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In Memory Of

The Incomplete Saga of
Southern Office Car 16

By Thomas Klobas - Arizona Railway Museum

Editors note - The car will be open for visitation at the Arizona Railway Museum starting December 15, 2012. If you have any information about the car, please contact the Arizona Railway Museum.
Pictures of the car are at the end of this story.

This is a story.  But it has no end - at least not so far.  The subject of this story is a standard gauge railroad business car.  Oral testimony says it was built in 1879 in Worcester, MA.  By whom and for whom are unknown.  What we do know is that in 1995, this car came into the possession of the Arizona Railway Museum in Chandler, AZ.  It was donated by the family of its last owner upon his death.

The car has a wood frame with wood siding and side sills but steel center and end sills.  It also has steel sheathing covering its exterior which is painted in Southern Railway green.  It bears the number 16 and is adorned with the name “Desert Valley.”  It is 73 feet long (coupler to coupler) and 10 feet wide.  It has two three-axle trucks equipped with plain journals, and a vestibule platform with stairs at one end.  The interior is divided into a lounge area, two bedrooms, a lavatory, a dining room, a galley and crew quarters.  It possesses an ice storage area under the car together with a fully intact DC electrical cabinet.  It also shows the addition of a roof-top radio antenna.  The car is completely furnished although none of the furniture appears to be of original vintage. 

My task?  Try to find out as much as possible about the history of this car, a car of obvious Southern lineage but which finds itself seriously miss-located to the Arizona desert, a thousand miles from any past affiliate of the Southern Railway.  Why?  This car deserves to be nominated for placement on the National Historic Register.  But who built it?  For whom?  And when and where?  This is the story of that search – one of nationwide scope which has consumed nearly three years and for which I have experienced both joyous discoveries and soul crushing disappointments.  But it is foremost the story of developing relationships with a legion of thoughtful and helpful people who have a love and understanding of all things historical.  With their continued help, I may one day be able to write the last chapter of this story.

The Beginning: Rumor and Disappointment

No documentary records accompanied the donation of this car to the Museum.  The only information was through word-of-mouth which mentioned that the car came to the Southern from the South Carolina and Georgia Railroad, an early Southern predecessor.  Physical examination of the car provided only one clue as to its origin: the original wood siding underlying the steel sheathing did not appear to be the yellow pine authorities describe as indicative of southern wood car manufacturing techniques.

The internet has proven to be a god-send for investigations of this type.  However needing records that were well over a century old, this resource often demonstrated its limitations.  We began with the assumption that the car was the product of Pullman manufacture.

The car building records of the Pullman Corporation (then called the Pullman Palace Car Company) happen to be some of the most accessible, organized and comprehensive collection of private business records available to the public.  With the able assistance of archivists at the Newberry Library in Chicago as well as the Illinois Railroad Museum in Union, IL, their respective collections were searched for any record of a wood business car built in Worchester, MA in 1879.  Even with the understanding that many early Pullman cars of that era were built by others under contract for Pullman, nothing surfaced.  Even more disappointing, it seems that Pullman manufacture at Worcester did not begin until the 1930s when it merged with Standard Steel Car Company.  Thus began the first of a long line of disappointments.  Was the date wrong?  Was Pullman not involved?  Was Worchester the proper birthplace?  It was time to look elsewhere.

You Can Almost Smell Success

The next step was to search for records which might detail its history with the Southern Railway.  For this reason I made contact with George Eichelberger of the Southern Railway Historical Association in Atlanta, GA.  From “Ike”, I learned that the Southern Railway records are not all in one place and many of those that exist are not very well catalogued.  This was especially true for passenger car records, including “office” cars as the Southern dubbed its business varnish.  However both he and Tim Andrews, now of the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga, TN, served as knowledgeable sources of information that helped me to understand many of the Southern’s traditions regarding the handling, numbering, modification and assignment of its office cars.

Major help was provided by links associated with the SRHA website, particularly those attributed to Allen Stanley and Tom Daspit.  From those links, I was able to obtain car diagrams, roster re-numberings, and executive assignments for these cars.  I was now able, with only occasional breaks, to follow the history of #16 from its origin as South Carolina & Georgia #101 and later as Southern #115, #111, #11 (in 1912), #9 (in 1920), #6 (in 1921), and finally #16 (in 1946 until its retirement in 1967).  I was also able to learn how the Southern did a major rebuild of the car in 1924 installing steel center and end sills along with steel sheathing over the exterior wood siding.  Three wheel trucks were installed in 1924, an ice-activated air conditioning system in 1939, and a radio antenna system in 1955.   And finally confirmation that it was built in 1879!!  My joy knew no bounds.

Builder?  None was listed on any of the documents.  It was just lumped with the other aged wooden office queens, in report after report, under the category “various builders”, a term I truly came to hate.  But I could not conceive of submitting anything to the National Register without including who built the dang thing!

