Article & Photographs by Kevin Phalon
On the frigid Friday morning of February 7, 2014, Delaware, Lackawanna & Western MU 3453 spent its last day in New Jersey. After a full day of painstaking work trading its steel wheels for rubber tires, this rare 1912 parlor car was ready to hit the road to be delivered to the Walkersville Southern Railroad in Maryland.
The 3453 is one of the only two Lackawanna MU Parlor Cars left in existence. Built in 1912 as Lackawanna club cars, they were converted to MU trailers in the 1930s for operation on the DL&W’s electrified Morristown Line. After spending almost the entirety of its career in New Jersey, it is natural for one to ask why the car might be leaving.
To many, this car may look like scrap metal. To the URHS, it looked like a restoration project that was completely out of financial reach. To Walkersville Southern, it looked like exactly what they were looking for. Walkersville Southern Railroad is a 7-mile non-profit excursion railroad located in central Maryland. Because that the railroad is not physically connected to the national rail network, the WSRR has become quite adept at delivering rail cars and locomotives by road.
In addition to their weekend excursions and special events, WSRR operates a dinner train, which has become a hit with riders. In order to expand this service their only option was to add more equipment, and that need launched the search that led them to the United Railroad Historical Society of NJ.
Among the dozens of historic railcars in Boonton Yard were the Lackawanna MUs. Both cars had been subject to years of neglect and deterioration. A tap on the side sill of the cars caused rust to rain down much like the very water that cause the damage in the first place. Stairs, doors, and windows were missing, but what was left allowed the dedicated Walkersville volunteers to view what it had in store. Inside, their car’s high ceilings still echoed sounds of its glory days, while the items strewn about the floor showed evidence of an overwhelming restoration project that had long been forgotten. Broken glass dotted the dusty carpet just below the intricate inlaid wood, which had once made the walls and interior so luxurious in the first half of the century.
Many years earlier, the URHS was given a quote to restore the car that was far out of financial reach for the organization, and would offer little return on the investment. That unfortunately put the cars at the end of a long list of projects, leaving their future in limbo. For one of those two cars however, luck was about to change. After a tour of the cars, WSRR chose 3453 as the car they would like to acquire. In the interest of historic preservation, the URHS agree to donate the car to Walkersville Southern, with the agreement that it would be restored at their railroad and put in to operation. With the agreement in place, it was Walkersville Southern’s obligation to get the car out of the yard, and down to their railroad in Maryland.
This was no simple task, but it was one for which the WSRR could not be more prepared. The railroad hired Daily Express, a heavy haul trucking company that specializes in many types of over-sized loads. In the past, they had moved six other cars for the railroad, even one move for which a road needed to be built to reach its location. On moving day, they brought two tractor-trailers: one to move everything from the frame up, and the other to haul the wheel sets from underneath. Their slogan is “We have a different notion of OVERSIZED,” and they proved it.
On moving day, step one was to attach one end of the car to the tractor-trailer. Inside the URHS restoration shop, one wheel set was removed, and the front end of the trailer was backed underneath. The car was then secured to a rotating plate and was able to pivot back and forth like a typical tractor-trailer. This portion of the move went smoothly but once the car was moved outside, that good fortune changed.
The scheduled move date happened to be during a harsh winter snowstorm. During the course of the day, the storm dumped about 8 inches of snow and freezing rain on the cars and on the volunteers. Moving the 18-wheeler on the ice meant hauling it from ahead or behind with a truck, tractor, and even a locomotive! With the car in place, a 150-ton crane from Hegarty Crane service lifted the rear end of the car off of its second wheel set and onto the rear set of tires, or the “bogie.” The first wheel set was then lifted up over the fence and placed onto the second trailer. Trouble reared its ugly head when it came time to move the second wheel set. With the car in the way, the crane could not reach the wheels sitting on the rails. With the help of a tractor and forklift, the wheels were derailed, and rolled to where they could be lifted up 20 feet, over the car, and onto the trailer. The two wheel sets were then secured by the driver from Daily Express and sent off to Maryland. Several hours of towing and shoving well into darkness finally got the now asphalt-bound MU out of the gate and ready for shipment.
Several days later, the MU was readied during for its final day in New Jersey. Daily Express, along with two escort cars, arrived at Boonton Yard in the early morning to prepare the car to leave. Through the generosity of the URHS and the determination of Walkersville Southern Railroad, hours of gruelling work and skilled labor had led to this day, which could only be considered a win for rail preservation. Together, the URHS and WSRR ensured that this car not only survived over 100 years, but that it was also given another 100 years. While the car might only hold dust and broken glass now, it will someday hold dozens of passengers enjoying a four-course dinner, riding through the Maryland countryside. That is an achievement that all parties involved can be proud of, and the URHS is honored to have been a part of it.
This story is far from over. Find the United Railroad Historical Society of New Jersey and the Walkersville Southern Railroad and Museum on facebook to keep track of the progress!