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Outfit Car 06—The Journey Continues

At the time Joan and I started restoring combine 06, we had mistakenly assumed that we were working on combine 05. A combine is a railroad passenger car that combines both a passenger section and a baggage section, hence the name combine. This type of car was used on routes that didn’t have much in the way of passengers or baggage. According to remarkably complete Nevada Northern records, there were two such combines owned by the railroad numbered 05 and 06. As mentioned before, the car had been sanded, which had exposed the residue of some numbers and lettering along the side of the car – more like ghosts of numbers and letters.

In looking at the numbers it appeared to me that the ghost number exposed was 05, ergo, we were working on car 05. And that ghost lettering on the side of the car, could it have said, “combine”?

At this particular time, Joan and I lived in Elko, some 200 miles north of Ely. We would come down over a couple of weekends each month (if we were lucky), work in train service, and then spend the remaining available time on the car. Bottom line, not a whole lot of time was being put into the car. So to speed up the project we asked if we could take one of the doors back to Elko with us to strip the paint off it. This was agreed to and one of those great arch topped doors soon headed north.

During those days, there wasn’t much more time that could be devoted to the door in at home in Elko, but finally one weekend we decided to start stripping paint off the door. Laying the door on two sawhorses, we dosed the door with paint stripper and waited. Like magic, the paint began to peel up and we were able to start scraping, and scraping as it turned out that there were layers upon layers of paint on the door. The paint stripper would lose its effectiveness and we’d slather more on. After three cycles of slathering and stripping, the wood began to appear from under all that paint and I, for one, was not ready for what we found.

Under all of that paint was solid mahogany wood. It was beautiful and as smooth as a baby’s bottom! And the discovery scared me; according to the records we had, the car was built in the late 1880s. The vintage and quality of material caused me to believe that I was out of my element and frankly didn’t know how to proceed. So with the upper third of the door stripped, we stopped and left the door in our garage. As it turned out, this was the smart thing to do, because the door was the key that would unlock the mystery of the car such as when it was built and by who.

The combine car project fell into the background as other events conspired to overwhelm Joan and me. The first was that I agreed to become the Executive Director of the museum. It took us a year to make the transition from Elko to Ely. And once on the ground in Ely, there were a thousand and one tasks that all needed doing, so even though we were now living in Ely, we still didn’t have time to do anything with the car. So it just sat inside the coach house, safely out of the weather. In fact, it sat next to its sister. Periodically, I would lead a tour into the coach house and show off the car.

Eventually, seeing the two cars side by side started the wheels turning in my brain. Was it a good idea to use the best parts of the two cars to create one? I asked others in the organization for their thoughts. One of the people I asked was Sean Pitts, Director of the East Ely Depot Museum. As a trained historian, Sean advised against combining the cars. These thoughts and concerns began to make me think more on what our preservation policy should be at the museum.

Late one summer evening, as I was walking the grounds, I bumped into a visitor and a conversation ensued. It turned out that he had traveled hundreds of miles out of his way to see coach 2. He really wanted to see the coach, but it was obvious that the museum was closed. He was very disappointed that he couldn’t find it. He had convinced his wife and family to make this detour that had taken way more time then he figured, forcing them to plan on leaving very early in the morning—without ever having a chance to see the car.

Now I was curious, “Why had this person driven so far out of his way to see this particular car? Why was it so important?” I asked him and he told me that coach 2 was the last surviving example of its class—the Nevada Northern owned the very last one in existence. I introduced myself and offered to show him the car. He thought he had died and gone to heaven. Coach 2 was stored in the Coach House along with combine cars 05 and 06. Upon seeing this collection, our visitor was in Nirvana. He just couldn’t believe how beautiful coach 2 was and he was thrilled to see cars 05 and 06. He knew them to be great examples of early wooden passenger cars.

Fast forward to March 2006. We have just completed three winter photo shoots. What were we going to do next year to bring the photographers back? The idea came up that we would put together the Nevada Northern wreck train. The wreck train would be locomotive 93, the wrecking crane, tool car A-1, a boxcar, a passenger car, and a caboose. Traditionally, coach 2 would have gone in the wreck train. But since 2 was still heavily damaged, I elected to use the Willy car.

I had been doing some research on the Willy Car. First off, I learned that I had the number on it wrong. The Willy car was 06, not 05. Steve Swanson, a member of the museum, had some old pictures of the car while it was parked at McGill. Those pictures showed that the lettering on the side didn’t say, “Combine” but said “Outfit Car.” Also, again according to railroad records, the car was in actuality a used Pullman car, bought second hand by the railroad on June 30, 1909.

