Running the Rails
Modified Cadillac restored to travel on the tracks
ELKINS — A West Virginia Railroad Museum project years in the making is coming to fruition and soon a 1946 Cadillac Rail Car may be running on local railroad tracks.
“It is quite a job to modify a 74-year-old car,” Jim Schoonover, West Virginia Railroad Museum board president, said. “It had a lot of modifications done when it was converted into a rail car.”
The car took a trip down the rail lines for the first time in decades on July 3.
“On Friday (July 3), we had the engine and transmission finished,” he said. “It ran under its own power.”
He said a volunteer who assisted on the project made adjustments to the transmission before the vehicle was ready to roll.
“It made a couple trips from the depot (Elkins Depot Welcome Center) to the old mill (the Darden Mill) to test it out,” he said.
Schoonover noted one of the main chores left do to is rewiring the electrical systems of the car. He said the car was converted from using a 6-volt battery to a 12–volt system. The car’s interior has been re-upholstered and the arm rests in the back seat have been fabricated.
“Most of the pieces for the external chrome, we have found,” he said. “We still need some items.”
The goal is to restore the vehicle to its 1956 condition, as opposed to the original 1946 condition, so it will still be operational on the rails.
“The car was originally an executive car for the railroad in 1946,” Schoonover said. “In 1956, the railroad took the car and another ’46 Cadillac — that we have — and converted them for rails only.”
The car was decommissioned in 1956 for highway use by the Western Maryland Railroad and transported to Hagerstown, Maryland. While in Hagerstown, the vehicle was made to steer using the tracks. Additional modifications made to the car were to put sanders on it for traction when starting and stopping; a compressor was placed under the hood that runs off the V8 engine; and an air ringer bell was installed.
“When the car had originally been put on rails, they put a turntable under the car so it could be jacked up and turned around,” Schoonover said. “A turntable will be fabricated by the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad in their shop.”
The turntable allows one person to turn the car around, and when the turntable is installed it must be directly in the center of the car. Schoonover said the original car featured air conditioning, but it was removed and the pump for compressed air was used for an air horn and the ringer bell.
“We are putting a compressor in the back of the car and will use that to blow the big air horn on top of the car and we will be able to ring the bell,” he said.
Schoonover said the car was gifted to the museum by Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad President John Smith more than a decade ago. The opportunity came about thanks to some tourists from Iowa who took a ride on the Durbin Rocket train. The tourists, from Iowa, told Smith they knew of a salvage company in their home state that had the rail car. Smith purchased the vehicle and it was later given to the museum.
Schoonover said the Western Maryland Railroad sold the car in the late 1960s to a small railroad company in Iowa. While it was there it was pushed on the tracks and was damaged in an accident.
“We purchased a donor car and that is where we got the stuff for the front end,” he said.
So far $72,000 has been spent on the restoration and Schoonover expects the cost to finish the restoration to run from $4,000 to $5,000. Schoonover said the museum has raised about $30,000 for the restoration and the project is running a deficit of about $45,000.
“We would love to have donations,” Schoonover said. “Any donations would be greatly appreciated.”
He noted the restoration project would have been much more difficult without the assistance of museum board member Bryan Totten and local businessman Brad Curtis.
“The bulk of the work was inspired by Bryan Totten,” Schoonover said.
Schoonover said the vehicle was being stored in Beverly and in March 2019, Totten took a look at the car. Then it was hauled to Curtis’ body shop, where all the body work was completed.
When the car is completed, the museum plans to enter into a partnership with the D&GVR so the car can be used as a tourist attraction and visitors will be able to ride in the classic machine.
Information can also be found online at www.wvrailmuseum.com. Donations can be mailed to PO Box 203, Elkins, WV 26241.