Skip to main content

Typical track cross section

The basis of any good railroad is track, which consist of rails supported by ties held in place by ballast.  Unlike roads and highways, when track settles the original profile can be restored by jacking and tamping ballast under the ties to hold them in position.  This is an advantage that railroads have over highways, but track is also less forgiving and failure to maintain profile may result in a derailment.  So whether it is an Amtrak Cascades train or a Northwest Railway Museum steam train, the ability to maintain the track profile is important.

Jackson Jr Tamper from the 
Northern Pacific Railway

For more than 40 years, the Museum has maintained its track with a Jackson Junior Tamper, a unit first delivered to the Northern Pacific Railway in the early 1950s.  After about 70 years of service, the Junior Tamper has become difficult to maintain in operation.  In short, the correct replacement parts are no longer available.

The Museum’s new tamper
arrived on a truck designed 
for moving rail equipment.

The Museum has been searching for a new tamper for several years and the right opportunity arrived in late May 2022: a machine used in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on the BNSF Railway.  It was completely rebuilt in 2012 and has just 691 hours of service since that rebuilding. It was purchased through Maintenance of Way Equipment Services in Houston, Texas, but was sold “as is” in South Dakota.

The tamper was carefully rolled
off the truck under its own powe

The new tamper arrived at the Museum on Wednesday, June 15.  As expected , there were several minor issues: machines are not usually retired in perfect working order.  Some electrical wires were eaten by mice.  There was debris in the fuel tank.  Several switches were dirty or worn and not functioning correctly.  However, the machine was in very good shape overall and after a few hours of work is functional.

A turntable feature allows the
tamper to be jacked and rotated 
180 degrees.

The tamper is a Canron/Tamper Electromatic Mark II ES originally manufactured in 1983 for the Burlington Northern Railroad.  In 2012 it was remanufactured by the BNSF Railway at Brainard, Minnesota to bring it back to original specifications, and to upgrade components that were obsolete.  It features adjustable workheads for tamping turnouts (switches), and a turntable to allow the machine to operate effectively in both directions.  Notably, it features something not yet invented when the old Jackson was produced: the hydraulic squeeze to help consolidate ballast under each tie.  

The model ES features adjustable
work heads for tamping switches

The Mark II has already been out tamping track and is a welcome addition to the collection of maintenance equipment.  While not yet historic, it will help ensure the Museum’s heritage railway remains in operation for years to come.