The Life And Times of Boxcar #1C

Operational life….                                                                                                                                   

As the officers of the Carson and Colorado Railroad were constructing their narrow gauge line south from Nevada’s Carson Valley towards Bodie, Cerro Gordo, Darwin, and the other mine camps of California they were in need of rolling stock to carry the mines bounty to market. To get things started, in July 1881, the C&C purchased 30 La Mothe Patent pipe framed boxcars from W.C. Allison and Co’s. Junction Car Works and Flue Mill in Philadelphia. Of the 30 ordered, 26 were ultimately assembled as boxcars with the remaining four set up as flatcars. To supplement the pipe boxcars, the Virginia and Truckee shops in Carson City, who handled much of the construction and maintenance in the early days of the C&C, built an additional 30, 10-ton capacity wood framed boxcars, road numbered 330-359; of that group our 1C began life in May 1883 as C&C 354; actually, one of four cars built as a “stock car”. This “stock car” configuration consisted of a secondary set of ventilated side doors in addition to the normal solid doors, as well as additional ventilated openings both top and bottom, two sets a side. The success of this “stock car” configuration seems dubious at best but with no first hand accounts from livestock available we will never know. Additionally, 354 had Thielsen style trucks, was 30’ in length, and had an abnormally steep peaked roofline with no catwalk; all achieved for a cost to the C&C of $760. Between 1895 and 1905, 354 served as a more traditional boxcar, although it retained some of the side ventilation openings most of its other “stock car” features were lost. By the time of the consolidation of C&C equipment into the Nevada & California Railroad (a subsidiary of the SP) in 1905, only about half of the 30 V&T built wood boxcars were still on the roster, and of those, only five made it into the subsequent SP numbering in 1912, with only one, our 354, making it out of the early teens and to the end of narrow gauge operations in 1960.

354’s survival is owed to its assignment to maintenance of way service in 1905, and conversion to a derrick tender, or tool and supply car that supported the derrick crane. Presumably, around this period the car gained a more traditional roofline and lost the last of its ventilator openings. While shedding its C&C character, end doors, mid car side ladders, and an underside toolbox, gave the car a vastly different look.  In 1928, still serving as a tool car, it was assigned to a short five car wrecking train based out of Mina, NV. As was Southern Pacific practice, the cars within that consist were lettered after the crane to which they were attached, in this case hand cranked crane number 1. The crane and its attached consist, cars 1A, 1B, 1C, and 1D operated as a unit until the portion of the line over Montgomery Pass was abandoned in 1938. As an aside, flatcar 1A survives in part at the Sumpter Valley Railroad, while combine 1B went on to be renumbered and ultimately gain far more notoriety as the Keeler Branches ubiquitous combine/caboose 401, toady at the Laws Railroad Museum.

With the MOW train broken up in 1940 1C became just another boxcar, shedding its underside toolbox, and having its end doors paneled over from the inside, but otherwise remained astonishingly unaltered. Despite the Espee’s renumbering of the narrow-gauge equipment in 1946/47, 1C even managed to retain its familiar number until the end of the Keeler Branch operations in April 1960.

Life after retirement….

In the mid 1950’s casino tycoon and antique car collector William F. Harrah was constructing a museum centered around his enormous antique car collection in Sparks, NV. What better attraction to add to a car museum than a narrow-gauge railroad? Harrah set about acquiring equipment. For motive power, he ultimately ended up with 2-6-2 Porter #7, formerly of the Eureka Nevada Railroad, along with former SPNG cars including combine 3, coach 8, and caboose 467; all acquired from Parker Lyon and his Pony Express Museum in Arcadia, CA. To supplement those, in 1960, he purchased some former SPNG freight equipment, then being scrapped along with Espee’s Keeler Branch. Harrah ultimately purchased the following equipment: Boxcars 4,12,20, and 1C. Flat car 259, Gondola 225, and stockcars 159 and 162. All the cars were transported to Sparks where they sat within a fenced section of the parking lot outside of Harrah’s Automobile Museum. Within the museum, Porter 7 was kept in its own small engine house that included a few hundred feet of track for it to operate on, which it did on occasion. Other than the locomotive, the equipment did not fare well over the years; in fact, caboose 467 burned in 1961, but that’s another story for another article. In the 1980’s much of the automobile collection was being auctioned off by the Holiday Inn Corporation, who had purchased the entire Harrah’s casino and hotel chain. Most of the railroad equipment, and miles worth of rail, were auctioned off in 1986 and purchased by Gary Norton to be the basis of his newly started Silverwood Theme Park however, some of the equipment went to the Nevada State Railroad Museum in Carson City.

