The Eimco 24 is a larger version of our Eimco 12B rocker shovel which has been restored to working order at Lea Bailey Light Railway. This particular example has been stored outside for several years and is in need of restoration. Other than the operator’s platform and guard rail, the machine is complete. The air hoses and steel cables will need to be replaced with new ones and the bucket drive chain will require some work to free it off. Until our volunteers have had a chance to look closely at the condition of all the mechanical parts this Eimco 24 will remain as a static exhibit.
One interesting fact about our particular machine (which bears the number 45299) is that it has been converted to right-hand drive; most Eimco rocker shovels being built as left-hand drive models. We believe this was so that it could work with another machine in a wide tunnel to allow the two operators to work side-by-side.
With the wheelsets for the Eimco 401 back on site and re-gauged to 24″ the next task was to get them back into the frames. To say they were a tight fit is an understatement. Both sides had to be raised equally to avoid the axle boxes jamming in the horn guides. The wheelset nearest the driver’s position — which we have taken to calling the rear of the locomotive — was the easier (or least difficult) of the pair due to the presence of the adjuster bolts which are used to tension the drive chain.
The springs on the front wheelset are a bit “saggy” and may end up being replaced, but as a temporary solution the locomotive has been levelled with two wooden packing blocks. Once all the bolts were tightened up the faces of the tyres were cleaned with the aid of a grinder and polished with emery tape to remove any high spots and prevent them from rubbing on the frames. All that was left to do was slide the locomotive slowly onto the rails and park it up in preparation for the next task.
Before a pressure vessel can be tested with air, it needs a hydraulic test to verify the structural integrity. If there were any leaks or weak spots this would show up by the egress of water and avoid the risk of an explosion. Of course to fill the tank with water the air needs to be removed so a special air bleed pipe was made which required the locomotive to be tilted over and a small hole dug underneath in order to fit it.
The water was pumped in using Nick’s petrol powered fire pump from our own supply which flows out of the mine and is crystal clear as long as nobody has stirred up the silt by walking along the drainage channel! Once full, a special pump was used to pressurise the system to 165 psi which is 1½ times the working pressure of 110 psi.
After verifying the pressure reading and visually confirming that there were no leaks we were able to call in a professional to carry out the necessary pressure test and visual inspections to certify the pressure vessel (see video clip below). The next job will be to connect the drive chains and test the air motor which was blanked off for the test.
If you were a mine operator then a compressed-air locomotive such as the Eimco 401 would be a very useful thing. Most underground mines would already have a compressor to power the air tools and the 401 was designed to be easily convertible between the two popular rail gauges of 18″ and 2ft. Of course “easily” would be dependent on a number of factors, such as a fully-equipped heavy engineering workshop, skilled workers with experience of the task in hand, and a programme of regular maintenance and cleaning. Carrying out the same job outdoors in a forest on a locomotive that has been stored out of use for some time is a completely different kettle of fish.
Before any attempt could be made to remove the wheels, the drive chains would first have to be disconnected. A build-up of old grease and a layer of dried mine-waste was certainly not useful! Even with the chains out of the way, the wheels would not come out without a fight. The wheels are fitted to the axles with a set of spacers which can be removed and re-installed in two different configurations depending on the gauge required. They are “outside” the wheels for 18 inch gauge so to convert to 24 inch would require them to be re-fitted “inside” the wheels. Of course to do this one must first get the wheels off the axles. Even the largest sledgehammer and heavy block of wood only managed to move one wheel about an inch in an afternoon so a different solution was needed. Our local narrow gauge railway engineer Alan Keef was given the task and apparently the ex-Simplex wheel press required abround 40 tons of force to get the wheels off!
A number of compressed-air fittings have been obtained and are stored off-site ready for use. Another important job before the locomotive can run will be to hydraulically test the pressure vessel and have it certified by a professional inspector. Our volunteers are working on this behind the scenes, and we are having a special fitting made which will let air out as the vessel is filled with water in order to carry out the hydraulic pressure test.
Eimco air locomotives were manufactured in Salt Lake City by the same company that produced the well-known compressed air mucking machine aka rocker shovel. Following the restoration to working order of the Eimco 12B rocker shovel, the Lea Bailey Light Railway was offered an Eimco locomotive on a 2-year loan from its home at the Lavender Line based at Isfield station in Sussex. There had previously been a proposal to build a narrow gauge railway on the site, but this seems unlikely to go ahead, and the locomotive’s owner was not in a position to carry out the restoration.
The first job will be to get the wheels off and re-gauge the locomotive from 18″ to 2′ so it can be put onto the rails. The locomotive is designed to be convertible between the two gauges by removing the wheels from each axle and moving a pair of spacers. How easy this task proves to be depends on how much dirt has made its way inside over the years and of course the condition of the grease which can harden over time.