Milwaukee Road Restoration Blog
Since 2003, the Institute for Small Town Studies has been working in the town of Fairfield, Iowa (pop. 9464) on the restoration of two railroad cars - a 1934 Hiawatha luxury passenger coach, and a 1951 insulated boxcar. These are a few of the stories uncovered during the restoration process. Check back often for updates..

Welcome to Fairfield, Iowa
On the left, the 1951 insulated boxcar built by the Milwaukee Road for the Schlitz Brewery in March of 1951. On the right, the Hiawatha bunk-coach built by the Milwaukke Road in 1934. The cobblestones in the foreground came from the former Milwaukee Road depot platform in Ottumwa, Iowa.

1934 vs. 2003
The interior lounge space of an original Hiawatha coach, number 4400, and the interior of the restoration project, number 4448. The Milwaukee Road built 50 railroad cars for their flagship trans-continental Hiawatha line in 1934. The 4448 is the last surviving car of the original 50.

2003 vs. 2008
The interior of the boxcar beset by arson, and the interior of the restoration project a few years later. The 40 foot by 10 foot interior is a great size for a small gallery and meeting room for the Institute for Small Town Studies. The combination of the boxcar's insulated walls and the addition of a small wood stove allows the space to be used year round.

Found in the Weeds
Is that? ...a 1934 Hiawatha luxury passenger car sitting in the weeds by the side of the road in Fairfield, Iowa? And it's for sale? The markings on the side of the car read X413, the number assigned to the car during its days as a crew car, when a crew of 8 traveled the Milwaukee Road lines repairing bridges and buildings and cleaning up derailments. A trip to the Milwaukee Road Archives at the Milwaukee Public Library revealed the car's original designation, MILW 4448, and confirming its lineage as one of the 50 Hiawatha cars built in October 1934.

Inspecting the Roof
Up on the roof of the Hiawatha 4448, checking the condition of the steel shell and looking for any places where leaks may occur. Needed to remove several pipes and vents protruding from the roof which were added to the car late in its life. The added bits and bumps diminish the original streamline look of the car, even when viewed from the ground. The curved shadow over the door opening is cast by a copper flashing, working as a small gutter to redirect water away from passenegers entering and leaving the car.

Up on the roof after the clean up. Needed to sand, prime and repaint the entire surface after patching leaks and welding new plate into the holes where pipes popped through the surface. Also needed to do a bit of pounding inside and out to reshape the smooth curve of the roof. 75 years of bumps and bruises tended to rumple the 1/8 inch steel shell. The scoop vents visible behind me are the car's original air vents, bringing fresh air into the passenger areas when the train is moving, and to some extent when the wind is blowing and the car is stationary. The pipe vents in front are directly above the men's and women's lavatories at the end of the car.

A Note on the Roof Color
One of the first things most hardcore Hiawatha fans notice when they visit the railyard is the tan roof, instead of the more expected grey roof, as seen here on the Hiawatha locomotive No.3, tender and baggage car at the head end of a consist refueling in Milwaukee on its way from Chicago to the Pacific Northwest sometime after 1938 (the horizontal ribs on the baggage car help date the photo, as they did not appear until 1938). As the story goes, the Milwaukee Road built 50 lightweight streamline passenger cars for its flagship Hiawatha fleet in its Milwaukee Shops in 1934. Four locomotives were ordered from ALCO (the American Locomotive Company) in Schenectady, New York, to pull the new trains. The cars were finished on time, but unfortunately, the locomotives were late in arriving. Numbers 1 and 2 were delivered in 1935, No.3 in 1936 and No.4 in 1937. Both the new cars and locomotives would eventually sport the same orange, maroon and grey paint scheme shown in the photo above, but the president of the railroad was so upset that their brand new luxury passenger cars were sitting in a Milwaukee yard unused, waiting for their matching locomotives, that he ordered the cars be painted in their heavyweight scheme (shown in the postcard photo below) and put into immediate service. So the famous 1934 Hiawathas traveled the country for most of their first year with tan roofs. When we heard this story, the decision was made to return the 4448's roof to its original tan color, if only to remind us to keep re-telling this little known tale.

