29 September 2008

BENX Car Gets Its Facelift

Ambitious past HPG president Jim West made good on his promise to apply elbow grease to the BENX car to get the new paint job done before winter. No doubt Don Somers and Jack Coyner found him to be a slave driver (see photo above) as the three fiddled with stencils, cutouts and the like as they endeavored to restore the car to its original livery. The outcome, however, is worth the effort!

Thanks to Nathan Vowels, the car was power-washed earlier, then Rez Painting of Moscow kicked in a generous reduction in rate to apply the basic blue, and Columbia Paint sold the $70/gallon paint at a good discount. Thank you, local businesses! And thank you Potlatch Recreation District for some of the seed money to get the venture started. Rec funds repaired the doors, with the HPG doing its share by selling T-shirts and scale models of the car. Most of all, thank you Frank Bennett for once again being generous in the community!

As to some background, the 56-foot BENX 182 is the last Thrall-Door car of over 180 boxcars that previously belonged to Bennett Lumber Products, which once ran the largest fleet of privately-owned boxcars in the state (the company also had 37 A-frame bulkhead flatcars in its fleet). The car was sidelined in 1992 when Bennett retired the fleet. Because the doors no longer worked properly, the car was rendered unfit to travel over the rails. Thus, it was banished to the side of the depot, where it sat idle and neglected for years. In 2000, Jim and fellow HPG member Tom Burg brain-stormed that the car would make a great portable stage. Jim, being a musician and member of the bluegrass band Two Dollar Bills, fantasized that the blue car would indeed be a great venue. They approached Frank Bennett with the novel idea.

Once Bennett sold the boxcar to the HPG for $1, plans quickly derailed for its restoration due to the more pressing project of restoring the depot. Yet Jim never forgot his promise to Frank Bennett to bring the BENX back to life. Frank Bennett showed his enthusiasm by donating some 55 percent of the funds for restoration. HPG has so far kicked in over 60 hours of volunteer labor to show the organization's good faith.

Of course the boxcar has already provided a stage for the bluegrass concerts that go hand-in-hand with the highly successful speeder event each year. And now that Troy High School has donated its blue velvet theater curtains to the HPG, plans are in line to hang them for a more complete stage look. Next comes a sound system. Jim hopes the venue will provide a good outlet for local talent such as up and coming garage bands and musical groups wanting a unique performing area to show off their skills.

Stay tuned....

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