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Woodworker Restores Cars At Walkersville Railroad

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BEN STANSALL/AFP/GettyImages

BEN STANSALL/AFP/GettyImages

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BRIAN FANNEY
The Frederick News-Post

WALKERSVILLE, Md. (AP) — Larry Braun, a woodworker for Walkersville Southern Railroad, finds his work hard and unpredictable, but rewarding.

“I don’t think there is a typical day,” he said. “That’s what makes it interesting.”

Braun thinks of himself as one cog in the huge machine that keeps the Walkersville Southern Railroad running. About 60 people work at the railroad, but Braun estimates that only about 12 work to restore train cars.

While others keep the tracks aligned, the diesel engines running and drive the trains, Braun has the slower task of restoring each car’s elaborate woodwork, painting and helping with some electrical work.

The retired General Services Administration engineer said he came to the railroad in 2005 after seeing an ad in The Frederick News-Post calling for volunteers.

“I thought it could be fun,” he said. “I didn’t know the first thing about railroads at the time.”

He started working on a 1974 caboose. The floor and ceiling were rotted, the metal was rusted and several years of work had already been done to the car.

Slowly but surely, Braun and a dedicated team replaced the wood and repainted the car to make it look like new.

Braun is now working on his second caboose, which he hopes will be completed in the next year.

“I wouldn’t even want to try to calculate how many hours go into it because I would probably scare myself,” said Wayne Kirchhof, railroad president. “It takes a lot of faith, a lot of vision to see what we can do with those cars.”

The woodwork is what makes the cars look good to outsiders, Kirchhof said, though as much work goes into making the internals functional.

“They’ve been restored from the track up,” he said. “It involves a lot of different skills.”

Braun typically works on Saturdays, like most at the railroad. He is one of the few railroad workers who live in Frederick County.

“There’s not many railroads around where we control the track, we control the trains, we can do what we want,” he said.

He is trained to run the engines but prefers the slow journey of restoring a car to using the completed machinery.

“After you’ve gone up and down the tracks so many times it’s normally just a routine run, normally,” he said. “When I first started being on the crew I really enjoyed doing that, but it just kind of started being routine.”

Braun has enjoyed woodworking since a college friend asked him to store a table saw that he decided to play with, he said. While he has been a woodworker for many years, working with a combination of wood and metal is a challenge.

Where he would normally use nails and take seconds to mount a board, Braun must use machined bolts and carefully thread each hole before attempting to secure a board to metal. The minutes it takes to prepare each hole translate to hours in the final project.

He said he cannot estimate how many bolts and hours it took to restore his first caboose. Nevertheless, he said, the hobby is rewarding.

“Some people play with model trains,” he said. “We play with big trains.”

(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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