by Al Dykes, Chapter Mechanical Officer, Gulf Coast Chapter NRHS
Reproduced with permission from the Gulf Coast Railroading newsletter
When the Gulf Coast Chapter first acquired the former Missouri-Kansas- Texas coach New Braunfels in 1985, a committee was formed to plan what we were going to do with it. We soon decided that the exterior would be restored as closely as possible to the as-delivered The Texas Special paint scheme. Figure 1 taken in the Bear, DE Amtrak auction line shows that the car was in the typical Amtrak paint scheme of the era.
By this time no longer named, being merely No. 6452. The large nameboard under the window carried the number, white on a blue background. The upper boards which originally carried The Texas Special in three sections, one for each word, were covered with a silver finish self adhesive foil. The four small high-level boards, at each end of both sides that carried the word KATY, had the same treatment. Unfortunately, during the period of Amtrak ownership the number boards were removed. The day this picture was taken, the chapter submitted the high bid for the New Braunfels and the story starts.
To the best of our knowledge, the original lettering diagrams have not survived. Many years ago, Tom Marsh organized an expedition to Dallas to trace some original name and number boards saved from Katy cars by Steel Craver at the end of Katy’s passenger service in the summer of 1965. The lettering for The Texas Special and KATY was traced, and the car’s original number 1205 was easily formulated from original material. The W in New Braunfels was a problem as none of the available extant name boards contained the letter W.
A member of the chapter at this time (Gary Morris) had a father (Bud) who was a graphic artist and we enlisted his help. The boards were removed, and The Texas Special boards were cleaned up. We hoped that the back side of the boards might still carry the original lettering, but that was not the case. Removing the boards was problematic as they were attached with case hardened 10-24 machine screws of the thread forming variety. These had corroded in some cases, being hard to remove even with an impact screwdriver. In the worst case they would break off, then we were stuck as attempts to drill out the remaining portion of the screw were fruitless. The nameboard on the left-hand side of the car (facing in from the vestibule) came off quite easily, in fact the screws along the top offered no resistance at all. More on this later…
The The Texas Special boards cleaned up quite well, but the name boards were quite scratched and dented. I was able to find a metal finishing company who graciously offered to restore the brushed finish to the surface, though I recall being told it would be easier to have new pieces of brushed stainless steel sheet cut. The six pieces that comprised the two The Texas Special boards, the two name boards and the four KATY boards were dispatched to Bud Morris for painting. Bud also painted four number boards with the car’s original number1205 in correct style.
Figures 2 and 3 show that the roof of the car is black by this late stage of MKT operations, presumably given the difficulty of keeping red clean.
Figure 4 is another shot by John Charles of the car in storage in Denison, presumably prior to its sale and dispatch to the Northern Pacific where it would become No. 530. Note the broken restroom window and the owner or trust plate on the fairing at the A end, just above the foot iron.
The car had been in San Antonio at the TransTexas shop to have a diesel generator installed in early 1990, and the opportunity was taken to have the exterior of the car painted back in the original red paint scheme. When the car returned to Houston we were anxious to restore the exterior to its former glory by reattaching all these boards.
Unfortunately, two problems manifested themselves: Bud Morris had painted New Braunfels on the piece of board that had originally carried the word Special, and vice versa. The New Braunfels board is eight feet two inches long, and the Special board is exactly eight feet. Secondly, the new number boards were painted on regular stainless steel sheet rather than the brushed finish and simply didn’t look good as a result. Better communication would have averted both problems, and we certainly should have written on the back of the boards what it should have on the front and its original location.
The board carrying New Braunfels was too short and the only way to resolve the situation was to have two new pieces of brushed stainless steel sheet cut to the right size, match the mounting holes by drilling through the board that now carried Special. We were able to have a couple of inches sheared off the longer of the two boards and use it by dint of drilling and taping some new holes as necessary to attach it. Bud Morris graciously agreed to redo the New Braunfels lettering. Figure 5 is a photo of the car shortly after its return from San Antonio in 1992. Notice that all of the boards are removed from the car at this point.
When we tried to attach the name boards to the car the reason that the left hand one had come off became apparent. I have to diverge into the technical details of how name and number boards are attached to stainless steel sheathed Pullman built cars. The lengths of fluting are riveted to the side sheet using a variety of “Pop” rivets and the narrow gap is filled with a U-shaped piece of stainless steel sheet that is pounded in to the gap to make a neat finish. There is a slight ridge in the middle of this filler strip. When a board is to be attached to the side of the car a strip of stainless steel one half inch wide by 3/16 inches thick is riveted in the bottom of the gap and it is covered by a piece of flat-topped filler strip. Holes can be drilled and tapped into this strip to take the mounting crews for the boards, usually 10-24 threads. Figure 6 is a picture showing the mounting strip with screw holes on the left and the filler strip on the right.
In the case of the left hand name board the top 1/2” by 3/16” had been made out of carbon steel and had completely rusted away over the years. The rivets were still in place with little collars of rust around them. I can only surmise that, on the day this part of the car was being constructed, the Pullman factory ran out of stainless steel strip and substituted carbon steel rather than hold up progress. It lasted the thirty years that the car ran for the MKT, NP, BN, and Amtrak! I knew that a replacement piece of stainless steel would be required, including careful drilling and tapping to match the existing screw holes in the name board.
At some point in the New Braunfels’ fourteen years of Amtrak service it was felt necessary to remove the number boards. This could have been easily accomplished by unscrewing the board, prying out the piece of flat-topped filler that would have the screw holes in it, and replacing it with a short piece of regular filler strip.For whatever reason, someone went to great lengths to remove the strip with the tapped holes in it. Removal of the securing rivets caused quite an amount of distortion to the edges of the fluting strips underneath.
