SALAMANCA — Renovations are moving along at the Salamanca Rail Museum, but the big anticipation is four railroad cars purchased by the Costello brothers that will add a new attraction to the museum’s activities and be on permanent display.
Chris Costello, who serves as secretary on the museum’s board, said he bought two of the four cars. He created a 501c3 group called the Erie Business Car Society that now owns the cars and donated them to the museum.
Costello’s brother, Michael, board vice president, bought the two other cars he plans to eventually donate to the museum. All four cars need work and the brothers are restoring the cars themselves.
Both brothers are passionate about anything “railroad,” which, Chris Costello said, probably comes from their family history and has reinforced their interest in the Erie Railroad.
“It’s in our blood. Our grandfather and great-uncle were section foremen and both worked for the Erie Railroad out of Carlton,” he said. “Our passion could also be because we grew up literally right next to the tracks in Kill Buck. I live in Rochester now, but my brother still lives in Kill Buck.”
One of Costello’s purchases was “Erie 1,” a luxury business car built in Chicago in 1929. He said it’s the only all-steel business car built specifically for the Erie Railroad and was used by multiple presidents of the Erie between 1929 and 1972.
Costello said it’s plainer than a lot of other business cars but it has a kitchen, servants’ quarters, a dining room, bedroom, full bathroom, sitting room and an observation platform on the back.
“I’ve been working on it for the past three years, but it’s been going slow because it’s located out in Indiana,” he said. “My plan has always been to get it back to Salamanca, so I can work on it more than just once a month for a weekend.”
According to Costello, the business car is different from most because it’s built with all steel on the inside — even the woodwork is steel. While sandblasting and cleaning the interior, he was surprised when he uncovered some of the original faux-wood grain hidden behind a speaker box.
Unfortunately, someone painted over most of the wood grain, but he plans to restore the faux-wood finish.
His second car is a “troop sleeper” from World War II that basically looks like a boxcar with windows and was used for three or four years. His was bought by the Erie Railroad and converted into a workshop-type car for the signal department.
Costello said his brother bought a flat car and a wooden caboose. Although the origin of the flat car is unknown, they think it might be a Pittsburgh, Lisbon and Western Railroad car. His second car is a Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad wooden caboose.
The plan is to move two of the four cars to Salamanca and park them on the track they already have in place. Costello said the flat car, wooden caboose and troop sleeper are currently in Youngstown, Ohio. They expect the flat car and troop sleeper to be in Salamanca by mid-March. He said they hope to have the wooden caboose on site by summer.
“The Western New York and Pennsylvania Railroad (WNYP) donated the rails and ties, which was amazing of them,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much that helped us out.”
Costello said the Erie 1 will be in Salamanca by May 11. He said the date is significant because May 10, 1929, is when the car was first delivered to the Erie Railroad. They are having a party at the museum May 11 to not only celebrate the cars being there but to mainly celebrate the Erie 1’s 90th birthday.
On that day, he plans to have the business car open to the public for a pre-restoration tour. After that, the car will be closed off to the public while it’s being restored.
“It’ll take at least two or three years to get our train running. Once we get it going, we’ll have an engine and a few cars for people to ride, which will be a bigger draw to the museum,” he said. “We plan to convert the flat car into an open-air car for people to ride and we’re trying to get some additional track for it to run on.”
Director Jaré Cardinal said the museum received a grant from Cattaraugus County that helps the museum stay open, which is why they’re able to get the cars.
“The big thing is the cars are coming in, but people shouldn’t expect them to be pristine looking,” she said. “The fun part is they can watch the progress as the cars are being restored at the museum.”
According to Cardinal, the Seneca Nation of Indians did a feasibility study for them for the railroad and part of that includes an excursion train. She said until they get the cars ready for use and some track down, they will probably use the flat car as a stage for events.
Cardinal said they got a proposal from Elise Johnson-Schmidt, AIA, an architectural historian at Johnson-Schmidt & Associates in Corning. She’s applying for a preservation grant to do the freight house and the station.
“It will not only get the buildings on the national register, but we will also be able to come up with a plan that preserves the integrity of the architecture and make it more useable,” she said. “Our goal is to be feasibly solid. The grant will help us move that part of the project forward, so we can convert the freight house into the museum.”
According to Cardinal, all the exhibits and models will be moved to the freight house, which they plan to have climate-controlled. The building where the museum is currently housed will be a combined welcoming center, a gift shop and hobby shop featuring railroad hobby accessories.
“We are nicknaming it the ‘Gobby Shop,’ which is a combination of hobby and gift. We want our little mascot to be called ‘Gobby.’
Cardinal said students from the Salamanca High School were invited to submit a design for a logo and mascot. They have three finalists and she’s taking their submissions to the Hamburg Hobby Show to get people’s feedback on them.
“The winner will get a $100 prize. Once I get the feedback, the board will name the winner and I will do some sort of presentation at the school,” she said. “The logo and mascot will be the new thing at the museum when it opens April 1.”
Find out more on the Facebook pages of the Salamanca Rail Museum, Friends of the Salamanca Rail Museum and Erie Business Car Society.
(Contact press reporter Deb Everts at firstname.lastname@example.org)