Rebuild of ‘California Zephyr’ dome begins

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'Silver Club' undergoes restoration at The Friends of the 261 shop in Minneapolis.
Friends of the 261
MINNEAPOLIS – The Friends of the 261 has begun a rebuild of former California Zephyr dome buffet/lounge dormitory Silver Club for the Lake Superior Railroad Museum of Duluth. Friends Chief Operating Officer Steve Sandberg says work began immediately after the car was delivered to the group's shop in Minneapolis last week. The Museum has contracted with the Friends to install new mechanical systems, a heating/air conditioning system, mount new windows in the dome, and put new wheels beneath the car.

The Budd Co. built Burlington No. 250, the Silver Club,”in 1948 for the famous California Zephyr streamliner as a dormitory-buffet-lounge. As built, No. 250 had two dormitory rooms, one for the food steward, and one for the “Zephyrette,” who functioned as social directors, tour guides, babysitters, and nurses on the train. In the early 1960s the cars was rebuilt by the Burlington, which installed the “Cable Car Room,” a San Francisco themed lounge/food area under the dome.

No. 250 was sold to Amtrak in 1971 and renumbered 9810; it was retired in October 1981. After passing through several owners, it was purchased by Dirk Lenthe of Fargo, N.D., who donated it to the Museum in 2011.

Lake Superior Railroad Museum Executive Director Ken Buhler says the Friends will be working on new wiring for heating, and a two-system air conditioning unit (one for the dome, the other for the rest of the car) with dehumidifiers to keep the air conditioning from fogging up the dome. The wheels under the car now are loaners and will be replaced by new wheels being prepared for the car in Chicago, Buhler adds. All new dome windows have been cut and molded and will be installed in Minneapolis.

After the Friends complete electrical, wheel and other work, the car will be returned to Duluth for interior work. The car has essentially been gutted, so the Museum will have to design and install an all-new interior.

BNSF Railway has donated many parts for the interior of the car from its stores in Topeka, Kan., such as toilets, seats, chairs, tables, couches, cabinetry, and kitchen appliances. Buhler says the plan is to install a lounge on one end of the lower level, a kitchen/service area under the dome, and tables and chairs in the other end of the car. The dome will remain as it was in regular service with coach chairs for scenic viewing.

Buhler says the car is on a “fast track” for completion, but no date has been set for finishing the work. When complete, the car will be used on the museum’s 26-mile North Shore Scenic Railroad between Duluth and Two Harbors.

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