The newest addition to the ARPA's plans to revitalize railroad history in Astoria is a 58-ton combination coach and baggage car with strong ties to our area.
We've recently purchased a piece of local history in passenger car No. 273, which was used on the Spokane, Portland & Seattle Railroad (which included the stretch of railroad between Portland and Astoria.)
Once again, our volunteers will tackle this restoration project. The car will then be used as a "mini museum" focusing on the history of the railroad along the lower Columbia River.
The car will also be towed behind our restored steam locomotive to carry spare parts and serve as quarters for the engine crew.
In 1915, James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railroad wanted access to San Francisco for his trains coming from the Midwest. When Southern Pacific and Union Pacific refused permission to use their rail lines, Hill decided to use the newly formed SP&S along the Columbia.
Around that same time, the Great Northern Pacific Steamship Company was formed by SP&S and included two 524-foot luxury passenger ships. In order to accommodate the new steamer service, SP&S ordered 21 steel passenger cars from the Barney & Smith Car Company in Dayton, Ohio. The cars were to serve the Great Northern Pacific Steamships that went between Flavel (now part of Warrenton) and San Francisco from 1915 to 1917. No. 273 ran between Portand and Flavel on the "Steamer Specials" as a first-class coach.
The steamer service became popular quick, especially for Portlanders who wanted adventure with a few creature comforts. The steamships serving Flavel were bought by the government in 1917 for use as troop ships during World War I. The Steamer Special trains were discontinued and No. 273 was placed in regular service.
In 1955, the car was converted to handle passengers and baggage on the rail line between Wishram, Wash., and Bend, Ore. In 1972, No. 273 and its sister car, No. 272, were donated to the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie, Wash.
The ARPA jumped at the chance to bring No. 273 back to Astoria. It was no easy task.
Measuring over 80 feet long, 10 feet wide and 14 feet tall, it was tricky to get No. 273 back home. It took 11 hours to load it onto a special trailer and two full days of driving to get it from Snoqualmie to Astoria.
The car needs a complete interior restoration and replacement of some of the metal skin on the outside walls and roof. After restoration, No. 273 will be painted in its original SP&S colors: dark green with gold lettering.
The estimated cost to restore the car is between $50,000 and $60,000. We are looking for a sponsoring group or individual for this work. In exchange, the sponsor will be given the opportunity to name the car.
In conjunction with our plans to restore a steam locomotive, No. 273 promises to make a great addition to our "living" railroad museum that's taking shape in Astoria.