By Steve Glischinski
Published: January 31, 2014
MINNEAPOLIS – The Friends of the 261 are progressing on the restoration of former Milwaukee Road Skytop parlor lounge observation car Cedar Rapids. The car, built by the Milwaukee Road at its Milwaukee Shops in 1948, is undergoing a complete overhaul. The lounge area at the rear of the car is unique since it is 90 percent glass, with multiple rows of windows reaching up to form the ceiling. This solarium contains 12 seats, with an additional 24 seats in the interior of the car. The interior also features wood paneling, characteristic of Milwaukee Road designs
Designed by famed industrial designer Brooks Stevens, the Cedar Rapids was one of four parlor observations cars that entered service in 1948 on the Twin Cities Hiawathas between Chicago and the Twin Cities. Stevens also designed six sleeper Skytop observations for the Chicago-Seattle/Tacoma Olympian Hiawatha. One of those cars, the Coffee Creek, was recently was moved to Alamosa, Colo., for restoration, and is the only intact sleeper Skytop. Three of the parlor observations survive, but the Cedar Rapids is the only car that is operable.
The Skytop is a favorite of the passengers on Milwaukee Road No. 261 steam excursions, and also makes several charter moves on Amtrak each year. It traveled coast-to-coast in September 2013 as part of the Station-to-Station artists’ train.
This winter, the car was pulled into the group’s shop in Minneapolis for restoration. The trucks were removed for an Amtrak-mandated 10-year inspection. The wheels were also removed and sent to Chicago for turning and inspection.
Most of the windows in the rear of the car are being removed and 14 new custom-made, FRA type 1 windows will be installed. Four new oval-shaped side windows will also be installed. These are that last windows in the car that had not been upgraded to the newest standards. The windows were custom made from original Milwaukee Road blueprints that were fed into a computer CAD program to get the proper size and shape. This also required the group to custom make new gaskets to hold the windows in place. This required manufacture of the proper die to extrude the new rubber gasket, and was accomplished by working closely with a rubber company in Ohio that made the new gaskets. Once all the new windows are installed, the entire car will be sanded and repainted in Milwaukee Road orange and maroon colors with new lettering and pin striping.
The interior of the car will also see major work. All carpeting will be replaced, and the parlor seats reupholstered. The group was able to find the company that originally manufactured the carpet for the
Milwaukee Road. The company still had the original design in its archives, so the group placed a $12,000 order to get the replacement carpet manufactured. This order will also give the organization enough carpet to redo other cars in its fleet.
The parlor car chairs are being returned to their as-manufactured appearance. Looking at historical documentation, it was determined that the original chairs were a rust color, not the teal or greenish blue color that the chairs currently have. More research determined that the teal seats were used in the Milwaukee Road’s Valley series of mid-train parlor cars.
More research revealed that when the car was retired from regular service in 1970, the original seats had been removed, possibly in preparation for scrapping. Instead the car was sold, and apparently the railroad installed a set of Valley series parlor chair seats and cushions from its stores. Further evidence of this was uncovered when the parlor chairs were removed during restoration. On the bottom of each seat base could be seen the original brown paint; the seat bases had been painted to match the seat cushions.
After removing all of the parlor chairs, the group decided to paint the ceiling of the car, and repair some water stains that popped up several years ago. Workers and volunteers discovered the ceiling was covered with about 10 coats of paint. Rather than sanding and stripping it, it was determined that it would look much better to remove and replace the entire ceiling. In addition, the curved side panels above the luggage racks had water stains and the wood was badly damaged from years of service, so those are being replaced as well.
The Friends of the 261 have raised about $30,000 for the work needed on the Cedar Rapids, but the group estimates the total cost of the project will be $62,000. It is seeking donations to finish the work. Donations can be made at www.261.com or by mail to the Friends of the 261, 4322 Lakepoint Court, Shoreview, MN 55126.