RyPN Articles 4-4-05
previous article ~ return to articles index ~ next article
Gainesville Midland No. 209
A first person narrative of how a small city in the North Georgia hills took responsible care of its railroad collection without emptying the treasury in the process.
Gainesville, Georgia is a pleasant community, suffering from having three roads with bridges crossing Lake Lanier pass through its center, and being on the edge of Atlanta's insatiable suburban sprawl. It has long been a center of poultry production, and now supports a large immigrant population of chicken pluckers and processors. In the late 1950s, it was the last bastion of steam in the Seaboard Air Line group of affiliates, thanks to the Gainesville Midland railroad, which ran decapods and a pair of 2-8-0's through 1959, before finally dieselizing in 1960.
Many of the Gainesville Midland locomotives have been more or less preserved in museums, or as park hulks in communities from Gainesville itself to Charlotte, NC. Charlotte got a 2-8-0 by accident - it was too late to preserve a NC steam locomotive by the time they asked the SAL for one in 1959, but the Seaboard had just retired one in Georgia. With SAL never one to waste a resource, it pulled a freight into Charlotte, had the fire dropped, and went to rot in Freedom Park, where it was first vandalized by the usual suspects, then by the city parks department itself, who paid to have it stripped of every protrusion to be converted into a jungle gym in the 1990s. But I digress.......
The engine in Gainesville, 2-10-0 No. 209, escaped a similar fate. It was vandalized in the usual ways, and then largely ignored by most of the citizens for many years. In 1991, it was moved from its original display location along with a steel Seaboard Air Line caboose and a Southern baggage car, and put on display at a traffic-jammed intersection, on land which had been part of the GM yard. A group of local citizens built a small railroad museum in the baggage car, did a paint job on everything, and manned it on weekends for a while. But after these benefactors burned out, nothing much happened for more years. The neighborhood would eventually undergo redevelopment, but before that happened the caboose became overflow accommodation for a local brothel, and at least one person set up housekeeping in the tender tank.
Redevelopment happened, and some of it was actually good. The Gainesville Midland passenger terminal building was saved, but the railroad infrastructure surrounding it removed. Many of the older structures nearby are now being demolished for construction of mostly banks, and a considerable number of other older buildings have been demolished at the nearby square for ugly modern concrete municipal structures and parking decks. The city is now about to redevelop an industrial corridor along the part of the GM which came into the city center, and is making the mistake of removing the track, which could be a valuable future commuter rail link to Atlanta, and serve as a development catalyst if left as an integral part of the plan.
So here we have the sense of the place and time - a community, which was an agricultural center, under severe development pressure and undergoing rapid growth, and without the sophistication to control it rather than react to it. When the real estate people and activists began to complain about the eyesore railroad collection, and the asbestos leaking through the rotted jacket, the city was under some pressure to do something about it.
I met Jim at the site in August where we looked over the situation generally. The locomotive, tender and caboose sit on a landlocked section of track facing the corner of the block. The entire side of the block is occupied by the city owned property holding the railroad collection. A concrete walkway separates the tender and the caboose, and leads into the side door of the baggage car, which occupies another shorter section of track. All pieces are enclosed by an iron fence, which also separates the city owned property from the privately owned empty lot behind. Power is from a pole to the rear of the caboose, and the baggage car lights and a few outlets are hard-wired in underground. The empty lot is accessible only from the street to the rear of the caboose, and is a good place to bring in a crane, load parts, tools and supplies in and out, and park work trucks. A water standpipe for a hose connection is near the power pole.
Jim determined that, if it could be afforded, the locomotive should be stripped with a wrench, then the asbestos remediated, then rejacketed and reassembled before repainting. A budget of $75,000.00 was set aside for cosmetic restoration of all three pieces. Jim now had to figure out how to do all that with those limited funds, and, by the way, preferably within 120 days. It was now September, and fall and winter in the hills can present unpredictable periods of nasty weather. All work had to be done outside where things sat.
