An initial assessment of West Side 297 upon its arrival in Kansas

West Side Lumber Company flatcar No. 297 in Nevada City Montana on June 8, 2006.

The climate of northeast Kansas is somewhat wet and humid – not Dallas humid or Seattle wet – but wet and humid nonetheless. While the climate is favorable to farming, it is not such a plus when it comes to keeping ancient wooden railroad cars alive. Thus the first, and perhaps most important step, in stabilizing West Side #297 was to get it out of the weather. To that end, a steel carport was built over the track that the car would call home. Construction of the carport meant that there would be no financial resources to put towards work on the car for a while, but the long term benefits outweighed the short term stagnation of the project.

Jerry Huck and Taylor Rush of the Western Railroad Preservation Society arrived in Kansas with #297 on a blisteringly hot day in June 2011. The car was towed behind Jerry’s one-ton Ford truck on a 30’ tilt bed trailer. The trailer’s tilt feature made it easy to unload the flatcar (line it up with the track, chain one end of the car to my pickup to control the speed of its descent, raise the trailer up and roll the car onto its new track) and within an hour or so #297 was off the trailer. Once unloaded, the loose pieces of the car’s deck were removed and the entire car was hosed down with a liberal coating of a linseed oil and wood preservative mixture. That would really be the only attention that the car received for the next two years.

Shortly after its arrival in Kansas, WSL 297 shows off its “good side” on July 19, 2011.

An examination of the car showed that the circa 1961 wreck had caused significant damage to the “A” end of the car. Whatever hit the car had scored a direct hit on the truck itself, mangling the outside brake beam and pushing the truck back several inches. As a result, the body bolster was damaged, the center bearing broken, and the centerpin bent. The car was not sitting correctly on the “A” end truck and when moving the car, it had to be pulled by the truck. If pulled by the body, the truck tended to stay put while the car moved.

Fire damage from the 1989 fire in Montana can be seen on the “bad side” of 297. Also notice the broken side sill. July 19, 2011.

The entire wooden deck of the car, made up of 4” thick pine boards, was almost completely rotted away, and rot was eating into the frame sills of the car. The 1989 fire damaged the right side of the car, and the right side sill had split almost in half. The end sills were rotten and missing chunks and the truss rods were so loose that they were serving only a decorative purpose rather than adding structural support to the car.

The “A” end of WSL 297. Note the rot damage to the end sill. July 19, 2011.

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