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RyPN Briefs March 12, 2006
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Chicago Aurora & Elgin car 308

Project Manager Randy Hicks test-fits a replacement piece of ceiling paneling in the hip portion of car 308's ceiling in November 2004. All photos by Frank Hicks.

As the Illinois Railway Museum's (IRM) effort to restore Chicago Aurora & Elgin car 308 starts to wind down, we take a look back at the past year of work on this 1906 wooden interurban coach.

This photo, taken in January 2005, shows the newly-installed GE C-21 controller at the car's #1 end. To the right of it is the brake stand, and the sleet scraper control to the right of that. Circa-1906 interurbans aren't too complex!

The end of 2004 found two major projects the focus of work on the 308. The first, and larger, was rebuilding the ceiling. During the years it spent outside in the 1960s and early 1970s, the car's ceiling veneer had badly deteriorated in spots. Between 2002 and 2004 project worker Jack Biesterfeld had stripped and repainted the center section of the car's Empire ceiling, where the veneer was largely in good shape, but the more deteriorated hip sections remained to be done. Project Manager Randy Hicks spent much of the winter of 2004-2005 replacing rotted veneer, as well as replacing the plywood panels beneath it where necessary. By the spring of 2005, work on the car's ceiling was essentially complete and the entire ceiling was painted in ivory.

Project worker Jack Biesterfeld sands a spot on the smoking compartment wall that had to be patched up in January 2005.

The second major project was the installation of a C-21 controller in the car. Built with C-21s, the car had been retrofitted with C-6 controllers during the mid-1950s. As part of the museum's backdating effort, two C-21s were procured, rebuilt and reinstalled. The second of these was put in the car in January 2005, making the car not only electrically complete, but electrically authentic.

In May 2005, Project Manager Randy Hicks nails a trim piece over the replacement sections of veneer on the hip portions of 308's ceiling.

During the winter of 2004-2005, however, a major decision made it necessary to reverse some work done earlier in the restoration project. When work began on car 308 in 1998 the decision was made to restore it to its condition in 1939. This decision was largely based on the fact that several photos existed of the car around 1940. However, in late 2004, documentary evidence was made available to IRM by Fox River Trolley Museum volunteer Ralph Taylor in the form of the original CA&E paint shop recordkeeping book. This book showed that the 308 had been painted in the CA&E's blue, grey and red livery twice, once in 1939 and once in 1949. However, while the exterior was painted largely identically in 1939 and 1949 (with some variations), the interior had been painted completely differently. From 1939 to 1949 the car's interior had been two-tone brown with a light green ceiling, while in 1949 its interior was painted two-tone green with an ivory interior the same paint it wore when it left service. We had surmised that the car's interior had been painted in 1939, but were unaware that the car's green interior had been preceded by a brown one.

This is one of the seats that was completely reupholstered in the spring of 2005. This photo shows well the two-tone green interior color scheme that the car wore from 1949 until the end of its service life.

This meant that we were restoring the car inaccurately. While the exterior was being returned to its c1939 appearance, we had been unknowingly painting the interior in its c1949 appearance. IRM prides itself on authenticity, and we immediately decided that we had to rectify the mistake, one way or another. The first choice was to repaint the interior in its c1939 brown livery, but it soon became apparent that the CA&E must have stripped the interior in 1949 (a guess supported by the paint shop records) no samples of the two-tone brown paint could be found, leaving the exact shade of the car's interior an unknown.

Here car 308's interior is shown on May 28th, 2005, its first day of regular service for the year. At this point interior work was perhaps 80-90% completed.

So, since the only way the interior could be authentically painted was in its 1949 colors, we decided to change the target date of the car's restoration from 1939 to 1949. This involved repainting the exterior of the car, painting over the "SUNSET LINES" emblems, and discarding other work that had already been begun to backdate the car to 1939. Fortunately no major changes needed to be undone, but it was still aggravating to take this step. It was generally acknowledged, however, that in the name of historical authenticity, it had to be done.

The decision to change the target date was made in early 2006, and meanwhile work continued in the spring. Several seat backs were professionally reupholstered in black leatherette, and the painting of the smoking compartment interior (which had been stripped prior to acquisition of the car by IRM) was completed. Work was also begun on construction of a new wooden third rail beam, as one of the car's originals had been found to be slightly rotted.

This is what car 308 looked like in May 2005 as restored to its c1939 livery. Here it has a Sunset Lines emblem on the side and black anticlimbers and side sills.

During May, the car went through its annual inspection and the usual list of minor repairs and adjustments was attended to. Since 2003, car 308 has been in regular service at IRM along with similar car 309, and this limits the amount of work that can be done between Memorial Day and mid-September. Even so, though the car was operating about every other weekend during most of this time, improvements continued. Window repainting continued steadily, as did replacement of various trim pieces in the car's "new" vestibule (308 was acquired by IRM with one vestibule missing, the victim of an unfinished restoration). During August the 308 and 309 were not scheduled to run, so we took this opportunity to "forward-date" car 308 from the 1939 livery it had worn since 2002 to the 1949 livery we had now found to be accurate. The obvious changes included blue side sills and anti-climbers, no "SUNSET LINES" emblems, and small legends next to the doors admonishing people not to board moving cars. By Labor Day, when 308 and 309 were back in service hauling people on IRM's line, the car looked as it did in 1949 inside and out.

By the beginning of August 2005, 308 has been repainted in 1949 colors including blue side sills and no emblems on the sides. The car is trained with 309, its usual companion in regular service at IRM.

Since the operating season ended in September, more work has gone into car 308. Both retrievers were disassembled and rebuilt, as one had failed and the other wasn't taking up the trolley rope properly. Several more seats were reupholstered, the last rotted sections of wall veneer were patched and painted, and most of the car's floor was painted brown. Air brake work is being done on the car, including rebuilding control pipe gladhands and lapping angle cocks. Work on refurbishing the last of the car's doors and windows is also being completed during the winter.

In November 2005, car 308's seat cushions were removed and painting of the floor began (shown here in progress).

The restoration of car 308, which was begun in 1998, two years after the car was acquired by IRM, is nearly complete. A small amount of work remains to be done on both the interior and exterior, but this is within our abilities to complete during the spring. This year does not only mark the completion of the car's restoration, though, but also the 100th anniversary of its construction. IRM will be holding a ceremony on July 2nd to re-dedicate car 308 and to mark the completion of the car's restoration. After that, it will be operated in revenue service on the museum's main line regularly, and hopefully for years to come.