spacer BSM Track Updates . . .
John LaCosta

Track Updates for May 9, 1998

    L ast Sunday I was not at the Museum, I am never at the Museum on the first Sunday of May. This is when the Fire Museum of Maryland has its opening day celebration and we always have the 1898 steam powered fire engine out and running. I only have missed this once before in the last 25 years, but last Sunday was the second time. I could not pass up the opportunity to sing with the church choir, they were doing a Mass (To Hope) written by Dave Brubeck. There were 7 instrumentalists and two soloists from New York. It was a lot of fun to do with one at 11AM and another at 3 PM.

     Last Sunday did not go as well for the crew at the BSM. On the first trip with the day, Dave ran open car 554 out the line, and on the way back in it started to trip its circuit breaker. The circuit breaker on the car is not very different from the one you may have in your house, only the voltage is 600 volts rather than 240/120 volts. After a short trouble shorting session, the passengers were transferred car 1050, and 554 was towed back to the car house by car 264.

     An inspection of the car by Rick revealed that the wiring harness had fallen down on the axle. As the axle turned, it wore a hole through the canvas that covered the wires. The axle then wore through the insulation on one of the wires and shorted it to ground. This Saturday Ed and I cut back the wire to get nice clean ends. We cut a new piece of #4 wire to replace the wire that we cut away, as well as for what had melted when it shorted to the axle, and solder it together. A visual inspection to the motors showed not signs of damage, so we cut a new piece of canvas to cover the hole and taped it in place. The harness was secured to the car body using a number of leather straps.

     Leather straps are what were used to hold most of the harnesses in the early streetcars. The big advantages were they were easy to use, did not require a pipe fitter to bend conduit, and were easy to replace. The down side is that at some point leather dry rots, and breaks. When it does, the harness falls from the car frame and lays on what is below. If what below happens to be something that is moving, well, that's how I started this paragraph.

     I had planed to do the complete annual inspection on 554 with Ed in the next couple weeks, before the weather got warm, but it got warm early. While we had 554 was on the pit repairing the wiring, we did complete the inspection. With the exception of the harness that we had fixed, every thing looked good. We adjusted the brakes slightly and took it out for a trip to make sure every thing was OK. It worked just fine. As a side note, the wiring harness in 554 was not the original. The harness was for a much larger and powerful car. It was probably what was around Carroll Park Shops 60 or so years ago when the car was last rewired. This is the same thing we found when we rewired car 264.

     The other "fun" of last Sunday was that on the forth trip out Carl stopped short of 27th street because the trolley wire was hanging down due to a broken insulator. Dave, Rick and Dan repaired the broken span while service continued on the line.

     The trolley wire has 600 volts on it. The wire is held up over the track by a trolley ear that is wrapped around the wire every 100 feet, much less if the rail is not straight. The ears are thin enough that the trolley wheel on the trolley pole can run over the ear without coming off the wire. The trolley ear is connected to a span wire using a cap, hanger and cone. The cap and cone insulate the 600 volts on the trolley wire from the span wire. The span wire is across the track and either attached to a line pole on each side of the track or to a 2-inch cross arm held by a single line pole next to the track.

     Standard practice is to have a second insulator on the span wire before it connects to the metal pole at the side of the track. In this way even if the cap and cone fail, the span wire insulator prevents the trolley from shorting to the metal line pole. Insulators at many transit properties were made using two metal ends crimped onto a wood (hickory) stick. Wood had good insulating properties and is strong, but it does dry rot. I have never counted then all, but I would guess that on our line there must be at least 500. Every one of them is almost as old as I am, if not older. While painting prolongs their life, it does not let them last forever. The problem is that they are no longer made. The modern ones would work fine, but they look very different than the old ones. While we still had a number of the old ones, we kept trying to find a supplier who makes something closer to the old wooden ones.

     Last Year when I was at a ARM convention, an old lineman from the west coast mentioned that his transit company used to take the broken wood insulators, remove the wood, and epoxy a fiberglass rod in place of the wood. I mentioned this to Dave, and two weeks ago he brought up his first batch. They looked good, but were they strong enough. I spent the last part of the afternoon making a test fixture. The results were very good and I think that we will be using these "new" insulators where they attach to the line poles.

     A crew has started to work on the crane one night during the week. Last week they cleaned the top roof of the crane and painted it with primer. They also started to clean out the cab of the crane to get it ready for painting.

     Work continues on 1164's truck with Rick starting to machine the Driver Journal boxes.

     The training class continues, and so I had better prepare for next week since I have to teach that class.


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