MLS&W Restoration Report #1
November 2000

©2000, MCRHS

November 5, 2000 was an important date in the history of Milwaukee Lake Shore & Western first-class coach Number 63. On that day, a two-year $350,000 restoration project began to return the car to its 1888-1893 appearance while in service on the Lake Shore.

This first report will give a detailed description of the work to be completed, its time schedule, and the goals we hope to achieve.

The car is to be completed by August 31, 2002. It will be placed at the north end of Track 1 in the Car Shop. Much work will be contracted out or done offsite, such as construction of replacement woodwork, components, and fabrication of patterns and new parts. An open house will be held for the public on a quarterly basis to showcase the car's progress. Project Manager Glenn Guerra will be present for questions and interpretive commentary. The following information is adapted from specifications for MLS&W #63, drafted by Don Ginter, Mid-Continent's curator.
Mid-Continent curator Don Ginter (left) and restoration Project Manager Glenn Guerra point out the Art Nouveau wood carvings of artist Edward Colonna inside MLS&W coach #63. Paul Swanson photos.

Mid-Continent's goal is to produce an accurate restoration and reconstruction of the coach to its 1888-1893 appearance, while retaining to the greatest extent possible, the historic fabric of the car, to preserve the proto-Art Nouveau design work of Edward Colonna, to study the manufacturing and evolutional life of the car, and to archive samples of the car for future study. The manufacturing and evolutional life study will focus on the car builders' craft, early manufacturing methods, and assembly techniques of the original car along with modifications made during the life of the car. The information gathered from this study will be used in support of the museum's mission to interpret railroading of this era. A published report of the study's findings will become part of this interpretive process. The archived samples will support future study of the coach and related issues once the car is completed.


MLS&W coach #63 in its present state represents little of its 1888 heritage. Forty years of use as the Chicago Potato Mart office resulted in the loss of most of the car's interior fittings as well as all of the running gear components. What remained in 1970 when the #63 was "rescued" was essentially a moderately deteriorated car body with a highly interesting history.

The decision to remove the body to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum at North Freedom was based largely on the fact that #63 represented a tangible piece of a long-gone Wisconsin railroad--the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western. This fact, and this fact alone, was adequate reason to preserve the remains of coach #63.

Slowly an informal restoration plan evolved typical of many of the country's rail preservation groups-the #63 would be refurbished to operating condition! With that theme in mind running gear components of the period were acquired and body and platform repairs were begun. By 1974, the #63 was sitting on trucks, had body truss rods in place and had a platform with a coupler installed on one end. Some interior paint stripping had also been conducted. The project soon languished, however, when the principal volunteer left Wisconsin as the result of a career change.

Interest was renewed when it was learned of #63's Edward Colonna inspired interior design details. An essay published by the Dayton (Ohio) Art Institute in 1983 highlighted coach #63's interior treatment. Beyond photo documentation of the Colonna details, no additional work on the car was performed. Preservation of the #63 was greatly enhanced when under-roof storage was finally secured in Mid-Continent's new Car Shop in 1990.
MLS&W #63 as it appeared in November before restoration began. Investigative work has revealed as many as twenty coats of paint on the exterior of the car. These will be scientifically analyzed to help accurately restore the car to its 1890 condition.
Restoration Documentation

Many of the unresolved details will have to be addressed by a diligent and systematic examination of coach #63 as it stands today! Before any additional restoration efforts are begun, a thorough examination must be conducted to the satisfaction of the curator and staff. It's important to understand and to emphasize to others that any restoration or refurbishing efforts compromise the historic fabric of the existing artifact and eliminate any hope of gathering important historical data at a future date.

The historical survey or examination should be heavily documented in written words, photographs and drawings. The #63 should be photographed on multiple rolls of film (color and B&W) before more disassembly or other work is started. Also measurements and drawings should be made of the car side truss framing since much of the car siding is already missing. Samples of original car siding should be retained. Drawings should also be made of the platform sills, draft sills and the end sills that were applied in the 1970's. An opportunity to extract significant paint samples may still exist. An effort should be made to secure samples on corner posts, door posts, clerestory, platform hoods, etc., in hope of determining the original coach exterior paint scheme. Professional laboratory paint examination by microscopy and chemical analysis is needed.

