Roscoe's Secret O&W Treasure

by Wilmer E. Sipple

     The story of the discovery of three surviving O&W boxcars had its beginning soon after the 1977 Carstens O&W publication, the "FinalYears" by John Krause & Ed Crist. We received a letter from Mr. W. Kimball Sprague of Roscoe to inform us that he had three O&W box cars on his property. Frankly, Ed was skeptical - how could O&W box cars have survived all these years without being discovered by an O&W buff? Mr. Sprague was very cordial in offering to show us the cars. A month later the opportunity presented itself on the way to the annual Old Timer's picnic held in Hancock to honor O&W employees. When we pulled up to the site near the old wye there seemed to be nothing more than an old shed. As we walked nearer grab irons became visible and it became evident that the shed was actually a roof covering three O&W box cars parked side by side! We were suddenly struck with the realization that they actually did exist.

     The story of how the cars got there goes back to the 1930's when the site was occupied by the Roscoe Table Works, an enterprise of the well-known George I. Treyz, who acquired the factory after the bankruptcy of the original owners. He transfered the operation to his son-in-law , Stanley E. Smith, who changed the name to the Roscoe Knife Handle Works. The factory had originally produced card tables and various sorts of furniture and now knife handles were added. Mr.Smith relied on Willard D. Hawes, Importers of New York for rare hardwoods such as ebony, rosewood, cocobolo and teakwood for the exotic knife handles. He purchased the box cars from the Norwich O&W yards to provide storage for these rare woods. The cars were run in the wye, jacked up off the trucks and slid over on to concrete posts made by filling 100 lb nail kegs with cement.. Then a wooden roof was constructed over all three cars to provide protection from the elements. There are still piles of rejected knife handles next to the box cars. Later on Mr. Smith purchased much of the machinery from the Norwich Shops and was one of the failing companies best customers in their attempt to raise cash for continued operations. He also purchased the #801 Sykes Railbus for use as a lunchroom.

     For many years the NYS Department of Transporation found it most difficult to plan the new Quickway route through Roscoe, After the demise of the railroad in 1957, the State took over the O&W right-of-way for the highway. Additional property along the right-of-way was required and Smith's Factory would have to go. The State was negotiating the purchase of the property when a fire broke out igniting the fuel tanks and other flammables, making it impossible for the fireman to stop the fire. Within minutes the factory was complely engulfed in flames and was a total loss. Mr. Smith sold the remaining parcels which included a couple of abandoned houses and sheds to Kim Sprague. The largest building contained some of the machinery that Smith had purchased from Norwich. He offered the museum an O&W bench saw but we lacked the suitable display area. Kim finally sold all the machinery and scrap iron to a Binghamton junk dealer. About the same time as the discovery of the box cars , Ed Crist had taken a project to make scale drawings of the 9,000 series box cars for the Railroad Model Craftsman magazine. He had also been in contact with the Narrow Gauge & Shortline Gazette about an article on the photo-scaling methods used for box car drawings that appeared in the last issue of the O&WTHS Observer. Gazette Associate Editor Gene Deimling, an excellent modeler, agreed to build a model of the 9,000 series boxcars to go with the drawings. He wanted detail to use the new Evergreen Scale Models plastic scale lumber and the 9,000 series proved to be an ideal subject for a construction project. Many of the detailed parts were unavailable so Gene had made arrangements with a California firm to produce the entire set of plastic castings for the ironwork. On the first visit Ed Crist, did not have time to take measurements of the box cars, so to complete the drawings another trip was necessary. Several weeks later, Ed Crist called Kim for permission to measure the box cars. He nearly gave us a coronary when he told of a fire started in one of the box cars by a couple of hooligans. When we arrived we found the damage minor and completed the job. I had assisted him and thought we had done a thorough job but a week later Ed called to ask if I would crawl under the box cars and measure the brake rods. Being a young senior of slim stature I agreed to do what I could. I asked Kim for permission and got Loren Auld to record the measurements and be there if I got stuck underneath. Even though I was a young 60 years, I found it very difficult crawling through the twisted maise of truss rods and brake rods. However, after several tries I was able to complete the task and the information was sent to Ed. He had hoped that the box car drawings would soon be in print and the model kits would be available but nothing further developed.