Patching the Sidesills
The walls of the 4448 gently curve into the floor plates, and provided an undrained space for moisture to collect over the last 75 years. The rust was wearing thin the metal of the rocker panels, so the decision was made to cut out the thinning steel and replace it with new 1/8 inch steel plate bent to the correct curvature. (Notice the aforementioned horizontal ribs on the 1938 baggage car in the foreground!)

Here's a view with the exterior layer of steel, the rocker panels, cut out where the walls meet the floor. Removing the rocker panels was also a great way to inspect the sidesills - the 3/8 inch thick 3"-4"-3" Z-section of steel - which run from one end of the car to the other. Notice that the outer surface of the wall begins to curve inward above the cut out section, about 20 inches from the bottom of the floor plates. The yellow, grey and orange lines visible on the walls in this photo are glimpses of layers of paint, rendered visible during sanding and grinding. Layers of paint provide a useful archaeological tool for reconstructing the various histories of the car.

Here's a view with the new rocker panels welded in place. We can also see the a portion of the new step boxes at right, and the underside of the new floors, as well. All repairs have been primed with rust red primer, awaiting their finish coats and colors. The welds and newer steel show a slightly different coloration under the primer, especially with the camera's flash on.

New Step Boxes
Replacing parts of the 4448 that had rusted thin beyond repair. Here four new step boxes are assembled on the ground next to the car, waiting to be installed. We took one of the originals off the car and took it apart to measure each piece. New pieces were cut, shaped and welded back together in the railyard. (You may notice in the very top picture of this blog that one step box has been removed from the 4448 and replaced temporarily with an aluminum stair.)

The orange parts in this photo are the new boxes themselves, made from 1/8 inch steel. The white treads are 1/8 inch diamond plate. The grey parts (yet to be primed) are made from truck frames, and will be welded to the underside of the vestibules, forming an integral piece of the structure at each end of the car. The orange step boxes are attached to these frames, just as the originals were, with a series of one inch bolts (found some replacements at the local John Deere Store). On top of each box is a floorplate with custom hinges, allowing passengers to stand in the vestibule, or alight the steps, depending on the position of the door/floor.

Here's a view with the hinged vestibule floor in upright position, and a view of one of the step boxes assemblies installed on the 4448, along with a new vestibule floor at this end of the car.

A significant challenge of occupying a 'building on wheels' is how to handle basic services - sewer, water, heat, electricity, etc. Above, a composting toilet is being installed. Routine service of the unit is handled from the outside. Inside, the unit looks and functions much like a typical low-flow toilet. Below, a rack for firewood is attached to the bottom of the car. The original Hiawathas did not have fireplaces, though some of the crew cars did have wood stoves. This rack, modified from the crew car's propane tank rack, holds one cord of wood.

Brake Gear
A view of the underside of the 4448 on a snowy day. The air brake system on today's trains is essentially the same system developed by George Westinghouse in the 1870s. I enrolled in a class at Pittsburgh Air Brake to learn about the system on these cars, and had a couple inspectors out to the railyard to offer advice. Looks like we might only need a new valve, new hoses to connect to adjacent cars in a train, and new brake shoes - all parts that are readily available today. Kind of amazing, really, that this sort of equipment is still standard issue.

The Milwaukee Road
The Milwaukee Road originally referred to the Milwaukee and Waukesha Railroad, which began service in 1847. The railroad went through a series of mergers and name changes in its early decades and eventually became the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway in 1874, offering passenger and freight service to these cities and points west, eventually reaching Seattle, Tacoma and the Puget Sound (as seen on this map from a 1924 timetable). The initials C.M.& St.P.Ry can be found on much railroadiana from that era, like the oil can shown below.

In 1928 the railroad's name changed again, this time to the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railroad, and the initials C.M.St.P.& P. are found on railroad equipment from this date forward. The railroad was absorbed by the Soo Line (the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railroad) in 1986, a subsidiary of CPRail (Canadian Pacific Railroad). Occasionally Soo Line or CPRail reporting marks will be found on former Milwaukee Road equipment.