Since its 1988 opening, Gary Norton and his team have grown Silverwood Theme Park into a world class attraction that encompasses over 400 acers and currently includes 70 rides and a full water park. When the park first opened, the railroad was the primary attraction. Today, Porter 7 operates daily between May and September around a 3 mile loop of track known as the Silverwood Central Railroad. The locomotive and equipment are, and have always been, maintained in pristine condition however, most of the former SP equipment that made the journey to Idaho – boxcars 12,20 and 1C, gondola 225, and flatcar 259 – were largely just parked and thus remained for the next 33 years.

Another new home….

Spring 2019, I was sitting at my desk in Durango and got a call out of the blue from the Silverwood Central Railroad’s mechanical lead. After discussing his questions, I asked if there were still any old SP cars sitting up there to which he replied, “yeah there’s a few of those, but they’re in really bad condition”. Long story short, he got me in touch with Gary Norton, still the active owner of the park, along with his son Paul, and we discussed the possibility of the Carson & Colorado (the current 501c3 group, not the historic railroad) buying the cars for display and use behind engine 18. Ultimately the conversations led to the fact that they wanted to keep flatcar 259 (gondola 225 had previously been converted to a coach) and would not be willing to sell the boxcars however, he would give them to us if we looked at them first since they were in such poor condition. Now what to do? Go look at them of course! In August 2019 I made a trip to Silverwood and looked at the cars and found them to be in varying conditions ranging from decent to needing lots of love, 1C being in the best shape. Since the CCR didn’t have enough space at its home base, the Eastern California Museum in Independence, CA, for three boxcars we started to look for other suitable homes; enter Martin Hansen. Martin is a member of the Sumpter Valley Railroad and brought the opportunity for SVRR to acquire boxcars 12 and 20 to their Board. With an enthusiastic thumbs up from SVRR, Martin drafted up an agreement – he’s a lawyer in real life – between the CCR and Silverwood to acquire the boxcars. In October 2019 a couple of us were back at Silverwood preparing all three cars for transportation with 1C being loaded for its return journey to the Owens Valley. SVRR ultimately moved the other two boxcars to Oregon in September 2020.

With 1C safely in Independence, and for the first time indoors, we have had a chance to thoroughly look it over and develop a restoration plan. One of the coolest things about the car is it has not had a single alteration or change occur to it since it left the service of the SP in 1960, neither Harrah’s nor Silverwood touched a thing! Its unaltered state of preservation has revealed some interesting details such as three of the four bolster ends stamped B.R.&L.Co – Bodie Railway and Lumber Company; this interesting feature has also been found on another early C&C car, combine 2. From its MOW days, the interior is washed completely in a dark green paint while still showing remnants of its old number 354. Additionally, the car has ancient wooden brake beams and a more unique separated brake cylinder and reservoir arrangement; possibly done to facilitate the toolbox once located underneath. With its rarity as the last surviving V&T built, C&C 10 ton boxcar, there is a temptation to restore it to the C&C era as 354, but, the reality is to achieve that would mean the need to alter and discard much of the fabric that makes up its MOW and boxcar history as 1C. With that in mind restoring the car to its 1928 – 1940 era as part of the MOW derrick train seems to be the most unique and appropriate time frame. The car is in remarkably good shape considering it spent the past 33 years in wet Idaho winters. The main areas of need during restoration will be the replacement of one oak end sill, the entire roof, and to re side the car with appropriate fir siding. Once completed it will be a fully restored, operational car to use in conjunction with SPNG engine 18; a living reminder of the SP and its predecessor, the Carson and Colorado Railroad.