• NYC Jet Snow Blower

  • Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.
Discussion relating to the NYC and subsidiaries, up to 1968. Visit the NYCS Historical Society for more information.

Moderator: Otto Vondrak

  by BR&P
Anybody know how many of those things were made altogether? Looking at Tommy's pic, it looks like a different unit from the one I posted above. Aside from the color, the one being pushed by the EMD has the jet mounted closer to the end of the car, and a shorter blower nozzle or whatever it should be called. And maybe it's my eyes but that one looks like it may end in "7" instead of a more round digit in the one Tommy posted, which may be that 27208.

Of course it is possible the same unit was re-vamped from one year to another by relocating the jet.
  by Tommy Meehan
How many jet snow blowers were there? Apparently quite a few. In reading this GE Reports installment in which they talk with the former NY Central assistant director of technical research Don Wetzel (of Jet RDC fame), I discovered Wetzel personally designed and held the patents on the jet snow blowers. He told GE the blowers had been used on railroads all over the U.S. -and even in Saudi Arabia. (That one was used to blow sand off the tracks, not snow. Saudi Arabian Railways doesn't have much of a snow problem. :-) ) Wetzel mentioned -- in connection with the Jet RDC but I'm sure this also applies to the snow units -- that the J47 turbojet engine is rated at a powerful 5,000 hp. Another factor was cost. About 30,000 J47 engines were produced between 1948 and 1956 (when the engine went out of production), so by 1960 serviceable engines could be acquired on the surplus market at reasonable prices.

One of Mr. Wetzel's creations (X29493):

  by Tommy Meehan
One correction I want to make was my statement earlier about NYC use of the jet snow blower at Dewitt Yard following a storm in the mid-1960s that dumped up to 52 inches of snow. The track engineer had actually called off the use of the X-659 rotary plow which had come down from its Watertown (NY) base to assist. It was the rotary that was picking up yard debris like air hoses and brake shoes and whipping them around. In a discussion on another group, and in emails to me, it was explained that in this storm Central used two big jet snow blowers primarily to clean switches and the hump retarder tracks and they performed satisfactorily. This was the way they were used at places like Collinwood and Frontier and were quite effective. The jet snow blowers did have a problem with blowing ballast around -- and anything else that happened to be in their path -- and were not used to clear ladder or class tracks. It was also suggested that four feet of snow was probably beyond their capabilities anyway.

Another former Central employee told me, when the jet snow blower worked the Putnam Jct. suburban train yard in January 1961 another problem encountered was snow being blown onto coaches laying over. The cars were coated with snow and the following morning early arriving crews discovered vestibule doors were frozen shut. I think several early morning commuter trains were delayed as a result.
  by BR&P
Tommy, I can remember being in Rochester Yard while a jet was working. I don't remember if this was one of the NYC-built machines, or a more modern one built by a manufacturer. Regardless, it was working one of the yard leads. I was several tracks over but a bit "downwind" of the thing, and I could occasionally hear some item or other bouncing off a boxcar roof here or there.

As I mentioned in the older thread, either the heat or the velocity removed all the accumulated oil and grease from the switches, and they were a bear to throw until re-lubricated, the crews would growl plenty. Also, the heat from the blower would melt any snow or ice it did not blow away, and when it re-froze it was nasty.

You mention the rotary, and as we know Conrail got rid of that some years back. I know they had some high-dollar foreign thing called a Beelhock or something like that. I never dealt with either, but somehow when dealing with what Buffalo had a few weeks back, it seems the good old 100+ year old rotary would be a better choice. But what do I know?
  by Tommy Meehan
During the mid-1960s Central also apparently acquired smaller jet snow blowers built by the Railroad Mechanical Corporation. I think the problem with the earlier railroad-built snow blowers was the use of jet engines that were designed to power military aircraft. Though cheap to acquire -- which Central liked -- they were obviously not too well-suited for the job as they produced too much thrust. However, reportedly railroads in Canada and in the Soviet Union also used military surplus jet engines to power snow blowers in the same time period, the early 1960s. As railroads became more familiar with the technology smaller units were produced and many are still in use.

This is a photo of a smaller Conrail unit that was working along the former NY Central Buffalo Division main line near Bailey Avenue in Buffalo (not far from the site of the old Central Terminal) on January 12, 1999.


  by Tommy Meehan
I was curious to see what the early Canadian and Soviet rail snow blowers looked like, largely because -- like Central -- they were said to have used surplus military jet aircraft engines. Below is a photo of (or what purports to be a photo of) a 1960s era Soviet railways jet-powered snow blower. I don't know if it's a hoax, photoshopped or what. All I know is I found it in many places on the Internet.

