I Built a Railroad Car

I walked into the Weed Lumber Town Museum in Weed, California after having called to introduce myself as a volunteer.  When I called, a very nice man named Jim Taylor told me that I should speak to Harold the next day as he was the man in charge of volunteers.  Thinking of my Army training, I decided that I should do what is called a ‘route recon’ so that I would not be tardy for my seven o’clock appointment.  Realizing that I was super visible from the cab of the truck as I pulled into the parking lot where I had anticipated making a U-turn and heading home, I chose to stop in and introduce myself.  Two men were seated in the first room to the left.  It looked like an office with a desk and conference table in front of it with eight or nine chairs.  There was no computer of any kind, which confused me.  The two men were well older than myself by at least 30 or more years.  The man behind the desk welcomed me to the museum and introduced himself as Jim, the person with whom I had just spoken.  I responded in kind and explained that I was doing the ‘route recon’ so I would not be late for my meeting with Harold the next morning.  They both laughed and said that this museum was not operating on that type of punctual schedule.

Jim Taylor introduced his friend and fellow museum board member Jim Gubetta.  He immediately told me, after looking long and hard at the Iraqi Freedom hat that I was wearing, that he was a WWII vet and wanted to know how long I was in Iraq.  We had a lovely conversation and settled into a great dialogue about the peculiarity of a late 40s combat vet with a masters degree in Public History wanting to volunteer at such a small institution in Weed, California.  Mr. Gubetta asked me what I expected to do and I said that I was willing to whatever was needed for the museum.  I further explained that my first volunteer job at the Bell County Museum was making sure that all the pictures on display in the 2nd floor gallery were level, so I truly meant what I had said. Jim Gubetta smiled and asked me, with a salty tone to his voice, if I wanted to build a railroad car?  I looked at him for a second and said absolutely I would.

We casually strolled through the museum and out the back door into the yard where a static display of narrow gauge rail cars had massive pieces of ancient and rotting timber sitting upon them.  Large quantities of other steel, machinery and tools were spread across the park and just off the asphalt was a jumbled pile of grey rotting wood with steel rods, bolts, axles and wheels  sitting growing older.  Jim Taylor said that these cars were used on the Long-Bell mill’s narrow gauge railway as gravity driven conveyors of heavy lumber and timber.  The docents intent was to take the pile of parts apart and re-build a replica using the blueprint derived from their dissection.

The next day I returned to the museum where I took some measurements of the real cars.  Harold Orcutt, who I had an appointment with was just as excited as the two Jims.  He brought out a clipboard with paper and a pencil for my note taking.  Jim Gubetta had the measuring tape in his pocket.  So we derived where pieces in the pile were supposed to be using the static display as a reference.  The discussion turned to the logistics of this project and as an Army logistician, I felt very at home brainstorming.  Would we use new steel parts in place of the 100-year-old rusted metal?  Where could we acquire the quantity of lumber needed to build the car?  Was the board willing to fund this type of project?  Could we use the City of Weed’s maintenance facility to thread new steel rods?  Would the local hardware store donate some of the material?  As the discussion ranged the topics were settled individually and with emphatic finality as Jim Taylor showed up (his day off) and cast the final vote for each question.  We decided to salvage the old steel hardware by removing the decaying wood from around it and then soak them in break free where necessary.  Jim Taylor said that if the break free did not work then we would just buy the parts necessary to replace what was not functional.  Jim Gubetta stated that he knew where there was some 100-year-old redwood lumber that was salvaged from a fire in 2014.  We now had a great plan and just needed to put it into action.

The City of Weed had a terrible fire in 2014 named the Boles Creek fire (that is where it started in town) that consumed a swath of property including a huge wooden water tank that ironically served to assist in firefighting.  The support beams for the bottom of the tank did not burn since the tank’s water kept the lower portion from destruction.  Jim Gubetta said that the lumber was on city land out near the sewage treatment plant and they would likely allow us to us what we needed.  Awesome, now we had material identified for our plan, all we needed was to get working.  The city was gracious enough to let us use the otherwise discarded lumber and the break free worked like a charm.  We cut down the discarded lumber to the appropriate size for transport.  At 91 years old, Jim Gubetta wielded the chainsaw like a champ and I loaded it into the truck.  Jim Taylor let me use his chop saw and I had the drill and paddle bits for auguring holes.  There was no cash outlay whatsoever for this project and it was completed in a little over two weeks.

The following power point presentation is the detailed description of my activities in deconstruction as well as re-construction.  The result is amazing and this was a wonderful experience. Just click the link below to download the technical photographs, dimensions, and descriptions of the process.

Rail Car

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