BLOOMINGTON — A pair of seven-ton train trucks were motionless for so long in Monticello that a tree grew and embedded itself into one of its frames.
David Parker, 37, purchased from the Monticello Railroad Museum earlier this year the same trucks and train wheels that once carried a 111-year-old Illinois Terminal Company sleeper. He said he’s considering against removing the log from the chassis.
Bloomington owner of historic train car hopes for B&B renovation
With the help of hired crews, the Bloomington man on Tuesday hauled the trucks from Piatt County to his Bloomington home off of Historic U.S. Route 66, inching another railroad tie closer to his goal of renovating his historic sleeper car.
Kolton Powars, manager and operator with Lugari Truck Service & Towing in Decatur, worked the crane that loaded Parker’s haul. Mike Warmbrod, also of Decatur, came out of a retirement to drive the semi-truck and train trucks to Bloomington.
Both were intrigued by the historic load, adding they’ve hauled train cars for the railroad museum before. Warmbrod said he saw parts of the museum for the first time on Tuesday.
Parker acquired the chassis from the museum for $100, a price which he described as practically a donation. He said its value in scrap metal alone is worth about $6,000.
But to Parker, preventing a piece of history from being junked is “priceless,” he said.
Since being renamed to “Sleeper Car ‘Illinois,’” the railroad relic was relocated to Bloomington from Harristown last fall in an effort to save it from the scrapyard. It was built by the St. Louis Car Company and transported passengers through the 1950s.
Parker’s mission would mark the fifth renovation project in the car’s century-long history. It’s been outfitted as a bunk car, a bedroom car and twice as a coach car. Parker said it also shipped troops during World War II.
“I think about the fact that for some people, the last time they ever saw their loved ones alive was through the windows of that car as it was pulling out of the station,” he said.
Parker isn’t the first to try to fix the car up following its service with the Illinois Traction Company. The Pantagraph reported two brothers attempted to restore it in the 1960s with plans to get it to the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, but they never materialized.
Parker envisions the final results of his remodel as an Airbnb located in view of Route 66, featuring three rooms, each with a double bed, spanning half the car’s length. The other half would hold a bathroom and kitchenette.
Watch now: Historic train car to make journey back to Bloomington
His passion project was born from a June 2021 Facebook post from David Lee Allen, offering up the train car to anyone interested and capable of taking it off his property. If not, he planned to trash it by that winter.
Allen and his wife bought the Harristown train station with major residential conversion plans, and the sleeper car came with it. The Pantagraph reported that several came to view their car last summer, but passed up because the work was “too much.”
George Roadcap, president of the Monticello Railroad Museum, also said that restoration was too much for his organization to take on. However, he also said the museum fully supports Parker’s mission and is happy to assist any way possible, including by providing documents, pictures or technical advice.
Letting the wheels go from the museum isn’t leaving their facility short on stock. Roadcap said they have a working steam engine that’s passed inspection and will make excursions later this year, including throttle time programs and several dining experiences. He also noted they’re in process of restoring another passenger car and they added a turntable to their collection that came from Peoria.
Roadcap said Parker has taken up a very ambitious project and the museum wishes him well.
The sleeper car was in operation for so long that Parker hopes it will become a community venue, and hold events for holidays like Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
It will be a for-profit operation to recoup expenses, he said, but public events are still on the table. Parker previously told The Pantagraph he would rent it out for $200 a night, and market it to Route 66 travelers.
Watch now: Saving rail history is mission of this Bloomington man
The final moving costs for both the car and trucks have tallied $25,000, Parker said. Of that, $9,000 was collected from fundraisers, and his GoFundMe page continues to accept funds.
Park has also hired an attorney to help with regulatory aspects. He plans to parcel off part of his land next to his house to rezone for commercial use.
“Nothing happens quick in a bureaucracy,” he continued.
Parker has started ground work at the Airbnb site, by spreading out a gravel base. He said he had to keep himself from working too hard on a bad foot, and he still needs to source 60 feet of track for the car.
Just after the trucks were reunited with the sleeper car, Parker stepped back, leaned into the trunk of his personal automobile and let out a triumphant grin.
“Even though it’s not much to look at, ‘mission accomplished’,” said Parker. “They didn’t scrap it.”
Contact Brendan Denison at (309) 820-3238. Follow Brendan Denison on Twitter: @BrendanDenison