Moving Down the Line

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

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Laboriously, the tender is hoisted in first, gently lifted down off the truck on its slings. There are problems, however. For one thing, it has to be turned 90 degrees to go onto the track that was brought over from A&I. The other problem is that the lifting gantries don't turn.

So — after more quiet consultation — the tender is set down on four aluminum skate dollies. Then it is pushed by back and leg power over to the track. It still must be turned 90 degrees.

This procedure is so painstaking that most of the spectators who have been hanging around all day take a walk. The tender, which is lifted using two slings but no bar, is turned five or six degrees by hand and lowered onto the floor. Then the gantries are shifted, the slings tightened up again and the tender turned another five degrees. And set down again.

Co-foremen Jeff Grooms and Robert Jackson never seem to lose their concentration. Grooms, who lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia, has been a rigger for 21 years, "since I was 19," and has some spectacular credits. When Hutchinson/United Rigging removed the 20-foot bronze Statue of Freedom from the Capitol dome, Grooms worked for two weeks on the job, and helped attach the lifting cable himself. "Then the helicopter came in and took it away and got all the credit," Grooms informs me good-naturedly. It was Grooms and his crew who recently took down the enormous Star-Spangled Banner for conservation work, and who inspected the huge scaffolding erected for the current repairs to the Washington Monument. "There are a lot of ways to do things," he tells me, and indeed he has a wonderful repertoire of powerful tools, machines that can lift, say, the 20-ton bridge cable sample at American History yet can be controlled with a push-button hand switch. "But you have to be watching every second. You can't make even the first mistake."

I kept remembering that locomotive dangling over the truck bed, moving so slowly. Anything that heavy — once it starts to move, look out. You can't just stick your hand up and stop it.

"What gets me," says Bill Withuhn ( Smithsonian, December 1998), an old railroad hand familiar with these massive machines and their majestic recalcitrance, "is the patience that the riggers have. The amazing patience."

He is right. I left the scene late Saturday, and though the short section of track had been laid down exactly on Susan Tolbert's taped guidelines, the tender still wasn't in place. And the locomotive waited outside on the lawn until it could be moved inside to protect it from the weather. The crew got the tender set, then worked all day Sunday to position the Jupiter in the hall correctly, turning it bit by bit, lifting and setting it down, over and over.

When — on Monday! — the whole apparatus was at last sited, the cowcatcher and stack reattached, and the gear cleared away for a celebratory picture, it was Smithsonian photographer Jeff Tinsley who noticed that the stack was on crooked.

Apparently, it had been slightly crooked all these years. The museum's staff and the riggers, who by now must have been a little sick of the Jupiter and its ways, rebolted the stack aright.

Grooms shrugged. "This is nothing," he said. "We do a lot heavier stuff than this. Industrial stuff with overhead cranes. We had one piece that weighed 75 tons..." But that's a different story.


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