It's All About Money

Posted by George Hamlin
on Thursday, June 15, 2017

(Photo by George W. Hamlin)

It used to look better than it did in the photo above, which was taken in July 2012; here’s a better-looking example from the year 2000: 

For that matter, it looked considerably different at points earlier in its career, as well.  For what appears to be a New York Central E8 in the classic “lightning stripe” passenger livery is in fact “none of the above”.  What’s seen here as NYC 4096 began life as an E7, which has a noticeably-different appearance than an E8.

And not just “any” E7; this unit once headed up the General Motors “Train of Tomorrow” as a demonstrator, according to its official biography on the Danbury Railroad Museum’s website.  The Union Pacific acquired the entire consist of the “Train of Tomorrow”, and eventually traded the locomotive in to EMD, where at least some of its parts were used to construct an E8, where, as UP 918, it spent many years hauling  passenger trains painted in Armour Yellow and Harbor Mist Gray.

Subsequently, it went to Amtrak, which replaced its pair of EMD 567 prime movers with higher-horsepower 645s, creating an E9 (albeit with 2600 horsepower rather than the standard 2400).  Following its career with the passenger carrier, it was acquired by the Danbury Museum, and repainted as NYC 4096, since the highest-numbered New York Central E8 had been the 4095.

As an NYC fan, with a strong interest in lightning-striped E units, I was pleased that the people in Danbury had seen fit to create another one.  Yet, in the intervening decade-plus between the two photos, 4096’s appearance had taken a decided turn for the worse.

The point here is not to fault the Danbury Railroad Museum for “letting” this happen.  As the foregoing history indicates, they went to the trouble and expense of preserving this unit and cosmetically restoring it to a state where I suspect that it pleased many others, as well as me.

What they couldn’t do, since their rolling stock is stored outdoors, without cover, is stop the ravages of the weather.  The group has done a fine job of saving a wide variety or cars and locomotives, in particular New Haven prototypes, but, like many other museums, lacks the capital to protect them for the long term.

While an enclosed structure would be nice, even a roof would have ameliorated this situation considerably.  But where would the money have come from for that structure?  I suspect that the Museum had its hands full financially simply preserving and painting the locomotive; had they been able to put up a roof (or a complete building), there might not have been anything to display under it.

This facility is not the only one that suffers from this problem.  The Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, in Strasburg, is fortunate to have a climate-controlled building to display some of its impressive collection of equipment, including the only E7 still in existence, and GG1 4935 which was restored to its Pennsylvania Railroad “pinstripe” livery in the mid-1970s.  Both of these locomotives are in beautiful shape, appearance-wise, and likely will still be in that category for many years into the future.

On the other hand, the building is only so big, and the original GG1, the 4800, known as “Old Rivets” sits a short distance away out in the weather.  Fortunately, at this location, help is on the way.  A climate-controlled roundhouse is in the process of being designed, and this will enable more historic equipment to be housed out of the weather.

How did this happen?  Fundraising, both in the form of grants from both private and public sources, and good old-fashioned direct appeals for cash.  It certainly helped that this museum has a solid track record and history of accomplishments, but I’m certain that the process hasn’t been easy even for a premier facility such as this one. 

So, the question I’ll pose here is how do we, people interested in railroading and its history, help other museums, such as Danbury, to acquire the resources to preserve their holdings, and not let them succumb to the elements?  Yes, direct donations are a start, but this will require serious money, and, hopefully, railroads, their suppliers and other entities will find a way to participate, also.

During the working lives of railroad cars and locomotives, they lived outside, although there was regular maintenance, and repainting from time to time.  In retirement, this isn’t going to continue; at least a roof overhead is necessary if this equipment is going to be truly preserved rather than temporarily restored.

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