Union Pacific's No. 844 Suffers a Seized Bearing

One of the main reasons that the railroads switched from steam-powered locomotives to diesel-electric locomotives was the high level of maintenance that the steam giants require.  With thousands of moving parts, most under tremendous strain and pressure, parts are due to wear rather rapidly.  In fact, steam locomotives typically require a good oiling and greasing of all critical components every several hundred miles or so.

An example of the issues associated with moving such a mass of steel using a mechanical drive train occurred to Union Pacific’s famed steam locomotive No. 844, while en route to Kansas City, Missouri with the UP’s special run, the Valley Eagle Heritage Tour.  The No. 844 apparently had a connecting rod bearing seize on one of her massive 80” drive wheels.

While browsing the web for posts regarding the progress of the Eagle’s 28-day tour, I happened upon a great post by a serious Olathe, Kansas railfan on one of the railroad discussion boards. Here is his post that describes the issue in detail:

I stopped by Union Station in Kansas City, Mo., late this afternoon to see U.P. 844 which was on public display from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. today. What I found, however, was that 844 evidently was ailing when it reached KC yesterday. Repairs were taking place right before my eyes. 

The mechanical crew that accompanies 844 on its far-ranging tours was furiously attempting to replace a bushing-style bearing on the right side of the third drive-wheel axle. Word at the scene was that the bearing had caused lots of concern most of the trip from Cheyenne to KC. It kept overheating and finally “seized”, according to one reliable source. 

I stuck around for awhile to watch the initial try at installing a new bearing. It was found that the new part needed some more attention in the tool car. The bearing reportedly had been custom manufactured at a machine shop in KC today to specifications supplied by U.P. Can you imagine the pressure on all of the mechanical people involved? 

I imagine this type of emergency has occurred on previous U.P.-sponsored steam trips and there is great relief once the problem is solved. In this case, there may be a few U.P. employees who will lose some sleep in getting the repair work finalized. 

Guess we’ll just have to wait until 8 a.m. tomorrow to see if the train leaves KC Union Station on time. Its next destination is an overnight stop in Parsons, KS, tomorrow (Tuesday) night. 

Attached are some “up close and personal” photos of the repairs being made to 844 this evening, between 6 and 7 p.m. I felt a bit privileged to get such close-up photos of the mechanical workers. Having an audience of several persons “from the general public” probably didn’t make them comfortable but no one ordered anyone to leave. Everyone was behaving themselves and talking in hushed tones. With no one being run off from the scene, the U.P. steam program gained another measure of goodwill. It is my opinon that the U.P. steam program is a class act, even when in emergency mode. 


Skilled craftsmen and machinists assess the situation and form a plan.

Judging by the presence of the sledge hammer and the size of the replacement bearing (on the towel) this is going to be no easy task.

The connecting rods, which link the driving wheels together, are braced to remove the tension on the bearing.

The replacement bearing, made of brass, is inspected and prepared for insertion.

The replacement bearing is carefully inserted.

An appropriate amount of grease is pneumatically forced around the new bearing by the crews using an “alemite” gun.

Fortunately, but unlike the steam engines of days gone by, UP’s No. 844 travels with a complete entourage of dedicated and talented men and women, all of whom are extremely skilled craftsmen and are complemented by the requisite tools, materials, and knowledge to keep No. 844 running. Also playing a critical role in the maintenance and repair of No. 844 are the myriad of Union Pacific’s employees in the facilities along the way.  For this particular trip, here are the crew members:

  • Penny Braunschweig - Concessions
  • Rick Braunschweig – Fireman
  • Jim Coker - Conductor
  • Ed Dickens - Manager Heritage Equipment & Facilities – Steam/Fireman
  • Jack Holland - Machinist
  • Henry Krening - Mechanical Foreman
  • Steve Lee - Superintendent Heritage Operations/Engineer
  • Lynn Nystrom - Engineer
  • Mary Nystrom - Concessions Coordinator
  • Ed Smith - Boilermaker/Welder
  • Scott Turley - Boilermaker/Welder

Believe it or not, this is a rather common occurrence for steam excursion trains these days.  To wit, here is the “roster” of support cars that travel with a train like this:

  • Howard Fogg – Boiler Car  The Howard Fogg still has a steam generator on board to provide steam if maintenance is required while locomotives No. 844 and No. 3985 are on the road.
  • Art Lockman – Maintenance Tool Car  The Art Lockman is a rolling “machine shop”. It carries tools, parts, machines, lubricants and numerous other items to maintain and repair the steam locomotives while on trips.
  • UPP 9336 – Boxcar  The boxcar carries steam locomotive spare parts, oversize supplies and steps used to allow visitors to see inside the cabs of No. 844 and No. 3985.
  • UPP 814 and UPP 809 – Water Tenders  Water tenders enable excursions using steam locomotives to travel farther between water stops.
  • Golden State Limited – Baggage Car  The Golden State Limited is used to transport supplies during excursions.
  • Reed Jackson – Concession Car

I echo the railfan’s sentiments regarding the talent and skill of the mechanical workers to effect such a repair and do it with without ushering fans away.  This gave us all a glimpse into the effort and talent required to keep a steam program alive.  Thanks to the men and women of the Union Pacific Railroad and particularly the folks of UP’s Steam Program.  Job well done.

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Reader Comments (1)

I found your article on locomotive repairs fascinating; I've been looking for information on what the mechanics had to contend with to keep the engines rolling.

Both my grandfather and father were mechanics on the Union Pacific, first out of Council Bluffs, IA, and then out of East Los Angeles. I remember my grandfather saying that if an engine broke down in service the forman of the crew would be suspended! That happened to him as forman and his crew threatened to quit unless he was immediately reinstated. Instead, he talked them out of it and took the suspension because he was that kind of man and took the responsibility for his crew out of a sense of responsibility and self-respect. Nevertheless, I think it shows the pressure these amazing men were under, and there were no health plans or benefits on the railroad! If any of our family members got sick, it was to the emergency room we went. My grandfather retired from the UP after a life-time of service, and my father work for 10 years. If you worked at least 10 years you were eligible for a pension and after my father died my mother received the benefits of his pension for over 26 years.

One of my father's dying requests is that I find a book he said was called, "2-10-2 Tons of Steel." I've never been able to local this book if it actually exist and would appreciate any information on the engine my father was referring to, I believe called the "Sante Fe." But I've never found the title of the book he mentioned and I'm still trying to since he passed on years ago. Thanks for reading.

Sincerely, Haizen Paige

September 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHaizen Paige

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