DULUTH Sleeping Car “Buy a Berth” Fund Drive Reaches Goal

Mid-Continent’s efforts to fully restore one of the nation’s oldest and most intact railroad sleeping cars just got one step closer to reality. In late January 2020, Mid-Continent Railway Museum achieved the goal set forth four months earlier when the “Buy a Berth” fund drive was announced. The goal was to raise $32,000 to cover the cost of replicating the car’s berths as part of the car’s restoration back to its original appearance and making it mechanically operational. Mid-Continent is extremely pleased and thankful for the generous support that donors have provided for this fund drive.

When the sleeping car, named DULUTH, is complete it will be a rare time capsule demonstrating what long-distance overnight rail travel was like over a century ago. The car is what is known as a 10-section sleeper. In addition to a private stateroom, a smoking room, and washrooms, the car’s main feature was a central room with 10 compartments. The compartments contained seats by day and were converted to beds at night. Each compartment had an upper and lower berth where passengers would sleep as their train traveled the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway between Duluth, Minnesota, through northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula to Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. Two sets of the original berths survived, but the eight other sets of berths were removed over 80 years ago when the car was retired from railroad service and moved to the shores of Lake Superior where it was used as a family’s summer cottage.

people listening to tour guide

A tour group views the DULUTH in Sept. 2019. New berth partitions between sleeping compartment sections were fitted in 2019 in preparation for the reproduction of the car’s missing berths. MCRM photo.

In 2015 the car was donated by its owners and moved to North Freedom, Wisconsin. The small town of just 701 people is home to Mid-Continent Railway Museum which boasts a nationally-renowned wooden railcar collection and restoration program. Railroads used railcars primarily built out of wood until the early 1900s when manufacturers transitioned to primarily steel construction. Mid-Continent is home to one of the largest collection of wooden railroad passenger cars in the country.

The original berths featured expertly crafted woodwork including curved shapes and marquetry patterns set within the mahogany veneer. To replace the intricate woodwork and patterns, Mid-Continent Railway Museum turned to help from a master woodworker and a marquetry expert. The craftsmen began working on the project soon after donations from the fund drive began coming in. As the fund drive wraps up, work on the berths is already well underway. The upper berths are completed but awaiting finishing (stain and varnish). The lower seat ends are still in the process of being fabricated. The following photos by William Buhrmaster taken on January 28, 2020, illustrate the current status of the berths and lower berth seat ends.

man next to patterned berth

Bob Berghorst shows the fine marquetry on one of the completed upper berths for the DULUTH during a visit to his shop on January 28, 2020.

Thank you to everyone who bought a berth!

The DULUTH has already seen a great deal of progress since it arrived at Mid-Continent Railway Museum. The wheels and trucks – the assembly that holds the wheels – were removed from the car along with the berths when it became a cottage. Replacements wheels and trucks from a similar car were procured and installed upon the DULUTH’s arrival at the museum. Similarly, replacement draft gear – the parts that allow connecting railcars together – and the air brake equipment have also been salvaged from other cars and installed on the DULUTH.

Many hours of work still lay ahead for the Mid-Continent volunteers leading the restoration effort. The men’s washroom and smoking room were removed to make way for a kitchen when the car was used as a cottage and still requires restoration, along with things like light fixtures, upholstery, flooring, and many other details.

Mid-Continent Railway Museum is seeking donations to help with the restoration of these other areas of the DULUTH. To make a donation or see the current overall DULUTH fundraising status, check out our earlier post titled DULUTH Fundraising Status.

Members of the Soo Line Historical & Technical Society tour through the Mid-Continent Car Shop, including through the DSS&A DULUTH sleeping car (at left) on Sept. 13, 2019. MCRM photo.

 

 

DULUTH Sleeping Car Update and “BUY A BERTH” Fund Drive

DULUTH Restoration – November 2019 Update

Mid-Continent Railway Museum has been working on restoring the oldest and most complete wooden sleeping car in the country to its original beauty and operating condition. Thanks to many supporters and generous donations the car was acquired and moved to the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in September 2016.  Upon arrival, the car was placed on a pair of 6-wheel trucks and within 12 months Mid-Continent volunteers had installed couplers and draft gear. This summer the air brake system including the air brake cylinder, reservoir and all of the air piping was completed. Inside the car, the missing berth partitions and lower berth seatbacks have been replicated and installed.

The next step in the program is to replicate the missing upper and lower berths that will be installed between each of the berth partitions. New berths are required as the past owners removed 8 of the 10 berths from the car over 80 years ago. The upper berths are challenging to reproduce due to their curved shape and the fine marquetry patterns set into mahogany veneer. Fortunately, we have located a master woodworker and marquetry expert in Michigan that have the needed skills and abilities to accurately reproduce the missing berths from the DULUTH.  In order to replicate the missing berths, we must raise $32,000 to get the DULUTH one step closer to being a restored masterpiece.

Introducing the “BUY A BERTH” Fund Drive [FUND DRIVE COMPLETED AS OF JAN. 29, 2020]

To fully restore the sleeping section of the DULUTH, your help is needed to raise $32,000 for replicating the upper and lower berth seat ends. With the “BUY A BERTH” Fund Drive donors can donate towards replicating the eight missing upper or lower berths. With a $1,500 donation (for a lower berth) or a $2,500 donation (for an upper berth) we will be able to get a berth replicated and you’ll have your name associated with one of the berths in the car. Donors that make a donation to the “BUY A BERTH” Fund Drive in the full amount of a berth ($1,500 or $2,500) will have their name placed on a plaque mounted inside the car. All donations less than $1,500 will be pooled together to go towards the cost of replicating a berth.

How You Can Help

UPDATE: The “Buy a Berth” Fund Drive was completed on Jan. 29, 2020. Donations are still needed for other areas of the DULUTH’s restoration. Consider helping us reach our $75,000 goal for the DULUTH’s other restoration needs

You can also donate by mail by sending a check to:

Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society
PO Box 358
North Freedom, WI 53951

Please be sure to write “DULUTH Sleeper” in your check memo line, in the online donation form, or in the special projects box of our printable donation form.

All donations are tax-deductible. Any donations received in excess of the Buy A Berth Fund Drive goal amount will be used to assist with other areas of the DULUTH’s restoration.

DULUTH Update – May 21, 2019

During a four-day work session held May 17-20, 2019 a total of 14 volunteers were on hand for one or more of the days to assist with several active projects in the Restoration Department. including the DULUTH.  A crew of five including Paul S., BG, Richard P., Bob R. and Bill B. installed the balance of the air piping for the car. This was a significant amount of work as it included not only the trainline (1in dia.) but it also included piping for the two conductor valves, the retainer, and the signal line. Combined the air system includes some 250 feet of pipe with numerous fittings and over a dozen custom pipe bends. A total of 150 man-hours were spent on fabricating and installing the piping under the car. By 5 p.m. on Sunday the system was tested with shop air. The test quickly revealed that there was a leak inside the car where the conductor valve had been removed when the car was a cabin. Once the open end was capped off the system was pressurized and there were no leaks to be found. This was a very significant accomplishment and a big step forward.

I really appreciate all of the help that we had this past session. It was a lot of work but very rewarding.

Bill Buhrmaster
MCRM Restoration Department