California Zephyr Servicing & Cleaning

Enroute Cleaning

Wanting to give passengers the best possible view of the famed Feather River Canyon while traveling west aboard the California Zephyr, Western Pacific knew a washer for the new train was a must prior to entering the canyon. Located at Portola the washer was installed to remove the dust and dirt accumulation from crossing the Nevada desert the previous night. With a fast schedule and limited time allocated for the stop in Portola, it was deemed impossible to use a conventional rotating brush type car washer. Something new was needed. Rising to the challenge WP’s engineering department came up with a unique brushless type washer that could be used right on the main line with the crew and passengers still onboard. Designed during 1948 and construction was accomplished between May 5 and June 30, 1949 at a cost of $853.68 under the direction of Thomas L. Phillips with all special steel fabrication and welding completed under contract by Acme Welding Co. of Oakland, CA.

Car washer at Portola, California.

Located just west of the old depot location the new washer permitted the entire train to be cleaned in approximately 7 minutes leaving the car windows and Vista-Domes sparkling clean. Before entering the washer, passengers were informed over the trains public address system of the impending cleaning process and many would watch the novel operation from the safety of the dome cars.

Consisting of three pairs of retractable pipe half arches mounted on stationary columns spray nozzles were mounted on each arch, which would swing out to form three complete arches through which the train passed. The nozzles were positioned to be 20 inches from the surface of the cars as they passed through each arch.

Car washer at Portola, California.

The first arch equipped with 16 “atomizing” type nozzles coated the train with a special cleaning solution. As the train traveled the 110 feet to the first rinsing arch the cleaning solution softened any dirt and grime on the cars and windows. Arches 2 and three were also equipped with 16 nozzles but these were of a “fan” type for rinsing. Producing an extremely hard, flat spray of clean water delivered at 95 pounds per square inch the two rinsing arches combined to deliver 500 gallons of water a minute.

Controlling the washer was accomplished from a small-prefabricated building, which housed the control equipment, pumps and an area for storing and mixing the cleaning solution. Mixed in a drum the cleaning concentrate was then hand pumped into a storage container and diluted to the proper strength. During the mixing operation, a three horsepower pump was connected in such a way that cleaning solution was drawn from the bottom of the storage container and discharged back in the top thereby agitating the solution. During the washing operation, this solution was then inducted into the water being pumped to the first arch. When the washing was complete this pump would then draw any remaining solution back into the tank from the arch and all piping was flushed with clear water to prevent corrosion. The main water pump was a 50 horsepower 500-gallon per minute unit. A catch basin was constructed under the tracks to prevent erosion of the roadbed and provide for drainage of the approximately 3500 gallons of water and solution discharged during each train cleaning. Filled with ballast the basin funneled the expended water to a 12-inch drain.

Floodlights and two signals governed train movement through the washer. This was necessary to give the crew proper warning of the restricted clearance when the arches were in position for train cleaning. When all arches were retracted the floodlights were off and the signals displayed a white indication. When one or more of the half arches were not in the retracted position, the floodlights came on and the signals displayed a purple indication. While not in use the half arches were padlocked in the retracted position, which was eight feet six inches clear of the track centerline.

Although well engineered and constructed some problems did present themselves. The railroad learned quickly that you do not clean the train during extremely cold weather. Passengers became very upset when on December 20, 1949 number 17 was run through the washer when the outside temperature was eight degrees below zero. The resulting thick coat of ice over all windows blocked any vision of the canyon until thawing just prior to entering Oroville. After receiving complaints steps were immediately taken to insure against any repetition of an instance such as this. Overall the washer performed as designed and the passengers were appreciative of being able to view the spectacular scenery of the canyon through clean windows both lower and dome.

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