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2014 NRHS Convention Fort Smith Railroad and History Tour 6/13/2014

by Chris Guenzler

I arose and put yesterday's stories on my website after I put in my correction that Winston had sent me then checked the Weather Channel before leaving for the A&M shop area to see the Amtrak Exhibit Train.

The Amtrak Exhibit Train

The Amtrak Exhibit Train started as Amtrak's 40th Anniversary Exhibit Train, commemorating Amtrak's 40th anniversary in 2011. The train includes displays of photos, uniforms, fine china and memorabilia from Amtrak. The train was designed to tell the story of Amtrak and its employees and this purpose has continued to grow. Amtrak has continued to rotate displays, adding interactive signal displays, virtual sleeping accommodation tours and trivia with returning favorite displays including the locomotive stand and horns.

Since the train was dedicated, it has traveled the country, but its appearance at the 2014 NRHS convention is its first showing in Arkansas. According to Amtrak, the "train is led by a diesel-electric locomotive arrayed in an historic Amtrak paint scheme, the Exhibit Train includes three display cars (former baggage cars) that have been renovated and transformed into exhibit space. Information on major events and achievements covering more than four decades of company history are shown. At the end of the train, in a reconfigured Amfleet Cafe car, visitors may browse the gift shop."

The train includes the following equipment, measuring 510 feet long.

The Amtrak Exhibit Train in Springdale this morning.

What appears to be a locomotive is actually a Non-Powered Control Unit, a former 3,000 horsepower F40PH rebuilt in 2011 without a prime mover, but with the ability to control an adjacent locomotive. Built for Amtrak in July 1988 by EMD, F40 406 was retired in 2001 and stored before being rebuilt by Amtrak's Beech Grove facility in Indiana. Today, 406 provides Head End Power (HEP) to power the onboard lights and HVAC systems, and to allow the train to operate in either direction without having to be turned around.

Amtrak P42 42 built by General Electric in 1996 and painted to commemorate veterans who served the United States in the military.

Sleeper 10020 was built in 1950 by the Budd Company for the Union Pacific as 1404, named Pacific Bend, a classic 10 roomettes and 6 double bedrooms (10-6) sleeper. When Amtrak was formed in 1971, the sleeper became the property of Amtrak as their 2603. It was converted for service as a crew dormitory in 1997 and renumbered 2504. The car was retired in 2006 but returned to service in 2007 as car 10020 and modified for use by the Amtrak Police Department as a Special Communications Car renamed Pacific Command. For the Exhibit Train, the original name, Pacific Bend, has been restored and the car is used to house the Amtrak staff working the train.

Display Car 10093 is former Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe baggage car 3535. Built in 1953 by the Budd Company, it was renumbered 1049 when it came to Amtrak in 1971. When rebuilt in 1978 for HEP service, it was renumbered 1222. The car was stored in 2007 at the Beech Grove maintenance facility. It was rebuilt there when chosen for the 40th Anniversary Exhibit Train, and renumbered 10093.

Display Car 10094 is also a former ATSF baggage car, 3547. Built in 1957 by Budd, it became Amtrak 1061 in 1971. It was also rebuilt in 1978 for HEP service, being assigned 1228. The car was stored at Beech Grove in 2009. It was renumbered 10094 when chosen for rebuilding for the 40th Anniversary Exhibit Train.

Display Car 10095 was built in 1953 by Budd as ATSF baggage car 3512. It became Amtrak 1029 in 1971. In 2000, the car was rebuilt with bicycle racks for use on the Twilight Shoreliner and renumbered 1856. The car was stored at Beech Grove in 2005. Renumbered car 10095, this was the first Display Car to emerge from the Amtrak repair shops.

This car serves as the Exhibit Train Store. It is the newest car on the train, being built in 1976 by the Budd Company as Amclub 20130. When built, it featured a "split club" configuration of 18 club seats at one end and 23 coach seats on the other. The car became Capstone Cafe Car 85004 in 2000 for use on the newly-branded Acela Regional service. It was stored in 2005 due to an over-abundance of food service cars of this type in the fleet. Today, it serves as the souvenir car on the Amtrak Exhibit Train.

