Fire destroys 120-year-old railcar slated for restoration in Galena

A purported arson fire Tuesday destroyed an 1899 passenger railcar in Galena, Kansas, slated to begin restoration as a future tourist attraction along Route 66.

Former Galena mayor Dale Oglesby stated in a Facebook post the former presidential railcar from the Kansas City Southern Railway contained hand-laid mosaic tile showers, a kitchen, a dining room, a library and a parlor. 

Oglesby said the railcar soon would have been placed on newly built rails, after which restoration would have been slated to begin “within weeks.”

The railcar sat near the old Eagle Picher smelting plant along old Route 66 on the north side of town.

Renee Charles, a Galena city clerk and co-founder of the landmark Cars on the Route, stated in a text message the railcar would have been converted into hotel rooms.

“It’s a loss for the entire region, and another example of the senseless destruction of irreplaceable history,” Oglesby wrote. “It is a total loss, and equipment will be moved in next week to cut up the remaining metal. So sad …”

Here’s the Facebook post in question:

In a follow-up comment, Oglesby said:

This presidential rail car weighs right at 250,000 pounds. It could not be safely restored until it was placed back on rail. The rail siding had to be built. Everything about this type of work is difficult, expensive, and dangerous. While it is true these cars were moved in three years ago, construction on the siding begin this spring. This was a piece of history I thought was worth saving, and I knew it would likely take me years to get it done. Just moving the car in cost in excess of $30,000.00. I was optimistic restoration work could begin this fall. … I have to admit, I am a bit discouraged today. Someone commented on how long the car was just sitting here and now would be a real eyesore, so I needed to add this explanation.

As mayor, Oglesby shepherded a revitalization of Galena’s Route 66 downtown district that included streetscaping and resurfacing that helped draw new businesses to that once-depressed area.

UPDATE 7/30/2020: The Joplin Globe published more details about the railcar and the fire.

Oglesby and a friend invested thousands of dollars in the railroad car, planning to restore it into a hotel/motel for travelers and add it as a Route 66 tourist attraction. After walking through it Wednesday morning, he told the Globe that it’s doubtful that the car can be saved without a total gut and start from scratch. The owners had invested more than $35,000 in the car to transport it and unload it from Kansas City to Galena.
“It’s not my loss. It’s not my friend’s loss. It’s a loss to Route 66 and tourism,” he said. […]
“It’s just heartbreaking,” he said. “A lot of money has been spent in getting that car ready to go, but it’s more about the loss of the piece of history. It’s not about the financial setback. It was such a historic piece that was irreplaceable, and that’s the tragedy of it.”

(Hat tip to Renee Charles)

2 thoughts on “Fire destroys 120-year-old railcar slated for restoration in Galena

  1. Utterly sickening. Arson ranks along with murder as crimes that deserve true life jail sentences. As for the “local well known firebug”, just what sentences have judges given him (I presume the person is male) for past malicious destruction by fire of other people’s property? Arsonism is a crime on a par with illegal sexual activity – it is deep in the person’s mind and can never be eradicated. So often what is destroyed by arsonists is irreplaceable. It seems that is what drives arsonists. The recent destruction of the 17 century organ and other damage to the cathedral in Nantes, France, by an arsonist is another example of destroying the irreplaceable. What sentence will the rail car arsonist?

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