LIRR steam train gets prepped for restoration

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Ronnie Jones attached a steel and brass quartering gauge to one of the 68-inch driving wheels of historic Long Island Rail Road steam locomotive No. 35 and began measuring angles.

The Steam Operations Corp. employee was determining if the massive wheel was in alignment with its twin on the other side of the axle. His measurements were among thousands the restoration firm made during a five-day visit last week to the Oyster Bay Railroad Museum.

"We're figuring out what condition the locomotive is in and what we have to do to make it operational again" so it can run on the museum's grounds, said company president Scott Lindsay.

Five years ago, the Birmingham, Ala., company surveyed the boiler that generated steam in the locomotive, which was retired in 1955. On this visit, the three-man team checked out the rest of the engine and tender, which carried coal and water, to see what can be restored.

"Everything can be made back to running condition" - at a price the firm will calculate, Lindsay said. "What we'll be doing is taking away accumulated wear from when it last operated and conditions from sitting outside at Eisenhower Park and other places over the years."

The museum is paying for the survey work, but the organization has a $524,000 grant from the 2006 Nassau County Environmental Bond Act to restore the tender and running gear.

Museum chairman Ben Jankowski said he expects the grant to cover that portion of the work, which could start in Alabama by early next year. Restoring the locomotive and tender "to relive the golden age of railroading on Long Island" would take at least two years and more than $1.5 million. The museum still needs to raise the rest of the funds.

William Withuhn, Smithsonian Institution curator emeritus and volunteer adviser to the museum, said a historically accurate restoration of No. 35 is important because "it was part of the development of Long Island into what it is today."

"Every single piece will need some sort of attention," Lindsay said. "There are a few things that probably will have to be replaced due to wear, but we don't have enough information yet" to make those determinations.

The tender, with holes in its bottom and sides, may be replaced. "You can see where it's rotten," he said, pointing to a rusted-out portion of the water tank. "The bottom is as thin as a newspaper and it's like a sponge."

Lindsay said "the rust and flaking paint is cosmetic" on the locomotive frame, and noted the nearby tender frame was cast as a single piece of steel - something he said no steel mill today could do.

"We have to restore this thing to be more than just a stuffed and mounted artifact," Lindsay said of No. 35. "It has to be a living, breathing piece of machinery. We have to keep that technology alive."

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