Out with the old, in with the new–carpet

By May 30, 2019Features

By Jim Lilly, CMO, Washington DC Chapter NRHS

We all enjoy a fine piece of restored rolling stock, especially when it operates. The heavyweight Pullman parlor car Dover Harbor, owned by the DC Chapter NRHS, carries passengers at up to 100 mph while offering a fine recreation of the first class service of yesteryear. This article, reproduced with permission from the Timetable newsletter, recaps the volunteer grunt work needed to replace the car’s carpets. Unglamorous, but necessary.

In 1953 Pullman Company records show that the carpet on the Dover Harborwas replaced with a style of carpet called C&O – presumably Chesapeake & Ohio. To the best of my knowledge, this is the same carpet, and certainly the same style, that was on the car when the Chapter purchased it in 1979, a heavy bound brown wool carpet with six in square patterns of flowers bordered with black, each square approximately 6.5 inches wide.

By 1993 the Dover Harbor was back in mainline service, Amtrak qualified, and the carpet was beginning to really show its age. The prior summer Hurricane Andrew had ravaged Miami and sent a steel girder through the side of another heavyweight car, the CloverColony, at the Gold Coast Railway Museum. At the time it was thought that that car would be scrapped. As fate would have it, its owner had had new wool carpet made in Europe that matched the Dover Harbor’s. Given the desperate and seemingly dire situation of the CloverColony, the carpet was sold as excess to the Chapter for $10,000. Bernie Gallagher and the Mechanical Committee arranged for it to be shipped via Amtrak Express to Washington, D.C.

From there the four massive rolls of carpet (each 161’ long and 26” wide) were taken to a warehouse. The bound carpet in the bedrooms, lounge, and hallway of the Dover Harborwas taken loose from the grommet pegs, rolled up, removed from the car, and also taken to the warehouse. A friend of Bernie’s, Denny, a professional carpet installer, then used the old carpet as a pattern to seam together the new carpet for the entire car. In total there was one big piece for the lounge approximately 9’ x 31’, a piece for the hallway, and one piece for each of the six bedrooms. Denny then had the carpet bound and installed it on the car. Bernie made new grommets and secured it to the pegs. The project consumed almost two of the four new rolls. The remaining rolls were stored on baggage car No. 171 at Dover Park.

Denny remarked at the time that it was hard work and he was glad he would not have to do it again in his lifetime. I remember the first time I walked onto the Dover Harbor shortly after the new carpet was installed. It was stunning; the new carpet pile was of course thicker, it was a perfect beautiful match for the old, and the colors were breathtakingly vivid. I imagined that same feeling had last been experienced by Pullman employees in the Company Shops in South Chicago forty years earlier.

Fast forward to 2018: the replacement carpet had been through 25 years of steam excursions, Amtrak-hosted Chapter trips and private charters, NRHS Conventions, New River Trains, National Train Day and Manassas Railway Festival open houses, and Dinners on the Dover. It had been patched in a couple of spots, but all in all was pretty much worn out in the lounge, especially in the aisle way.

So in early January of this year, I made a phone call, once again, to Bernie’s friend Denny, to ask him to do something he had never imagined he would have to help us with again:  put Pullman carpet in the Dover Harbor. It might sound simple, but it never seems to work out that way with our Pullman projects. For starters, to replace the carpet you have to take ALL the furniture out of the lounge and off the car. That’s no easy feat, though the original Pullman furniture we have was designed to fit, just barely, around the lounge partition and through the vestibule door. Donna Dolan made a fantastic suggestion that we rent a storage unit at a nearby business. About a dozen volunteers worked to empty the lounge and get the furniture (all but the credenza) off the car and then used a rental truck to haul the furniture to its temporary home.

Dover Harbor furniture temporarily stored.

The next weekend we rolled up the old lounge carpet and loaded it into Denny’s van. We (about six of us) also wrestled with getting one of the carpet rolls (estimated weight 500 pounds) off the baggage car and moving it about 300 feet over ballast and dirt to a pickup truck. Then we drove the materials to a warehouse in Columbia.

Over the next three weeks Denny repeated his effort from 25 years earlier, using the old used carpet as a template to put together the new piece of lounge carpet and then taking it to a bindery.

The new carpeting with attachment grommets.

February 9 was a big day. Denny brought the new carpet (and padding) to Dover Park. He also brought back remnants of the roll as well as some sections salvaged from the old carpet. It took about six volunteers to get the carpet up into the car, which was not easy. It was 9 feet long, several feet thick, and had to be bent to go around the turns. Then, while Denny was rolling out the new carpet, about 10 of us, with four pickup trucks and a trailer, went to get the furniture. By the end of the day the new carpet was down and the furniture was back in place. The vivid, fresh colors stoked old memories for me.

Before…furniture and old carpet removed from the lounge. Note the concrete floor.

After…new carpeting installed.

It would take another week, though, for us to figure out how to cut the holes for and make the grommets that hold the carpet in place at key points. That was a job Bernie did 25 years ago and it fell to me this time. It would take another two weeks or so to get the lounge fully back together and all the odds and ends that were temporarily stored in the bedrooms back in their rightful places. In all the project cost us about $2,200, plus the carpet we already had “in stock”, which has a value of at least $4,400 today. I encourage you to come out and see our “New” lounge carpet!

Author’s Note: The Clover Colony, built in 1929 by Pullman had previously intertwined itself with the fate of the Dover Harbor back in the 1950s. In the late 1940s ownership of most Pullman cars had been transferred to the railroads, which operated them as part of an anti-trust settlement with the U.S. Government. But on April 7, 1958, ownership of the Dover Series cars was transferred back to the Pullman Company. Pullman, having realized the value of the design features of the Dover Series cars, had negotiated with the various railroads to trade a series of Clover cars, including the Clover Colony (8-section, 5-double bedroom), for the Dover Series cars. As fate would have it, the Clover Colony was not scrapped after Hurricane Andrew damaged it so severely. It was eventually put back together and is today part of the fleet of operating equipment at the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum in Chattanooga.


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