I was just finishing up an intensive replication of a Marietta streetcar from the hulk of a Cincinnati Curveside streetcar body, and looking forward to a short vacation in Pennsylvania and New England. I couldn't make myself available to start the job until late October. I didn't know just what could be done with the $39,900 set aside for the locomotive work, but was pretty sure we could at least do the disassembly, install a new jacket made by the local sheet metal shop, the reassembly, replace the wood deck on the tender, and patch the rot holes in the side of the tender tank. Beyond that, some conservation work and detail repairs could possibly be done. I could work on making bits and pieces look good until he got tired of writing checks. Jim offered the use of the city maintenance shop and whatever resources he could provide without interrupting his ongoing work too much, and had some flexibility in the deadline. He could provide local references for suppliers. He had separately contracted with an asbestos remediation contractor and painter, both of whom were beyond my control, yet the deadlines I had to meet were dependent on their getting their work done in a timely way. We agreed in principle on a "not to exceed" contract, and I went on vacation with the idea of starting work upon my return.
Knowing I would need some strong young and qualified assistance, I called Jason Sobczynski in Michigan, who had just finished working a temporary series of projects for the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn. Jason is from the Atlanta area, and knows where every scrap yard and source in North Georgia is located. I had previously hired him for the shop in Savannah when I was moving on, and they needed a good steam mechanic and skilled shop guy who was younger than the locomotives. Jason was pleased to head home and take part in the project, 209 had been of particular interest to him for a while.
October 27, 2004: I arrived with a truckload of tools to find the street, which offered access to the empty lot, torn up and blocked. Turns out the city street department doesn't take the plans of the city buildings and land department into consideration when starting repaving jobs. We were advised it would be a quick job lasting no more than a couple weeks. Jumping the curb, I unloaded on the grass, and hauled everything the long way into the baggage car. The baggage car, of course, needed to have the lighting repaired, the doors made operable, and be generally cleaned out. Jason arrived at 2pm and we got very busy. We soaked everything on 209 down that we thought we needed to remove with PB Blaster.
I still had not received an insurance policy. Repeated inquiries did not result in a resolution. On November 1, I stopped in at a local insurance agency, and bought a policy that satisfied the city's requirements in 20 minutes. Work continued to progress in loosening and removal of miscellaneous hardware, for the next few days, including documenting what went where. Arnie Johnson, from the Southeastern Railway Museum, stopped in to help one day and handled the grubby job of unplumbing the lubricator and associated lines. Many things unbolted with little trouble, but just as many needed some thermal persuasion before loosening. A few bolts couldn't be loosened, and were burned off.
By November 8, we were ready for a crane to lift off the heavy parts, having removed all the small stuff manually, and called to schedule one for November 9. Meanwhile, we started to prepare the tender for jacking the tank off the frame to replace the wooden deck. On November 9th, no crane arrived, and we were in the middle of installing new treated 2X10 wood decking when some rigging and trucking types showed up, and proceeded to start measuring all the rolling stock. I hastened to assure them that all I needed them to do was lift off the heavy items - air pumps, reservoirs, running boards, domes. They asked me how much the locomotive weighed. I was puzzled........
The asbestos contractors started work the following Monday, and were done and gone by Thursday. We took advantage of their occupying the locomotive to start cutting out rotted areas of the tender tank.
During the following week, we brought in the local sheet metal shop to look at the sections of old jacket we had patched and laid out in the empty lot. Wallace Sheet Metal offered to donate half the cost of the job, and to assist us with the use of their shop for other small specialty jobs. Rather than use 14-gauge sheet iron, we specified 20-gauge paintable galvanized steel. They planned to have the jacket finished within two weeks.
The two week paving project showed no sign of coming close to reaching its conclusion, even though we were now in the fourth week of the job, and the paving guys were making much more use of the outhouse provided for our job then we were. The week of November 22 was rainy and nasty, so we took a few days off.