A good part of a restoration project involves working directly on the object in front of you. But another part of the process involves collecting historical materials which might shed light on the object being restored. Books, postcards, photographs, artifacts, timetables, records... all offer a glimpse into the era that produced the object in question. In our case, two unique events have helped this process tremendously: 1) the construction of the Hiawatha fleet was funded in part by the WPA, and as a government project was copiously documented, and 2) the new Hiawatha fleet was unveiled at the Chicago's World's Fair in 1934. The Century of Progress World's Fair was held on the Chicago waterfront in 1933 to mark the city's 100th anniversary. In an effort to recoup financial losses, the fair was revived again the following summer, allowing the 1934 Hiawathas to be unveiled as part of the fair's transportation exhibits.

Another historical find: a great photograph of the Hiawatha on its inaugural journey, parked briefly at the depot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The streamlined design of this train must have been quite a sight in 1935, especially when compared to the new automobiles in the foreground, and the new buildings in the background.

New Subfloors
75 years of leaks and spills from the toilets, sinks and showers located at either end of the 4448 caused significant rust in the floors below. The subfloors consist of an inch and a half of plywood over a steel shell, ribbed every 20 inches to create an air space and insulation area between the outer surface and the inner floor. Once the sidesills, step boxes and vestibules were strengthened, the end 10 feet of the interior floors were cut out and replaced. Above you can see one of the openings, right through to the ground. We then bent a series 10 foot by 24 inch sheets of 1/8 inch steel into shapes that could be welded together outside to form the ribbed subfloor. Once the two new floors were complete, we began the task of moving the floors inside and positioning them within the sills and ends. Plywood and finish floors will be added later. Below you can see the pulley system devised to creep the new floors into place.

New Floors
Here's a couple of views of the new finish floors a little bit later in the process. The lighter boards are rock maple, stained with salem maple to match the surviving woodwork from 1934. The darker boards are oak, installed in the higher traffic areas. It's all tongue & groove, removed from a church and farm house being demolished in Pierre, South Dakota.

The boards are marked on their underside - 24/3 1910 - and were milled in Wells, Delta County, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. There's a strong possibility, that in 1910, these boards traveled from the U.P. to South Dakota via the Milwaukee Road, as both areas were served by the railroad.

Reporting Marks
Have you ever wondered to what the fine print refers on a freight car? BLT refers to the built date of a piece of railroad equipment - in this case March 1951 - which is stenciled on the side of the car when it rolls out of the shop for the first time. Each successive time a car goes in for a major upgrade or overhaul, it is re-stenciled with the date and location of the work. In this case, our boxcar was renovated in August 1960 and November 1967 at the railroad's main facility - the Milwaukee Shops - in the Menomonee River Valley directly west of downtown. In 1977 more work was undertaken, this time at the railroad's Savanna, Illinois facility. We added the last line ourselves in Fairfield, Iowa, in June 2004.

Dairy Shippers Despatch
Our insulated boxcar was built by the Milwaukee Road for the Schlitz Brewery in 1951. The trucks are stamped with the Milwaukee Road designation CMStP&P, but the car body itself carried the designation and number DSDX 4299. DSDX refers to a company called Dairy Shippers Despatch (yes, spelled despatch, not dispatch), a shell company for Schlitz invented to disguise the contents of its cargo. The sides of a boxcar in the 1950s were 40 feet wide and 10 feet tall, making an excellent billboard for companies wishing to advertise their wares. But a trainload of railcars leaving Milwaukee clearly marked Miller, Pabst or Schlitz, was susceptible to break-ins by local railfans interested in the beverages being transported inside. To avoid these types of losses, Schlitz invented the Dairy Shippers name and painted all their cars in anonymous paint schemes which belied their contents. Reportedly, Dairy Shippers Despatch never shipped a dairy product, and they never lost a beer.

© 2011 The Institute for Small Town Studies