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Washington's "Junior National Limited" Part II

Times and trends had changed by the early 1980’s. For a variety of reasons Drive-In movie theatres were no longer enjoying the popularity and success they had experienced in the preceding decades. By the decade of the 80’s, the number of drive-in theatres operating across the country had dropped to less than 200. With the eventual closing of Washington’s East 50 Drive-In, after over a quarter of a century of service to the children (and parents) of the area, the little Junior National Limited was in need of a new home.


Recognizing many local citizens of the area had fond childhood memories and a deep sentimental bond to the train, local city leaders and elected officials worked together and were successful in obtaining the train for use in the city’s Eastside Park. The trainset was presented by Blaine Kalberer on behalf of the current owners of the East 50 Drive–In at the time, Chicago based Kerasotes Theatres, to the City Park Board of Washington in memory of “Kal” Kalberer, longtime manager of both the East 50 drive-In and the Indiana Theater.

Plaque attached to the side of the train when it was presented to the city’s Eastside Park in 1982.

Blaine Kalberer with City and Park Officials at the Eastside Park June 1982


In June of 1982, the train began its second service life, being installed as a permanent children’s ride at Washington’s Eastside Park. At the park, the train would continue to delight another generation of area children, many of whose parents had fond memories of riding the train at the drive-in years earlier when they themselves were young. Operated regularly on weekends and holidays throughout the Summer, and available on request for private functions such as church groups and birthday parties, the little train continued to accumulate not only memories, but also considerable mileage and age as it ran around the new route at the park.


After the turn of the century, Washington’s Junior National Limited had undoubtedly traveled thousands of miles during its years and was approaching a half century of service locally. As with all things mechanical, routine service and maintenance - a necessity to ensure reliable performance and a long service life – had been performed as required. However, eventually the original six horsepower motor simply wore out and failed. An original replacement engine could not be located at the time. Regrettably, a motor of the horsepower needed, with dimensions compatible to fit within the height and width of the locomotive body, could not be found at the time. In order to continue to operate the train, it was necessary to repower the locomotive with a completely different type of motor. The new motor was installed, detracting somewhat from the original sleek appearance of the train, yet the little train was running along the line once again, delighting both children and parents alike.


Locomotive as it appeared after being repowered with a new motor.

By 2001-2002, due to numerous operating issues associated with its overall age and accumulated mileage, along with safety concerns, it became apparent the approximately 50 year old trainset was in need of a complete refurbishing. Worried about the possibility of the train becoming permanently unsuitable for use, with their hearts in the right place and the noblest of intentions, Washington’s mayor at the time, Tom Baumert, along with the City Park Board decided to have the train restored both mechanically and cosmetically. A search was begun for someone capable of the task.


According to a Washington Times-Herald article, Mayor Baumert happened to read about two brothers who had recently had a similar train restored. He contacted the brothers, who then provided the mayor with the name of Gerald Orrin Wagner, Jr., of Troy, Pennsylvania. Mayor Baumert contacted Mr. Warner and within a few weeks Warner is in town meeting with Mayor Baumert and inspecting Washington’s train.


In July of 2002, a contract was drawn up between Mr. Warner and the City of Washington whereby for an agreed upon price, Mr. Warner would perform a complete restoration of the train and its track, in his shop in Troy, Pennsylvania and return the reconditioned train to the city. The agreement further stipulates that “Restoration completion is guaranteed by 5-10-2003 if financial commitment and train is physically in Troy, PA on or before 8-20-02”.


The same Times-Herald article mentioned previously goes on to report “Baumert wanted to see what Warner’s operation looked like before giving him the train, so he took the train to Pennsylvania himself and was impressed with what he saw. Warner (actually his family) owned a tractor dealership and a hardware store.”


Photographs of train before leaving Eastside Park in August of 2002.

During the time the train was to be undergoing repairs and restoration arrangements were made for Mr. Wagner to provide the city with a “loaner” MTC G-12 trainset of the same model and type. Decorated for the Union Pacific Railroad in UP’s standard Armour Yellow paint, the loaner trains’ appearance paled when compared to the handsome B&O blue and gray paint applied by the craftsmen at the local railroad shops and worn for decades on the Junior National Limited. The yellow loaner, although not nearly as attractive, was still providing pleasure to local children, standing in for Washington’s train at the park while the original was being refurbished.


