Restoring Engine No. 1

Engine No. 1, 1991, before restoration began – TVRR Files.
Tanana Valley Railroad Engine No. 1, two days before its inaugural revenue run on the Fourth of July, 2000. – Art Chase photo.

By Dan Gullickson

On July 4, 2000, Engine No. 1 of the Tanana Valley Railroad (ex-AEC/ARR Chatanika Branch #1,  ex-North American Transportation and Trading Co. #1), a Gold Rush era Porter 0-4-0 ST, CN#1972, had its first revenue run since the early 1920s. Retired and placed on display in Fairbanks, Alaska in 1922, the engine was restored by Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad, Inc., a nonprofit group formed to restore the little engine and preserve Tanana Valley Railroad memorabilia.  The group spent nine years to restore the locomotive and associated projects.

Here’s the story:

Sparked by the issue of the LGB Porter model, a group of friends decided to try and prevent further destruction of the Porter engine on display at a local park, slowly succumbing to the ravages of time.  Assisted by representatives of the Museum of Alaska Transportation and Industry in Wasilla, the friends spent Thanksgiving weekend of 1991 examining the engine. They developed a restoration plan, with the ultimate goal of making Engine No. 1 run again, if possible.  Upon learning that the engine had been built in the spring of 1899, the group set a target date of 1999 for return to operation.

Chassis without cab, spring, 1992. Pat Durand (left) and Rich Barlow discuss how to proceed – FTVRR files, Dan Gullickson.

Work began in the spring 1992, when the group formally organized as Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad, Inc. and began recruiting additional members.  They secured nonprofit status from the Internal Revenue Service, and began dismantling the engine, while conducting extensive historic research, and initiating a fundraising campaign.   Limited by a short outdoor summer season and funding, work proceeded at a slow and careful pace.

Dismantling begins, spring, 1992. Photo records indicate this was the fourth cab placed on Engine No. 1 – FTVRR files, Dan Gullickson.

By fall 1996, the 36-inch narrow gauge locomotive was in pieces, which had all been cleaned up and examined for repair or replacement.  The Alaska state boiler inspector determined that the boiler would have to be replaced. The group searched nationwide to find a professional firm willing to travel to Fairbanks to build a new boiler, using the “guts” from the old one, and direct the re-assembly.

Original blueprints for part of the engine were located by FTVRR researchers in a collection loaned from the Canadian National Archives, which aided in the re-creation of some of the essential machinery.   Other professional firms capable of repairing or replicating parts such as running blocks and injectors, were located and parts were sent out.  Missing pieces were re-cast using molds patterned off parts borrowed from a sister engine.

Summer 1997 marked the time for re-assembly to begin, still outside.  As replacement parts came back, they were returned to the growing chassis and painted with a special anti-corrosion paint.

FTVRR members constructing new passing siding with rail salvaged from a gold mine and ties from the Alaska Railroad – FTVRR files, D an Gullickson.

Summer season in 1998 began with the crew recovering donated track and switches to build a new siding into a pole shed that had been used for reconstruction of a riverboat wheelhouse.  The chassis was finally placed back on the re-tooled axles and rolled into the shed.  While re-assembly continued, work immediately began to enclose the shed, using lumber salvaged from an old gold-rush era structure.

Holaday-Parks employees fabricating new tank utilizing the ends from the original – FTVRR files, Dan Gullickson.

The new boiler arrived in September, was mounted inside the chassis, and tested for leaks. Reassembly continued through the winter, additional track was laid in the spring to create a 125-foot passing siding, and the boiler company returned on July 8, 1999, to complete the final work and test the engine. 

Steam up began on July 24 and finally on July 27, everyone’s dream was achieved, as Engine No. 1 moved out onto the mainline at the park, accompanied by cheers and many misty eyes.

Engine No. 1 returns to operation July 4, 2000 – photo courtesy Richard Hansen.

On July 4, 2000, as part of the local community Independence Day celebration centered in the park, Engine No. 1 became the oldest operating steam locomotive in Alaska and the Yukon.

With the exception of the boiler, running blocks and oil lubricator,  all work was completed by local vendors and citizens who donated their time and resources.  The new boiler was built to current code by Benson Mt.Co., using the “guts” from the original boiler, and has fake rivets to match the original.  Running blocks were fabricated by IFT-USA, from the original blueprints.  Back Shop Enterprises provided the oil lubricator.  Major technical assistance was received from Peter Bouley of Benson Mt.Co., and Steve Boothroyd of the Edaville Railroad, and the White Pass and Yukon Route gave our operating crew their initial training.

The following is a summary of the work performed to return TVRR #1 to operation:

~ Total disassembly down to the chassis to allow examination and cleaning of all parts
~ All piping/plumbing replaced
~ Axles re-ground
~ Driving pins replaced
~ Crosshead guides milled
~ New piston rings fabricated from bar stock
~ Cylinders re-worked; crossheads, side rod bearings, and Cylinder Push Rods rebuilt
~ New running blocks fabricated
~ Valve stems and piston rods re-surfaced
~ Rebuilt throttle quadrant
~ Steam gauge, whistle, Bell, Steam Injector and Oil Lubricator replaced (all had disappeared)
~ Water Hatch Cover, Steam chest Covers and Water Tank Clean-out plugs re-cast (old ones were missing or had severe damage)
~ Boiler replaced
~ New Boiler wrapped and insulated
~ Water Tank and Headlamp restored; Ash Pan replaced, Ash Catcher fabricated
~ Cab Replaced, following original plans, using White Oak, and the roof is sheathed with copper
  • The parts used to make casting molds for missing parts on #1 came from a sister engine, Coal Creek #3, which is owned by Keith Christenson of Eagle River.   Keith may bring #3 to Fairbanks for restoration once our new facility is complete.   #3 is presently stored outside in Eagle River.  Keith also owns TVRR Box Car #103, the same unit that appears in many photographs following the passenger car (see photo).  He has donated it to us and we hope to move it to Fairbanks for stabilization next year.
  • Dan Gullickson is a former president of the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad, Inc.

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