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RyPN Briefs November 6, 2006
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South Carolina Railroad Museum Returns Southern Railway Diner #3157 to Operation

The South Carolina Railroad Museum (SCRM) has returned its Southern Railway dining car #3157 to operation. Originally built in 1924, the 80-foot car was modernized shortly after World War II and used on the Southern's crack passenger trains like the Crescent and Tennesean into the early 1970s. The SCRM has used it as a first-class car since the middle 1990s.

The car was removed from service in 2001 after several broken leaves were found in two sets of springs in the car's suspension. Subsequent inspection revealed that all eight sets of leaf springs had damaged leaves. The damaged springs support the car's side bearings which do help to support the car's weight, but primarily serve to stabilize it and soften the ride.

The car's first revenue trip was about half-full of happy riders as the train departed Rockton for the five-mile trip to Rion Quarry.

Initial attempts to find a local supplier who could manufacture new springs came up empty. This accounted for most of the delay in getting the car back into service. A supplier willing to take on the job, the Benz Spring Company, was finally located in Portland, OR. One of the least-damaged spring assemblies was removed from the car and shipped to Oregon to serve as a pattern for the new springs.

The new springs arrived in mid-2005. It took Museum volunteers, led by Jack Woerhle, several months to complete the work of replacing the spring assemblies during the winter of 2005-2006. The car had to be jacked with two 50-ton hydraulic jacks to take the weight off the springs. Then the broken springs, each weighing about 250 pounds, had to be removed and the equally heavy new springs inserted. It took at least four lifts with the jacks to replace all the springs.

Detail of one of the new leaf spring assemblies made by Benz Spring Co. of Portland, OR.

Once the springs were replaced, the car's air brakes had to be reconditioned. The brake control valves were sent to Touchton Air Brake in Jacksonville, FL to be rebuilt. After being installed on the car, the rebuilt brakes failed the inspection tests. The valves from an out-of-service car were cannibalized and sent to Jacksonville to be rebuilt, but they also failed when they were installed on the diner. Finally, the air brake technician personally accompanied the valves to Jacksonville and rebuilt them himself to ensure they would pass the tests.

Several windows in the car also leaked badly, so it was decided to replace all ten windows in the dining area while the car was down. Previously, the Museum had partnered with the Secret City Railway in Oak Ridge, TN on an order of rubber window molding just before the car was removed from service. Bob Willits, a professional passenger car restorer based in Lancaster, SC, did the work of replacing the windows.

The new springs installed in the truck under the dining room area.

In the meantime a volunteer paint crew led by Gene Allen began painting the car in early 2006. The diner had been leased to the Hartwell Railroad in the 1980s and had been repainted blue with yellow lettering, which was now badly faded. Allen applied a base coat of Pullman Green before the window replacement commenced, then had to stop work until that task was completed. By the time the windows were finished, the summer heat had set in and it was too hot to complete the paint job. Allen plans to apply the finish coat this winter, after which Jack Woerhle will hand-letter the car for the Southern Railway.

The 3157 is shown sitting in the Rockton station awaiting the next departure.

Volunteers Marty Chaney and Kelvin Woods spent several hot, uncomfortable days during the summer of 2006 crawling in the mud under the car to service the generator, only to discover more problems. The batteries were completely shot, and the generator's engine had frozen from sitting for so long. The batteries were replaced, and the Museum's mechanic, Clif Hall, somehow got the engine freed up again. Amazingly, it now purrs like a kitten.

The volunteers working on the car now felt like they were in the home stretch and undertook repair of other deficient areas of 3157's infrastructure. The air conditioning was serviced and, naturally, all the freon had leaked out while the car was stationary. Several volunteers spent a day replacing florescent tubes and starters in the lights, and fixing one of the window shades. A ceiling panel in the hallway alongside the kitchen was also repaired. The floor in the dining area was professionally polished. Finally, a complete set of new chairs were purchased to replace the hodgepodge the car had accumulated over its life since retirement by the Southern. After a thorough cleaning and a few other little details, the 3157 was finally ready for service.

The diner's first day back in service was October 7, 2006. It performed flawlessly. More than 90 passengers elected to pay extra to ride first class that day, ably served by volunteers Howard Shepherd, Marty Chaney and Ron and Jeri Jarosz. Chaney amazed everyone else by showing up attired in a spotless white shirt with a black bow tie, looking very much the part of a classic-era dining car waiter.

Marty Chaney poses in the service door of the dining car on the day the car returned to service. Photos by Matt Conrad.

There are still a few things to complete on the 3157. The major job will be finishing the paint job, including lettering. The lettering is planned to be authentic Southern Railway with one exception, the car will have the name "Lake Rion" painted where the Southern had "Dining Car." Other minor repairs still on the to-do list include some work in the hallway, the floor needs some repair in one spot, and the ceiling panel that was replaced doesn't fit quite right.

The Museum provides demonstration train rides on the first and third Saturdays, June through October. Special events are also run at Thanksgiving (the Santa Trains) and Easter. The dining car is also available for parties at other times. See the Museum's website for more information.