Monday, May 26, 2008

First Weekend in Portola

As far as I'm concerned, Memorial Day weekend is the official start of summer. It's the opening weekend for the Western Pacific Railroad Museum in Portola. I also brought my girlfriend along so she could come and see what really makes a mechanical engineer tick.

Bad weather on Memorial Day Weekend seems to be a tradition. Two years ago, I woke up Saturday morning to a nice 2 inches on snow on the ground. Luckily it had stopped snowing by the end of breakfast, and the snow melted by lunch, but it was still cold, wet, and miserable all weekend. This weekend wasn't nearly as bad; only rained off and on and was cold.

Dad showed up at Davis at 6am Saturday, and we loaded up the car and headed off. We arrived at Portola around 9. The museum typically runs a demonstration passenger train around the yard, which requires at least 4 crew members. We had two student brakemen and, since I happen to already be a qualified brakemen, I got my first chance to be an instructor brakemen.

My student brakeman was George, a striking image of my future plans. He got a mechanical engineering degree from UC Davis and went to Berkeley for graduate school, which is exactly what I'm planning on doing. He then worked in Nuclear power plants and security systems for 30 years. It was a very interesting day talking to him about mechanical engineering and some tricks he picked up in the industry. He was also one of the sharpest students I've seen. He picked stuff up quickly and I rarely needed to repeat anything, other than subtle technique tips.

This was really exciting because I've never gotten the chance to be an instructor brakeman before. I usually avoid working in the operating department at all. I'd rather suit up as a mechanic and dive into the first broken locomotive I find, but this weekend they needed me so that's how it was. To become a qualified brakeman you need 36 hours of experience, most of which I picked up switching to place equipment needed for the mechanical department. I now need to log a certain number of hours as an instructor before I can move on to be a student conductor. I like to think I did a good job teaching George how to be a safe and efficient brakeman.

On Sunday, two directors and the president of the museum showed up and enlisted me to help them reinstall bearings on some axles. This was a bigger job than it sounds. Each set of bearing weighs about 400 pounds. We listed them up with a forklift and had to line them up and slide onto the axle just right. I then wired them on so they wouldn't slide around while they're being moved.

Overall it was a good weekend and I enjoyed hanging out with the gang again. It looks like it's going to be a thin year as for guests and crew, so I'm probably going to be busier than usual.

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