C&S 8027 Part III – Restoration

By the summer of 2008, I had made the decision to start restoring C&S 8027. One of the earliest decisions to be made in the restoration was to settle on what era the car would be restored to as it had sported several different appearances and at least three different lettering styles during its 40 years of service on the C&S. I settled on restoring the car to its circa 1930 appearance, after it had received some work and fresh paint at the C&S’s Denver car shops. As such, this would represent 8027’s last decade of service. Along with having a good photo of sister car 8030 to work from, restoring it to this era would not require any changes to the car in order to back date it to an earlier era.

Though it looked quite bad, having been stripped of all of its metal parts and then left out in the weather for nearly 70 years, the car’s basic structure was still in quite good shape. Between the weathering and having windows cut into it during the car’s time as a shed, the original siding was in need of replacement in its entirety. The roof, being made of a layer of boards over an inner layer of corrugated sheet metal was also in need of replacement. (Had it not been for the sheet metal layer of the roof, the car probably would have deteriorated past the point of being saved long before I found it.)

Luckily, the car had been kept from direct contact with the ground for most of its time as a shed and, the frame was in overall very good shape with a couple of exceptions. At some point, some sand had been piled around one end of the car, causing one end sill and part of a side sill to be in direct contact with the ground for a number of years. As a result, the wood that was in contact with the ground was rotted out and in need of replacement. As a side note, the car showed evidence of wreck damage on this end as well; the end sill was broken, the side sill had damage and the entire end of the car was twisted. (In fact, this end of the car remains twisted and out of square today. Even with the siding off and the walls apart, no amount of force that I felt comfortable applying would bring the walls back in line, so I let them be.)

In addition to all of those issues, the car was missing all of its running gear (trucks, couplers, brakes, body bolsters) and pretty much all of its metal hardware (truss rods, queen posts, grabirons etc.) While this would not be the first time I had converted a boxcar shed back into a boxcar, C&S 8027 presented a massive challenge; none of the original parts were available. The last car that I had done this much work rebuilding was Denver & Rio Grande Western 3148. Unlike one of a kind C&S 8027, there are over a hundred surviving complete D&RGW 3000 series narrow gauge boxcars, probably twice that many carbodies serving as sheds and a lot of parts that were saved as the others were scrapped in the 1970’s. The best bet for making 8027 look like a boxcar again was going to be to use what parts were available, namely D&RGW car parts, along with having a few new items made.

At this point, restoring 8027 was looking a bit overwhelming (especially considering that I was to be the sole source of both labor and funding for the endeavor), but as the old cliché goes, “even the longest journey begins with the first step” or something like that. Replacing the damaged end sill and side sill section seemed like a logical starting point so that’s where I decided to begin. I began working on 8027 in the summer of 2008 and continued through the fall of 2010, working in fits and spurts as I had time and money

A close up of 8027 on March 10, 2005, showing the rot damage to the end of the side sill.

At this point, 8027 had been moved to a different location at the Valmont site and was sitting on narrow gauge track, propped up on two stacks of railroad ties to allow access to the underside of the car. This was a big help when it came to repairing the sills and installing the body bolsters (a metal truss that runs across the car at each end and supports the car on its trucks or wheels). Once the frame was repaired and the body bolster installed on one end, it was time to decide where to go next. To that end, I came up with a plan to work on one end of the car at a time, then the doors and then work on the roof all at once. This plan was in part conceived by the car itself, as its method of construction dictated how the work would be done.

The tension rods that ran across the tops of the walls, to keep the walls from spreading and hold the carlines (or “roof ribs”, like roof joists in a house) in place, ran completely through to the outside of the car on 8027. (On most wood boxcars, these rods end at the outside of the top beam of the wall and are covered by the siding, thus the siding can be replaced without removing the rods.) This method of construction meant that on 8027, the rods had to be removed in order to replace the siding. As the tension rods also ran through the Tack Board (a board that runs across the top of the wall just below the roofline) and the tack boards were one piece from the end of the car to the door, this meant removing the rods from half of the car at a time in order to replace the siding.

A close up of 8027. Notice the nuts on the outside of the boards at the top of the wall; these are the ends of the rods that run from one side of the car to the other. Also notice how the siding is under the boards. If you want to replace the siding, you must remove the rods and the boards.

When it came to the siding, it was evident that the C&S had replaced some of the siding during the car’s time on the railroad. The original siding was 1”x4” tongue and groove boards, while the replacement siding was 1”x6” tongue and groove, with a “V groove” in the center so that it looked like two 1”x3” boards. Based on the siding, it was evident that the C&S had built new doors for that car and boarded over its end door, most likely during the circa 1930 trip through the Denver shops.