For combine 06 to be used in the wreck train, it would need to be painted. So plans were made to do just that: bring the car in, paint it, and repair the coupler. In order to do the job right, the windows would have to come out. Once the windows were removed, it turned out that the windowsill on one side of the car was in considerably worse shape than the other side. So now, more work was involved, as the decision was made to replace the unacceptable windowsill.

The wooden parts of the car were sanded and the metal parts cleaned to the base with a needle gun. On the iron trucks, under layers of paint were found the casting marks “G T R,” believed to stand for the Grand Trunk Railroad, a famous fallen flag.

At the time this work was getting underway, the Association of Railroad Museum’s annual conference was slated at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento. While at the conference, I found about forty minutes to spare on the busy schedule, used it to visit the museum library, and asked if they had any photos of the Nevada Northern Railway, which they did. In going through the photos, I found a picture of car 06, taken in East Ely. I turned the photo over and saw that it was a Gerald Best photo. Gerald Best was a noted railroad photographer; the California State Railroad Museum has over 100,000 of his images on file and here was one of the 06! Then it got even more exciting: hand-printed on the back of the photo was “East Ely, Nev 10-1939.” And above that, it read, “Nevada Northern 06, ex 6, ex C.P. RR 1879.”

What?! We had an ex-Central Pacific Railroad passenger car as part of our collection! The Central Pacific was the original transcontinental railroad, completed in 1869. And here was a car from the old C.P., and it was built only 10 years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad—wow! I started hyperventilating. But wait, before getting too excited, it would be nice to have confirmation.

I contacted Kyle Wyatt of the California State Railroad Museum to ask his opinion. He burst my bubble; Gerald Best had made mistakes. And if the car was an ex-C.P. RR car it most likely would not have “G T R” on the trucks—a dead-end.

In going through the car getting it ready for painting, the shop staff kept looking for clues and didn’t find anymore until . . . Jeremy was sanding the door (yes, the very door which started all this) and discovered under all of the paint, in gold leaf, the word “LEVIS.” What? Levis?! What did this mean? An e-mail to Kyle and EUREKA! From Kyle’s e-mail, we learned that the Atlantic Equipment Company of Harvey, Illinois purchased many old Pullman cars after they were retired. But, so far as anyone knows, they did not purchase former Central Pacific cars, most of which went to West Coast used equipment dealers.

So he checked Ralph Barger’s Century of Pullman Palace Cars, vol. II: Wooden Cars and on page 55 found that this Levis was a 10 section, 1 drawing room sleeping car built for Pullman by the Grand Trunk RR in 1872, as part of a batch of four built between June and September of that year to the specifications of what later became Pullman plan 31, lot 3. It was originally named Lachine, but in Oct 1872, it was modified slightly to plan 31B and renamed Tulgela. In 1898, it was again modified to plan 31K and renamed Levis. It was retired in January 1908 and sold to Hotchkiss Blue & Company, an equipment dealer Pullman often used. Presumably, the Atlantic Equipment Co acquired it from them (or perhaps they were related companies).

So we learned that our lowly “Willy Car,” bought second-hand by the Nevada Northern was built in 1872 as one of the highest-class cars on rails! Just think, before the airplane, automobile, telephones, even the electric light bulb, the Levis was hauling people around the country in style. And through a fluke, she wound up here.

While the exterior work was going on, the shop forces were also working on mechanical aspects of the car. Since we were going to use the car for the photo shoots, it was decided to take the car out for a test run. So how did a 135-year-old car do? Just great, according to Jason, she is the smoothest riding car that we have.

I learned a lot over the course of the past eight years with this car. It took quite some research and more than a little luck to find out what we have. What we found out was that we had a treasure. A car that was built only five years after the founding of the Pullman Company and just three years after the completion of the transcontinental railroad. And we learned to look at our stashed away rolling stock in a new light.

The painting of car 06 will be completed, some of her woodwork repaired, and she’ll be out for the photo shoots. Work will continue on the car; it will be an ongoing process. We will leave her as an Outfit Car.

Meanwhile her sister 05 will have a different future, as Kyle’s e-mail continued with, “I note sister car Lorne was sold to HB&Co at the same time as was Levis from Pullman plan 31, lot 3.” Could the 05 be the Lorne? So in our spare time we’ll take off one of the doors of 05 and sand where we found the name LEVIS on 06 and see what name we’ll find there, if any.

The long-term plan for the 05 will now change. She’ll stay in the coach house protected from the weather until we have the chance to a do a full restoration on the car. We’ll restore her as a combine. We might not have the money to do what we want to 05 at this moment, but we might in ten years. And if so, on her 145th birthday 05 will look as she did shortly after she came to the Nevada Northern. And when you’re 135 years old what’s waiting a mere ten years for a ground-up restoration? Nothing—just a drop in the bucket of railroad time.

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Sunday | 8AM - 4PM

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1100 Ave A, Ely, NV 89301

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