Railway Preservation News

U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?
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Author:  TimReynolds [ Sun May 03, 2015 11:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

mjanssen wrote:
Experience and feel for mechanical systems is just about gone from the active workforce and that is obviously a societal objective. Steam programs which still have some of the old talent may be able to overhaul a locomotive more quickly and have operating success but expect this to be gone in the near future due to retiring leadership and workforce as well as this type of qualification not being acceptable to host railroads.


softwerkslex wrote:
It's not as useful in a shop doing "one off" work, such as a steam shop trying to get its fleet back on the road, but it could easily be used to address things like management system issues.

I teach business management and quality, and I had exactly the same thought. All of the six sigma stuff focuses on repeatable operations. Everything in steam preservation is a one time, craftsman task.

The proverbial challenge of finding equilibrium between a single operating steam locomotive example which has documentable quality to the standards of an institution which operates systems of repeatable processes. This is a larger topic than the subject railroad, and I must say that though not within the context of Richard's original question, this thread has opened up an excellent discussion.

Author:  Becky Morgan [ Sun May 03, 2015 4:37 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

I agree.

If I understand Six Sigma correctly, it's very good at getting quality from mass production, but rigid and discouraging of innovation, especially in rapidly evolving fields, and it has no tolerance for craftsmanship.
Put that up against (and it must have been perceived as "against") a steam crew trying to do everything in time-tested ways and in accordance with a set of rules and regulations that would be like Greek to most railroad consultants.

Now the question is "How do we explain each side's position to the other?" Not only can it happen, it must happen if the program is to get off dead center. Trying to do the exhaustive analyses on a tiny sample size--namely, one engine of each type, all different--is the best way to wander around for years without being able to do anything.

"Lean Six Sigma" can be even more of a loaded weapon. One nursing home implemented Lean Six Sigma by stripping the place of anything that wasn't in immediate use. That included all of the patients' off-season clothing (it was summer at the time) and all of the donated knitted and crocheted blankets. The consultant reasoned that the thin flannel sheet-blankets were more than enough, but she was somehow assuming they'd only be cold in their beds. She hadn't worked in a nursing home and didn't know that many older people are excruciatingly cold most of the time because of their medical conditions, extreme weight loss or medications, and since she was from a warm climate, she didn't realize that winter doesn't always stay outdoors. By Christmastime, when no one in the place had a sweatshirt and many of the residents were going around shivering with those thin flannel blankets wrapped around their shoulders--and tripping and falling on them because they were never intended as outerwear--things had to change. It wasn't malice; it was a misapplication of her MBA work.

Remember, we're still dealing with the 1980s and 90s MBA graduates who were taught that they needed to know how to manage, not what to manage. Not all managers are willing to listen to an explanation about why a clumsy-looking process is necessary for legal purposes, or why an old machine can't be replaced with a new one because of some specific need. I can think of a non-rail instance that ended in evacuations and a very expensive series of repairs, but could easily have been a major tragedy. The manager heard, but did not understand, and didn't inform himself about the Federal regulation that made a certain procedure necessary. Steam can't run that way either. If everybody isn't on the same page, understanding its value and limitations, things won't be inefficient. They'll be deadly and illegal.

Author:  hamster [ Sun May 03, 2015 6:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

6 sigma is a process that is adaptable to many situations. It does not demand plus or minus ZERO tolerance to the design dimension. It does not demand tolerances that are unrealistic but it does demand that whatever tolerances are applied generate a successful result. For automotive, that is one set of tolerances. For spacecraft it is another set. For steam locomotives it is yet another set of tolerances. So, if the specs say some number, the tolerance, plus or minus to that number is what is important, not strict conformance to the number. For steam locomotives, long experience has shown what those tolerances are. It is the repeatability and conformance that will lead to success, not the tolerances themselves.

Author:  Overmod [ Sun May 03, 2015 7:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

I'm going to do something I was not really prepared to do before I read Matt's post. I'm going to cut Mr. Dickens some slack.

Six-sigma is a statistical quality system. Tolerances are a variable part of that system -- repeatability regardless of the personnel doing the work, however, is essential, and I trust you all recognize the difference. As is making correct, well-documented, fully-understood changes to those "loose" tolerances should subsequent experience prove it necessary or desirable to change them (this might have saved the Paget locomotive) ... and then performing proper continuous improvement from the documented 'wisdom' base. I encourage anyone who is not familiar with the DMAIC methodology to examine it and see how it can be applied to steam power as a general set of practices.

