasy: a retired KM tech advisor remembered that several sets of salvaged KM trucks were shipped back to Germany in 1968, to be used as heavy-duty power trucks for the RM 63 series of Plasser & Theurer ballast cleaners. And after the word went out, a set of rebuilt gearboxes and drivetrain parts from a retired RM 63 unit were located in a scrapyard in France, and are currently being secured for shipment to the PLA. These are just some of the next steps on a path to an operating transformation once thought utterly impossible.

Southern Pacific Krauss-Maffei

In October 2012, a newly constructed nose was joined with a refurbished body by PLA volunteers in Sunol, California. The new short hood was built from scratch to its exact original appearance by volunteer crew chief Howard Wise.

Railfan Extra Board

And on one fine weekend in June 2013, SP 9010 passed its first operational hurdle, as the painstakingly restored multiple-unit functions were tested with PLA’s “Black Widow” SD9 providing motive power. The Krauss-Maffei’s 16-notch GE throttle system exerted complete control over the duo, with its signature Pyle Gyralite and Nathan P3 horn once again making themselves known in the Canyon. But this time, supporters in more than 70 countries were also watching... We look forward to making progress on a restoration once thought to be "impossible." As they say, the difficult tasks we can do immediately, the impossible tasks just take a little while longer.

More info at sp9010.ncry.org and on Facebook.


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