These views expressed within do not necessarily represent the views of The Ely Times
By Marty Westland
There is a letter that is circulating through our community. It is unsigned, but its message is virtually the same as that presented by Mark Bassett in his September 2012 report to the Ely City Council. To paraphrase: “Marty Westland, as Chief Mechanical Officer of the railroad screwed up and ordered the wrong crown brass for 93 and it cost the railroad $400,000 etc. etc.” I think it is time for me to set the record straight and toward that end I present these facts: Mark Bassett hired me in May 2006 as his fifth Chief Mechanical Officer, preceded by Lance Hunt (fired by Mark), Don Hepler (quit), Jack Anderson (died) and Dave Griner (quit). I worked for two years to keep his railroad running.
Steamers, diesels, cars, track, bridges…the whole thing, and under strict Federal regulations. “Worked” is not the right word. I slaved an average of 60, sometimes 80, hours per week for two years to satisfy Mark’s demand for steam. Just ask anyone who has ever worked on our railroad. The conditions were (and still are) brutal. But we kept it going. As I recollect, Mark even called me the “wizard” of the shop a time or two.
A crack in an axle of 93 caused a crown brass (a driving axle bearing) to overheat in the summer of 2007 and I set out to fix it. Using my best engineering experience I ordered axle steel for one axle, and FOUR crown brasses (two for the new axles, and two spares. EIGHT are required for the entire locomotive.) I specified a high lead bronze, just as dictated in the standard practice of Alco (93’s maker), the Association of American Railroads, and Baldwin, who made more steam locomotives than any other company in the world, including our beloved 40. I got to SEE those four brasses when they were delivered from the foundry, but I never got to machine or fit them. In March 2008, Mark Bassett placed Mike Manwiller of the Heber Valley Railroad in charge of rebuilding 93. I personally loaded those four castings on a truck along with the rest of 93’s running gear, for shipment to a shop in Salt Lake City and never saw them again. During the early winter of 2007 I was also working on 40. Its lead truck had collapsed, and needed a complete rebuild. This was a major project which finished just in time for 40 to be the star of the first photo shoot of 2008.
The discovery of the cracked axle on 93 had prompted the management board to check all the other axles on 93 and 40 for cracks. Terry Gust, a respected board member arranged for that inspection despite my warnings that revelation of ANY cracks would condemn the locomotive per Federal regulation. Now please do not misunderstand me. Mr. Gust’s decision to test the axles was the prudent choice, but that testing, performed by a licensed certified inspector in February 2008, identified another cracked axle on 93, and two cracked axles on 40. A visual inspection confirmed the results of the ultrasonic inspection. Two of 40’s drive axles are condemned, and sadly, no amount of rhetoric can change that.
The purpose of this letter is to illustrate that I had no control over what was done during the rebuilding of 93, and therefore cannot accept blame for its subsequent failings. I ordered four crown brasses that complied with standard railroad specifications, and I was fired (May 17, 2008) before I got to do ANYTHING with them. I am not sure that the brass I ordered was even used! I do know that the FIRST failure was caused by improper machining of the brass. On March 13, 2009, I spoke with Gary North, a contractor for the railroad, and he showed me the failed brasses. There was no evidence of flaws in the castings (another story had been circulated), but there was a glaring error in how the brasses had been machined: lubrication channels, called grease grooves, that carry grease to the central, load bearing area of the bearing were never cut. Without these grooves the bearings were doomed to fail, and in fact their appearance was a textbook example of failure due to lack of lubrication. Subsequently, new crown brass was ordered in a different metal and apparently the SAME mistake was repeated! The drivers had to be dropped yet again and grease grooves finally, on the THIRD job, cut correctly.
I, personally, am very fortunate to have a respectable reputation among many experts in the steam tourist railroad industry. Statements made by people who are ignorant of the subject will not cost me the respect I have earned during my career. But it is very alarming to realize that the leaders of our community and railroad can be swayed by such statements. It is even more alarming to realize that in the game of steam railroading, even seemingly minor mistakes in judgment can be so costly in both dollars and even human life. Perhaps it is time to take a more pragmatic approach and LISTEN, not so much to the few noisemakers, but to the professionals as we plan how to keep our railroad running.
Thank you for letting me share these facts with you.