PFE Reefer #55524


PFE Reefer #55524 Art Space and Library

In October, 2008 the BBCRC brought an historic Pacific Fruit Express wooden iced refrigerator car to Black Butte and began the process of restoring it and converting it into a resource center/library and art gallery space here are some photos and a description of the move.

Our reefer car was originally owned by Pacific Fruit Express, a company formed in 1907 and jointly owned by Southern Pacific and Union Pacific. A reefer is a slang term for an iced refrigerator car. It has four rooftop hatches through which ice would be loaded in order to keep produce cool. PFE reefers would often be loaded in central California and travel eastward, all the way to Chicago and beyond, with loads of California-grown fruit and vegetables.

PFE 55224 was built for the Western Pacific in 1923 or 1924. The first group was PFE 50001-52000. In 1924 52001-52775 were added. Both groups were clones of PFE's R-30-13 design (1913 cubic feet), except the first group had Hutchins metal roofs. These cars were fully integrated with the PFE fleet, which assigned them and performed the maintenance. They were never specifically assigned to WP service. They did, however, carry the WP herald instead of the SP and UP heralds of other PFE cars. Along with our Sacramento Northern boxcar, the reefer had been sitting in the McCloud Railway yard for years and was slowly deteriorating. With the McCloud Railway pulling up trackage and its future unclear, the car needed a new home.

For further information see Inventory of the Pacific Fruit Express Company Collection, 1906-1989

reefer rehab
BBCRC volunteer Toby "Flange Squeal" Hardman caulks up the ice hatch openings in advance of installing the new skylights. Toby is a Portland-based professional carpenter and a frequent visitor to Black Butte.

The Rehab Process
During May, 2009 BBCRC volunteers began the process of rehabilitating the reefer and converting it to a new use. In doing this, a key objective is to preserve and enhance the historic character of the car while converting its interior into a functional space. Rather than trying to create an "as new" museum style restoration, BBCRC members decided to preserve the natural weathered look of the car including its authentic scuffed up interior. During our first "stabilization" phase, paint was scrapped and a polyurethane sealant applied to the interior. A deteriorated plywood false floor and pallets (used to distribute cold air evenly through the car) were removed revealing a solid wood floor underneath. Patches were made to the many holes in the exterior (for this we had to wait until after the nesting season as chickadees and bluebirds were using some of the holes!). At a late August work party a non-toxic penetrating oil (Penefin) was used on the exterior to help preserve the fragile original tongue and groove wood siding. Electrical outlets and wiring was installed. A window was added in place of a missing door. The metal roof was scraped, rustproofed, and painted in its original PFE boxcar red color (for this we used color chips provided in the excellent reference "Pacific Fruit Express" by Anthony Thompson, Robert Church and Bruce Jones). The most challenging aspect has been figuring out what to do with four ice hatches. Originally, blocks of ice would be loaded through the hatches into the car onto inside racks at either end of the car. Below that, metal drip pans funneled the melting water out of the car. Eventually we came up with a design to add natural light to the car interior by using the hatch openings to install skylights. The skylights use the same hinges as the original hatch covers. From the outside, down on the ground, this will allow the car to mostly retain its original look. The successful completion of this first phase of rehabilitation is now setting the stage for an additional phase of work during which the car interior will be outfitted and some additional exterior work (restoration of ladders, rooftop walkways, and an entranceway staircase) will be carried out.

reefer rehab
Our newly installed skylights allow for ventilation in the summer months but can be tightly sealed for the rest of the year.

New Use as Art Gallery and Library/Resource Center
Upon completion of the rehabilitation process, the BBCRC will have a secure historic space for hosting art shows and other exhibits on a rotating basis. We intend to have several shows a year and to highlight the work of both local and out-of-town artists. The reefer will also house the BBCRC's growing collection of railroad culture-oriented books, magazines and related items. We intend to try to assemble a collection of most of the items listed on our Bibliography page as well as other items. We also intend to have a DVD player so that we can show films and host other public events in the car. Together with our adjoining Sacramento Northern boxcar, the BBCRC will have a unique asset one that functions as both a historic display and as a functional space for a variety of community-building activities.

The BBCRC will need donations of several thousand dollars to complete this project. We're looking for contributions of money, materials and equipment, as well as donations of appropriate books and related items for the library.