Miniature Train Company G-12 “loaner” trainset decorated for Union Pacific R.R. as it looks today.

Original train still looking good after several years of service at the East 50 Drive-In


In a later interview with the Times-Herald, former Mayor Baumert said that during the time Washington’s train was in Warner’s Pennsylvania shop, Warner periodically updated the city on his progress with the train, but late in 2003, during Baumert’s last term, Warner’s calls, emails and photographs of updates suddenly ended. Concerned, as it was well after the agreed upon due date of August 20th, 2003, he contacted the implement dealer Mr. Warner had shown him when he (Mayor Baumert) had delivered the train to Warner for repair. He was then informed by Warner Tractor and Equipment of Troy, PA that Mr. Gerald Orrin Warner, Jr., a son of one of the founders, “was no longer associated with them.” In the following months there are few reports of any communication between Mr. Warner and the city. Mayor Baumert was defeated by David Abel in the 2003 November mayoral election and would leave office in January 2004.


By November of 2004, the agreed upon completion date for the train’s restoration was 15 months past due. Local leaders and interested parties were beginning to feel doubts and concerns about Mr. Wagner and the progress of the train’s renovation. On November 17th, 2004, Washington’s new mayor, David Abel, receives an email from Mr. Warner containing a cover letter and several photographs of the train, along with some of its crated original parts in an attempt “To assure everyone the city’s park train is being restored”. He goes on to cite numerous reasons why the train’s refurbishing is not yet complete. He also shares that his plan now is to complete the agreed upon work, and return the train back to the city by April or May of 2005 for the start of the parks summer season that year. This now being nearly two years after the initial contract’s agreed upon date of August 20th, 2003.


In response to Mr. Warner’s most recent communication, Mayor Abel dispatches Washington’s Chief of Police at the time, Mike Healy, and City Park Superintendent, Kip Kelly to call on Mr. Warner and observe firsthand, the status of the train’s restoration. In late November, within a few days after receipt of Warner’s email, they travel to the Pennsylvania residence of Warner in an effort to engage him face to face about the progress of the restoration. Reports indicate Warner was upset and uncooperative with them initially. After a few hours and some negotiations, Warner complied with the representatives from Washington’s request to see and photograph their train.

Warner explained the train was not located on his property but located in a subcontractor’s shop about 45 minutes away that belonged to J.K. Peris, Inc. of Elmira, N.Y. Warner would take them there if they so desired. They departed Warner’s house, with Warner leading the way, while they followed in a separate vehicle. Once they arrived the Peris shop, Chief Healy and Park Supt. Kelly were undoubtedly disappointed with what they saw. The train was stored in a small building of the J.K. Peris Company’s property with components from another train piled on top of it. They took their photographs and promptly returned to Washington and reported their findings. Within three days, Washington City attorneys notify Mr. Warner of his failure to fulfill his commitment of the original 2002 contract.

Condition of Washington’s locomotive and train as found by Chief Healy and Park Supt. Kelly in November of 2004 after nearly two and a half years in Warner’s possession.


Inspection of the train confirmed suspicions that all was not well with the restoration. City Attorneys sent written notice to Mr. Warner on December 3rd, 2004 that he was in breach of contract and Washington was prepared to go to court over the matter. The letter allowed Mr. Warner the option of satisfying the contract by fulfilling the terms of the original agreement within 30 days, or return the train and the money advanced to the City of Washington. It further stipulates that “If the dispute cannot be cured, we (the City of Washington) will file suit against you and retain your train (the loaner) until the court tells us what we may or may not do with it.” Mr. Warner claims that his wife has recently left him and he is currently in danger of losing his house.


Negotiations are initiated between J.K. Peris, Inc. (the company where the train was currently located and with whom Mr. Warner is reported to have most likely subcontracted to do the bulk of the work on the trainset) and the City of Washington for them (J.K. Peris, Inc.) to complete the restoration as outlined in the original contract. Before a mutually agreeable solution could be reached, another event occurs, changing the situation entirely.

The three original coaches of Washington’s Junior National Limited stacked along a wall in the shop space on the property of J.K. Peris, Inc. in 2004. A coach from another trainset painted to resemble The American Freedom Train which had toured the country during the 1976 Bicentennial, can be seen resting on top the stripped cars.


