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Don Conry’s Restoration of a Rail Passenger Car Aided by Challenge Program

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Don Conry is working on familiar ground. The woodworker and Maine resident last visited Wilmington in the mid-1990s when he helped build a replica of the Kalmar Nyckel. Conry returned to the Kalmar Nyckel Shipyard on the city’s East Side about 2 ½ years ago to begin restoration of an 1889 rail passenger car.

Conry notes that the luxury rail car, which operated in Canada, was built at the now-defunct Jackson & Sharp Car Co., located just across Seventh Street from the shipyard. In fact, the rail car’s trucks (wheels) have been stored on the Jackson & Sharp grounds.

“It’s neat that it was done here,” Conry says. “It’s nice to see a homecoming.”

The work is being done at the headquarters of the Challenge Program, a nonprofit that helps at-risk youth transition into the workforce by offering construction skills. The program’s trainees have helped Conry perform the restoration.

As of mid-summer, the crew was still sanding wood trim and prepping the car for painting. The exterior will be painted, the interior varnished. Conry went home to Maine in July, but will return to attach the trucks. The windows will be installed last.

The restoration has remained true to the original, although only about 10 percent of the wood could be saved. Conry says about 90 percent of the hardware is the original.

“Some of the old car was salvaged,” he says. “A lot of the wood was just too far gone. It’s basically re-created but it’s still the same.”

Plans are pending for where the finished product will be displayed. In the meantime, shipyard visitors can receive the bonus of learning the rail car’s history. (challengeprogram.org)

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