Examples of interior design documentation would be the tracing and photography of the remaining ceiling and headlining panels. Telltale lamp openings, seat frame mounting holes (floor/side wall), saloon fixture locations, as well as any other bits of interior evidence should all be measured and graphically recorded. Additionally, a complete men's saloon must be designed with resultant drawings suitable for recreation.

Once the restoration or refurbishing begins, the staff or others must continue to document car details as they are uncovered. It is most important that the restoration personnel understand the importance of the ongoing documentation task. The best any restoration can be is a well-researched approximation. This is especially true in the case of the Lake Shore #63 which presently is little more than a shell of a coach. It would be unrealistic to believe that #b3 is being returned to an artifact in its true condition at some point in the past.
Glenn Guerra (left) and Don Ginter confer on the labeling of paint samples at the women's saloon end of the car. Paint chip samples are being preserved by encasing in a resin then dissecting to allow all layers to be studied. Preliminary findings suggest the car's exterior was originally painted yellow with tan trim.
Restoration Options for Lake Shore #63

Restoration time options for coach #63 can probably be broken down into three periods largely based upon documented history [see the August 2000 issue of the Gazette]. These periods would be: 1) Lake Shore era (1888-1893), 2) early Chicago & North Western era (1894-1917), and 3) later C&NW period (1918-1930). Conceivably a fourth period might be considered (1930-1970) if the Potato Mart office era of #63 were to be interpreted.

Mid-Continent has chosen to restore the car to its Lake Shore era. This most desirable interpretive period will produce the almost factory-new MLS&W coach of 1888. It will also contain the maximum exposure of the Edward Colonna design criteria thus producing the maximum interpretive effect. It is the Colonna influence, after all, that elevates coach #63 above other finely restored wooden cars in Mid-Continent's collection.

The 1888-1893 period is also a valuable interpretive opportunity to display the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western Railway as a pioneer Wisconsin rail building effort of local backing that did much to open up Northern Wisconsin and Michigan for settlement and industrial development. The growth of on-line towns such as Sheboygan, Wausau, Rhinelander, Ashland and Ironwood, Michigan may all be woven into the Lake Shore story.

To represent coach #63 during the initial years of its history offers the greatest curatorial challenge. The challenge, however, would be offset by the potential of a highly desirable interpretive presentation.

At this time, a Lake Shore car diagram, scattered newspaper accounts and a handful of inadequate photographs of Lake Shore trains comprise the resources available for study. It is suspected, though, that a concentrated search of state and local historical society holdings would unearth additional valuable photographs. Also review of on-line newspapers beyond the Kaukauna Sun might reveal accounts of the coming of the 1888 Barney & Smith coaches with helpful descriptions. Newspapers from Appleton, Rhinelander, Ashland, and Ironwood, Michigan, should be considered. A document search should also be conducted with other railroad museums for specifications of similar Barney & Smith coaches of the 1888-1893 era.

A considerable number of car furnishing details need to be resolved, they are: type of heating stoves, presence of steam heat; basket racks (Dayton Mfg. Co. or other?); center and side lamps (Dayton type?); reversible seats (Barney & Smith design or other supplier); seat covering fabric; men's saloon, dimensions and design needed (its replication will be required as the original was removed when the car's train service career ended); toilet hopper and sink details; roof covering (tin or canvas); Miller hook couplings and platform design; wooden brake beam design; and exterior paint, decoration and lettering scheme.

Legitimate choices can be made concerning the use of alternate but appropriate components, materials, and car fittings--as long as these choices are supported in the car's restoration documentation. Examples of such choices would be the use of the present woodbeam trucks, re-creation of the reversible seats based on known Barney & Smith design of the period, known Dayton Mfg. Co. basket racks, seat upholstery of 1888 color and design, etc. Perhaps one of the greatest challenges is the re-creation of the Miller hook coupler and platform system. The Miller hook, an early universally accepted automatic coupler, obsoleted the dangerous link and pin coupling. While over 21,000 passenger cars were equipped with Miller couplings at their peak in 1891, the only known example exists today in a Nevada museum.

In conclusion, restoration of coach #63 to the Lake Shore period will interpret the owner road as a fledgling Wisconsin carrier important to the state's northern development. More importantly, presentation of the highly unique Edward Colonna interior would emphasize the extension of artistic design to the everyday coach traveler, a luxury heretofore reserved for occupants of parlor, sleeping and private cars.