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Skytop Sleeper/Lounge "Coffee Creek" Restoration

"Coffee Creek" Restoration


"Creek" Series Skytop Sleeper/Lounge
Car #Car NameYear BuiltCars Outcome
15"Coffee Creek"1948CN 1902 "Fundy"

The 10 Skytops, created by industrial designer Brooks Stevens in 1948, were probably the most distinctive cars ever built. Milwaukee Road built 4 parlor cars in their own shops (1 drawing room and 24 parlor seats) and had Pullman Standard build 6 sleepers, each with 8 bedrooms and a lounge.

The lounges served on the Chicago - Minneapolis "Hiawatha Service" until 1970, and the sleepers were on the "Olympian Hiawatha" until 1964, then on CN's "Super Continental" until the mid 70's.

Skytop Parlor/Sleeper cars: - Pullman Standard Lot #6775 - plan # 4138 - all retired 1977 and stored in Winnipeg.
15 "Coffee Creek"(12/48) - CN 1902 "Fundy" - purchased by John Arbuckle Hutchison KS & Mark Buecol St Louis MO/Gateway Railtours Inc, traded to Dirk Lenthe of Fargo ND (owns many other dome cars) - car was in a rust colored primer. As of late 2000 The car was sold to Taylor Johnson and referbishment of the car began in the second week of March 2001. The car is planned to be used in excersion service.

Time Line

June 29, 2004
During the last several months the Coffee Creek has been preparing for its new livery of maroon, silver gray and a dash of orange. Arduous preparation is essential to ensure a like new end result. The exterior has under gone extensive, welding, grinding, sanding & buffing. We targeted early July for painting to optimize the temperature and humidity in Fargo ND. PP&G's newest commercial epoxy "Delfeet Evolution" paint & primer used at Disney and in harsh transportation environments was chosen. We are also considering a finish coat of Polyurethane Enamel which adds durability but is difficult to touch up seamlessly. Under current ownership the car now has around 10,000 renovation labor hours accumulated. Patience is a virtue with this undertaking. Perhaps the finish line is finally on the long horizon but the electrical locker, HEP, windows, kitchen and more custom fabrication lies ahead first.

Coffee Creek observation
end ready for primer
Observation end primed

March 18, 2004
Last week the new 10 ton Moran Air Conditioner arrived on site. It is designed to be easily mounted on the original Frigidaire mounting brackets. Unfortunately a previous owner torched off half the brackets so a new mounting scheme had to be devised & welded under the car. The design and packaging of the unit is very impressive. The compressor is a Carlisle and the fan shroud is designed to increase CFM by 22% over the copper coil condenser. It is isolated from the frame by 4 liquid mounting grommets. New thermal expansion valves are expected this week to facilitate the conversion from R12 to R22 refrigerant.

AC mechanically installed with room
to spare for "A" clearance
Welding new AC mounting brackets
March 2004
The bathroom annex floor tiling has begun. A 2" square charcoal gray tile was chosen which complements the Corian window sills and the yet to be fabricated vanity counter shelves. We also configured one set of retractable stainless steps. This required an enormous amount of custom fabrication.

Bathroom annex floor tiling has begun
Original design retractable steps installed
on one side replacing CN fixed steps

March 12, 2004
I got the rare oppertunity to tour Coffee Creek today and progress is moving nicely. I even got to see the brand new Moran AC system which was delieverd a few hours prior to my arrival. She is a truly great car and I even got my picture taken with her...however...said picture didnt turn out, so that made me rather angry...

January 8, 2004
After removing the old floor, the B end interior floor has been replaced with the new corrugated steel and poured cement. This extremely high traffic area is now in "like new" condition. The past months have been spent primarily on plumbing. The re-circulating floor heat with all new copper piping, heaters & zoned thermostats are now installed throughout the car. The water tanks and holding tank have also been winterized with freeze protection. The remaining bedroom wiring has been run to the electrical locker completing the task of new bedroom wiring in every room. Delivery of the Moran AC system is anxiously awaited.

Completed winterized holding tank
New recirculating floor heat
installed in obs lounge
New floor & heat plumbing in B end

July 9, 2003
On June 26th Coffee Creek was lifted into the air from four embedded jack pads. Once clear, the shop trucks were carefully rolled out from under the car. Then the center plate bowls of the truck bolsters were lubricated with Ronex. (Shell water extracting grease) and gently rolled the completely rebuilt Nystrom trucks under the car. later they will have to be rolled back out for shimming once the car is weighed, but this was an important milestone. Now freed, the shop trucks became available for future spare parts. Then for the first time in years, sunlight, blue sky and clouds lit up the Skytop as it was rode out of the shop twice. A small yet symbolic ride as it was the first time the car has been outside without a tarp in over five years.

