Moving Down the Line

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

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.

The men offer Tolbert a pull at the winch jack. She gets up on the truck and gives a mighty haul. It almost throws her; she has to put everything she's got into it — but it moves. She gets a laugh and applause.

Grooms climbs aboard the Jupiter, whose old-fashioned stack has been removed, and eyeballs the route through the big doors. He indicates with his fingers: four inches to spare. "Take it out!" he calls. And the truck labors forward, slowly hauling the locomotive out into the parking lot. The top clears the door by exactly four inches. (I remark that the truck bed has sagged four inches, too, but I am assured that they anticipated that.) Everyone claps. It's lunchtime.

The Jupiter, built in 1876 in Philadelphia, first worked for the Santa Cruz Railroad Company, in California, linking Santa Cruz and Monterey Bay with the Watsonville artichoke farms. As an economy measure it was designed for narrow-gauge rails, 36 inches apart instead of the standard 56 1/2. It burned wood.

Withuhn explains that the wheel arrangement, four main driving wheels with four smaller ones in front, is an American innovation. The earliest locomotives in England had just the four main wheels, and that was fine for the wonderfully level and even tracks common on English railroads. But on the roughly built American tracks, covering hundreds of miles and ranging over all sorts of wild country, a four-wheeler tended to careen off the tracks. Hence the front-runner pilot wheels to help guide it around curves and over bumps. This American invention was soon copied by the British and other Europeans as their own rail systems expanded.

In 1881 the Southern Pacific Railroad took over the little line and converted it to standard gauge. The Jupiter was sold to Guatemala in 1885. It worked in the jungles for decades, soon losing its gold filigree striping, brass trim and beautiful walnut cab. Retired, the locomotive was bought in 1963 by O. Roy Chalk, Washington's flamboyant transit czar, and installed in a playground at 7th and O streets, Northwest.

When America's bicentennial came up, Chalk, noting the date 1876 on the locomotive's flank, gave the Jupiter to the Smithsonian. Using an 1880 photograph and the original specifications, the people at the Smithsonian's preservation and storage facility, located in Silver Hill, Maryland, restored the trim and wooden cab so it looked like new.

As for the locomotives it replaces in the Railroad Hall, the Pioneer, 12 1/2 tons and built in 1851, goes to the National Museum of Industrial History at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The 116-year-old Olomana will come to A&I next month to be part of an exhibition on the Japanese experience in Hawaii — although it, too, eventually moves on to Bethlehem.

There is a good reason for its inclusion in the exhibition. Built in Philadelphia, the Olomana was shipped around the Horn to Oahu in 1883 to work on a sugar plantation that was manned by large numbers of Japanese immigrants. Its narrow gauge and light weight of nine tons enabled it to run on temporary tracks in the cane fields at five miles per hour, though it sometimes was allowed to race on the main tracks at 20 mph. It wound up in Hollywood on animator Ward Kimball's private backyard railroad. Walt Disney himself ran it along the little track.

Well, we're back from lunch and now the real work begins. The locomotive and tender have been trucked down 14th Street to Constitution Avenue (stopping en route for photographs of the startling sight rolling through traffic with the Washington Monument in the background) and across the lawn to the Railroad Hall of American History, whose vast glass doors will accommodate any locomotive you could mention. The more modern 1401 steam locomotive, 280.8 tons in working order and 92 feet long, is already in the hall and I don't even want to think about how that got there.

At this late date I learn that one of the plans originally suggested had been to simply trundle the Jupiter over to American History on its own wheels. It would have been a terrific spectacle, but there were too many potential hazards.

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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