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Coal car gets new life at Restoration Center RR Museum works with Renton on project

Richard Anderson, Elizabeth Stewart, Sara Iles and Bill Hall admire a restored 1.5-ton coal car. The project was a collaboration between the Renton Historical Museum and Northwest Railway Museum.  - Jenny Manning / Snoqualmie Valley Record
Richard Anderson, Elizabeth Stewart, Sara Iles and Bill Hall admire a restored 1.5-ton coal car. The project was a collaboration between the Renton Historical Museum and Northwest Railway Museum.
— image credit: Jenny Manning / Snoqualmie Valley Record

It seems everyone wants a face-lift these days — even historic coal cars.

The aging rail car that long sat in front of the Renton Historical Museum fell into such disrepair that it was moved off-site to a storage facility, where it sat until the museum decided to do a full reconstruction of the large artifact.

Although the car, which was originally used in the Black Diamond mines, has not been on display for some years, “People remember the coal car and are excited to have it come back,” Museum Supervisor Elizabeth Stewart said.

The Renton museum partnered with the Northwest Railway Museum to reconstruct the car at the Conservation and Restoration Facility (CRC) with grant funding from 4Culture Heritage Special Projects.

“Traditionally, museums did not work together. We viewed each other as competition,” Stewart said. “I think that’s really changing.”

In January 2008, that change got underway as the Northwest Railway Museum began work on the car. The restoration took place at the Northwest Railway Museum’s CRC, an 8,200- square-foot facility that allows museum staff and volunteers to work on a variety of objects from coal cars to steam locomotives in an indoor, weather-protected setting.

Since the opening of the CRC, staff and volunteers have completed three major restoration projects, the most recent being the coal car, which required about 300 hours of work to complete. In comparison, the inaugural project, the restoration of the 001 Caboose, required about 5,000 hours of work. A side dump car has also been restored at the facility.

Noting the contrast between the two museums, Collections Manager Sarah Iles said the sheer size of the coal car project seemed insurmountable. But, with the help of the Northwest Railway Museum, the project seemed easy in comparison to the caboose restoration.

The coal car project has opened communication between the two museums for further collaborative projects, Stewart said.

Historically accurate restoration is just as important as the collaboration, said Northwest Railway Museum Executive Director Richard Anderson.

“Now we’re educating the Secretary of the Interior about standards that can and should be applied to historic artifacts,” he said.

With more and more museums deciding to work together, the organizations can pool their resources to create more historically accurate representations of newly restored artifacts.

The coal car will remain at the CRC until it returns to the Renton History Museum, where it will take permanent residence in the museum’s main gallery in late August.

More information about the coal car and the Renton History Museum can be found at www.rentonhistory.org.

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