PULLMAN CARS REMODELED

2202 Westchester Avenue, Baltimore, Md. 21228

A visitor to Hagerstown, Md., up in the foothills of the Blue
Ridge Mountains some 75 miles west of Baltimore, might suspect that
he was in the Chicago suburb of Pullman, III. Spotted in sidings
all around town are cars, which made the name Pullman synonomous
with luxurious railroad travel in the United States. It would be
even more perplexing to learn that the last passenger train drew
into Hagerstown over five years ago. Investigation would show
however, that the cars are tangible evidence of a booming new
industry in town. They are the property of Reuben Upton Darby II,
whose Darby Wood Products Co. is in the forefront of what is fast
becoming a big business the renovating, remodeling, and
refurbishing of old railroad cars. The work is not confined to
Pullmans alone. Currently, passenger coaches, work cars, and even a
caboose are in various stages of rejuvenation.

Darby got into the business more or less by accident. After
World War II, in nearby Clear Spring, Md., he started in the
lumbering business and built up extensive facilities for processing
lumber from logs to finished millwork. This led to the construction
of houses. While one of his crews was erecting a home in New York
state, the foreman was asked to do some minor repair work to a
railroad car in private hands. When this was completed, he was
asked about the possibility of doing a complete renovation of
another car. Darby decided that the job could be handled on a
profitable basis, and thus was launched a phase of his operations
which soon threatened to eclipse both the mill and house
construction.

Sensing the potential, he began to acquire cars of his own,
which, after they are reworked, can be put to various uses. Much of
the work so far has been refurbishing. All of the cars are
structurally sound when purchased. Any repairs necessary to the
running gear are performed by the railroads before the cars are
deadheaded to Hagerstown. Not much work is required on the exterior
of the cars except a fresh paint job, which includes fancy striping
on the trucks. The interiors are also completely repainted after
any repairs necessary to restore them to the glory of their halcyon
days are made.

These cars are then available for, besides the obvious excursion
business, such purposes as restaurants. For this, they are set on
parallel tracks, interconnected, and provide a unique eating
establishment. Another unusual use is for traintels. These are
similar to motels, except that they consist of from three to seven
converted Pullman cars. A complete traintel can be set up for about
$20,000, which would cover the cost of only about two units of a
typical motel. The cars wouldn’t be as spacious, but they would
allow for much more reasonable rates. There is also the novelty
aspect to consider. In addition to this, they have the advantage of
being mobile. This would make it quite feasible to use them in,
say, Maine during the summer months, then moving the operation to
Florida for the winter season. Another rental use is to colleges
where they serve as dormitories. Remodeling work is the portion of
the activity stressed in the company’s current advertising,
slanted to ‘a man and a business who desire status sales,
economy, captive audience, and confidential meetings anywhere’.
The decor of these business cars can cover the gamut from a Wall
Street office effect to the rococco ornamentation which would have
delighted the nabobs of half a century ago. At the moment the
company is renovating an ex-B&O car, circa 1912. The initial
procedure was to practically gut the interior, leaving only a few
items such as washroom facilities, which were to be retained much
as they originally were (Darby has acquired a varied stock of
antique accessories to draw from). The remainder of the car is
being rebuilt to suit its business purposes with modern trappings.
Also included are a bedroom with built-in four-poster bed; air
conditioning (with the machinery hidden away off the rear
vestibule); and a handsome mahogany bar, which hides such necessary
accoutrements as sink and refrigerator.

How this car will appear when finished is illustrated by an
earlier Darby production, the private car the ‘Green
Castle’ now awaiting disposition. This car, sitting on a
private track in Hagerstown, is a fine example of the car
rebuilder’s art, its former standard Pullman furnishings having
been removed, and with few exceptions, being replaced with modern,
albeit, luxurious components. Among the incongruous reminders of
olden days are two sinks which fold into the walls, their
functional convenience being impossible to improve upon. An old ice
chest has been converted to hold soiled clothes, and various
lockers now serve for storage of office records and as filing
cabinets. The car is modern in every way, being adaptable to either
train operation or capable of being parked on a siding. For
example, two refrigerators which work on electricity (from power
lines) or bottled gas in transit. Heating is provided from steam
lines or by batteries beneath the car. These batteries give some
idea of the cost of the cars, being valued at $4,000. Rated for 15
years, they can hardly be classed as inexpensive. It becomes
apparent why a car of this type is offered for around $50,000.
Obviously not for the average man, the market for these cars is the
business executive or companies capitalizing on their unusual
capabilities. It can be argued that while the initial cost is high,
maintenance is practically nil. They are said to be great for
business purposes, with the pleasant surroundings being conducive
to relaxed bargaining. At least one executive maintains that when
you figure in the cost of hotels, private rail cars are more
economical than a private plane.

Both the renovating and remodeling are fascinating operations,
yet it is the refurbishing work which really tests the skill of the
workmen. At the moment, the Darby company is working on a true gem
that he rescued. This is a car of 1885 vintage that formerly served
as the private car of the superintendent of the Delmarva division
of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Though its future is not certain, it
almost undoubtedly will end up in a museum.

Rescued for the ignominy of having its running gear removed, and
being jacked up on blocks while serving as a private residence, it
is the only car that the company has worked on that had to be
brought to Hagerstown on a flat car. Yet it retained enough
indications of its former days of glory to give promise of becoming
a real treasure when refurbishing is complete.

Above the rear platform, a golden frieze lends a rakish touch,
offsetting a tawdry paint scheme of faded red, trimmed with black.
The observation area still contains some of the wicker furnishings
of Victorian days. At intervals, push bottons, set into the wood
paneling, remain to recall memories of former days, when a porter
was on hand to answer their call. Other signaling equipment still
intact served a more businesslike purpose, that of communicating to
the engineer commands to slow down, stop, back up, etc. Every nook
and cranny abounds with reminders of a bygone day a small closet
contains a commode, and a tiny heater; two overhead bunks make no
effort to conceal their quaint chains and pulleys; there are green,
pressed-glass windows in the clerestory roof, 14 karat gold Tiffany
trim and mellowed walnut paneling.

Railroading is a changing business, yet it still gives one a
strange feeling in this day of dome cars and Budd RDC’s to come
into a place where Pullman cars look as they did when they had just
gone into service; where a car that to all outward appearances
might be a Baltimore and Ohio diner (which it actually was) now
serves as a swank office on wheels; and where you can step into an
inspection car that still appears as it did in the days when steam
ruled the rails, drummers carried their wares in huge suitcases,
and cuspidors were standard equipment. But this is all possible at
Darby’s Frederick Street yard in Hagerstown, Md., where the
poignant memories of yesteryear combine with the conveniences of
today.

Farm Collector Magazine
Farm Collector Magazine
Dedicated to the Preservation of Vintage Farm Equipment