Century-old railroad car to find new use along trail in West Newton
The 101-year-old railroad car that has stood vacant along the Great Allegheny Passage in West Newton for a few years is getting a new life — one that the volunteers renovating it hope will tell a story of the region's history and sites along the recreational trail, as well as serving as an exhibition spot for area artists.
“We have a vision for what we want. We want people who are using the trail to have a place for a respite. We want to preserve a piece of history,” said Sandra Cover of North Belle Vernon, a retired Belle Vernon Area teacher and member of the Belle Vernon Area Rotary Club, which is spearheading the project along with the West Newton Rotary Club.
About 10 Rotary Club members are working to refurbish the 1914 Pittsburgh & Lake Erie Railroad Co. car, which has been located next to the West Newton Trail Station since it was moved from the Buddtown area of West Newton on Earth Day 1999.
The cost of renovating the 75-foot combination baggage and passenger car — a new interior and exterior paint job and 24 new double-hung windows, could be between $10,00 and $12,000, excluding painting and possible repairs to the roof, said Sam Cover, a former Belle Vernon Area Rotary Club president and Sandra Cover's husband. He hopes to have it completed by late fall.
Since April, the volunteers have been cleaning the interior and scraping old paint from the railroad car in preparation for a new paint job and 24 new windows, Sandra Cover said. Old photographs and shelving units had to be removed, as well as other miscellaneous items.
The tiled floor in the baggage compartment has been painted forest green and the floor of the passenger compartment will get the same treatment, Sandra Cover said. Papier-mache forms of trees trunks to show the four seasons of the trail will be attached to the wall and ceiling of the 39-foot baggage car, she added.
On a rear door in the baggage compartment, Belle Vernon area artist Francine Mendicino will paint a picture of a coke oven, Sandra Cover said.
On the floor of the railroad car, Mendicino will paint a map of the riverside trail from the Allegheny-Westmoreland border south to the former Pittsburgh Coal and Coke Co. ovens a few miles north of Connellsville, Cover said. In addition to marking the towns along that stretch of the trail, the design will note various features, including the West Newton Cemetery and sites in Rostraver such as the Banning No. 4 Mine, the Cedar Creek gorge and Port Royal tufa, a mound that formed at the mouth of a mineral rich spring and may be 12,000 years old.
The passenger compartment will have tables similar to a dining car where trail visitors car read information about the various sites along the trail from Sutersville to near Connellsville. The map will have numbers corresponding to the descriptions of the sites, Cover said.
To reinforce what trail visitors might learn inside the railroad car, Cover said she would like to see signposts placed along the trail to correspond with the numbered sites on the map.
The Covers envision a space in the baggage compartment for local artists to display their pictures, paintings and sign books.
The wood-framed Plexiglas windows installed in an earlier renovation have rotted on the outside and the Plexiglas has clouded over, diminishing the view of the outside. Rather than replace the wooden frames and Plexiglas, only to face the same problem in the future, the Rotary Club has opted for vinyl double hung windows that will cost about $6,000, Sam Cover said.
They want to paint the exterior sides of the railroad car green, leaving the roof black, said Cover, who is a volunteer with the Over The Hill Gang, a group that helps to maintain a section of the trail in West Newton and Rostraver.
Refurbishing the roof poses its own set of problems because of the possibility some of the roof has rusted, Sam Cover said.
One option would be to cover the roof with another coat of paint then conduct fund raising events to get enough money to redo the roof, which could cost $10,000 if some of the metal needs to be replace, he said.
New use for rail car
The railroad car is to be used for trail-related activities like those planned by the Rotary clubs, said Leslie Pierce, manager of the West Newton Trail Station.
The Regional Trail Corp., a nonprofit organization that develops and manages trails in southwestern Pennsylvania, owns both the trail station and the railroad car.
Several years ago, the railroad car was to serve as the Youghiogheny River Environment and Education Center, which was to provide educational and environmental opportunities for students and the public to learn about the trail and river as an education and recreational resource.
But, those supporting that initiative had difficulty acquiring funding for the program.
“It never got off the ground,” Pierce said.
“It's just a shame to let it (railroad car) go. It's never been utilized for what it was intended to be — for education purposes,” said Frank Jaworowski of West Newton, president of the Belle Vernon Area Rotary Club.
Part of the railroad car had been used by Betsy Manderino of West Newton for two years as her photo studio, but she said she closed it two years ago.
The Regional Trail Corp. wants to make sure the railroad car is not going to be used for commercial purposes, Pierce said.
“We're glad to help out to make it useful again,” Jaworowski said.
Once the railroad car is renovated, the Rotary clubs may help maintain the facility, but how and who will staff the railroad car has not yet been determined, he said.
Renovating the railroad car is indicative of the members' interest in the Great Allegheny Passage, which they have made “their favorite project,” Jaworowski said.
“We think the trail is one of the biggest assets to come into the (Youghiogheny River) valley in a very long time. We have to protect it and maintain it for the long term,” he said.
The trail has attracted riders from around the world, including one from Paris, whom he met in a West Newton restaurant, Jaworowski said.
With the lure of biking, walking and riding on the Great Allegheny Passage, “West Newton is becoming more of a tourist town,” he said.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or email@example.com.