"Define" in this case does not involve a bunch of managers using their Stanford MBA arrogance to decide 'everything historical is wrong' and re-invent the wheel in committee from first principles. It involves documenting all the practices, determining the 'best' ones in particular circumstances, and formulating and formalizing them so they can be applied without confusion.

Part of that is going to be formalizing as much as possible of what the 'old heads' have to teach. And yes, a 'best practice' can involve describing how to 'feel' machine tools just as easily as it could have emphasized how to pick the best feed and speed to maximize a machinist's piece rate. "Quality" can just as easily apply to fine watchmaking as it does to commodity mass production -- you may not be able to apply a one-size-fits=all quality "system" right out of the box, but you WILL only have to set it up once if you do it right, and thereafter you will essentially be training everyone the 'right' ways regardless of the background they had, or the attitude they might bring, or the lack of 'proper' skills and feel they might display, when they come to be hired.

Makes me think of the context of medical education and science before the Germans formalized it in the mid-1800s. You may not like the system of graduate education that has developed, where teachers strive to make each of their students equal to them and then encourage them to go further. A proper quality system - and I hope that is what UP is developing - will incorporate the right practices and encourage the right attitudes. I think we should give them the time to experiment as necessary. They will probably make a number of mistakes -- they evidently already have. The proof of the method is that it calls for the mistakes to be rectified with best practice, and new rules formalized and executed to eliminate them ... and any attitudes or systems that contributed to them ... in future practice.

I have always been attracted to the idea of an organization having 'no indispensible people'. I also made a point of setting up my offices in such a way that a new hire, who had never worked with us before, could find everything and use all the systems within a half-hour of their first arrival. That of course won't be the case with steam, but the principle, I think, is also valid here. UP is one of the organizations that can support an ongoing institution for the preservation of operating large steam power, with the emphasis not on historic preservation per se but on operation. If they cannot overcome the 'old heads are dying off' problem, it will leave an enormous hole to be filled by a relatively small (if effective) group of private and nonprofit entities.

And if the first instantiation turns out to be out of a Dilbert strip, the methodology itself provides guides for how to fix it. At least in theory. It may take time and a larger-then-usual set of iterations for the UP shop to get the system in place, but once it is there it should be capable of incorporating as much of the wisdom of current steam experts as they could otherwise teach or demonstrate to a new generation.

I'm not quite sure what work is being done on their machine tools, but increasing their precision is NOT the same thing as necessarily making parts to that precision or at 'high-quality' aerospace tolerance ranges. On the other hand, I suspect it can be used to do very repeatable custom machining to whatever tolerance or surface finish is right for each part of the very complex system of machines that is a working reciprocating locomotive. (And if the time comes to apply more modern materials and techniques, the capability will be at hand.)

Now, if it gets to be late 2015 and I still have nothing but excuses and the evidence of botched processes to look at, I might change my assessment. It wouldn't be the first time reality demonstrated the problems with implementation of a best-practices system. But I will remain in hope until then, and equally hopefully will not be proven a fool.

Author:  Dennis Storzek [ Sun May 03, 2015 7:14 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

I don't think Becky means six sigma, which, as I recall, is a statistical process for measuring deviation from the target numbers. I think Becky was thinking of five s (google it), which is the latest in Japanese buzz-word philosophies that basically says, "if you haven't used an item in X number of days, throw it out, so we can sell you more when you find you need it."

Author:  softwerkslex [ Sun May 03, 2015 7:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

Specifically, six sigma refers to six standard deviations of the normal distribution. The objective is to control processes so that your output is error free or usable within that range of plus minus three std dev from the mean of the experienced output.

In order to measure std dev you need a sample size greater than one, and really ten or more for an accurate measure.

If everything you do is a singular work of art, then the variance control goal of six sigma does not apply, and in fact is unmeasurable.

Now, boiler water treatment is a repeating process, and there you could apply six sigma.

Author:  Rainier Rails [ Sun May 03, 2015 7:54 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

Earlier I said:

It has gotten to the point where simply saying "UP" and "steam" in the same sentence will open the floodgates...Oh, and I predict this will get moved over to the Railfanning section faster than you can say "Sherman Hill".

I retract my first response. This thread is classic RYPN discussion at its best, and for me, it has answered a lot of questions about what has been going on in Cheyenne recently and placed things in a proper context.

