Hup, two, choo-choo: Hill the DoD's only rail repair facility

Jul 2 2011 - 10:33pm

Images

(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) At the U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill Air Force Base recently, Cody Allen uncovers an engine that will go in an Army locomotive.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Locomotive electrician Scott Parkin puts together a control panel for an Army locomotive.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Spc. Jonathan Sims operates a locomotive on the tracks on the west side of Hill Air Force Base recently.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Billy Funderburg points out a locomotive that will be repaired and restored at the U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill Air Force Base.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Cody Allen pulls parts for a locomotive that is being repaired and restored at the U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill Air Force Base recently.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) At the U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill Air Force Base recently, Cody Allen uncovers an engine that will go in an Army locomotive.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Locomotive electrician Scott Parkin puts together a control panel for an Army locomotive.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Spc. Jonathan Sims operates a locomotive on the tracks on the west side of Hill Air Force Base recently.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Billy Funderburg points out a locomotive that will be repaired and restored at the U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill Air Force Base.
(KERA WILLIAMS/Standard-Examiner) Cody Allen pulls parts for a locomotive that is being repaired and restored at the U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill Air Force Base recently.

HILL AIR FORCE BASE -- Hill Air Force Base is known for its cutting-edge work on high-flying jets, but on the west side of the base, work is being done every day on something a little closer to the ground.

The U.S. Army Defense Generator and Rail Center at Hill performs complete modification, repair and overhaul on locomotives used by the Department of Defense all over the county to haul everything from ammunition, coal and fuel to tanks and Humvees.

On average, the group performs overhaul work on three general-purpose locomotives every year.

Each locomotive weighs 120 tons, generates about 1,800 horsepower and requires 3,887 man-hours to complete an overhaul.

"We essentially rebuild the locomotive from the ground up -- it's bumper-to-bumper work," said Billy Funderburg, chief of the center.

"There is not one bolt that isn't taken off."

The center has 50 employees, made up of office personnel, mechanics, electricians and machinists.

The crew completes rewiring, adds new components, cuts wheels, changes valves and even paints the locomotives, among many other tasks to prep the machines.

The crew makes most of the parts needed for the locomotives on site, Funderburg said.

"Most of this stuff comes from the 1950s and '60s," he said, "so we have to manufacture it here on our own because it doesn't exist anymore and no one else makes it."

The group also sends out specialized teams for emergencies when a locomotive breaks down.

Working on 28 acres on the west side of the base, the group's setup includes a cleaning facility, a sandblasting facility, a paint shop and storage warehouse.

"Basically, our facility here is like a mini depot," said Craig Knight, a section chief at the center.

A new locomotive would cost the government about $2 million, he said, but the cost of overhauls of locomotives performed by the group averages about $565,000.

"We save the government quite a bit of money."

Most of the group's operations are centered in Building 1702, a massive, two-story brick building constructed in 1942 as part of the old Ogden Arsenal.

The facility provided shelter for work on regional locomotives during and after World War II.

The process was an essential part of early regional military activity, as the Arsenal relied heavily on railroads to transport goods around the installation and to other areas of the country.

Today, the center is the DoD's only rail repair facility.

Funderburg said the Army has about 30 installations across the U.S. with rail capability, while the Air Force has about 10.

When a locomotive is finished, it travels on a portion of the old Bamburger Rail Line, which can be seen at Hill from Interstate 15 just as you enter Davis County from the north.

The line eventually connects to the Union Pacific rail yard in Ogden, and from there, the newly overhauled locomotive is on its way.

"Not a lot of people realize we are here doing this work," Funderburg said, "but it really is quite an interesting process."

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