Phillip Hibbs, Helt Construction Services, started spraying the Engine 1023 with paint at 5 a.m. When he started, he was in a white jumpsuit. By mid-morning, that jumpsuit had turned black and sticky with paint. By 12:30 p.m., he’d shed that jumpsuit and gone through not one, but two painter’s masks designed to keep the paint off his face. By 1:30 p.m., the heat of the day and the stickiness of the paint caused Hibbs to take off even the masks, leaving Hibbs with a thick, oval mask of paint across his face.
Hibbs’ cameo as a racoon was all for a purpose, though — putting a brand-new coat of paint on an engine and tender box that have needed new paint for decades. The work, funded through Heart of the Heartlands at their Carona Depot, took place Wednesday with a few challenges, but largely ending with the train looking in great condition.
“That thing ain’t looked this good in 100 years. Railroads are dirty work,” said Larry Spahn, Heart of the Heartlands president. “It’s probably not looked that good since it rolled out of the shop.”
Last week, the Helt crews sandblasted Engine 1023 and its tender box, which had sat for close to 6 decades in Pittsburg’s Schlanger Park before a move last summer to the Carona Depot. Following the sandblasting, a primer was put on ahead of Wednesday’s paint job.
But although Helt Construction was there early, there was almost a minor disaster. A farmer on the adjacent farm arrived with a combine to pick up the ready-for-harvest wheat, with a straw crew behind. Before the neighbor could get started, Spahn and others asked if he could hold off the effort for a day or so, to keep the airborne dust and more from adhering to the sticky paint.
“Just our luck,” Spahn said, “the first little period we have time to do anything with sandblasting and painting, and we run right into the guy cutting wheat.”
“We would have had to stop,” said Chris Helt, owner of Helt Construction. “We would have had to pressure wash it and start all over.”
Helt said that the biggest problem with painting has been the wind, which blows the paint farther away and prevents an even coat from being easily applied.
But by the afternoon on Wednesday, the train was as black as night, with 25 gallons of a high-gloss Imron black double-coating the engine and tender box.
“There’s a dent that we didn’t know we had on the tender box,” Spahn said. “No one saw that until it was painted. We’ve got to put the lettering and Kansas City Southern on it, and all that. We’ve got to put all the windows in there. We’ll paint the outsides of that black, and they’ll go back in shortly. We’ve got gauges and everything to go back in. The bell rope, we’ll run in there and the whistle will be back in. We’ve got a sight glass and lubricator. After all that, it’ll be perfect. But nothing can happen until the painting’s all done.”