L&N #353 Presidential Office Car – Restoration Celebration
Recently, we celebrated the completion of several interior restoration projects in the L&N #353 Presidential Office Car. The Historic RailPark & Train Museum’s objective is to preserve and promote the history of the L&N Railroad through the restoration of railcars, updating our museum, and taking care of our depot. This is why we are proud of these preservation efforts to restore the dining area and installation of new window shades.
Let’s take a trip back in time, to 1911, when the 353 was built in the South Louisville L&N Shops. The car was originally constructed with a steel underframe and all wood exterior. It boasted an observation parlor & platform, two sleeping compartments with shared bathtub, dining room with two-fold down “murphy” beds, a second bathroom with tub, steward’s quarters, and kitchen. This car was assigned to the president of L&N Railroad at the time, Milton Hannibal Smith. You can almost imagine him entertaining other business executives in the lounge area, perhaps puffing on cigars, as this prestigious car rumbled down the tracks!
Designated to nationalized service by the U.S. Railroad Administration during WWI, she wore the number 68 beginning October 7, 1918, but was decommissioned after the war and returned to the L&N on January 13, 1921, and renumbered to 353. Research shows that there were newer presidential cars built in 1922, bumping our 353 for use by the #2 or #3 executives in the L&N Management structure at the time. It is believed that this car was also utilized by board members of the L&N, as well as presidential candidates during whistle stop campaigns in the L&N territory.
Let’s fast forward to 1942, as train length and speeds increased, the limitations and safety concerns of wood construction became apparent. The L&N #353, remember, an original wood car, was rebuilt by adding steel sheeting and an ACF, American Car & Foundry, ice-activated air conditioning system was installed as an additional modernized convenience for her passengers. As you walk through the car today, look up at the ceiling next to the stewards’ sleeping quarters and you will see the original wood interior. The car was used into the 1960’s.
After its years of service with the L&N, 353 was sold to Transportation Services Inc. November 6, 1963, for use as an office for a rail to barge transfer facility at Florence, Alabama. Apparently, the car next saw brief service with the Tennessee Southern Railroad in the 1990s. Dorian Walker discovered the car in a listing by rail equipment broker D.F. Barnhart. On December 8, 2001, Dorian Walker, Ray Buckberry, Dean Parrott and Dick Webber traveled to Mt. Pleasant, TN to inspect the car. The car was in generally good condition, inside and out. On April 14, 2002, 353 was purchased from Barnhart for $25,000.
Because of its wooden construction and journal bearing trucks, 353 could not travel by rail to Bowling Green. McCord Specialized Haulers of Nashville was hired to transport the car by flatbed trailer, with a second flatbed needed to haul the trucks. This convoy arrived in Bowling Green May 7, 2002. MCF Housemovers of Evansville placed the car on our display track joining the Diner, Towering Pine and Caboose which had arrived less than 2 weeks earlier. Transportation costs exceeded $10,000.
Tours of the 5 restored rail cars on the consist began in 2007 and the opulence of the Presidential Office Car #353 makes it a favorite on the tour. HVAC was modernized to make the tours, as well as private rentals of this car, comfortable. At one time there was a shower stall, which was removed to allow installation of the furnace. The restoration of the executive bathroom was completed by Carroll Hildreth and Bill Ferkler, as it was in terrible shape.
There were a few exterior maintenance projects that were worked on in this car to preserve the interior. The exterior of the car is impacted as she sits stagnant on the track in the elements. The exterior and interior have been painted over the years. The windows were rotting and needed to be replaced. This work was completed by Gary Monk. We also had to have the stairs on the platform welded back on after they rusted and completely detached. This project was graciously funded by Tom and Jill Debrey.
Over the last several years, she was really starting to show her age on the interior, primarily in the dining room and window coverings. Remember, #353 turned 110 years old in 2021!
Our beloved volunteers Miliska and Terry Knauft took on the plans for the project. Due to a lack of funding at the time, all they were able to do was keep the car clean. Thanks to John and Grace Moore, as well as Terry & Miliska, L. Michael Trapasso, and Reggie Gilliam, this project was able to be completed in early 2023. Without the hard work of our volunteers, and the generosity of our donors, we could not restore any of our railcars. On your next visit to the RailPark, we invite you to tour this very special railcar.