The rotted-through areas provided some access for shoveling out the accumulated stuff. It wasn't a lot of fun - hunched over with a broom and shovel, hauling 50 pound buckets of grunge around baffle remnants to where you could shovel it out through the side sheets. While I was working in the tank alone on Saturday, an undocumented alien stole the license plate off my pickup, which led to an interesting conversation with the police later that night. Still, it will help preserve what remains of the tank.
The coalbunker presented another challenge. These locomotives had been retrofitted with Berkeley stokers, and the troughs were natural grunge and rust pits. The slope and side sheets of the tank were badly worn and patched. The solution was to build a low, sloped roof over the bunker, which isn't visible from the ground. To save money, we used recycled steel from a local scrapyard. This, combined with welding closed the coal doors and making a top for the front of the tender, created a secure storage space where we could entomb such items as little copper lines and fittings, and the in-cab jacket, which we were not reinstalling.
The weather was nicer, cool but sunny. We treated the entire boiler shell with Ospho, and went to pick up the jacket on December 13. The jacket was not done; there were some questions to be answered. Answers and motivational commentary ensued. We took advantage of the delay to do some little customization jobs, like fabricate and install some little circular steps to the front of both sides of the tender tank. They had been removed at some point, but the evidence of their location was visible, and the sister engine in Winder still had them to copy. Winder also loaned us their firedoor handle to replicate as well. Over the next couple days, we took the piping to the city shop for the painters to clean and prime, and repaired the appliances, domes, running boards, etc., there so the painters could get a head start. On the 16th we picked up the bulk of the new jacket, and started gluing foam strips on the boiler with construction adhesive.
December 20 through 22 was spent installing all the big parts of the jacket over the foam. After being manhandled into place, we used nylon strap clamps ($1.99 on sale at Harbor Freight) to cinch them semi-tight. The top seam was pop riveted together, and then the old jacket clamps, which had been cleaned, bolted to the bottom. Using threaded rod and nuts, we tightly cinched the new jacket sections over the foam. Once tight, the bottom seams were also pop riveted together. We broke for the holidays.
Rigging at the site was donated by B.R. Anderson and the Hartwell Railroad, who graciously allowed their boom truck to be used for 3 days in Gainesville. It arrived on January 3, and departed January 6. Having 3 days to hoist and fit all the big ugly parts and associated piping without paying for a crane saved thousands, and allowed us to do a better job without having to hurry.
There was enough left in the budget to allow Jim to do some much needed landscaping and other work on the area, none of which had been included in the original estimate. Everybody was happy, we were done ahead of deadline and under budget, and provided more nice finishing details and conservation work than we agreed to do.
Of course, from the other perspective, without involving experienced professional contractors who know the craft of steam and railroading (even if they do resemble Albus Dumbledore and Alfred E. Neuman), the city could not have gotten a good job done at any price. Jim Hamblen is a man with the perspicacity to know when he needs to get specialized help to supplement his crew. He is also aware that the contractor / client relationship needn't be adversarial. Would, that all public sector people were like him.
Apart from the pride in the job, the most gratifying things from my perspective were the visits we got from ordinary citizens who had either been watching as they drove by, or seen the newspaper or TV articles. Nobody expressed anything other than support and interest and pleasure that their tax dollars were going to a worthwhile cause. On several occasions, I took a few minutes to unlock the caboose so a parent or grandparent could take their toddler inside. One older gentleman, who worked on the London and North Eastern before immigrating and working for decades as a truck driver, had tears in his eyes as he told tales of steam. For the first and only time in my career, I was asked by a black visitor if the locomotive had a "real McCoy" lubricator - unfortunately, it had a mechanical instead, but nice to know somebody remembers that bit of history. The wide-ranging support across many segments of the community was very much in evidence.
If I had to start fresh with a similar project in another town, I would want to make sure there was about $80,000 available for the locomotive alone, exclusive of abatement. I would encourage the city to seek out community support with the idea of potentially cutting the job cost by a third, and would aim higher in my initial project conception.
Copyright © 1998 thru 2024, all rights reserved, contents may not be used without permission.