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Anchorage Daily News, January 19, 1994    Anchorage Daily News

Mike Wilson of Fairbanks stands in front of one of the two old Alaska Railroad cars he and his wife plan to use as a bed and breakfast in Denali National Park. The cars cost $1 each, but have to be moved.

Denali hotel history
making tracks south

Landmark railroad cars
sold for $1 each

By KRIS CAPPS
The Associated Press

   DENALI NATIONAL PARK - Mike and Sue Wilson of Fairbanks got a real bargain when they bought two old style Alaska Railroad cars from the Denali National Park Hotel for only $1 each - if you don't count the transportation bill.
   It could cost more than $20,000 to move the two railroad cars to Fairbanks, and two others to Nenana's Transportation Museum. The city of Nenana will split transportation costs with the Wilsons.
   "I don't even want to feel my wallet," said Mike, grimacing as he patted his back pocket.
   The Wilsons, who already own a caboose, plan to add the train cars to their private bed-and-breakfast business on Chena Ridge.
   Wilson, who works in construction, and three friends have been preparing the cars for transport since last week in temperatures ranging from 10 to 30 degrees below zero.
   The cars, stripped of their wheels, will be heading north on the Parks Highway by tractor trailer, pulling a homemade dolly.
   Each car - 85 feet long, 10 feet wide and 13 feet tall - weighs 90 tons. Workers estimated stripping the wheels and associated hardware will lighten the load considerably.

   The four blue and gold cars have been part of the Denali Park Hotel since 1972. After the original hotel burned to the ground, the four cars were purchased to add housing for tourists. They stood on either side of the hotel entrance.
   In 1986, the National Park Service decided the cars didn't meet housing codes and they were converted for storage
   For the past three years, General Manager Bob George has searched for a new home for the cars.
   "I originally tried to keep a couple of them to make into a museum at the Park, but I couldn't pull the strings to make that happen," George said.
   He also proposed rehabilitating the cars and running them along the rail system, as other tour companies do. But the cost proved prohibitive, he said.
   George had a difficult time finding anyone who could afford to buy the cars, plus the cost of transporting them. Hence, ARA Denali Park Hotel's decision to "donate" the cars for $1 each moving expenses to be paid by buyer.
   "They're leaving because we want to increase the visibility," George said. "I have 24 hotel rooms on the back side of those."
   It wasn't until 1991 that hotel managers learned the history of the cars when excited railroad buffs visiting from Los Angeles enlightened them.
   "Two were manufactured in 1924 by the Pullman Car Company," George said. "They gave them interesting names: Raphael and Floto.
   The Alaska Railroad used the cars for overnight service between Anchorage and Fairbanks in the 1950's, and renamed them the Mount Susitna and Mount Iliamna. Those two cars are destined for Nenana.
   "The other two were built in 1956, part of 12 cars built by Pullman that year," George said. They were named National Domain and National Emblem. Those are the two cars the Wilsons bought.
   "These are real treasures," Wilson said.
 

 

Daily News-Miner, February 6, 1997    Daily News-Miner

A 1964 Alaska Railroad engine is towed and pushed by two Becker Trucking semis onto the Johansen Expressway toward its final destination at the Forget-Me-Not Lodge/Aurora Express on Chena Ridge Road Wednesday morning. Susan Wilson purchased the engine by bid for $3,021, a price she picked because it was the engine number on the cab. It was a Christmas present for her husband Mike, who in turn had it delivered to Susan as a Valentine's Day present which she sees as a "fair trade." The Wilsons already have two Pullman cars, a caboose and water tanker converted into guest rooms for their business.

 

Golden Valley, September 1994    Golden Valley

   Mike and Sue Blomfield Wilson of Fairbanks got a real bargain when they bought two old style Alaska Railroad cars from the Denali National Park Hotel for only $1 apeice-if you don't count the transportation bill.
   They paid about $40,000 to move two railroad cars to their home in Fairbanks and two others to Nenana's Transportation Museum. The city of Nenana split the transportation bill with the Wilsons.
   "I don't even want to feel my wallet," said Mike, grimacing as he patted his back pocket.
   The Wilsons, who already own a caboose and recently moved a water tanker car into their yard, added the train cars to their bed and breakfast Forget-Me-Not Lodge and Aurora Express on Chena Ridge in Fairbanks- all because of a dream Sue had one night.
   "I had a dream that I had a train up on our property," she said. "So the next morning, I called the railroad and asked if they ever sell any of their train cars. They said they put them up for sale from time to time, but they didn't have anything really."
   "But they told me about a lawyer who had a caboose that he had bought and never moved off their property. He sold it to me."
   Then she broke the news to her husband.
   "Mike," she said, "I need to bring a caboose up to the house."
   He thought she had bought a miniature caboose for their kids, but he soon discovered otherwise.
   Luckily, Mike works in construction and knows how to handle heavy equipment, he used two loaders to walk the caboose up Chena Ridge Road to their home.
   When Sue heard about the train cars at Denali, she had to have those too.
   This time, moving the cars took a little more work. With the help of three friends, Mike prepared the cars for transport in January, working in temperatures ranging from 10 to 30 degrees below zero.
   The cars didn't make the journey by rail, however. They were stripped of their wheels and hauled up the Parks Highway on a homemade dolly, pulled by a semi truck.
   Each car weighs 90 tons and is 85 feet long, 10 feet wide, and 13 feet tall. Workers estimated stripping the wheels and associated hardware lightened the load by several hundred thousand pounds.
   The four blue and gold cars became part of the Denali Park Hotel in 1972. After the original hotel burned to the ground,

the four cars were purchased to add housing for tourists. They stood on either side of the hotel entrance.
   In 1986, the National Park Service decided the cars didn't meet housing codes and converted them to storage.
   For the past three years, General Manager Bob George has searched for a new home for the cars.
   "I originally tried to keep a couple of them to make into a museum at the Park, but I couldn't pull the strings to make that happen," said George. He proposed rehabilitating the cars and running them along the rail system, as other tour companies do. But the cost proved to be prohibitive, he said.
   He had a hard time finding anyone who could afford the price of the cars, plus the cost of transporting them. Hence, ARA Denali Park Hotel's decision to 'donate" the cars for $1 apiece, moving expenses to be paid by the buyer.
   "They're leaving because we want to increase the visibility," George said. "I have 24 hotel rooms on the back side of those."
   It wasn't until 1991 that hotel managers learned the history of the cars, when excited railroad buffs, visiting from Los Angeles, enlighten them.
   "Two were manufactured in 1924 by the Pullman Car Company," said George. "They gave them interesting names: Raphael and Flotow. Flotow was an Italian 16th century composer best known for his operas 'Martha'."
   The Alaska Railroad used the cars for overnight service between Anchorage and Fairbanks in the 1950's and renamed them the Mount Susitna and Mount Iliamna.
   These are the two cars that ended up in Nenana.
   "The other two were built in 1956, part of 12 cars built by Pullman that year," said George. They were named the National Domain and the National Emblem.
   These are the two cars the Wilsons purchased.
   It took four days to prepare just one car for transport, but workers streamlined their system by the time they moved the remaining three cars. The trip to Nenana took four hours and the trip to Fairbanks took all day.
   Now, Sue is making plans to restore the cars to their original splendor. Renovation on the caboose is close to completion. She is using elegant colors of burgundy, black and gold.
   "I'm just going to make them classier," she said. "They're in real good shape."
   Her husband takes it all in stride. Even he has developed and affection for his wife's unusual hobby.
   "These are real treasures," said Mike.
 
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