One last look at the Amtrak Exhibit Train. From here I went to Kum and Go for some Coca-Cola then stopped at McDonald's for my usual breakfast before driving to the Holiday Inn to act as the Bus Host for the trip to Fort Smith. We loaded two buses and my bus waited until 7:00 AM to depart. I enjoyed a Coca-Cola on the way south.

The A&M lift bridge over the Arkansas River. We made our way to our first stop of the day.

A&M Fort Smith Facilities

The sign out along the street.

This is the exterior of the building. Due to high security we were not allowed to go inside but were informed that this is a transload facility which has many different customers. The railroad employees explained and answered questions and I protected the group from moving trucks and other equipment.

The group listening to our speaker.

A truck getting ready to leave which we had to stop because his bottle of Windex was on the passenger foot board and the driver had no idea it was there.

Another truck arrived to load his contents.

Next an A&M truck came in.

Another truck doing business here.

Views of the buildings.

The workers are tethered to that cable to prevent falls when working on center beam freight cars.

Closer view of that truck.

They were working on this tractor.

Two tankers were on the property this morning.

Arkansas and Missouri C-420 57 working in the Fort Smith yard.

The Arkansas and Missouri car shop in Fort Smith.

These cars are used in sand train service.

This building can use rail service as well. After five minutes of letting people walk around, we reboarded the buses for the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.

Fort Smith Trolley Museum History

The Fort Smith Trolley Museum is operated by the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association and is "dedicated to the preservation and appreciation of electric powered streetcars, railroad equipment, transportation and other technology that existed during this period in history, and to providing a unique educational experience to the visiting public".

The idea of a trolley museum in Fort Smith started in 1979 when the Fort Smith Historical Society decided to publish an article on the history of local public railway transportation. This article resulted in a more detailed study on the subject. At the same time, it became known that a Fort Smith streetcar - Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 - was still in existence and up for sale. Working through the Fort Smith Heritage Foundation, arrangements were made to buy the streetcar. To restore it, the Fort Smith Streetcar Restoration Association was created.

Publicity related to 224 led to the discovery of two other car bodies located in Mulberry, Arkansas. These were Fort Smith Light & Traction 205 and 221. Eventually, 205, the better of the two, was given to the Association by the family of Paul Alexander, who had purchased the bodies after Fort Smith's trolley service was discontinued on November 15, 1933. Both cars 205 and 224, arriving from Shreveport, Louisiana, were delivered to a new museum facility in Fort Smith. A car barn opened in 1985 at 100 South Fourth street, the former site of the Midland Valley Railroad yard, becoming the Fort Smith Trolley Museum. It should be noted that the three sets of towering front doors were taken from the old Frisco roundhouse before it was torn down. A second building at 65 South Third Street is used for the storage of oversized equipment, rubber-tired vehicles and streetcars awaiting restoration.

Using parts from other cars obtained from around the country, 224 finally operated on Christmas Day of 1990. As the Museum's website states, "After completion of the necessary overhead wire system to carry the 600 volt DC current, car 224 officially began operating on May 19, 1991. The route ran 1,200 feet from the Fort Smith Trolley Museum to the Old Fort Museum (now called the Fort Smith Museum of History) and back again on abandoned Frisco Freight Systems spur track...More track was added in 1993, running from the museum to the entrance of Fort Smith National Cemetery. In 1997, the track was extended about a block in the other direction, from the Museum of History to a new stop on Garrison Avenue next to the Varsity Sports Grill. Since then, with the help of the City of Fort Smith, it has grown even further, reaching down Garrison Avenue to the front of Ross Pendergraft Park, which is northeast of the Fort Smith National Historic Site at the base of the Garrison Avenue Bridge. Future plans call for extensions to both ends of the trolley track. From Ross Pendergraft Park, it will continue west, turn north under the Garrison Avenue Bridge, and stop at Miss Laura's Visitors Center near the Arkansas River. On the other end, it will make stops at the Fort Smith Convention Center and Holiday Inn Civic Center on South 7th Street, and The Town Club on Garrison Avenue, for a total length of 1.5 miles of track."

In 2005, the City of Fort Smith helped lengthen the southern end of the trolley route just a bit more, traversing the street from the front entrance of the Fort Smith National Cemetery to the rear of the Fort Smith Convention Center and adding a special automated crossing signal for the trolley.

