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Hospital car restoration turns back clock to 1920s

By Press Times Staff

ASHWAUBENON – After more than two-and-a-half years of work, the National Railroad Museum has unveiled the restored Joseph Lister hospital car – now on display in the Lenfestey Center.

“Through more than two-and-a-half years of hard work by our staff and a dedicated volunteer corps, we have been able to recreate a significant piece of American railroad history,” Jacqueline Frank, CEO of the National Railroad Museum, said. “I look forward to families enjoying this immersive exhibit, and to the opportunity the museum now has to create educational experiences for students who may not thrive in a traditional classroom setting, but suddenly discover the magic of history, science and other subjects simply by stepping ‘back in time’ when they enter a restored Lister.”

The Lister, built in 1930 by the Pullman Co., transported patients from Chicago to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, for more than 30 years as part of the Chicago and North Western Railroad (CNW).

CNW named it the Joseph Lister in honor of the English surgeon who is best known as the founder of antiseptic medicine and a pioneer in preventive medicine.

Benjamin Wideman, the museum’s marketing and communications director, said the restoration project was funded through a handful of donations – $83,100 from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund, as well as donations from Dr. Paul and Linda Koch and other smaller donations totaling about $37,000.

He said Koch also donated historic medical equipment that will be used in the display once the east-end addition is built.

The restoration process

Wideman said thousands of hours were devoted to resurrecting the Lister since it was first brought inside in July 2019.

Hands-on restoration team members included museum employees Jeff Truckey and Andrew Duescher, retired museum employee Hank Van Stedum and volunteers Peter Angeli, Paul Koch, Mike Pavick, Jerry Vander Heyden, Larry LePage and Jay Froming.

“It’s nice to be part of a project like this that future generations will be able to enjoy and learn from,” Jeff Truckey, the museum’s facilities specialist, said. “This was the most difficult restoration project I’ve been part of so far, because there’s a lot of work involved. But I think it has (turned) out very nice.”

Truckey said the hospital car has been part of the National Railroad Museum’s rolling stock since 1988.

The Lister was one of two identical hospital cars manufactured for CNW.

The other, which was dubbed Ephraim McDowell, a former American physician and surgeon, was eventually dismantled and used for parts.

Once the Joseph Lister was removed from hospital car service, Wideman said its interior was gutted, and it finished its career as a bunk car for CNW rail crews.

He said when it arrived at the museum, the Lister was used for storage before being converted into a maintenance space and then transitioning back to a storage space.

In 2018, Wideman said the Lister was deemed a high priority project, and fundraising for its restoration began.

Referencing more than 100 detailed blueprints, he said the restoration team fabricated many parts that had deteriorated or were missing before the museum acquired the car.

The Lister also received extensive metalwork, new wiring and fresh paint both inside and outside.

More about the Lister

Wideman said the Lister was described as a customized, composite Pullman sleeping car that could hold six patients and medical personnel.

To afford patients a greater level of comfort, he said the Lister featured three double doors along one side that each opened to 30 inches wide, enough to accommodate a stretcher.

Wideman said the Lister, part of the Rochester-Minnesota Special train, was intended to provide sleeping quarters for overnight occupancy, and as such, the car was equipped with several special engineering features, like rubber shock absorbers, to reduce noise and vibration.

“It is always exciting to see rolling stock after a large restoration process,” Daniel Liedtke, curator at the National Railroad Museum, said. “The Joseph Lister has been given a renewed life, and visitors will be given the chance to see a different aspect of passenger travel relating to health. In today’s environment, with COVID-19 and other diseases, health is in the forefront of people’s minds. So the Joseph Lister car’s history of transporting patients to the Mayo Clinic resonates with people as they may have had to travel to a hospital for care.”

The Lister’s history now will be forever connected with the National Railroad Museum.

Wideman said the Lister is temporarily on display in the Lenfestey Center, with plans to relocate it once the center’s east-end addition is constructed.

He said the hospital car is now open for public viewing.

More information about the museum and its restoration projects can be found online at nationalrrmuseum.org or by calling (920) 437-7623.

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