As is painfully obvious, just as New York Central reused a former military jet engine, the Soviets did too only they also used quite a bit of the aircraft as well. Compared to the USSR model, Central's were a marvel of industrial redesign! :-)


  by Allen Hazen
Looks like the front end of a MiG-15. And the engine looks (at least superficially, and I don't claim to be an expert in these matters) like the Rolls-Royce "Nene" turbojet used on the MiG-15.
  by JetEngineSnowBlower
1959 NYC RR Research Lab Cleveland Summer Job
The early spring of my junior year at MIT rooms were set aside for recruiters to use for half hour interviews. I decided that I wanted to see what northern Ohio companies were hiring graduates. I would hang around until an interviewee left, then stick my head in the door and ask if they had summer hires. If so I would ask for an application form to hand in.
NASA Lewis was the one place mom wanted me to work after graduation, being about a half hour drive north of our home town, Medina, Ohio. But the New York Central Railroad Research Lab sounded more interesting and they snapped me up with a $400 a month offer. I started the day after arriving home. I drove the 35 miles with my little two seat roadster, chopped and channeled from a 1948 Crosley station wagon.

My room during the week was $1 a night at the NYCRR transient hotel. The lab was a small building next to the Collingwood yards. The yard had massive steam locomotive repair building with huge overhead cranes and locomotive round-tables. Since steam had long gone, only a few of the much more reliable diesel locomotives were in for repair and overhaul. Most of the place was falling into disrepair. The remaining highly skilled machinists with decades of experience supported our work in the NYCRR Research Lab.
The lab was small with about a dozen engineers and technicians with a leader that was willing to try anything. We were given unique operational problems to solve from NYC RR management, many of them in category of “far-out.” There were labor problems and someone thought that the union might be putting grease on the tracks so trains could not stop at crossings. The bright idea was that infrared photos could spot the “greasings!” My I worked with an inventive engineer at the lab, named Don Wetzel who was also a railroad fireman and a pilot. I served as cameraman as we followed the tracks at a very low level in a small Cessna. After taking pictures at many crossings we found no evidence of grease or that grease could even be detected by aerial photography.
Another time they sent me to Washington D.C. to International Arms Co. to check out Vampire twin boom jet fighters that had been secured from the fascist Trujillo government of the Dominican Republic. Although the going price was only $3000 the NYCRR research lab decided that they were overreaching a bit on the need for a high speed surveillance plane. At the age of 21, I would have loved to buy a fighter jet, machine guns include, but it was not to be.

(I tried to paste a picture of a Vampire with Dominican Republic markings, but could not, If someone could give me the procedure needed I would appreciate it. Cheers Ted Kraver