Fort Smith Light & Traction Company

For those wanting details on the trolley era in Fort Smith, there is a publication available through the Fort Smith Historical Society. The article "The Streetcars of Fort Smith," written by Charles Winters, was published by the Historical Society in their September 1979 issue of The Journal. This publication is still available from the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.The streetcar system of Fort Smith started as two separate companies. The first created was the Fort Smith Railway Company, a mule-drawn streetcar system that opened in 1883. In 1893, the Fort Smith & Van Buren Electric Street Railway Light & Power Company was franchised and soon began operations with two electric trolleys. By 1899, all trolley lines in Fort Smith were electrified. In 1903, the two companies merged to form the Fort Smith Traction Light & Power Company. Later that same year, the company was reorganized to become the Fort Smith Light & Traction Company.

The Birney "Safety Car" arrived in Fort Smith in 1920, marking an era of modern improvements. However, by 1933, the Fort Smith Light & Traction had become a subsidiary of Oklahoma Gas & Electric and was operating at a deficit. During August 1933, OG&E announced that the streetcars would make their final run on November 15 and the company would be dissolved. By early 1934, most of the equipment was scrapped, with some car bodies sold off and used for assorted purposes. An excellent example was car 224 which became the diner "Streetcar Cafe" in Ashdown, Arkansas.

The Collection

The Fort Smith Trolley Museum has four original Fort Smith streetcars. These cars are:

Fort Smith Light & Traction 205 is a double-ended single truck, arched roof Birney car built by Cincinnati Car Company in October 1919. Much of this car is missing, and it was mounted on rubber tires for years for promotional reasons. It is currently under renovation.

Fort Smith Light & Traction 221 is also a double-ended single truck, arched roof Birney car. This one was built by American in April 1926. It was built into a house.

Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 is also a double-ended single truck, arched roof Birney car. Like 221, it was built by American in April 1926. Once used as the "Streetcar Cafe" in Ashdown, Arkansas, it is in operating condition.

Fort Smith Traction Light & Power 10 is a double-ended single truck closed car built by American in 1902. The car was reportedly retired in 1910 and sold to the Combs, Cass & Eastern which installed two farm tractor engines to provide power for the car, which then served as the railroad's passenger train. In 1927, the car was sold and moved to Turner Bend, Arkansas where it was used as a tourist cabin.

Besides cars from Fort Smith, the museum has two cars from other Arkansas systems, a third from Kansas City, and a fourth from Mexico. All of these cars are similar to cars that once operated in Fort Smith.

Hot Springs Street Railway 50 is a double-ended double truck car built in 1904 by the St. Louis Car Company and includes a few wooden parts from Hot Springs Street Railway 54. It is currently under renovation.

Hot Springs Street Railway 53 is a double-ended double truck St. Louis Car Company trolley built in 1904. It is inoperable, with its parts being salvaged for renovation of 50.

Kansas City Public Service 1545 is a double-ended single truck, arched roof Birney car built in December 1919 by American. The truck, motor control and brakes from 1545 have been installed in FSL&T 224.

Cooperative de Transportes Urbanos y Sub-Urbanos 6 is single truck, arched roof 10-bench open car built by Brill in 1906. It is from Vera Cruz, Mexico, and is undergoing restoration.

Besides trolleys, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum has a number of railroad cars and locomotives. Chief among these is Frisco 2-8-2 4003 which had been on display at Kay Rodgers Park & Fairground. Additionally, three small locomotives, three cabooses, a former military power car and dining car and three boxcars are part of the collection. Finally, several buses and trucks are included in the collection. This includes a 1939 Little Rock bus and three former Fort Smith buses, a 1932 American LaFrance Fort Smith fire truck and a Ford Model TT truck that was used to peddle groceries in Fort Smith.

Our Trip

Once we parked the buses I led a group over to the Trolley House.

The trolley house, which is Fort Smith Light and Traction Birney Safety Car 21 built by American Car Company in 1926.

I learned from Bart that my bus was going to be replaced due to a noise we heard on the right rear underneath the bus.

Union Pacific caboose 25139 built by Pullman in 1964.

