The longtime friends and business partners who met while working at Webcrafters in Madison have, since 1997, used the lathes, milling machines and micrometers in their machine shop north of Middleton to make common repairs to farm implements and to create highly specialized pieces of equipment for other clients.
The roster of projects includes housings for DNA sampling machines, test equipment for inhalers and vaccination machines for chickens. They also used their shop about 12 years ago to design and manufacture stainless steel rat cages for experiments aboard the International Space Station. The cage parts, each $3,200, were machined to within 2/1000th of an inch.
The latest repair project at SPEC Machine, tucked among farm buildings and silos on Riles Road, is one of the biggest for Roudebush and Grill in the most literal sense. In fact, to take on the work, the men rearranged their shop, no easy job when you’re talking about heavy CNC machines that must be perfectly level.
They also added a 14-foot-wide, 16-foot-high door to the shop’s side and constructed 80 feet of train track. A 107-year-old steam locomotive from the Mid-Continent Railway Museum, you see, needs its space.
“The biggest reason for me in taking this on was to learn how it was done,” Roudebush told the Wisconsin State Journal (http://bit.ly/1h5pAPj ). “We’re figuring out what was done and why. It’s a lot of investigation. A project like this is pretty much unheard of.”
The 1385 locomotive is a treasure.
It was built in 1907 for the Chicago & North Western Railroad and is considered vital for the future of the museum, located in North Freedom, west of Baraboo in rural Sauk County. The nonprofit museum’s collection is focused on railroad equipment from between 1885 and 1915, when steam locomotives moved 90 percent of the nation’s passengers and freight.
The C&NW; retired the locomotive in 1956 and five years later Mid-Continent members scraped together $2,600 to buy it.
From 1963 to 1998, the locomotive was a workhorse. It pulled cars on the museum’s 3.5 miles of track and in the mid-1980s, pulled the Circus Train for three straight summers from Baraboo to Milwaukee and back. In the 1990s, it made trips on the mainline to Brodhead, Mazomanie and Wausau.
The locomotive, built by the American Locomotive Co.’s Schenectady Works in New York, is on the state and national registers of historic places. When the $2 million restoration project is completed, likely by 2016, the 1385 will become the only operating C&NW; steam locomotive in the country and one of only eight that have been preserved.
When it was taken out of service in 1998 for $125,000 in boiler repairs, a closer inspection revealed the engine needed $750,000 in work, but that figure has since grown after more problems were found. Officials have been planning on a restoration since 1997 but fundraising challenges, the recession and a flood at the museum in 2008 further hampered the project. But in 2011, the Wagner Foundation offered a $250,000 matching grant that resulted in a $500,000 infusion. Others have stepped up, but more money is needed to meet the $2 million goal.
The fundraising not only will restore the train but aide the overall health of the museum. In 1998, the last year the 1385 ran, about 50,000 visitors made the trek to North Freedom. The following year, without operating steam, attendance plummeted to half of the previous year.
“Steam is the draw. It’s what attracts people to the museum,” said Don Meyer, restoration project director. “Our goal is to correct even the repairs that were made. It’s like an archaeological dig.”
Like a loved one visiting a patient in a hospital ICU, visitors to SPEC Machine expecting to see the locomotive should be prepared.