Fully completed trucks
Coffee Creek on jacks
after truck rollout
Coffee Creek outside

16 gauge galvanized, corrugated steel was specified to replace the "B" end hallway entrance floor. After many discussions with steel vendors it was decided that irrigation tubing before it is rolled would would work well. Flexible cement was the next challenge cross referencing from Pullman original. It became obvious why Pullman floors are known for their noise suppression characteristics. Many of their competitors used marine plywood instead of cement. With permission, the upper vestibule doors were rescued from the Vermillion River to replicate the original two round windows on each side of the car. In exchange the former CN rectangular windows were trade. next the coupler carrier plate was fitted with new springs and bushings on the vestibule end. The holding tank was plumbed to all the bedrooms and some walnut paneling was sampled while discussing some ideas with an interior decorator. The focus now shifts to completing the electrical design and plumbing the re-circulating hot water heating system.

16 Gauge, corrgated
steel for the B
end floor
Fully plumbed holding tank
Wood panneling samples

April 15, 2003
The first electrical wiring circuit is complete & functional. The polished hallway light fixtures have been installed and are operational. The detailed electrical locker design continues with block diagrams complete. Next step is to create a schematic, wiring diagram and bill of material. When reviewed & complete, the transformers, circuit breakers and electrical panel, etc will be ordered.

The waste holding tank has arrived. The tank is baffled to minimize motion & noise. Next step is to secure the tank under the car and then to start plumbing the bathrooms to the tank. Under car preparation for this task is complete.

The long awaited truck rebuild is nearing completion except for the brake cylinder modifications. Neither CN or any previous owner converted the brakes from cast iron to composition shoes. This requires brake cylinder bushing and piston modifications for the softer shoes. Cars can legally run only up to 90 mph with cast iron shoes and they are getting more difficult to find. By contrast, there is an abundance of available composition shoes throughout North America and the CC can be rated up to 110 mph with them. This change will be mplement in Fargo after weighing the completed car.

Newly installed hallway light
fixtures - April 2003
Holding tank awaits installation
April 2003

February 10, 2003
The interior of the Coffee Creek is now entirely painted except minor touch up and where wood paneling and trim will be used. This was an enormous task preceded by stripping & priming.

All 12 beds which were removed and refurbished, have been reinstalled into the car. Tweaking of the bed mechanisms is still required to ensure proper alignments. Pullman's mechanical engineering was a marvel particularly for the upper berths. However, without three people, a forklift, removed windows and special fixturing it is extremely difficult to install any berths. This fact probably attests to the number of paint coats on most original railroad car bed frames.

The holding tank delivery is expected this week so emphasis has moved to under the car. Surface scaling has been removed in preparation of priming. Once the holding tank is installed the bathroom plumbing to the tank can begin. Original vitreous china toilet bowls will be used despite a slight water premium. The current 8 ton AC unit has been removed and will be replaced with a new 10 ton Moran expected this month. The AC specification has been increased from original generations in consideration of the skytop. Moran, Hollywood MD, was selected based on very favorable reliability responses from Southern based private car inquiries.

The "Friends of the 261" reported good progress with the trucks & wheel sets this week and anticipate shipment to Fargo in early March. The interior wiring will also resume soon.

Lounge painting complete - awaiting wood treatment
under window band
Delivering the upper berths
Feb 2003
Custom fixturing for upper berth installation
Feb 2003

October 5, 2002
The Coffee Creek is beginning to breathe new life as its facelift reveals the grandeur of its former personality. This is an exciting time bringing to life history and memories of the great streamliners of the past. Over 2500 renovation labor hours have accumulated under current ownership of the car. Dan Clark a master craftsman, has facilitated much of the renovation.

The bedrooms have been completely painted and the new bedroom wiring nearly completed. The beds have also been stripped and painted. Some of the upper beds required welding the frame corners to replicate as new condition. The lounge window frames have been completely stripped & primed. A few window mounting brackets still need to be fabricated, drilled and tapped. Window research has begun to understand the merits of Marquard & glass combinations as well as solid laminates. A 70% gray tint is probable to minimize UV effects and ensure true outside color spectrum viewing .

Car under tarp for window priming - Oct 2002
Lounge stripped and primed - Oct 2002
Skytop windows primed, ready for
painting - Oct 2002

The final parts (220 pins) for the truck rebuild are on order and reassembly has begun. The "Friends of the 261" & CON-TEK Machine have done an outstanding job documenting, quoting, ordering & fabricating numerous custom parts. This is perhaps the most important element from a safety perspective of the Coffee Creek rebuild and by definition, time consuming. The trucks required magna fluxing for cracks and tight tolerance tramming and only the most exacting parts were reconditioned. New bolster anchor rods have been fabricated larger than original after inspecting many that were bent and distorted.

Bedroom paint & wiring - Oct 2002
New & refurbished Truck parts
queued for reassembly - Oct 2002
Refurbished truck frame, magna-fluxed,
trammed and inspected,
ready for assembly - Oct 2002

The vestibule trap rebuild has started to replace the temporary steps with permanent retractable stainless steps. LED marker lights for the "B" end have been procured as well as the last remaining inside hardware, the door latch assemblies for the bi-fold bedroom suite doors. A 325 gallon stainless waste holding tank has also been fabricated and will be delivered shortly. HEP cabling is on site awaiting installation. Carpet discussions and sampling have also started.

