Boom Lifts Build Roundhouse Roof

Bill Hindman | November 10, 2010

Collections can be great hobbies if you have the room to store them. Coins can be put in a drawer, model cars on a shelf. But where do you put your collection if your hobby is collecting trains – not “toy” trains, but real trains. That’s the problem that faced Jerry Joe and Laura Jacobson. They own one of the largest private collections of steam locomotives, historic diesels and vintage coach cars in the world and they needed a place to protect, repair and display them.

Not too long ago Jacobson owned and operated a fully functioning freight railroad system comprised of 10 separate railroad companies. In addition to moving freight for customers, for fun Jacobson also operated steam locomotives, diesel-electrics, coach cars and a variety of freight cars. Today, the Jacobson’s no longer own the railroad system itself but still own most of the equipment including several rare steam locomotives, some more than a century old.

To better accommodate their collection, the Jacobsons set up a nonprofit foundation and acquired 36 acres of farmland in the heart of Amish country near Sugarcreek, Ohio. It was there that they began planning to build a full-scale, operating railroad roundhouse with turntable, storage tracks, store house, coaling station, ash pit, wood water tank and a fully equipped shop to overhaul, repair and maintain the collection. Dubbed the Age of Steam Roundhouse, this would be the first full-sized, working roundhouse built in the U.S. since 1951.

To help make his life-long dream a reality, Jacobson contacted Bob Brode of W.M. Brode Company, a family-owned contracting and engineering firm that has specialized in railroad bridges, wharfs, docks, pile foundations and industrial and commercial buildings since 1887. Brode couldn’t pass up the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-create the unique property that Jacobson envisioned, and eagerly agreed to act as general contractor. Working along with Jacobson’s chief engineering officer and project manager, John C. Dulac, Brode would be responsible for coordinating the activities of the many groups of skilled craftsmen that would be required to complete the project.

In order to make the building appear to be century-old structures, great care was taken in the design of the roundhouse and maintenance shop by F.A. Goodman and its team of architects and engineers. Although the overall appearance of the facility is similar to structures from the early part of the 1900s, the buildings themselves are being constructed with modern conveniences and integral safety features. The huge turntable, however, is a restored original that was installed during 1939, and salvaged from a railroad yard operated by the Western Maryland Railway in Hagerstown, Maryland.

To facilitate the engineering and replication of original construction techniques from a century ago, Dulac contacted Jeff Orr of Amish Timber Framers Inc., a third-generation company known for designing and raising handcrafted agricultural buildings and other structures using traditional timber frame methods and mortise and tenon joinery. Working with a group of local Amish craftsmen and other skilled workers, Amish Timber Framers has been instrumental in the construction of the roundhouse’s wooden roof and its supporting network of massive timber columns, beams and trusses..

After many months of planning, site work began during late 2008 on the 115-foot long turntable and its circular turntable pit, plus the 18-stall, brick roundhouse and maintenance shop. Construction on these will be completed during late 2010 and mid-2011 respectively, while other buildings and structures will be finished during Phase 2.

A focal point of the project is the roundhouse with its 53,000-square foot roof. This structure is supported by traditional timber frame construction using rough sawn 12x12 and 8x8 white oak beams set on concrete capped pilings. Special “cup” supports in the walls were fashioned by the brick masons to hold the ends of the purlins. The intricate system of roof trusses was constructed using tightly fitting mortise and tenon joints held together with hand-hammered, 12-inch oak pegs. The design of the roof provides a clerestory for the admission of light and better ventilation throughout the roundhouse building. All woodwork was fashioned off-site then assembled and erected in place.

The unique construction of the roof with all of its wood columns, beams, trusses, purlins and knee braces required craftsmen to spend an inordinate amount of time working in an elevated position above the roundhouse floor. Reaching those areas safely and productively required some forethought. Ladders were out of the question, scissor lifts could only be used for a short period of time until the roundhouse’s interior tracks were laid, and scaffolding, as always, was cost-prohibitive. After consulting with Henry Beachy of Holmes Rental Station it was decided that telescoping boom lifts were the ideal solution to the problem. With boom lifts workers were able to reach high enough to access all of the roof areas, and the machines could be positioned inside or outside the roundhouse structure as needed, then telescoped to where they were needed. Workers need not worry about traversing around ground level obstacles.

When roof construction began, no rails or ties had yet been installed inside the roundhouse so that boom lifts could move about freely and provide overhead access while craftsmen assembled the timber roof support structure. Once track was laid and concrete platform walkways between each stall were completed, access to overhead areas inside the roundhouse structure was limited.

The boom lifts that Holmes Rental Station provided were JLG Model 600S machines. Featuring more than 60-feet of vertical platform height to easily reach the overhead areas when positioned on the roundhouse floor, they also had the capability of reaching almost 50-feet horizontally so they could be positioned outside the roundhouse and still reach many overhead areas. With 360-degree continuous turntable rotation, a platform capacity of 1,000-pounds throughout most of its working envelope and a built-in generator providing 110-Watt power in the platform, the JLG 600S was the ideal machine for the job.

Said Amish Timbers Framers’ Orr, “We chose the JLG boom lifts not only for their versatility and productivity, but also for their safety. And to us, that’s just as important. They have a lot of built-in features that make them safer to use and easier to operate. Our craftsmen use them for everything from positioning truss sections to fastening cross beams and knee braces. Since we started using the boom lifts we have saved a considerable amount of time and are now running almost six weeks ahead of our original schedule.”

In addition to the JLG 600S boom lifts, Holmes Rental also supplied a number of JLG Model G10-55A telehandlers to the project. These 10,000-pound capacity machines can lift a load 55-feet in the air and have a 42-foot telescopic reach. They are used extensively for placing roofing materials, lifting bricks and mortar onto mast climbing platforms, and moving a variety of materials around the jobsite.

“When you are building a retro-look facility as unique as the one we are constructing, you want to make it appear as authentic as possible. But that doesn’t mean you can’t use the safest and most productive tools available on the market today. With the JLG booms and telehandlers on site we feel that we have the best of both worlds – time-saving tools that are more productive and safer than what was available a century ago, and versatile machines that allow our craftsmen to use their skills to the best of their ability. It’s a great combination,” added Orr.

Bill Hindman is president of Industrial Marketing Systems, which represents JLG.