Thank you very much, Dick, for starting this thread! And thanks to everyone who has participated!

Author:  Dave [ Sun May 03, 2015 7:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

Well, you could if the water and boiler and service were identical and repeating........


Author:  Overmod [ Sun May 03, 2015 8:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

Now, boiler water treatment is a repeating process, and there you could apply six sigma.

This is actually true -- in a slightly different way than I think Dave understands it.

What this would imply is that the water quality in the boiler is held within appropriate bounds regardless of the unusual operating conditions that may be encountered -- through the use of careful and perhaps frequent testing, knowledge of effects like stratification or different rates of solution, the provision of the right chemicals and dosing and administration methods and training ... etc.

And then careful written following of the results, adjustment of the protocols as needed, etc.

This is NOT going to be quite the same approach or statistical set of tools used in manufacturing, except with respect to continuous optimization. On the other hand, to work at all well it will require QUITE a bit more work, and rigmarole, than certain other methods of treatment, notably Porta-McMahon treatment...

Had this approach been used 'earlier' at UP we might not have had an 844 boiler saga...

Author:  Becky Morgan [ Sun May 03, 2015 8:13 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

Six Sigma was/is a buzzword for a good while. Here's the site:

If you're making a million HO-scale boxcars, it should work perfectly. If you're dealing with one steam engine, not so much until you understand why the processes need to be done in exactly this way rather than that, or what law prevents doing something that looks sensible. If you're dealing with patients, you practice on the equipment and not the people.

Before we lose the old heads, we do need to gather and evaluate their collective knowledge. Territorial nature aside, there can be more than one good, safe, valid way to do something. Which is the best? Is there a "best" or is the choice situational? There's time to figure it out, but not infinite time.

We also need to know how much old equipment is still around and find out what condition it's in so there are no more accidental mass disposals when somebody doesn't know what that greasy old thing in the corner is. I'm not sure there's a way to fix some of what is now broken, but we can prevent it from getting worse.

Author:  Dave [ Sun May 03, 2015 9:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

Thanks Robert - I've long been a proponent of a treatment program based on frequent testing and treating to the test results. On the other hand....who better positioned to try the Porta treatment than UP?

The attempted creation of constants in a situation rife with variables that can't be designed around..... well, I deal with such things daily and find that the only reliable constant is unpredictable variability. Your mileage, and UPs, may vary.

Long live craftsmanship, and the race to the top.


Author:  MEC_557 [ Sun May 03, 2015 9:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

We implemented 5S where I work. It's good for repeat jobs or processes. Problem is we do a lot of custom stuff to customer specification per job, some of these are only a few times a year. Jigs and like get tossed or scrapped between jobs as they 'sat around too long' not being used and have to be remade. It's only as efficient as you make it, er ...sustain it as part of 5S.

On the plus side I have obtained many things from extra material, hardware, electrical supplies, paint, stands, cabinets, ect that were destined for scrap (not being used or excess inventory) for the museum I'm active with just for the asking.

Author:  Frisco1522 [ Sun May 03, 2015 10:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

The idea of trying to make 50+ year old machines conform to CNC standards is an endless busy work project and it will never pay off, just eat up time and money.
The whole idea of what has been going on at Cheyenne has me scratching my head.
There are still plenty of people around who "grew up" on machines with knobs and handles on them and know how to keep them maintained to the standards they were built with. It's not exactly rocket surgery to operate these machines safely, even with the dumbed down generation.
It reminds me of a feller who worked for me in a tool and die department. I would give him, let's say, a lathe job which normally would be knocked out in an hour. He would spend the first 30 minutes selecting what he thought was the perfect piece of stock, cut it, deburr it and put it in the chuck. Then he would decide, the chuck hadn't been cleaned for a while, so he would take it off the lathe, take it apart, wash it all out in Stoddard Solvent, lube it, reassemble it and put it back on the machine. But then he would have to get a piece of drill rod or a big dowel pin and an indicator and see if it was running dead true. Didn't matter for the job he was doing. Then he would decide the gibs were too loose/tight on the cross slide. Pull the cross slide off, Stoddard Solvent, wash, rinse repeat. Oh but you know, maybe the tailstock isn't in dead alignment with the chuck. Wash, rinse, repeat. He has now taken a one hour job and crammed it into four and a half hours.
IMO, what you are seeing in Cheyenne is this scenario on a huge scale. But so far, the four hour job hasn't started turning in the lathe yet.
If this was routine, the Burlington would still be working on the 4960 trying to get her ready for excursion service.
There is no substitute for experience and common sense. Hell, I freely admit I went outside the box for information and professional opinions on a lot of things with 1522. There are sources to turn to for good information. If you don't utilize them, and insist upon micromanaging and alienating people, then you are in for a bitter ending.
This is not meant as a slam to anyone, just this old man's opinion. Your mileage may vary.

