Freight Car Restoration

Call 301-759-4400 Ext 130 or for info on the next Freight Car Work Session Day!




Matt Flanagan
Cameron Stefan
Brian Stefan
David Nolan
Tyler Nolan
John Turnett
Evan Turnett
Mike Marmer
Cole Livingston
Jody Shaw
Megan Spindler
Thomas Mackay

The Pennsylvania Railroad Technical and Historical Society

Freight  Car Restoration

One of the main purposes of establishing a WMSR Foundation is to engage in projects that lead directly to railroad preservation. Therefore, it was with much excitement that the first major rail preservation project finally began on PRR 614470. First, a small bit of the back story. Most readers may be surprised to hear that the WMSR operates occasional freight trains, despite not having any freight customers on the line. The freight trains only serve the purpose of posing for paying photographers, and providing them with unique equipment arrangements. The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad maintains a fleet of between 15 and 20 freight cars, although only about 10 see service in photo freights.

One of these cars is a 52-1/2’ inside length welded steel gondola from the Pennsylvania Railroad, number 614470. This car happens to be the oldest in the WMSR fleet, being built in April 1951 by the Pullman Standard car company and approaching its 63rd birthday in 2014. To the PRR this gondola was known as a G31a class, a class of extremely common gondolas based on the original G31 design from 1949. Unlike the G31’s, 614470 was built as a drop-end gondola with an all wood floor. This meant that the ends could fold down allowing for cargo that exceeded the 52-1/2' length. Gondolas like this could be used in moving just about anything from scrap metal, to railroad ties, to auto frames.

This gondola, and many other G31a gondolas began to be rebuilt in 1966 into G31k series. Included in the rebuild would be new ‘fixed’ ends and a steel floor. Readers may know that in 1968 the nearly bankrupt PRR merged with the equally distraught New York Central to form the ill-fated Penn Central. Perhaps this is why that while the G31k rebuilds were completed, the new “steel floors” were merely sheets of metal installed over the original wood floors. Despite the corner cutting and hard times, nearly 16,000 G31x-type gondolas would make it to the merger, and hundreds would roll on into the Conrail years.

Among these gondolas was number 614470. Receiving many coats of paint (perhaps 6 in all), several new numbers (the last of which was 55436) and continuously being battered around in revenue service, this gondola avoided the scrapper successfully till when in 1999, CSX and Norfolk Southern split Conrail among their own operations. When this occurred -brace yourselves Pennsy fans- 614470 was re-lettered NYC 55436 to signify that CSX would be taking ownership of the car.

Alas, that was not to be the fate of 614470. Because of its age and the fact it still had its original trucks, 614470 was still equipped with ‘solid’ bearings, while modern roller bearings were highly preferred by modern railroads because of the reduction in the occurrence of “hot-boxes”, when bearings overheat due to friction (614470 is still the only WMSR owned freight car with solid bearings and needs routine journal oiling). Upon inspection by CSX in 1999 the car would be sold off for scrap due to its condition. However, in 2000 the WMSR acquired 614470, before the cutters torch chopped the car up forever.

In 2013 it was decided that the WMSRF would begin repainting the WMSR freight cars in an effort to preserve their history, condition, and aesthetic value. 614470 would be the first in this program, due to its age, and it was decided that restoring the cars original 1951 PRR paint scheme would be appropriate. Therefore, in October 2013, after the fall foliage rush, volunteers began wire brushing the old loose paint and debris off the car in order to prime it. At press time, 614470 sits on track 11 in the Ridgeley, WV shops, with both ends and the “Fireman’s” side of the gondola stripped and primed, awaiting favorable weather to complete the remaining side. When primed, the original PRR “Freight Car Color” (a proprietary color) will be applied and stencils copied from the original PRR plans will be painted on the car. It is hoped the car will be finished by the end of spring 2014 so another freight car project can promptly begin.
Information for this article and for this project was gathered by the author from: “The Keystone Modeler” Number-16 11/2004 pg 23-34, The Conrail Historical Society (who are in the midst of their own G31 rebuild into Conrail livery), The Pennsylvania Railroad Archives in Lewistown, PA, The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania and many others.

Below you will find a picture before volunteer efforts began and now being primed for paint.                Written By Tom Mackay, Foundation Member and volunteer




Photo By Tom Mackay                                                                                                                            Photo By Tom Mackay
A Division of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad 13 Canal Street, Cumberland, MD 21502 301-759-4400