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Friends of Stewartstown Railroad bringing century-old rail coach back to life

Bill Kalina
York Dispatch
Dave Watson, president of the nonprofit Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad, Inc., stands inside a renovated 1923 rail passenger coach Thursday, June 18, 2020. He and members of his group are currently renovating a 1922 coach. Bill Kalina photo

The din of a tool and sandpaper grinding rusted steel reverberated inside the empty 1922 rail passenger coach Dave Watson is refurbishing.

The president of the nonprofit Friends of the Stewartstown Railroad Inc., as well as a director at the for-profit Stewartstown Railroad, Watson has been working on the car for the past couple of years.

The group of 200 Friends are preservationists and railroad enthusiasts who maintain all aspects of the railroad — track, cars, engine — and host public train rides.

“We’re all in it together to try to make things happen,” Watson said, noting the Friends are helping with the restoration of the rail car, which is expected to take 25,000 hours to complete.

Work on the car is being  funded through a $10,000 grant from the John H. Emery Rail Heritage Trust.

With the extensive welding repair work done, the current task is prepping interior surfaces for a coat of primer. Installing upgraded upholstery, new windows and fresh paint are next on the list.

It will join the current fleet that includes a 1923 coach, caboose, engine, four motorcars and an open-air car.

The equipment is used for 2-mile, 45-minute round-trip passenger excursions to the village of Tolna, just east of Shrewsbury.

The motor cars, which were used to transfer rail workers to sites along the tracks, will fit a handful of people and can make the three-hour round-trip to New Freedom. Watson said it's great for a family outing.

The Stewartstown Railroad, a “short-line” railroad, is one of the oldest operating railroad companies. Starting in 1885, it provided passenger and freight service around the farming community in southern York County. It was shut down after Hurricane Agnes in 1972 and reopened in 1985. Now it runs paid passenger excursions about three times a month from May through December.

The railroad, which is on pandemic-related hiatus, is planning a reopening July 18-19 with motorcar trips to New Freedom. The railroad will host open-air and caboose rides the following weekend.

Watson said anyone is welcome to help with the project of renovating the old coach.

"We need help with sanding, painting, wood work and welding," he said. People interested in helping can contact Watson at dmw280@gmail.com.