Trap prep for retractable steps - Oct 2002

May 22, 2002
The paint priming has started throughout the car. PPG visited the car & analyzed the application and recommended epoxy primer & paint. The interior window frames have been sandblasted and individually primed. This is an area notorious for rust. Once the interior priming is complete the interior wiring will be finished.

The wood treatment plan has changed from Cherry to Walnut after careful consideration of color and grain. The Corian window sill color treatment has been specified as a shade of burgundy after review of hundreds of samples. Corian was also considered for the dining tables but determined vulnerable to scratching and cracking in this high traffic area. The table material is yet to be defined. Formica with walnut trim is the leading contender.

The kitchen ceiling formerly bedrooms G&H have been razed. The original bedroom ceilings were of different heights so new ceiling panels will be fabricated. The appliance locations have been reviewed and the sink and range positions reversed to ensure optimum flow and ergonomics. The kitchen crew will have outside views in three directions which should ensure a scenic working environment.

The Nystrom truck rebuild at the "Friends of the 261" has been inspected and approved by Amtrak. Manganese pedestal liners were used after much debate about the virtures of plastic vs. manganese. The wheel sets will now be shipped from NRE Wheel Works in Milwaukee to Mpls for assembly. This is a change from the original plan of assembly in Fargo. Once assembled the complete trucks will be shipped to Fargo for installation under the car.

Next steps include minor welding to the "B" end crash posts and installation of the original design stainless retractable vestibule steps.

Vertical stiffeners - May 2002
Bathroom annex - stripped
and epoxyed - May 2002
Mars light cut-out & housing - May 2002

March 29, 2002
The interior of the Coffee Creek is nearly completely stripped and partially epoxy primed. An off white color has been selected for the paint finish. Cherry wood paneling will be used below the windows in the lounge & selectively throughout the bedrooms and hallway. Wood was considered but rejected for the window sills due to moisture concerns. Corian window sills will be used throughout the car.

The electrical locker is being designed to accommodate 12, 110, 220 & 480 volts. The system will be computer controlled with manual override. When 480V Head End Power (HEP) is lost the system will automatically convert the power source to the generator. A Stadco 52kw generator has been specified. A second 30kw Onan serves for catastrophic back up. The car is being totally rewired for 110v & additional receptacles installed in all rooms. Removing the old wire has proven to be arduous. Bedrooms A & B have been started.

The stainless steel kitchen fabrication will soon start. The pass thru window has been cut through the bulkhead to the lounge. A floor pan with drains will be fabricated next. Installing appliances on a railroad car is always a challenge with only 25" clearance in the halls and windows. The refrigerator & freezer will be assembled with modular industrial grade components.

The compressors will be mounted under the car for serviceability and to maximize useable refrigeration space on board. A Jackson quick cycle sanitizing dishwasher has also been specified. The lounge windows have been re-fabricated with new steel. Window mounting rails are now being fabricated drilled, tapped & primed. A service door has been located for installation across from the kitchen.

The Nystrom truck rebuild is waiting final Amtrak inspection at the "Friends of the 261" in Minneapolis. Once approved the trucks will be painted black and shipped to Fargo. 13 of 16 Timken bearings have been re-certified and are being shipped to Milwaukee to be pressed on the axles with the new wheels. The wheel sets will then be shipped to Fargo to be assembled to the trucks and installed under the car. Two new spare wheel sets & one spare bearing will be available for emergency back up.

Four original Milwaukee Parlor chairs have been located and refurbished for the lounge. The round couch will be replicated to the original design but has not started. Two original Milwaukee dining chairs have also been procured.

Exterior window detail
Bulkhead window corner
Lounge bulkhead facing forward with pass-thru

January, 12 2002
Interior design layout is complete. 12 beds will be preserved. Two showers will be added. Bedrooms G&H will become the kitchen and pass thru bar. All the beds and the remaining light fixtures have been removed for painting. Striping and priming the interior has started. Twelve wheel bearings have been sent to Timken for re-certification. The wheels have been pulled from the axles with no problems. New hub stamped wheels have been ordered. The truck rebuild continues in parallel. The shocks absorbers will be moved up about 4 inches to ensure NEC clearance. Welding vertical stiffeners to the inside of the round end is scheduled for next week.

Coffee Creek lounge
Lounge bulkhead

Then they will finish the lounge windows and cut out the hole for the Mars light and the rear exhaust fan. The car will retain the name Coffee Creek. Tentative paint scheme is burgundy and gray with a touch of orange. Replacement fluting for the rear will probably be added although it may be a possible moisture collector unless a way to keep moisture out can be found.

Hallway running past bedrooms
Toward B end
The unrestored Nystrom trucks

Late 2000
The car was purchased by taylor Johnson.

Coffee Creek paint and Layout plan

Special thanks to Phil "Vista" Dohmen for the info
Coffee Creek Photos courtesy Taylor Johnson. If you would like to use a picture please contact me at

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