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Paul Dean

Railroading L.A.'s Plan for Ol' M-177

February 20, 1988|Paul Dean

Here, in Griffith Park, would be the end of their lines. Silence for the snorting Southern Pacific express that once pulled a special for Teddy Roosevelt. Terminal rust for the little 1908 train that could and was hauling sugar cane that Sunday Pearl Harbor exploded.

Here, to Travel Town, they were brought to die.

"But this isn't the playground of derelicts anymore," Chell Hurdle said. He's beaming bright as a railroad headlight. "The city cares and has decided to do something. We, the Southern California Scenic Railway Assn., have agreed to help the city preserve and restore this equipment."

And, he added, to bring some of it back to life--starting with M-177, a flat-faced 1929 Pullman Motorcar that carried mail and passengers on branch lines of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad.

"It traveled Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas until retired in 1955," Hurdle explained. "We want it operational so the city can carry visitors between Travel Town and the Griffith Park Zoo."

Yet there is more to this mission than the casual restoration of one railroad antique by a clutch of weekend volunteers. In effect, a broad and mobile future for Travel Town is riding on the work.

For if M-177 can be restored, Hurdle and his association will start breathing new movement into other derelicts.

And with those successes as a nub, the city's master plan for Travel Town ("an open-ended program to elevate Travel Town's status to that of playground, picnic, educational and entertainment park with trains that work," said Linda Barth of the Department of Recreation and Parks) should be riding smooth rails.

Travel Town is 35 years old. It began with one man's idea for setting a discarded locomotive in Griffith Park as a clambering spot for kids. It grew into a ghost railroad of engines and rolling stock, some fire trucks and beater airplanes . . . and the largest collection of steam locomotives west of the Mississippi.

It also overtook city hopes that elements of Los Angeles would have respect for the antiquity and romance of railroading. Despite fences and park patrols, and before lights were raised and a night watchman hired, vandals and thieves had looted the graveyard.

M-177--a unique locomotive that used a gasoline engine to power an electric generator that turned the wheels--was typical of the demise.

"When Santa Fe donated it to Travel Town in 1958, it was in operating order with everything on it," Hurdle said. "When we started work on it in March of 1986, rain had come down the exhaust stacks and rusted the pistons. Copper components, about $17,000 worth, had been stolen. Leather seats, rotted . . . windows, broken . . . gauges and door locks, stolen."

But there was Hurdle and his enthusiasm, city support and the master plan, and 41 associates with time and energies for the association and its restoration project.

Old manuals and new gages have been located for M-177. The 400-horsepower gasoline engine has been stripped to its crankshaft. Seats have been rebuilt and toilet fixtures given new nickel plating and porcelain. Oak and mahogany flooring will be restored.

"We've raised and spent $6,385, but there's still a long way to go," continued Hurdle, an accounting consultant who fell in love with trains when he rode the Super Chief from Chicago to Los Angeles during World War II.

"We need more money, of course, but we also need people who can come out to the park and work, and people who can do things at home.

"We're not looking for professional specialists . . . but home handymen, hobbyists who know woodworking, upholstery, sheet metal, electricity and particularly electrical propulsion systems."

Hurdle and his group have a target date: May, 1989. That's when Santa Fe Railroad celebrates the 50th anniversary of Union Station. The association has decided that M-177 should be there--even if it goes by truck.

"It will really be something just to finish and fire it up," Hurdle said. "It should be something else just to run it back and forth on 300 feet of track."

Southern California Scenic Railway Assn., 7414 S. Lynalan Ave., Whittier, 90606; (213) 696-2427.

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