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The Historic Railroad Buildings of Albuquerque Part 3

An Assessment of Significance
Chris Wilson

Locomotive Maintenance
To understand the relationship of the roundhouse to the larger locomotive shop buildings it helps to know a little about locomotive maintenance, Steam locomotives, which provided the primary power for American railroads until the ascendance of diesel engines in the late 19409 and 195Os, required substantial daily servicing and maintenance, as well as periodic major overhauls. Every 4 to 6 hours, a steam engine was rid of clinkers–the irregular lumps left after coal firing–and its moving parts and pipes were inspected and, if necessary, repaired. Once a day, fire tubes, flues and smoke boxes were cleaned and boilers were washed out to remove mineral build-up, Each morning, the locomotive would depart from its home roundhouse for a run of 100 to 150 miles to the next division point. From Albuquerque, the division points were Las Vegas to the north, Gallup to the west, and San Marcial to the south. There, in another roundhouse, inspections, lubrication and necessary repairs were made, and, in adjoining ash pits, clinkers and ashes were dropped. After the return trip, daily maintenance was performed and the engine housed in its home roundhouse. Roundhouses were also equipped with drop pits and machinery to perform general repairs. (13)

Periodically, a locomotive was taken to a large shop for a major overhaul. In the 19th century, this might be necessary after as few as 40,000 miles, but after 1900, with the introduction of more durable parts and features designed to reduce maintenance, some engines ran as much as 400,000 miles before receiving major repairs, In the erecting bay of the locomotive shop, the engine was completely dismantled and the parts sent to various departments for cleaning, inspection and repair. After being cleaned in a lye vat, working parts were reconditioned and necessary replacements fabricated in the machine shop. Lathes turned the large driving wheels so that all were exactly the same size, In the blacksmith shop, breaks in the frame were repaired. The boiler and fire box were patched with steel plate or, if needed, replacements were fabricated. Each part was given a final inspection and tested to meet precise standards before the locomotive was reassembled.. On average, a complete overhaul took about a month to perform. Over the fifteen year life of an average locomotive, it might be rebuilt or receive other major shop repairs once every 12 to 18 months. In this century, the Albuquerque shops serviced 40 locomotives in the average month. (14)

Machine and Boiler Shops
Built in 1921, only seven years after the roundhouse, the Machine Shop was even closer to the cutting edge of industrial design, In most regards it is comparable to the Ford Motor Company Glass Plant of 1922 which Grant Bildebrand, a leading scholar of twentieth century industrial design, has called “the single factory which carried industrial architecture forward more than any other.” (15) The Machine Shop and the Glass Plant are both one story steel frame buildings, clad mostly with glass. Where necessary, additional skylights are added on the roof. In both factories, the steel frame is meticulously worked out to accommodate all functions–offices and locker rooms as well as production areas. Each uses a limited set of standardized parts: one or two sizes of steel columns and girders, one type of truss, stock steel windows and so forth. This standardization increased the speed and lowered the cost of design and drawings, and the ordering of parts and construction, It took only eight months to erect the massive, 240 by 604 foot Machine Shop, comparable in size and speed of construction to the typical Ford factory building. (16)

The finest industrial design of the era completely integrated the production process, the machinery, light and ventilation, with the building structure and form. In the tall bay of the Machine Shop, for instance, the structural support for two levels of overhead traveling cranes (one a 250 ton crane) is integrated with the building structure which also carries the roof and glass curtain walls. The Santa Fe’s engineering department’s long experience in the design of steel railroad bridges prepared them for the structural engineering of the Boiler Shop.

The Boiler Shop built the following year adopts all the major features developed in the Machine Shop. However, its concrete facades are obscured by the Blacksmiths Shop to the east and the fire shed to the west. In addition, its features are not as completely integrated as those of the Machine Shop, the result, perhaps, of being hemmed in by the already-existing Blacksmiths Shop, Flue Shop and Sheet Metal Shed, (17)

The Albuquerque locomotive shops employ cross axial planning similar to the Ford River Rouge complex which included the Glass Plant. At River Rouge, all the assembly lines are aligned on one axis which is intersected on a perpendicular axis by the rail lines and streets which bring material to the factories, move parts between them and take away finished cars. In the Albuquerque Machine and Boiler Shops all the rail lines run north and south, both inside the buildings and outside along either end. Running east and west are the- transfer table between the buildings, four sets of over-head traveling cranes in the buildings and a fifth traveling crane outside, south of the Machine Shop. Although the size of locomotives precluded the adoption of assembly line production, this cross axial plan allowed the highly efficient movement of the heavy locomotive parts to the various departments for repair and subsequent return for reassembly, as well as the introduction of new materials and parts.

Part 4


New Lego exhibit at the Wheels Museum. View The New Mexico Lego Users Group has
partnered with WHEELS to have a beautiful Lego Train layout for children of all ages to enjoy. The exhibit will vary from season to season and we invite you to come see this new Lego train exhibit.

Do you have a few hours each month to help the Wheels Museum? Volunteers are needed so the Museum can be open more; run the model railroad trains, also help needed with events, marketing, fund raising. Call Leba Freed at (505) 243-6269.

Febuary 16, 11 am. Bob Bovee Long Steel Rails concert. This program for all ages presents songs and stories about the famous trains, rail workers, hobos, train wrecks and train robbers. Call or email Leba Freed for reservations at (505) 243-6269 or leba4@aol.com.

March 17, Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day at WHEELS. Movie, tours, train ride and food celebration.

April 1, 1 pm. Doug Figgs and Badger. Back by popular demand. By reservations only (505) 243- 6269. Doug’s show was sold out last year, so call early! Donation: $10.00.

April 8, 11 am. “Historic Albuquerque” Ronn Perea will present old Albuquerque anecdotes including delightful stories about our beloved Alvarado Hotel and the politicians, actors and entertainers who stayed there. This is a free event but, of course, donations are always appreciated.

April 22, Wheels Museum Day trip to Rancho De Chimayo Restaurante, El Santuario de Chimayo and the Santa Fe Plaza. Call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for more information. The museum is a 501C3 non-profit community organization whose mission is to create a transportation museum at the downtown Albuquerque Steam Locomotive Repair Shops.

May 19-May 23, Train trip to the Grand Canyon. Only a few spaces left.Scheduled through Amtrak Vacations, call Leba or Janet at (505) 243-6269 for reservations and more information.