“Jim Crow” Passenger Car

By Rachel Walston, reprinted from The Main Line newsletter – Volume 5, Issue 1, May 2010

In 2007, as the Friends of the L&N Depot worked to acquire the RPO, they made an unexpected discovery right in their own backyards. Dorian Walker had been hearing about a passenger car sitting unused on a siding in nearby Glasgow, so – even though the Friends weren’t looking for another active railcar – he set out to find it. What he found was the dilapidated husk of a #109 “Jim Crow” car, slowly

being reclaimed by the forest that surrounded it. Last in service in 1955, this particular car had been sitting in the same spot since then and unfortunately fell victim to vandalism and the elements, leaving about half of it still standing.

“I thought, ‘Wow, this thing is gone, for all intents and purposes,’ but there are parts of it that are almost completely intact, like the ends,” Walker said. “It’s amazing it’s still standing.”

Initially, Walker asked the Robert Lessenberry family, owners of the car, if the Friends of the L&N Depot could dismantle it and use one of the ends as a doorway into the segregation exhibit at the Historic Rail Park. The Lessenberry family said they didn’t want it taken apart, but would donate it if the Friends would restore it. Challenge accepted.

It turns out there are less than 30 intact Jim Crow cars still in existence, and only a handful of them were built in the same era (1882). Even though the car, which had a baggage compartment in the middle that facilitated segregation of passengers, doesn’t fit in the existing train consist, the Friends of the L&N Depot thought it could stand alone as a separate exhibit, similar to the caboose.

In 2008, Rail Park Executive Director Sharon Tabor went through the laborious process of applying for a grant from the state for restoration of the Jim Crow car. That year, everyone was disappointed to find out they were not chosen, so Tabor re-applied for the grant this year and was accepted. As soon as the word got out, the Friends of the L&N Depot got to work securing people to help them restore the car.

First up is local architect Brian Clements, who agreed to work pro bono to design the restoration plans. Next is local businessman Lowell Guthrie, owner of Trace Die Cast, who is donating floor space in the factory so volunteer can work on the car indoors as the weather gets colder. Western Crane is standing by as well to help lift the car onto “skates” so the 76-foot-long relic can move more easily around the factory. Help is coming from farther away as well, like the

Pennsylvania Railway Museum and experts from coast to coast who will serve as consultants during the process.

The plan is to disassemble the car and remove the parts that are still good, then rebuild the exterior to match the parts that still exist, Walker said. Plans are in place and volunteers are poised to begin work as soon as the Friends of the L&N Depot get a contact from Frankfort regarding the grant.

“We’re at the start of the race and we’re on the track,” Walker said. “We’re waiting for the starter to pull out his gun and start the race.” Once work begins, Walker anticipates it will take about a year until the car is ready. The museum plans to use the Jim Crow car to tell three stories: that of 19th-century wooden car construction, of segregation on the L&N Railroad, and of the pure elegance of a 19th-century car, which featured gas lamps, walkover seating, and hand-painted, curved veneer ceilings. “It’s going to be a fun project – a challenging project. One of our most challenging projects,” he said.

Restoration Progress:

First up the car is moved from it’s resting place in Glasgow, Kentucky to donated factory space at Trace Die Cast in Bowling Green for restoration work to begin.

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