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A work crew prepares a vintage rail car on a North Bennington side track Tuesday for transport to the Railroad Museum of New England in Thomaston, Conn. (Peter Crabtree)
A work crew prepares a vintage rail car on a North Bennington side track Tuesday for transport to the Railroad Museum of New England in Thomaston, Conn.
A work crew prepares a vintage rail car on a North Bennington side track Tuesday for transport to the Railroad Museum of New England in Thomaston, Conn. (Peter Crabtree)

NORTH BENNINGTON -- A longtime resident of Vermont has begun the journey to its new home at the Railroad Museum of New England.

The Rutland 260, one of two surviving train cars from the heyday of the Rutland Railroad, which ceased operation in 1963, was donated to the museum by the Vermont Railway. The 60-foot long railcar had been relatively unused from 1963 to 2009 for historical rail tours, and hadn't been in use at all since then.

The 260 was built in 1891 as a passenger car, and was retrofitted in 1920 to be a "combine," or a car that has space for both passenger seating and freight. The Rutland Railroad's primary cargo was milk, which was transported from the creameries of Vermont in large, refrigerated glass-lined tanks to Troy, N.Y., where the railcars would be transferred to a New York Central train and transported to New York City.

The 260 was usually the car at the end of the train, said Howard Pincus, chairman of the Board of Trustees for the museum, which is located in Thomaston, Conn. Pincus said it was the car in which the crew would ride, as well as some passengers who needed to travel early in the morning.

According to Pincus, several Vermont museums were offered their choice between the 260 and its 1905 companion, but none were interested in taking on the historic railcars. When the Railroad Museum of New England received that offer, they were astounded. "Being railroad historians, we knew about these two cars, but we never thought we'd have the opportunity to acquire one," said Pincus.

"We rarely, if ever, get anything like this," said Pincus. "Cars usually come to the museum at the end of their service lives. This is an absolute gem." The 260 was in extremely good condition for its age, said Pincus, who admired the interior of the car, which still included original 1920s plaques and wood paneling on the walls.

Pincus praised the Vermont Railway as "good people," who are "very cognizant of their history." The railcars the museum receives are very rarely in such good condition, and usually need to be extensively restored. "When they are dead, we bring them back from the dead," said Pincus.

The train car had been stored in Bellows Falls, but Bob Eberheim, an employee of the museum, determined North Bennington to be the best place to take the train off the tracks to begin its journey to Connecticut. Eberheim worked closely with village highway supervisor Norm LeBlanc, and had visited the site where the transfer would take place, on Lake Paran Road, several yards from the North Bennington Train Station, to make sure there was room.

The railcar was transported to North Bennington along the railroad tracks, where it waited until Tuesday morning, when the museum was ready to make the transfer. The front half of the train was lifted onto a truck's trailer by a crane, after which the back half was lifted onto a separate trailer. The entire process was done very carefully and methodically, despite the poor weather.

"This is a 1891 car, its needs to be handled very carefully," said Pincus. The North Bennington Highway Department was on hand to offer support and direct traffic. The museum hired its own crane and trucks.

This is how the truck will travel, first to Lenox, Mass., then finally to Thomaston, Conn. The journey will be undertaken very slowly and carefully, so as to limit any damage to the railcar, and is expected to take two days for a drive that could otherwise be completed in just over two hours.

As of Tuesday night, the railcar had not left Vermont. It was found to be sitting too high on the trailers, and its position will need to be adjusted to allow it to travel under bridges.

When asked to describe how he got into the business of preserving trains, Pincus responded, "My parents have been asking me the same thing for years." Pincus got involved with the business 40 years ago, with a startup historical railway, and has never looked back. "Kids like trains. I had always been interested in trains as a kid," he said.

The museum, which opened in 1968, operates the Naugatuck Railroad, what the museum calls a scenic "ride through history." Pincus said, because of its history and condition, the 260 will probably be used for that purpose only sparingly. Pincus hopes to display the railcar in an indoor gallery, but that is likely several years down the road.

As LeBlanc towed the railcar along the tracks to get it into position for the crane, Pincus ruminated on its long history, saying, "This is the last time this car will travel along the tracks it called home for over 100 years."

Derek Carson can be reached for comment at Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.