World's first dome car wins Trains Preservation Award

The Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum in Bellevue, Ohio, will use the $10,000 award to restore the dome on 'Silver Dome'
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MINNEAPOLIS — Trains magazine has awarded its $10,000 2017 Preservation Award to the Mad River & NKP Railroad Museum in Bellevue, Ohio, for the restoration of the dome on America’s first dome car, Chicago, Burlington & Quincy’s Silver Dome.

The award was announced at the Heritage Rail Alliance’s annual meeting in Minneapolis on Oct. 7.

The grant will sponsor restoration of the dome, specifically focusing on replacement of trim and plexiglass which have discolored with time. Work on the dome coincides with the museum’s effort to restore the entire car, including reupholstery, carpeting, and window sill work.

The award was made from nearly 40 applicants in this, the 18th year, for Trains’ $10,000 grant.

“Museums and tourist groups submitted a variety of strong proposals from across the country; locomotives, passenger cars, freight cars, archives — we saw it all,” says Trains Associate Editor Steve Sweeney. “We chose to support Mad River this year to encourage their efforts to stabilize, then restore the world’s first dome car for future generations. That it exists at all is a tribute to early Mad River members who rescued Silver Dome from an uncertain fate in the 1970s.”

“The Silver Dome is, without a doubt, the most historically significant piece of equipment in our collection and the restoration is sorely needed,” says Chris Beamer, Mad River president. “Trains’ preservation award has given us a virtual shot-in-the-arm and will take us a long way toward the end goal.”

Cyrus Osborn, a General Motors vice president, first thought of the concept of a dome car while riding the cab of an F unit on the Rio Grande through Colorado in 1944. His dome idea was incorporated into the four-car GM Train of Tomorrow, completed in 1947. Meanwhile, the Burlington modified 1940 stainless steel coach Silver Alchemy at its Aurora, Ill., shops. When the car, renamed Silver Dome, re-entered service in 1945 on Burlington’s Chicago to Minneapolis Twin Cities Zephyr, passengers loved the experience and encouraged the Burlington and about a dozen other railroads to place orders for their own dome cars. And those orders gave birth to an all-new train travel experience that we still cherish today.

Silver Dome passed into Amtrak hands in 1971, but it soon was sidelined as surplus equipment. Mad River bought the car at auction in 1978 and has since placed it under a shed to keep it from further damage.

Mad River officials and Trains will provide updates on dome work on the car throughout 2018.

More information about the museum is available online.
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