Monday, December 15, 2008

A coach made of wood

In the pre-war boom days, steam locomotives pulled nearly every train, land travel was predominantly by train, and railroad coaches were built of wood. Wood? Yes, wood! And when track conditions permitted, these wood coaches traveled at speeds that today are common on freeways. Amazing.

From the arrival of the railroad until 1912, nearly all railroad passenger coaches used in the Northwest were built of wood. Steel construction was introduced shortly after the turn of the 20th Century but did not completely replace wood in carbody construction until 1913. And the use of wooden coaches to carry passengers persisted until well after World War II. Some of those same wooden coaches continued to serve Northwest railroads - but as outfit cars for maintenance crews - until the early 1980s.

Wood railroad coaches were advanced technology for their time and there was quite an art and science to their construction. For instance, there were only a handful of wood species acceptable for use in carbody construction. There were specific types of joinery used to connect the components together. There was a specific manner in which steel tie rods and stiffeners were installed. There was some degree of sophistication in the car side as it served as a truss spanning between car bolsters (where the wheel trucks attach) and also had to help transmit the pulling and pushing forces transmitted from the coupler and draft gear.

The Northwest Railway Museum has several representative examples of wooden coaches used in the Northwest. One example - coach 218 - was constructed in 1912 for the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway by the Barney and Smith Car Company of Dayton, Ohio. It is now undergoing extensive rehabilitation at the Museum's Conservation and Restoration Center in Snoqualmie.

In the coming weeks and months, this blog will feature periodic updates on the work being performed on coach 218 and detail some of the challenges in taking on a project of this scale. We hope you enjoy this behind-the-scenes view.

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