AIKEN --- Don Barnes, sporting a blue-striped railroad engineer's hat, walks down the middle of the 80-foot-long vintage Pullman coach car on Union Street, describing what the car looked like in its heyday.
"It was built in March 1918. Pullman built it for the Illinois Central Railroad," he said, adding that George Pullman insisted that the exterior of all the cars be painted green, with the name of the train in gold-leaf lettering.
The passenger car and the one next it to are part of a project to build a replica of the old Aiken Railroad Depot that was demolished more than 50 years ago.
According to Mr. Barnes, who is a member of the Aiken Railroad Depot committee, found the two cars and a caboose on an abandoned track in the woods in northern Tennessee.
"These cars are rare," he said. "All are either in museums or have been scrapped."
Mr. Barnes salvaged the caboose and the two rust-pitted, dilapidated cars. They arrived in Aiken last summer on tractor-trailers with a police escort after a 530-mile journey that lasted four days.
"I could have gotten modern cars made after World War II, but we wanted them to fit the era" of the depot when it was built, he said.
The coach cars will be refurbished into dining cars and will be available for catered parties and other events.
The cars will be restored to their 1920s elegance: cherry wood, white table clothes, wing-back sofas, velvet drapes with gold tassels, floral carpet, chandeliers down the center and wall chandeliers between each set of tables; and along the top of the walls will be handmade carvings created by a local artist.
The outside of the cars will be painted in Pullman green with "City of Aiken" in gold-leaf lettering on the side. Mr. Barnes explained that trains were always named after cities.
Before they can be decorated, the cars need a lot of exterior restoration, and they will not be fully restored until after the depot is completed.
Tim Simmons, the committee's chairman, said he hopes to hold the depot's grand opening by June of next year.
While workers have been restoring the railroad cars, the committee has been busy securing funds. So far, it has raised $2.1 million of the $3 million needed to complete the project.
Construction on the depot is expected to begin in September.
"We've got enough money for that and the cars," Mr. Barnes said. "But we don't have enough, yet, to finish the interior" of the railroad cars.
Reach Michelle Guffey at (803) 648-1395, ext. 110, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Anyone interested in making a donation or finding out more about the railroad depot project can call (803) 641-3002 for a seat at a luncheon presentation that is held every second and fourth Wednesday at the Security Federal Bank on Laurens Street in downtown Aiken.
Donations can also be sent to:
P.O. Box 1177
Aiken, SC 29802