Train project gets on track
When train tracks nearly run into your building, may as well get a train, right?
Yes, but ...
The story of the train car that will be restored and again sit on tracks in the parking lot of Centennial Station — thanks to a donation from the Hayden-Harman Foundation — isn’t so simple.
A Pullman Palace sleeper train car named Aylesbury was moved to Centennial Station in the early 2000s, when the former railway freight depot was being renovated to become a dinner-theater and showroom venue. The train car, however, wasn’t part of the High Point Area Arts Council’s purchase of Centennial Station in late 2011.
Instead, Aylesbury, which is registered with the Smithsonian Institute, was shoved off the property, where it was used by vagrants and became a train topiary for weeds. It also was land-locked in the weeds. The tracks on which Aylesbury sits — the same tracks that run into the Centennial Station parking lot — are not the same gauge as those in current use, so the train car could not be returned to the main line.
It was on its way to being cut into pieces and sold for scrap metal when High Point train enthusiast Tracey Carpenter contacted Debbie Lumpkins, Arts Council director.
“It was a 98-year-old piece of history. We wanted to preserve it the same way the building (which dates back to the 1930s) has been preserved,” Lumpkins said.
“It was a one-shot deal,” said Sparky Stroud, an Arts Council board member who has been instrumental in upfitting Centennial Station. “Either we were going to save it, or it was going to go for scrap metal.”
One day several weeks ago, a man named Pat Harman walked into Centennial Station and asked about the train car, so Lumpkins gave him a tour and information on the car’s history. Shortly thereafter, Lumpkins received word that the Hayden-Harman Foundation would give a grant of $25,000 to be used to purchase and restore the car. The foundation was created to provide community support, and it most recently has been instrumental in efforts to restore the Washington Street area.
On a more personal level, the Harmans are train enthusiasts who frequent train museums and often go on train excursions. They also have an historical interest in and ties to the Washington Street-Centennial Station area.
Patrick Harman is executive director of the foundation. His parents are Pat and Phoebe Harman. His grandparents, Elizabeth and David Harman, created the foundation. And his great-grandparents, Velva and Jesse Hayden, founded North State Telephone in Thomasville in 1895 and expanded it into High Point in 1903.
“My great-grandparents lived where 200 Steele (furniture building near Centennial and Washington streets) is, so that kinda backed up to the railroad tracks. That’s what my dad says,” Patrick said. “You could be standing on the porch of my great-grandmother’s house and see (what now is) Centennial Station.
“Part of what we’re interested in is preserving history. ... And it was just a cool idea, kind of a throwback. There’s a symmetry to where the Arts Council is and Centennial Station being the old depot where so many worked. There’s a tie-in and homage to how High Point started with the railroad. This brings it all back together: the old family home, and North State even today is right across from the (current) depot.
“It kind of all runs together.”
Now Aylesbury can be partially restored to its original condition. Carpenter will sandblast the car inside and outside, and the outside will be painted in the original Pullman green, which is a dark, almost black, shade. Inside, it will be made clean and presentable, but it probably will be too costly to restore the original seats and beds, which still are there, Lumpkins said. The windows also will be replaced.
Arts Council leaders aren’t sure yet how the car will be used. Much of that decision will depend on permits from the city. Lumpkins envisions it being used as a gift shop showcasing works of local artists, and it might be rented for special occasions. Centennial Station is rented for wedding receptions and parties, providing income for the nonprofit Arts Council.
Stroud would like for the restoration of the car to be a community project, with donations of money, supplies or scrap metal.
The company for which he is vice president of manufacturing, Winter-Bell Co. on Brevard Street, will start efforts. Rick Lewis, president of Winter-Bell, agreed to pull up the train tracks — no longer the right gauge, sound familiar? — that previously were used to bring in materials into Winter-Bell.
Stroud estimates the tracks will yield 25,000 pounds of steel, which can be sold for 8-10 cents a pound.
The longer-term goal is to celebrate the birthday of the restored Aylesbury on Feb. 22, 2015.
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Built and named by Pullman Palace Car Company in Pullman, Ill.
Completed and went into service Feb. 22, 1915, as a 12-section sleeper car with a drawing room on one end. Fifty of these cars were built from the same blueprint. George Pullman photographed only one car from each lot of 50, so Aylesbury was not photographed. Another car built in the same lot, Namur, was photographed.
Registered with the Smithsonian Institute, National Museum of American History, Division of Transportation.
Assigned to the Santa Fe Railroad, Aylesbury’s regular route was from Chicago to Los Angeles, with stops at the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns.
Sold to Norfolk & Western Railroad in 1953 and assigned car number 521405, which still is visible on the side of the car.
Bought and moved to Centennial Station in the early 2000s.
— Compiled by Tracey Carpenter of High Point