The evening of August 18, Sue and I were driving along West Main--and when she spied this "thing," Sue needed us to stop! We walked around it and took pictures. It was pretty doggone impressive looking, whatever it was!
It looked kind of like a side-wheeler paddle boat--only on a railroad engine!
Clearly, the wheels on each side were made for digging.
We figured it had something to do with railroad maintenance, and we were right!
This huge machine is a "ballast cleaner" that railroads use to keep the ballast (the mound of gravel the rails and ties sit on) free of dirt and mud. Railroads are built on gravel for a reason: Gravel sheds water. If mud builds up, clogs the gravel, and prevents it from shedding water, the water rots the railroad ties, or it can cause the rails to shift sideways, loosens the rail fasteners, can cause problems with frost heaving, and all kinds of other (very costly) mayhem.
After the wheel churns and picks up the filthy, dirty ballast, the stuff is moved on a conveyor belt to sifters and cleaners. The filth portion is spewed out to the side, while the now-squeaky-clean ballast is deposited back along the side of the tracks. Another gizmo then smooths the mound of clean ballast back into a slant.
Finally, some incredibly serious-looking brushes clear any stray gravel and dirt from the rails.
Between jobs, the latest model from the Loram company can travel at speeds of up to 48 miles per hour--that would be a sight, to see one of these things bustin' along the rails at nearly 50 mph, eh?!
Here's a video (from 1995, apparently before the rail companies learned about OSHA and required all workers to wear florescent jackets and all ballast-cleaner workers to wear dustmasks):
And . . . if you're interested in railroad stuff, be sure to see my post about the historic Union Pacific engine 844!