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Government, Politics & Issues

Coronavirus Shutdown Led To Restoration Of A Train In Rolla

Jonathan Ahl
St. Louis Public Radio
The Frisco 1501, now restored, on display in Rolla's Schuman Park

ROLLA — Nick Barrack’s bus tour business and construction company were shut down for more than two months by the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

He received money from the federal government’s Payroll Protection Program to keep paying his 30 employees. But after a week of doing odd jobs around the office, Barrack looked for a public project to work on instead of sending his employees home.

“The city suggested we fix up the train in Schuman Park, and I thought it would be fun,” Barrack said.

The Frisco 1501 Engine was retired in 1955 after the arrival of diesel engines made it obsolete. The engine and a passenger car were put on display in the park and have been there for the past 65 years. Over that time, they became an eyesore. Barrack said the project was the perfect confluence of the past, present and future.

“We have to tell the story about the passenger car and tell the story about the engine. And tell the story about COVID-19,” Barrack said. “Because 30 years from now, that’s going to be part of the history books and they will find it very interesting when they read that sign that because of something bad, something good happened.”

The two-month project included painting and cleaning the engine, getting the bell and steam whistle to work again and completely gutting and rebuilding the passenger car, from the seat to the decorative windows.

Jonathan Ahl
Nick Barrack and his employees gutted and restored the passenger car, restoring it to original condition.

It also involved a lot of research to know what the train looked like in its heyday.

The engine was built in 1923 for the Frisco Railroad and routinely made passenger and freight trips through Rolla on its way from St. Louis to Oklahoma City. The massive engine was designed to tackle the hilly terrain of the Ozarks. It started out powered by coal, but it was converted to oil as that fuel became more widely used.

The train wasn’t much to look at in recent years. It was fenced off and in horrible shape. The passenger car had most of its windows busted out, and the roof was collapsing because of leaks.

But even in that run-down condition, it didn’t fail to capture the imagination of some park visitors.

“When my son was 2 years old, we started coming here to play at the playground, and he always tried to climb through the fence and touch the train,” said Christal Scantlin, who attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the train.

Viktor Scantlin, now 13, said the sight of the train always made his imagination run wild.

“I remember looking at this when I was little and thinking, 'I think I can get that running again. I think I can drive somewhere with that,’” he said.

The Scantlins are impressed with the renovation.

“It’s awesome. It is in much better shape than I thought they were going to be able to take it back to,” Christal Scantlin said. “The attention to detail, especially in the passenger car, is amazing.”

Not everyone is as impressed. Dan Eddleman worked on the Frisco 1501 in the 1950s as a fireman, keeping the boiler going and steam generating.

“It’s just an old steam engine,” Eddelman said prior to the ribbon-cutting. “Working on it was dirty. It wasn’t as nice as the diesels.

The engine and passenger car will be open for tours as well as rentals as a meeting space or party room.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl

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