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NWP Narrow Gauge caboose No. 6101 at Ardenwood

Howdy, all.

I'm sending this out as an update on the ongoing restoration of the NWP narrow gauge caboose at The Railroad Museum at Ardenwood, in Fremont, CA.

When we accepted this caboose from California State Railroad Museum back in 2007, we knew it was going to need a lot of work.  The peculiar 1968-69 "restoration" -- really a heroic renovation -- done by Bethlehem Steel's San Francisco shipyard crew kept the car from falling apart but introduced dozen of inaccuracies and problems.  The worst of these "new" elements were incorrect ex-Swayne Lumber/West Side Lumber arch bar trucks and automatic knuckle couplers, a lot of poorly replicated metal -- grab irons, end rails and end ladders -- and plywood siding grooved to resemble tongue-and-groove siding boards. When Bethlehem finished it for the Pacific Coast Chapter, Railway & Locomotive Historical Society, the last-used number "5591" was  painted on the walls and ends -- but in the wrong style and color! In fact, the yellow chosen for the walls turned out to also be very incorrect.

Late last year we took some of the exterior plywood off to see what was underneath. As expected, the original framing studs and braces were weak with age and instead of being normal hard fir, were old growth coast redwood!  Having endured a century and at least two historic re-sidings, the horizontal nailing girths midway on the body frame were worn out and perforated with nail holes.  These are being replaced now with fir, each piece sawed to fit.  New T&G siding is on hand and will be applied when the rest of the body and underframe restoration work is completed -- probably in late 2017. 

The car's underframe is also in need of a lot of help.  We found that this caboose used a "normal" set of four truss rods to tension the frame, but in the 1968-69 re-do, only two "external" truss rods were applied, and the side sills braced on the inside face with 1/4-inch thick plate steel.  Very non-"railroady!" The steel was also introduced because Bethlehem chopped the rotten ends of the side sills and stubbed-on new fir ends, but did not lap-seam or mortise these into place.  Since we cannot take the entire underframe apart -- we could, but the price and workload would extend far too high and long -- we are keeping the plate steel and simply adding in the central pair of truss rods, and adding new mortised ends.  We are also reintroducing vertical tensioning rods between the body frame and underframe, some of those being stupidly removed by Bethlehem.  Their thought was the plywood would "stiffen" the body, but that was due to the 1968 to make the caboose a non-operating or "static" car.

We still have not pinned down when this caboose was built.  It looks more and more like 1901-02, started by the the "dying" North Pacific Coast Railroad and being finished by the "new" successor, North Shore Railroad as their No. 2002.  We considered whether a restoration to that period would be appropriate, but have decided we simply don't know enough about the caboose--especially its appearance--between c.1902 and 1910.

Out ultimate choice for a restored-to period is 1910, based on four excellent original photographs found by NWPRRHS Archive.  Those have taught us more about this caboose than we could have ever learned any other way.

New needle beams and body bolsters forged iron queenposts (replicas of the long gone originals) have been exactingly made and are now going in.  All Bethlehem "iron" (most of which was cheap steel pipe and undersized steel rods) are being replaced with new handmade iron forgings.  Newly cast Carter Brothers-style link couplers are to be installed on the fully restored caboose since these were used on it until 1914.

We have also found out that the cupola is 96% Bethlehem replica and incorrectly dimensioned and made.  We are now preparing highly detailed specs and drawings for an accurate cupola, complete with openable end windows, flame-lit train/engine number indicator units and other details.  All of the car's windows made by Bethlehem were inferior marine plywood.  We will be making solid wood, mortise-jointed sash and casement windows, complete with appropriate hardware such as anti-rattle leaf springs, lifts and catches (for the car sides) and hinges and casement closures for the cupola's front and rear windows.

When we got the car, the Bethlehem-made interior furnishing were a mishmash of plywood that has turned out to also be mostly incorrect. We are now doing intensive studying of the earlier interior layout(s) and furnishings and are making drawings to match.  For a short line such as the NWP n.g. was, we were quite surprised to find that this caboose had been fitted with four drop-down sleeping bunks.  This still strikes us as odd given that the NWP ran its freights by day as 10- to 12-hour round trip, with freights originating and terminating at Occidental, not Sausalito. So, why the bunks?  They may have dated from the car's origins on the North Shore Railroad.  The bunks were there a long time; chafing or "wear" marks from them rocking against the walls for years prove as much, so we will eventually replicate these, too.

Last of all, we hope to replicate the original Kimball Car Works "passenger" trucks -- 4ft 3in wheelbase -- to replace the WSLCo arch bar trucks.  The arch bar trucks do damage to frame sills edges and draft gear timbers when pivoting through turnouts, so they have to go ASAP.  Besides, arch bar trucks for this car are just plain wrong for all in-service years.

We are looking forward to seeing this unique caboose returned to an active life by 2018.  I'll post more -- plus photos -- sometime this spring.  And, BTW, we also will soon publish the 119-page Preliminary Restoration Analysis for this caboose, richly illustrated, with select drawings and timeline.  We're presently anticipating the retail cost of the report to non-members to run around $20, or $15 to SPCRR members.  All funds generated above printing expenses will go to the NWP No. 6101 caboose restoration fund.  We will likely eventually offer all of the drawings we are generating for this caboose as a separate product, but must wait until we have a complete and approved package.  These will show the car in "as received" post-1969 form, and in the restored circa 1910 arrangement.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

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Comment by Kevin Bunker on December 18, 2016 at 9:11am

You're welcome, Chad.  And of course, it also takes money.  That much never ends.  Contributions (always tax-deductible) are always very welcomed.  The caboose has its own fund. ;0)

Comment by Chad Glover on December 17, 2016 at 11:38pm
Thank you for the update. Really amazing how much time and energy restoration work needs.

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