Location: Botany NSW
October 6, 2008
Locally-made rail cars going to S. America
By Cosby Woodruff
The bright red rail car will one day carry passengers to one of South America's most spectacular tourist sites, but first it is on its way to Colorado for some mountain testing.
Another one will follow late in November, then more until Montgomery's Edwards Rail Car ships as many as 24 units to Peru for its Machu Picchu Train.
The Machu Picchu project is keeping Edwards busy these days, but the company has plenty of other projects as well.
Edwards is in a former Kershaw facility off Fairview Avenue next to the CSX line. Outside the building are some older rail coaches in various stages of dilapidation and restoration and about 100 yards of unusual railroad line.
Inside the shop are a few restoration projects and a handful of Machu Picchu cars.
Steve Torrico, president of Edwards, beamed when talking about the trains bound for South America.
Unlike many railroad passenger coaches, these cars are self-propelled by a diesel-hydraulic system. Edwards workers recently finished installing the engine and hydraulics on the first of the cars and prepared to test it.
Even testing it on-site required some construction. The company built about 100 yards of narrow-gauge tracks on its property to test the vehicle. Narrow-gauge tracks have rails that are closer together than a standard railroad.
Those will be only the first tests, Torrico said. Once Edwards has any preliminary bugs worked out, they will load the car onto an oversized tractor trailer that will take it to Colorado.
There, Edwards will run more advanced testing on a tourist railroad in the Rocky Mountains.
Torrico said the train has to maintain 25 mph on a 3.2 percent grade.
After it passes that test, Torrico and others from Edwards will deliver it to Peru, where it will carry passengers to the ancient site.
Torrico said he takes extra pleasure in building the self-propelled units because that is what the original Edwards Rail Car Co. did.
That company, based in Sanford, N.C., manufactured the cars from 1921 to 1942. The original idea was to provide a rail car that could operate on short-line railroads more economically than could a locomotive.
The advent of the commercial bus system and World War II eventually ended the industry, at least for more than half a century.
In the 1990s, Torrico operated a tourist railroad in Central Florida. He hauled passengers on day trips, and he ran into the same problem his predecessors did 75 years earlier. Sometimes, he didn't have enough passengers to make it profitable to operate a locomotive.
He contracted out for a self-propelled rail car. Soon, other tourist railroads saw it and decided they wanted one as well.
By 1997, Torrico restarted the company.
"They started the company in 1921 for a lot of the same reasons I restarted the company," he said.
His lease on his Florida facility ended at the end of 2004, leading him to relocate to Montgomery.
Royce Kershaw Jr., a member of a Montgomery family that has been in one rail-related business or another for generations, had done business with Edwards.
"It was one of our first restoration cars," Torrico said. "We became friends of Royce's, and we visited this facility."
Eventually, Torrico said, Kershaw invited the company to use his building. That worked just fine for Edwards.
"The infrastructure here is far greater than what we had there," he said.
Edwards is staying busy with new construction now, but the company does plenty of restoration work, Torrico said.
Some 150 or so tourist railroads operate in the United States, he said. Each of those companies are potential customers, as are dozens of museums and plenty of other places who want a static display.
Edwards will restore almost anything related to rail service, but the company takes special pleasure when it gets to work on an original Edwards product.
When that happens, the company can turn to some of the documents used in manufacturing.
"We have most of the original plans," he said. "A lot of them survived."
Those include basic drawings, parts lists and sales brochures. The production drawings, he said, were done on large linen or cotton sheets dyed blue. When the company stopped production in 1942, many of those items were in short supply.
Company leaders allowed their wives to claim most of the sheets with drawings. The wives then bleached out the blue dye and used the cloth for draperies in their homes.
Bill Stoker, the company's general manager, said employees have recreated most of the production drawings on an as-needed basis.
Edwards' 20 employees can make most of the parts for a train car and contracts most of the rest to local businesses.
"All of the parts that we fabricate, the details are the thing," Stoke said. "It is getting them accurate."
He said the company could do anything from making the trucks -- the wheel carriage under the train car -- to the most finely detailed woodwork.
Torrico said some customers have detailed ideas for what they get, others just want it to look restored.
"Some customers are very specific about what they want," he said. "We build them like they used to."
The company also takes things built long ago and makes them modern.
Tucked away in one corner of the building is a 1913 Bald-
win steam locomotive. Behind it is a 1900 L&N Railway Business class car. Both belong to Kershaw, but Edwards is restoring them.
The steam engine, which once served a lumber yard and used wood to fuel its boiler, will soon run on fuel oil.
Stoker didn't say how much work the locomotive will need, but he did say the company is restoring it to working condition.
If that means a new boiler, he said Edwards can get the work done.
Torrico pointed out a piece of equipment recently installed on the locomotive, saying it was a modern exhaust system that would even allow the machine to run on diesel.
Some customers want an even more modern development.
One California customer has the company working on a clean-fuel self-propelled train coach.
"The folks in California want a very green rail car with an efficient type of propulsion system," Stoker said.
Torrico said the company is ready to fill the order.
"Edwards is going to produce a green machine," he said.
The company also wants to produce an electric machine for use in Montgomery.
Torrico is excited by Montgomery's long-range plans to run some sort of electric street car, based on the old Lightning Route, in downtown. If the city moves ahead, Edwards wants the contract.
"I don't see any reason that couldn't be built right here in Montgomery," he said.