Just when it appeared there may finally be some progress towards the repair and return of Washington’s train, in March of 2005, a few months after the visit by Washington’s Chief of Police and Park Superintendent, it is learned that Mr. Warner has filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. His house and all his assets - including Washington’s miniature train – become entangled in the bankruptcy estate, immensely complicating legal action relating to the return of the train.


Charles A. Szybist is the appointed Bankruptcy Trustee to Mr. Warner’s bankruptcy estate. Negotiations between Mr. Szybist and Washington to recover the train are initiated. Photographs of the disassembled train, with each of the components stripped of their detail parts are received by Washington officials for evaluation in October 2005 and notice is given to Mr. Szybist that there are many important parts missing. During the ensuing months of 2005-2006, it appears various discussions took place between the city and Bankruptcy Trustee Szybist concerning the return of Washington’s original train and the missing parts along with the status and disposition of the “loaner” train still in Washington’s possession at Eastside Park.


Indications are that a satisfactory proposal was finally agreed upon by both parties in late 2006, whereby the estate would return the City of Washington’s original train and its accompanying parts and also allow the city to purchase the “loaner” from the estate for an additional $8000. Before the deal could be executed, word was received from the Bankruptcy Trustee in a letter dated January 7th, 2007, that the original locomotive and cars of the trainset, Washington’s “Junior National Limited” had, to quote the Trustee’s letter, “Some time (sic) in late October or November of 2005 the train owned by the City of Washington disappeared.” The correspondence goes on “The debtor’s house and outbuildings where this train was stored was sold at a sheriff’s sale. I have reason to believe the “clean up man”, not identified to me, took the train. I have no direct proof this happened.”


Washington’s unique train had vanished.


Correspondence concerning the disposition of both trains (Washington’s “lost” original train and the loaner train which was owned by the bankruptcy estate) between Mr. Szybist, the estate Bankruptcy Trustee, and Washington city officials continued with several proposals and counter proposals passing between the two parties. Soon, an arrangement was reached where the City of Washington would purchase the “loaner” train currently in its possession for the $8000 previously agreed to. Furthermore, after taking the value of the missing disassembled train into consideration, the bankruptcy estate deducts $3000 from the earlier proposal and settles in March of 2007 for a cash payment of $5000 for the loaner. This train still operates at the Eastside Park today.





Left: The “loaner” train as it appears today at the Eastside Park. It is currently operated regularly on Sunday afternoons and during public events at the park. Keeping with tradition, the train is also available for hire at private functions such as birthday parties, family reunions and church picnics.






Conclusion


It is now nearly 20 years since Washington’s Junior National Limited “disappeared”. A Washington Times-Herald article of the time quotes John Peris via a telephone interview as feeling Warner was “…a mysterious guy” Peris continues to state that “He (Warner) took the trains away… …he went bankrupt right after that.” The train has not been seen since.


Sadly, it appears that like its real life namesake, Washington’s “Junior National Limited” is lost forever to the past. The little train that so many local citizens rode as a child, and as adults watched their children ride, has yet to be found. As time moves forward the likelihood of locating it grows fainter.


On a brighter note, all is not lost. The City leaders at the time were wise to maintain procession of and eventually acquire the “loaner” train when they had the opportunity. Operating MTC G-12 trainsets are rare. Even more fortunate is the fact that the current replacement train is also a Miniature Train Company Model G-12 “Streamliner” the same style and model as Washington’s original. This trainset has now been operating at the Eastside Park for over 20 years and although well maintained, it is showing signs of needing some attention and cosmetic repair. Although it could never truly be replaced, with a little effort and cooperation as was displayed by local businesses and residents in 1955, the current little yellow train could very well be transformed into a nearly exact replica of Washington’s original “Junior National Limited” allowing it once again to add even more miles, smiles and memories to future generations of area children (and adults).



Heartfelt thanks is again extended to Blaine Kalberer, former Theatre Manager, Bruce Smith, Daviess County Historian, Rick Chambon of Washington’s Carnegie Library, Kip Kelly, Park Superintendent City of Washington and Dan Zink of the B&O Railroad Museum for the cooperation, information and personal experiences, they willingly shared, without which this article could never have been written.

CJP 6/2024

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Convidado:
28 de jun.

Another very interesting article. Well researched and well written.

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