Luckily, “car siding”, pine tongue and groove boards, is still available, in both 1×8 and 1×6 v groove sizes, making it possible to replicate the siding on 8027; where there was 1×4’s I would use the 1×8 (which looks like two 1×4’s), where there was 1×6’s, I would use 1×6’s, thereby preserving the patchwork look that was on 8027 for its last decade as a boxcar. The siding underneath the side doors is original to the car and was not in need of replacement, so it remains in place today.


September 2, 2008 found the frame repairs done and new siding on one end of C&S 8027.
8027 is seen here on July 11, 2009. In the 10 months since the last photo, the siding had been finished; work on the roof started and the car placed back on trucks for the first time in 70 years.

Once the siding was replaced, I began to install the grab irons, using the original holes in the wall structure as a guide to their placement (while the number and placement of the grab irons had changed over the years, it was easy to determine which holes to use as the cut off bolts were still in them). This resulted in a couple of instances of odd spacing and crooked grab irons, but if it was good enough for the C&S, it was good enough for me.

As described above, the original roof on 8027 was an outer layer of boards, with sheet metal inserts below. In the now 70 years since the car left the railroad, the board layer had mostly disintegrated, causing the wood components of the sheet metal layer (the roughly 2 foot wide sections of corrugated metal were kept in place by grooves cut in the boards adjoining them) to mostly rot away as well. While this roof design was clearly robust, its longevity is dependent upon maintaining (routinely replacing) the top layer of boards. Seeking a less maintenance intensive and easier to construct option, I elected to make a compromise on the roof; I replaced the sheet metal layer with plywood, for the second layer, I placed tongue and groove boards along the edge (so that the roof would look correct when seen from the side and below and the covered it all with corrugated metal roofing. Given that the car was going to spend its life outside in a harsh environment, I was looking to build a strong, low maintenance and long lived roof.

A couple of the original roof walk supports had survived, these were used as patterns to make new ones and were then painted and reused on the car and a new roof walk was installed on them. Denver & Rio Grande Western parts were used for detail parts, such as the brake staff, cut levers and angle cock/air hose assemblies. The trucks were also Rio Grande parts and were installed under the car by jacking it up (using two 50 ton car jacks), rolling the truck under the car and then removing the railroad tie blocking as the car was lowered onto the truck. (This was done one end at a time.)

By April of 2010, 8027 was looking like a boxcar again! Riding on trucks with new siding, a new roof, a coat of primer and some of the missing metal parts reinstalled.

Being as the car was almost all new wood, I elected to experiment with a quality latex paint as the latex house paints seemed to hold deep red colors better than the available oil based paints. I will concede that the latex has held its color without fading, but it also holds water against the wood and causes rapid rot damage. I cannot state strongly enough DO NOT USE LATEX PAINT ON WOOD RAILROAD CARS!! (Unless of course you enjoy watching them rapidly rot to death!) Anyway, I gave 8027 a coat of oil based primer, followed up with a couple of coats of latex “Boxcar Red in August of 2010 (with some help from my then 8 year old eldest daughter).

Freshly painted C&S 8027 at Valmont on September 27, 2010.

At this point, at least one problem had been solved, C&S 8027 no longer a decrepit shed, it was a mostly complete and decent looking boxcar. That said, there was still no answer as to “what to do with it” in sight. More on that next time.

For the trivia Fans, we present this installment’s side note;

Where the parts came from

The trucks, as well as the bottom plates and center bearings for the body bolsters, came from my D&RGW boxcar, No. 3148. I had originally acquired these parts (along with a whole bunch of D&RGW narrow gauge railcar parts, a story for another time) from a private collector in 2000 and used them to piece 3148 back together. A 2005 arson fire that destroyed another D&RGW 3000 series boxcar that I was working on left me in possession of the correct trucks, couplers, body bolsters, etc. for 3148. This freed up the trucks and mis-matched body bolster parts for use on 8027.

D&RGW 3148 at Valmont on September 2, 2008. The set of trucks behind 3148 are waiting to be installed under the car, freeing up the trucks under 3148 for use on C&S 8027.

The cut levers (or pin lifters if you prefer), brake wheel, brake staff, brake staff mounts and some grabirons came from D&RGW boxcar AX-3219 and were removed when I converted AX-3219 into a passenger car for the Georgetown Loop Railroad in 2005.  In an apparent (and successful) effort to frustrate me, the C&S used different size grabirons and stirrup steps on their freight cars than did the Rio Grande, necessitating that these parts be made new for 8027.

3219 VALMONT March 23 2005 – Denver & Rio Grande Western boxcar 3219 upon its arrival at the Valmont site on March 23, 2005. 3219 was at Valmont for conversion into a passenger car for the Georgetown Loop Railroad. Many parts removed during this work eventually ended up on C&S 8027.

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