     Several years ago, Society officers asked me to talk to Kim about the preservation of these rare box cars, which I did. I am pleased to report that he did remember my concerns in his will and left them to the Roscoe O&W Railway Museum. Kim's Widow, Marylou is very anxious to clean up the property to sell and would like them removed as soon as possible. I have assured her that with Society assistance we can complete this move to her satisfaction.
     The box cars are located on the parcel near the river and once the area is cleaned around them it should be possible to remove them by truck. To facilitate the moving and refurbishing of these box cars, I have applied for and received an O'Connors Foundation matching grant of $4,000 to be used toward the cost of moving box cars to a refurbishing site, dismantle box cars, refurbish box car parts, assemble one box car, store extra parts and move the box car to the prepared site.

     With the Planning Board's rejection of the Sullivan County lease of land for the railroad cars we still do not have a site for the box cars. The Rockland Town Board has offered us the old Town Barn property which we could use as a maintenance and repair site for the box cars and any other cars we might want to ref urbish.

     Once again it is necessary to call upon the O&W membership and all railroad enthusiasts to support us with donations to match the grant and preserve these rare O&W Box Cars. We will also need expert assistance to help us make this a great addition to the museum.

     I wish to report that since the start of the box car we have received $1000 in donations toward the $4000 grant. We now have sufficient funds to move the car to the refurbishing site. We wish to thank all who have donated and hope others will donate and join the list of workers.

This article was compiled of information from the O&WTHS Observer and Museum Archives

Wilmer E. Sipple, Museum Director

Roscoe's O&W Treasure Buried Forever
by Wilmer E. Sipple

     The complete story of the discovery in 1977 of the surviving O&W Box Cars was published in the 1966 Livingston Manor & Roscoe-Rockland Visitors Guide.The final chapter began to unfold when I learned that Kim Sprague had in deed willed the box cars to the Roscoe O&W Railway Museum. I immediately notified Society members that Kim had remembered our request of several years ago and asked for professional assistance in restoring them. However, I should have realized at that time that such an endeaver was doomed at the start, but I was an idealistic O&W Buff. The museum has had phenomenal growth since 1984 and I believed that this momentum would sustain us through this project. How wrong I was!

     When we first examined the cars in 1977 they were still in good condition with the protection of a special roof over the three. The center one would have been easy to restore with the only weathering on the ends. This soon changed when vandals gained entry and built a fire in the back of the center car. The firemen soon arrived and were going to let them burn but Kim wanted to save them, so he asked the firemen to extinguish the fire. Later examination showed that the center car had the worst damage, the ends of the cars were badly scorched and the roof was no longer any protection.

     When Kim willed them to us there was no provision for a site to display them or funds to restore them. Nevertheless, I made a very determined attempt to save them by first applying for an O'Connors matching Grant for $5,000. We were fortunate to receive a $4,000 grant but the fund drive only raised $1,000 so we were left with only $2,000 to move and restore them. Next I went to the Town Board and planning Board to request a site to display the Box Cars but most Roscoe people were opposed to any more railroad cars in town so we were left without a site.

     By this time I was very discouraged, but made one more attempt to save them by planning to move them to a storage site in Delaware County. Zoning laws were less stringent and we could store and work on them without special cover. I was able to get the assistance of the Sullivan Correctional Facility work crews to do the clearing around the three box cars prior to moving them. I wanted them to remove the collapsed roof over the box cars, but the officer in charge felt it was unsafe to work on top of the cars, so we discontinued the work. I also contacted the National Guard unit in Oneonta for assistance in moving or dismantling the cars without success. By now it was a hopeless venture and the Town Zoning officer wanted them out by the end of the year.

     Once again we examined them realistically and with the fire damage and weathering it seemed very doubtful if they could ever be restored without great expense It was also suggested that we try to take them apart or cut off the ends with chain saws and use then for wall displays in the museum, but time was running out. A final solution was to burn them to recover the iron parts, but we were unable to get a burning permit.. A last attempt was made to break off the ends for wall displays but they were too well constructed with rods and angle brackets so this also failed. It was a very sad day when I had to give the approval to destroy and bury them. Finally, huge pits were dug and the three box cars were crushed andburied. All we ended up with were a few pieces of iron including 2 coupler assemblies.

     In retrospect, it was a project we should not have attempted without an expert group with detailed plans of operation. A special letter will soon be sent out to all donors with a choice of a refund or transfer of the donation to the Trout Car Fund. Plans call for opening the Beaverkill Trout Car Museum for the 1998 Season.