I also had a lot of fun and got into trouble with a WW II Tank retriever. The concern was potential train wrecks with radioactive materials on board. They wanted a remotely controlled shielded vehicle the wreck site teams could use . Somehow I found one in a junk yard that was used to move railroad cars around. The M32 tank recovery vehicle was an armored Sherman tank with the turret removed and an A frame with winch installed. It was bought for $1000 and trucked over to the Collingwood Yards parking lot. I fired it up and by revving the engine and pulling on two massive levers I ran it back and forth, spun it around and gave it a working out. I also tore up a lot of turf that the plant manager was very, very unhappy about. I designed a hydraulic control system using cylinders installed on the throttle, clutch and control arms with a radio control system to be used from outside. I have no idea whether the project was carried forward.
The project that dominated most of my summer was designing and testing a jet-engine snow blower. The problem presented to the lab was that northern blizzards had brought large switching yards in the north to a standstill. The NYCRR would then have to hire hundreds of laborers to shovel snow from under the railcars before they could be moved. The yards might be shut for many days as all freight traffic stopped.
The lab had secured a derelict baggage car and had mounted a surplus J-47 jet engine that pointed out the rear door. The jet engine automated controls were stripped off, and a single railroad fuel valve was mounted. A tank car holding #2 diesel fuel, similar but thicker than JP-4 normally used to fuel Sabre Jets was coupled to the baggage car. Both sets of brakes were locked. Fuel was pumped up to pressure prior to the fuel valve. A set of 24 volt railroad batteries were ganged together to power the electric starter and the combustor ignitors. I set up the engine temperature monitoring system with a big gauge for the T4 the turbine inlet temperature. Since the electron controls were gone, and I went back to my model airplane days. I rigged up a large bell crank on the fuel valve and a similar on with a throttle handle at the control station at the front of the baggage car. I connected them with light weight but taut cables.
I designed a jet exhaust nozzle extension with a frame work and big screw that manually adjusted the nozzle from level to about forty-five (45) degrees down. The control nozzle had a somewhat larger diameter than the jet engine exhaust nozzle to allow the nozzle to swivel and to entrain more airflow doe to the Bernoulli effect. I also needed test data so I rigged up an array of Pitot tubes to measure air velocity at track lever over the impingement area of the nozzle. The heavy turbulence of the jet blast was damped by running the Pitot tube pressures through a sealed metal cans before tubing it to the pressure gauges. I hoped that the one and a half in jagged ballast rocks between the rail ties would gave me some indication that the exhaust jet velocity would move snow.
As the J-47 jet engine spooled up, the manual fuel valve was slowly opened to feed fuel to the J-47’s combustor nozzles. When at maximum RPM, data was taken to produce a velocity map at ground level. I ran many tests over a two month period and compiled the data on nozzle position and jet blast effects. With ballast flying we were convinced that the concept would work. Decades latter I was in conversation with someone and that told me that he lived near Collingwood Yard that the noise reached far into the surrounding neighbor hoods.
The Median County Gazette wanted to print my “home town boy’s neat summer job” story, but I declined. Most of my buddies in town could not even find a summer job. I will make one claim to fame, that has never been disputed…yet…to me! One day we needed to move the baggage plus tank car “train” about 20 feet backward, and switch engine was not available at our rail spur. So turned the manual wheels that released the brakes, fired up the jet engine and we started to move slowly. When we reached our new spot I shut the J-47 down. My claim, “I was the first engineer “driving” a turbo jet powered train.”
We also had some challenges and some fun. Our fearless leader had a public relations bent. For some reason I was not at site when a cadre of Japanese visitors arrived. He wanted to demonstrate the jet engine snow blower rig himself. So with the visitors in the cramped control area he pushed the start button, turned on the ignitors and moved the throttle to full thrust. Oops. A gas turbine is not like a car engine. It first must spool up to about 30% on the starter and then the igniters are turn and the throttle to the start position. As the turbo-jet starts its acceleration the electric starter is turned off. Only then is the throttle slowly advanced, closely monitoring the temperature of T4 until the rotating compressor and turbine are up to 100% rpm. The effect of his very hot start was a big bank, a tongue of flame out the exhaust pipe and the turbo-jet engine quickly grinding to a halt. This is known in the aerospace industry as corn-cobbling. The hot turbine blades were gone and the engine ruined.
I immediately started scrounging for surplus Korean War engines around the Cleveland area. I found several more J-47’s for $500 the can with zero time. I install a replacement jet engine and completed my test work. My last job was to make a mobile design based on a derelict caboose in the yard. I sketched a design where the back caboose cap was cut off and replaced with a jet engine housing. Front of the caboose was the control cab. The nozzle could move up and down, and side to side. I handed in my design and test report, and thus ended my engagement at the New York Central Railroad Research Lab.
I had purchased a used Lambretta Scooter for $125. It took two cold rainy days to ride it from Cleveland through upstate New York, and the Berkshire Mountains to my dorm at MIT. After graduation in spring of 1961 I eventually called the NYC RR research lab and learned that built the caboose-snow blower based on my design and that it worked.

The timing had been incredible. In January 1961 there was a “blizzard of the century” that hit NY City and brought the NYC RR yard operations to a stop. The research lab team had taken the snow bower as far as they could into the blizzard region. Then they turn on the J-47 turbojet and blasted their way through the drifts in the city and on into the NY City rail yards. Over a hundred calls came into the NYC police department from apartment dwellers that said an airplane had crashed.
The Jet Engine snow blower blew snow from under lines of cars so the yard switch engines could reposition them on cleared tracks. The work proceeded quickly and the snow piled up in high windrows between the sets of cleared tracks. Soon the yard was back in operation.

I really enjoy my research and development job at Garrett AiResearch, in Phoenix Arizona. My company was/is the US leader in designing and manufacturing turboprop and turbofan engines for executive jets and commuter aircraft. I worked in compressor design and development, but also new products like supersonic combustion ramjets. After seeing an article in Aviation week on a jet train experiment, I call my buddy Don Wetzel (in picture) at the NYC RR research lab. He told me that his team had worked night and day for year to mount a twin J-47 jet pod ($5000 surplus) from a B-36 on top of a Budd car. There was a new track laid near Bucyrus, Ohio that was straight as an arrow. They had done one test run at 183 miles per hour but decided to quit while they were ahead. Don Wetzel was the engineer.