The Great Builder Hunt

Well, how many car builders could there have been in 1879?  Dozens and dozens it turns out.  The internet proved useful here.  For example the resource entitled “Railway Car Builders of North America” at http://www.midcontinent.org/rollingstock/list/bldr_list_O.htm#O proved most helpful if not a bit depressing.  Why not try Worcester, MA?

The major car builder at Worcester in 1879, (and later absorbed into Standard Steel Car and then into Pullman) was Osgood Bradley.  Using the services of the Worcester City Library Information Desk, I was able to determine that early corporate records for Osgood Bradley are maintained in the Baker Library at Harvard Business School.  Contact with the Baker librarian determined that car construction records for 1879 were missing!!  They had been sent in the 1950s to an unnamed museum in Oklahoma.  Rats, another dead end.

Back to searching for other records.  How about anything to do with the South Carolina & Georgia Railroad?  The SHRA didn't have any but the Southern’s successor might.  It was time to contact the Norfolk Southern.  Internet searching revealed that those records were reportedly kept at Virginia Tech University at Blacksburg, VA.  Turns out they were but are no longer there.  The University’s archivist reported that the records had been reclaimed by NS and that they may not be easy to access.

An old friend of the Museum, the late Fred Springer of Santa Fe, NM, thought he might be able to help.  He referred me to an NS executive with a love of railroad history, Bill Schaefer.  Mr. Schaefer, who recently retired from the NS, put me in contact with the NS chief archivist, who after indicating he would begin his search “next week”, promptly resigned.  (I began to harbor the thought that this search was truly cursed.)  However after a period of time had elapsed, the archivist position was filled by Jennifer McDaid who was able to resume the search once she determined where the South Carolina and Georgia archives were located.  Alas, nothing related to the business car was found despite a thorough search of documents in two archive locations.  Bummer.

Interviews with John White, passenger car historian extraordinaire, and Southern Railway historian Professor H. Roger Grant of Clemson University were unable to provide any direct information to assist me.  I was getting a little bit desperate at this point.

Interstate 101

A side note is in order at this point.  According to Poor’s Annuals for the period, the South Carolina and Georgia had two business cars on its roster prior to its merger with the Southern in 1899.  The second one, reportedly built in 1870, went on to become the famous Interstate 101 now doing duty as a tourist information center in Big Stone Gap, VA.  That car has strikingly similar characteristics to the Desert Valley, but attempts to clarify its origin have also led to inconclusive results.

South Carolina & Georgia Railroad

With the Norfolk Southern archives having provided no help, it was time to look at what other records might exist for the SC&G.  It is the subject of a 1975 book, “Centennial History of the South Carolina Railroad”, by Samuel M. Derrick.  Examination of the book reveals no mention of their business cars but does detail that the railroad’s gauge until 1886 was 5’4”, a fact which may have impacted when and from whom their business car #101 was obtained. 

Inquiries to several historical groups and libraries in South Carolina, including one which was the repository for Mr. Derrick’s papers, led nowhere.


So How Did a Car Like You End Up in Arizona?

As I described earlier, the Southern Railway’s records are a scattered lot.  The SHRA and the NS only hold a portion of them.  Another source is the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History in Kennesaw, GA.  Assistant Archivist Daniel Pete was able to locate SR executive correspondence detailing the retirement of Office Car #16 in 1967 and its subsequent sale (with several others) to the Houston Sports Association for $10,000 each.  That group is believed to have had the famous politician, and sports and entertainment mogul Judge Roy Hofheinz among its major participants.  Hofheinz, for whom the terms “colorful” and “flamboyant” were made to order, was described by his biographer as a major collector of various items.  Apparently this included railroad cars.  Some rumors indicated that he was attempting to develop a railroad oriented resort complex to be adjacent to his Astrodome and Astroworld properties in Houston.  Those plans never reached fruition and apparently that failure resulted in the dispersal of the cars to various purchasers - possibly in the late 1970s.  One of these, Southern #16, was sold to the Phoenix Cotton Pickery and relocated to Arizona.  In 1982, it was purchased by Mr. Russell Joslin who used it as a personal office and christened it with the name “Desert Valley”.  Upon his death, his family donated it to the Arizona Railway Museum.   

End of Story?

I hope not.  I still harbor the hope, perhaps better described as a delusion, that somewhere in some dusty and yellowed document in the hands of an elderly former railroad employee, or in the mildewed and long-forgotten volumes of a bankruptcy proceeding (the SC&G went through more than one), or in some uncataloged batch of undistinguished papers given to a museum by family members of a deceased rail fan is the answer, the holy grail of this quest – just who built Office Car 16?

Anyone who feels they might be able to assist in this quest is encouraged to contact the author via the Arizona Railway Museum at www.azrymuseum.org.

Photo by Tom Klobas the Desert Valley.

Photo by Tom Klobas the Desert Valley platform.

The hallway between the kitchen and dinning area.

The kitchen.

Crew quarters. Not much space either

The dinning area. In the back is a Murphy bed.

An example of the type of china used on the car.

Hallway to the lounge.

Bedroom A the larger of the two.

Bedroom B.

The lounge area platform to your back.

The lounge area facing the platform.


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