Figure 7, a great shot of the New Braunfels taken in late 1972, obviously in Amtrak service but still as Northern Pacific No. 530, clearly shows the number boards are still on the car and carry 530. The KATY boards and the name boards are blank at this time.
As a result of these issues with mounting the one name board and four number boards, re-attaching them didn’t happen and the car was displayed this way for almost twenty years! The missing name board was on the side not normally visible to visitors.
Fast forward to 2016. We decided to lease the car to the Austin Steam Train Association to earn its keep. It was very obvious that the missing name and number boards needed to be replaced. I decided to tackle the lefthand nameboard first. It was only missing one mounting strip. With the able assistance of Russell Straw, we ground off the original mounting rivets and tried to matchthe holes on a new piece of stainless steel strip. We riveted this strip in place using 3/16” stainless steel “Pop” rivets. I had to buy a two-handled tool to pull the rivets tight – my handheld rivet gun was simply not up to the job. We then screwed the nameboard on using the existing screws and drilled then tapped the holes along the top using the existing screw holes. Figure 8 shows Russell on April 20, 2017 drilling the last few holes to mount the left hand nameboard.
Finally, it was time to tackle the number boards. I had four pieces of brushed stainless steel cut to the correct size. Leaving the protective film on the brushed side we prepared the mounting strips so the boards could be remounted on the car. This proved to be a very tedious and time-consuming endeavor. We carefully set out the nine screw holes required along the top and bottom edges, clamped all four together and drilled the holes. Using the top board as a template we drilled and tapped the 10-24 screw holes on the mounting strip.
Drilling and tapping stainless steel is hard work, and it was easier to do this off the car. We abandoned the idea of trying to re-use the old rivet holes from the previous mounting strips, deciding to drill new ones. Then we had a dilemma: how to accurately secure the mounting strips to the car so that the boards would be in the right place.
We found from experience with the nameboard that the mounting strip would move slightly when we tried to drill through it into the bottom of the fluting. The result was that the screw holes in the board no longer lined up with the tapped holes in the strip We couldn’t use the number board to hold it in place as it obscured the strip. My solution was to have a piece of carbon steel sheet cut to the same size as the number boards, drill three holes along the long edges to match the holes in the new boards and cut out the metal in between. This jig would hold the mounting strips in the correct position while we drilled the holes to rivet it to the car body. Figure 9 shows the jig with upper and lower mounting strips attached prior to drilling holes to rivet them to the car body.
When it came time to mount the strips for the fourth number board, A end right hand side, we pried out the short section of filler strip and discovered that in this one case, the original mounting strip was still there. This was a mixed blessing as our pre-drilled screw holes did not perfectly match up. Some enlargement of the holes using a carbide burr in a Dremel tool enabled the board to be attached to the car.
I now had to decide how to apply the number 1205 to these new boards. I am not an artist and hand painting them wasn’t a viable option. I knew that if I could get the number boards that Bud Morris had painted for us scanned it would be very easy to have ready-to apply (RTA) vinyl letters cut. It took some effort to find a company that could scan an image off a piece of sheet metal. Paper documents are typically fed through scanners using rollers, but this wouldn’t work for metal. The scan of one of the number boards was successful and I found a sign company to make me four sets of numbers using a standard red vinyl that was a good match. I spent a cold wet February day applying the numbers to the new boards. I am not a big fan of RTA vinyl letters as they have a rather short life when exposed to the weather. Figure 10 shows the end result, all four together on my study floor.
As a result of the mix up at the time of the original painting, the Chapter ended up with basically two sets of name boards for the car. One of the “spare” short name boards was donated to the New Braunfels depot museum, and the other has been retained as a reference. Both Tom Marsh and I, being the perfectionists that we are, were bothered by the W in New Braunfels. It just wasn’t right. In particular the center of the W came to a point. Having carefully perused several pictures of Texas Special cars with a W in their names we felt sure it should have a flat top.
Having produced a satisfactory scan of a 32-inch long number board, we had the same company scan the eight-foot long name board. This yielded a file in Adobe Illustrator that could easily be manipulated by those letters is preserved, so full size reproductions are simple. Tom took John Charles’ picture of the nameboard and used Photo Shop to correct for the change in size of the lettering caused by the original picture being taken at an angle. The result is a flat-on view with uniform letter size and spacing, albeit a little fuzzy. Tom also worked on creating a W that was much closer to the prototype.
I took the scan image, Tom’s new W and Tom’s Photo Shopped image to the same sign company who had cut the numbers for me. A very helpful graphic artist loaded the files on her work station. When I explained what I wanted, she dropped the new W into the scanned image. Next, she took the outline of Tom’s Photo Shopped image from John Charles’ picture and superimposed it on the scan from the name board. I could immediately see where the spacing was off in the lettering. A few quick mouse clicks and the scan of the nameboard was corrected to match the lettering on the car as it was in 1965! Modern computer technology is truly amazing. The whole process took less than ten minutes!
The corrected image is saved as an Adobe Illustrator file which can be used to produce full-sized RTA vinyl letters, or a stencil to be used to re-paint the name boards. Conceivably it could be used to make names for the modeling community – it is all a matter of scale!
This is what it has taken to reproduce letters and numbers when there is no original material available. Lettering the chapter’s SP&S 50 and the Eagle Chasm was much easier as both the SP&S and Missouri Pacific Historical Societies had the original lettering material which they freely shared with us.
Figure 11 is a closer view of the original “W” that started the conversation; it just did not look right.
Figure 12 shows the Photoshopped image of the 1965 name, the original scan of the current name board and the corrected image.
Thanks to Tom Marsh for Photo Shopping images, and to the photographers who documented the car and allowed us to use their images. Thanks, too, to Russell Straw for the many hours he spent helping me get the name and number boards finally back on the New Braunfels.