Author:  Johnsox [ Sun May 03, 2015 10:51 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

This is one of the best threads in years from my perspective. Prior to retiring a few years ago I spent many years helping with corporate turn a rounds. We used a number of tools including lean and six sigma. Many of the things we are discussing are generally thought of as Lean tools rather than Six Sigma but I understand that many use these terms interchangeably so I will too. They are complimentary tools in improving business processes. I am pleased to see there are others with similar levels of knowledge in our preservation community.

I generally agree with most of the proceeding comments and offer the following suggestions/ thoughts.
1. There is a place for modern quality and improvement systems in our preservation.
2. The blending of substantial knowledge of various crafts with good application of quality processes could strengthen the overall body of knowledge.
3. Please exercise caution in selecting which quality tools we use for what purpose in our preservation efforts. Not all produce the same results. And not all consume the same resources. And we are truly operating with limited resources. Do not expend the same effort on variation of your air compressor occasionally having small leaks as you do on calculating the Form 4 and getting the boiler, firebox and stay bolts correct.
4. Remember these are TOOLS - nothing more and nothing less.
5. If we were to sit back and look at what many successful steam programs are doing in recent years - we will probably find out we are already doing a lot of quality processes in restorations and operations. Examples are water treatment programs, sensors on bearings, frequency of boiler washes and blow downs. There are many many others.
6. There is a lot of variability inherent in an operating steam locomotive so we must insure that we do not hide unduly behind our quality tools. I think it was Kelly Anderson who commented in the past something to this effect " we are building a railway steam locomotive - not a Swiss watch. See also #3 above.
7. Quality tools are not necessarily limiting craftsmanship or rigidity. If they are - they are not being used properly.

I welcome your comments - this is a really good thread and the moderators are doing well in channeling it.

Arnie Johnson

Author:  Becky Morgan [ Mon May 04, 2015 12:59 am ]
Post subject:  Re: U.P. Steam Shop status of steam fleet?

1: Absolutely!

2: Also absolutely.

3. This is the most difficult part of what has to happen. The people who are apt to be the most enthusiastic about applying any quality management tool are also those most likely to be rigid and take it to extremes. For some reason, I've had really lousy encounters with Naval Academy graduates over the years because too many of them think that "as long as everything is clean it must work, and if it doesn't work you're too stupid to use it."
If you don't understand the function of a task or item, you'll see it as on a level with every other task. Prioritizing work is vital and everyone needs to understand why Task A needs done first, especially if it isn't self-evident. To someone unused to steam, the air leak might seem more important than the staybolts.

4. But we paid a lot of money to that consultant! He had a GrandSuperIncredibleMaster Belt! We have to get rid of all the other guy's posters he left last year when he taught us about the Brown Ring if Quality and put up these new ones!

5.Yes, and there's no harm and a great deal of good in finding out which practice gives the best boiler corrosion control or the best bearing life. Knowing the circumstances under which each engine operates will also be useful in determining which is best. It would be easy to decide that a seaside loco isn't well cared for because of corrosion while one in a remote, dry area is, only to realize the real culprit wasn't incompetence but salt air.

6: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Don't clean it till it won't work, or make a new one that doesn't fit because the old one that did fit looked ugly. Swiss watches are notoriously poor pullers in excursion service. Big stinky greasy locomotives tend to work better.

7: During the trial after the sinking of the Scioto in the 1880s, one newspaper correspondent remarked that it was hard to believe there'd only been one steamboat wreck on the fourth of July that year, because all of the witnesses seemed to have seen different ones. I have to think that's what most management conferences are like. It's hard to believe how people can look at the same handouts, sit through the same lectures, go through the same team-building...stuff...and come out with anything from "Wow, that was interesting and useful!" to "I need to go back and scream at all of my employees until I get the old ones to quit, because old people think they know something about what we do and that's inefficient."

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