Frisco box car 22060 built by Pullman-Standard in 1966.

Burlington Northern caboose 12240 built by Pacific Coast and Foundry in 1978.

Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 is the car they are running today.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas power car 100201 nee World War II trooper sleeper X2400.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas coach 910 built by American Car and Foundry in 1938 and converted to Diner Bunk Car 100162.

St. Louis-San Francisco 2-8-2 4003 built by American Locomtive Company in 1919 for the Pennsylvania Railroad but they rejected it and the United States Railway Administration assigned it to the St. Louis-San Francisco Railroad. 4003 was retired in early 1952. The Frisco kept the locomotive until 1954 when it was donated to the City of Fort Smith and placed on display in Kay Rodgers Park. It remained there for almost fifty years until in 2002, the city transferred ownership to the Fort Smith Trolley Museum.

Missouri-Kansas-Texas caboose 126 built by International Car in 1966.

The railroad crossing at the museum.

Missouri Pacific box car 251368 built by American Car and Foundry in 1963.

Missouri Pacific Cushion Car 365387 built by American Car and Foundry in 1971.

Augusta Railroad 35 ton switcher 7, nee Maumelle Ordnance Works Locomotive 1, built by Vulcan in April 1942.

United States Air Force 44 ton switcher 1246 built by General Electric in January 1953. I went inside and boarded the trolley for the first trip of the day which starts in the car barn, where my first trip here in 2010 ended.

A view out the front heading to the west end of the line.

Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 at the west end of the line.

The inside view of Fort Smith Light & Traction 224 on the way to the east end of the line.

At the east end of the line.

A trolley full of happy NRHS passengers. After this trip I toured the car barn.

Car 6 is a single truck arched roof 10-bench open car built by Brill in 1906 from Vera Cruz, Mexico under restoration.

Trolley 50 is a double-ended double truck built by the St Louis Car Company in 1904 from the Hot Springs Street Railway.

Overhead view.

Kansas City Public Service 1545 is a double-ended single truck, arched roof Birney car built in December 1919 by American. The truck, motor, control and brakes from 1545 have been installed in FSL&T 224.

Another view of Kansas City Public Service 1545.

The car barn at Fort Smith.

Trolley 224 is running the line today. From here I went inside the museum building and collected the tickets for today's event then helped distribute the boxed lunches, after which I returned outside for a few more pictures.

There is a very nice trolley mural on the wall which local artist John Bell, Jr. designed in 1990, and directed a team of his art students in painting it. The mural depicts the 50-year heyday of street railway transportation in Fort Smith, beginning with the mule-drawn streetcars of 1883, on the far left. The second car shown is an open car, in which the motorman stood outside. After that came the semi-convertible trolley and, on the far right, the Birney "safety car," which was used until Fort Smith Light & Traction Co. closed in 1933. Four historical buildings are shown in the background, including Fort Smith's W.H.H. Clayton house and the Fort Smith Art Center.

In 1991, a tornado tore through downtown Fort Smith, knocking down the concrete-block wall of the building on which the mural was painted. Mr. Bell found a unique solution for reassembling the wall. He numbered each block so that his students could place it in the correct spot. They then touched up the paint, and added a special momento: a small funnel cloud in the top right corner, along with the date '91. In April of 1996, another twister came though "Tornado Alley," destroying many of Garrison Avenue's historic buildings and (minor in comparison) blowing one set of the museum's front doors off their hinges. A '96 was added to the mural to commemorate that event.

Details of the mural.

I saw passengers walking back from the trolley and learned that a pickup truck had run into it. We had five NRHS members aboard but thank God no one was hurt. I took names and obtained information about the accident.

Views of the trolley after the accident. The trolley returned and I boarded for another round trip. Now let us enjoy a trip aboard.

That was a complete round-trip aboard the Fort Smith Trolley.

Where the truck hit the trolley.

What is wrong with this picture?

Car 224 went south.

Car 224 went north. With that it was time to load the bus and our replacement bus was excellent. We left at 1:02 PM and on the way to freeway we were stopped by a Union Pacific freight train at Dora, Oklahoma as we went into the state to get to Interstate 40. We headed back to the Holiday Inn and from there, I went to the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks.

Click here for Part 2 of this story