Moving Down the Line- page 1 | History | Smithsonian

Moving Down the Line

It's pulled and jimmied, tied and lifted — but the 20-ton Jupiter engine finally reaches its new home

Smithsonian Magazine | Subscribe

Everything goes so slowly. We are moving the Jupiter locomotive and its tender — 25 tons of antique iron — from the Arts and Industries Building (A&I) across the Mall to the National Museum of American History's Railroad Hall.

Jeff Grooms of Hutchinson/United Rigging and his crew have been here since 7 A.M. Actually they began Thursday, working out the final details of the transfer and helping remove miscellaneous parts from the Jupiter. (The smaller Pioneer and Olomana locomotives, which had been housed in the Railroad Hall, have been moved to make way.) On Friday, they carefully lifted and rolled Jupiter and its tender as close to A&I's doors as possible, in preparation for hoisting onto truck trailers. Now it's day three — Saturday.

They have lifted the huge engine by securing a sling around the front, placing a steel bar between the back wheels, and suspending the sling and bar from two horizontal I-beams. The I-beams are held aloft on four enormous hydraulic gantries, and the gantries rest on what appear to be heavy, radio-controlled scooters.

Everyone stands around talking in low tones. The black, white and crimson squares of the museum floor are awash in yellow electric cables as thick as your thumb. Outside in the parking lot the tender, removed earlier today, waits on a truck. Another long flatbed has been backed partway through the (luckily) enormous doors of the museum.

The problem is that the I-beams are a couple of inches too long to fit through the doors. So they are going to slide the locomotive onto the back of the flatbed while it's still indoors. The monster would have gone through the doors easily by itself, but will it fit while on top of the flatbed?

People consult quietly. Ray Hutt, Peter Liebhold and Steve Lubar of the American History staff join in. The riggers, big men, big all over, in straining T-shirts, their hard hats on backward, look to the transportation curator, Bill Withuhn. Withuhn, 6 feet 4 and solid, looks to the project manager. The project manager looks up at him. She is Susan Tolbert, 5 feet 4 and 105 pounds. She wears her hard hat straight on, with her chestnut hair flowing down behind. A museum specialist in the history of technology, she has been a project manager for four years. "Most of the job is coordinating things," she says.

Finally, the riggers and museum experts all agree to try it. No time to send for a special low-bed trailer. Slowly the gantry motors roll the great machine forward. Every few inches the gantries' little wheels catch on the wood planks and aluminum plates that were put down to protect the marble floor, and they have to be jimmied along.

After about an hour the Jupiter hangs directly above the flatbed. It is lowered gingerly. But before it touches the truck someone notes that the locomotive's wheel flanges shouldn't carry the whole weight. So boards are slipped partway under the wheels, simulating a track and spreading the burden.

As the Jupiter — a mere 20 1/2 tons without the tender — ever so gradually settles down, the flatbed sags. It sags right onto the tires and the tires sag, too. But nothing pops.

Now the Jupiter is winched by hand with a grip hoist, one inch at a time, to bring it more squarely onto the flatbed. "I could have used the winch from the truck," mutters Grooms, "but I didn't want to smoke up the building." Giant locomotive wheels turn without a squeak. Withuhn says he has sprayed two whole cans of WD-40 on the moving parts, for the Jupiter hasn't stirred since arriving at A&I in 1976.

Tags

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus