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Photo: Evan Schilling

Steam locomotives are complex pieces of machinery. They fascinate us with their sounds and smells, and because their moving parts are visible for all to see, we marvel at how they work. They represent 19th century technology at its finest, and keeping such old machines operating in the 21st century takes hard work, patience and skill.

Just as an automobile requires certain inspections at certain mileage intervals, so do steam locomotives, except their inspections are based on service days, not mileage. For steam locomotives, those service intervals are daily, 31-day, 92-day, annual, 5th annual, and the "big one" - the 1,472-day inspection. At each interval, all previous service intervals are also performed. For example, during the annual inspection, the parts that are checked at the daily, 31- and 92-day inspections are also checked. These inspection intervals are federally mandated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), and we could not legally operate our steam locomotives if these inspections were not performed.

Photo: Mike Ciosek
The most comprehensive inspection of all is the one performed after 1,472 service days or 15 years, whichever comes first (commonly referred to as "the 1472"). This inspection requires an almost complete disassembly of the locomotive so that every nut and bolt (literally) can be checked. For No. 58, "15 years" has come first, so we must remove her from service and perform the inspection before we can return her to service, and here's what must be done before she returns:
  • Wash boiler.
  • Clean and inspect water glass valves and gauge cocks.
  • Remove and inspect all boiler washout plugs.
  • Test all staybolts.
  • Inspect all flexible staybolt caps and sleeves.
  • Remove, calibrate, and re-install all air and steam gauges.
  • Clean steam gauge siphon pipe.
  • Renew tubular water glasses.
  • Test and adjust safety relief valves.
  • Test air brake main reservoir and brake cylinder leakage.
  • Enter and inspect tender tank interior.
  • Remove boiler flues and clean boiler interior. Since removal of flues requires their ends to be cut off with a torch, this essentially means that the boiler flues must be replaced. No. 58 has 278 2-inch diameter 12-foot long tubes.
  • Remove boiler jacket (the sheet metal outer covering of the boiler) and lagging (boiler insulation).
  • Inspect interior and exterior of boiler.
  • Perform hydrostatic test (water pressure test) of boiler.
  • Verify thickness of dry pipes through ultrasound testing.
  • Verify thickness of boiler through ultrasound testing.
  • Re-compute and update steam locomotive specification card (FRA Form No. 4). This procedure requires the services of a registered professional engineer experienced in this type of calculation.
  • Inspect smoke box.
  • Inspect suspension, running gear and appliances. This includes such things as springs, spring hangers, valve gear, rods, crank pins, smaller pins and bushings, and all parts subject to wear. This is not specifically listed as a requirement by the FRA, but this is a good time to check these items since the locomotive is disassembled.
Photo: Ed Feathers

The 1472 is also a good time to fix or replace other parts that are known to be wearing out. For example, No. 58's tires (yes, steam locomotives have "tires") are getting worn, so we already know that we will need to give her six new tires before she rolls again.

The 1472 is a huge undertaking, especially for a small heritage railroad like the Wilmington & Western, which has only one full-time shop mechanic assisted by volunteer labor. While the inspection takes place, we must also tend to the needs of our other steam locomotive, No. 98, as well as our diesels, cabooses and coaches. As a result, we expect that No. 58's inspection will take at least two years to complete. This is also an expensive process, as hundreds of new parts must be purchased or custom-manufactured. Click the button below to donate now.

We know that No. 58 has a lot of fans, and it's heart-breaking to see her "dead" and inoperable, but the 1472 is a necessary part of her continued operation, and one that will give her a new lease on life... at least for another 15 years.

Thanks to Evan Stauffer, Steve Jensen and Mary Simons for providing details on the 1472 inspection and No. 58's operational history.
Boarding Location
2201 Newport Gap Pike
(Route 41 North)
Wilmington, DE 19808
1601 Railroad Avenue
Wilmington, DE 19808
Monday to Friday
10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Historic Red Clay Valley Inc.
P.O. Box 5787
Wilmington, DE 19808
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