© January 01 2010
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The House of David Railroad Ė Part II
An Historical 15Ē Gauge Railroad With A Brand New Future
Written by Dave Schoeffler
In part I, I discussed the origins of the House of David railroad with news that itís experiencing an exciting rebirth under the guidance of three park train enthusiasts. Think about that, a miniature railroad in the USA celebrating and entering itís next 100 years of service! Before I get too far into more of the story, I would like to thank Carey Williams for his time and words on just where this interesting railroad is going. As you will soon learn, Carey is one of the principals of the reborn House of David Railroad. In that regard, we are all now privy to some real ďinsideĒ information.
The People Behind The House of David Railroad
In August of 2009, three enterprising men . . . Chris Siriano (a Benton harbor real estate investor and Director of the House of David Museum), George Dixson and Carey Williams (both park train collectors) . . . purchased the Amusement Park portion of Eden Springs, the resort property where the House of David Railroad began in 1908. It is fascinating to me that this property was purchased from the three surviving House of David members who continue to live on the Eden Springs property. How exciting that these hardy colony members get to see the railroad running again after itís closing in 1972. And, you will soon see that there will be quite the legacy for others to continue enjoying it for years to come.
The New House of David Railroad Plan
The revival of the House of David Railroad is an ambitious project that is already underway. To understand future plans, letís first look at the former House of David track layout plan (above right). There were at least two other right of way configurations (not shown) that served the railroad over the years, one including a hairy diamond crossing where the railroadís only accident occurred (no one was seriously injured). The plan below, however, was the longest-running and most efficient for transporting thousands of passengers for many years. As you can see, itís basically a giant oval with approximately one-mile of right-of-way.
So whatís the new plan? In the first three years the initial goal, according to Carey Williams, is to get the trains running! Starting as early as 2010 they will concentrate on a new 2,800 foot loop on the south side of the property. Itís great to hear that this early start-up will involve the refurbishing of the charismatic South Depot (shown in the circa 1995 photo right) . . . the ride-through depot we discussed in Part I. Keeping in the tradition of the HODís communal history, the principals found a wonderful group of Amish workers who are currently in the process of leveling, lifting and twisting this landmark depot back into shape. And, knowing how the Amish build things this depot will likely be around another hundred years!
Also being rescued is the brick engine house (below) dating back to 1930, with 8 stalls. A wye and new spur in front of this neat structure will be added for turning the trains and loading and unloading equipment. The engine house will include a workshop similar to one pictured below (circa 1910), The shop will eventually include a museum highlighting the House of Davidís rich railroad history while also serving to educate visitors on park trains and steam trains in general.
Engine House in 2009
Starting in 2011, with trains running, the group feels it will be easier to start raising additional funds for the rebuilding of the mammoth East and West (up to 300 foot-long, 30-foot high) trestles. Once accomplished, the trains will again be able to traverse the valley and run to the north portions of the property with planned stops at the circa 1910 power station, complete with period generators.
Within the first few years it is also the hope to rebuild the 1920 circa restaurant, install a merry-go-round and hand car ride behind the south depot, improve the propertyís camp grounds and log cabins, open concession stands in and near the depot and continue to clean and stabilize the park area for public viewing, antique fairs, theater and music concerts, art and film festivals, classic car shows and fund raisers for a music amphitheater to replace the original.
For those of you who remember the House of David Zoo, itís on the list for revival too. The original opened in 1908 and during its long history housed lions, tigers and bears. While no live animals have been secured for the re-opening yet, HOD has a good head start with donations of several prize-winning, life-size fiberglass zoo animals donated by the City of Saint Jo, MO.
Longer-term plans (five years and out) focus on adding switches to create some independent loops and continue the rebuilding of equipment for the railroad. Interestingly, the principals plan on adding another 12Ē / 14Ē dual gauge line to encourage a wider audience of park train operators to visit with their own trains. A larger, 10,000 square foot building is on the radar to house a collection of park trains in a mix of scales and gauges. Any 7.5Ē gauge? Well, Carey said they are always willing to hear a proposal, but the nearby (30 minutes) Hesston Steam Museum seems to be satisfying the local need.
All About The Trains
The earliest House of David engines were heavily modified 4-4-0 and 4-6-0 Cagney-based locos (the original is shown above right) that House of David eventually retired after WWII in favor of the heavier, more powerful 2-6-2ís (known as the 900 Prairie Series) All were scratch-built by the HOD craftsmen on site, including machining and castings.
When the new 900 models started running (about 1948), some of the older locos were sold or salvaged. In the early1950ís the chassisí of three of the retired 4-6-0 engines were sold without the boilers and transported to Missouri. Parts of one 4-4-0 engine were used to build a 12" gauge Atlantic type 4-4-2 engine.
Parts of another, including the cylinders, Baker valve gear and drivers built another 12Ē gauge 4-4-2 engine that is said to still be in regular service at the Wabash, Frisco and Pacific Association's train park near St. Louis, MO. It is indeed fortunate that old No. 7 (an early 4-4-0), after several owners, made its way back to Carey Williams in 2006 (a great shot of her is shown above right). Engine 903 will likely take the lead at the parkís re-opening. No. 7 should also be running when the HOD re-opens. Itís also getting some media attention as the featured train in an upcoming PBS documentary about the House of David, scheduled to air in 2010
The three newer 900 engines (shown above right) continued in regular service during summer seasons from 1948 until the winding down of the park in the early 1970ís. Engine #901, was put in service in 1948 and sold in May of 2000 to Dennis Russell of the Northwest Ohio Railroad Preservation Group. It has undergone a major restoration at the group's facility just outside of Findley, Ohio. As part of the restoration project the group has constructed a half mile track of 15" rails at their Findley park (see picture below). The public dťbut of Engine #901 occurred in the Fall of 2002 Once again passengers are able to ride this famous train. Sadly, Dennis recently passed away, but 901 is still polishing rails at the museum.
Pictures of #902 and #903 (built on site circa 1950) have surfaced. #902 in the in the colonyís roundhouse (right) and #903 recently restored (left). I am told that both were purchased by a local businessman and restorer. Luckily, they are scheduled to run again on the House of David railroad. A total of six original House of David coaches (circa 1915) and one HOD flatcar have also been restored and in the cue for running when the railroad debuts next year. Hereís a recent close-up.
Is the House of David Railroad In Your Future?
Restoring the House of David Railroad is exciting enough, but the guys behind the process have plans to open special railroad fair weekends (aka Grand Scale Convention) inviting train enthusiasts to run and display their trains too. They are also hoping that this invitation helps to expand the volunteer base . . . anyone near Benton Harbor listening? So, it looks like members of the miniature railroad community may have a new place to play. However, I understand that full beards, shoulder-length hair, vegetarian diets and the like . . . the trademark of former HOD train operators . . . are optional!
Written by Dave Schoeffler
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