Three old train cars with debatable historical significance are on their way out of Old Town Keller to make room for parking spots.
The train cars, which many consider to be symbols of the city’s history, are being removed to make room for more parking spots in Old Town Keller as part of $4.25 million in renovations to help make Old Town more of an evening destination.
In October, the City Council voted to have three of the four cars removed because more parking is needed for shops and restaurants in the area.
Until Friday, when the city began removing two of the train cars, the tiny, indistinct “train park” sat behind Old Town businesses on Lamar Street.
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A city-owned engine, which has been there since 1998, will remain in Old Town and will be “more prominently featured” when the Old Town renovations are done, according to the city’s website.
The other two city-owned cars were simply out-of-use cars donated by the BNSF Railway and don’t have any historical significance or connection to Keller, according to Rachel Reynolds, Keller’s public information officer. It isn’t clear if they will be sold or scrapped.
But a fourth car, a nearly 100-year-old passenger car owned by the Old Town Keller Merchants Association, isn’t going so easily.
The association is being forced to remove the vintage 1917 Rock Island Railroad car, which city staff has characterized as “not terribly attractive” in a City Council meeting, by the end of this month.
The association and the Old Town Keller Foundation worked together to pitch a proposal to move the car to another part of city-owned land in Old Town, in a small undeveloped park that houses the foundation’s Wild Rose Heritage Center, a small local museum dedicated to the city’s history.
“We thought it was a very good plan,” said Cathie Jackson, president of the Old Town Keller Merchants Association and chairwoman of the Old Town Keller Foundation board of directors. “I think it’s an important feature of Keller.”
A ‘miscommunication’ problem
Keller formed in the late 19th century when the Texas Pacific Railroad extended north of Fort Worth, according to the city’s website. It’s named after John C. Keller, a railroad foreman. Many trains every day continue to chug through town on the Union Pacific Railway that runs north-south alongside U.S. 377, just inside the western city limit.
On Jan. 14, the city’s Parks and Recreation Board recommended approval of the proposal, but on Feb. 2, the City Council rejected it, saying firmer plans and a timeline were needed.
Council members Armin Mizani and Rick Barnes then met with representatives of the Old Town association and foundation to discuss bringing a better plan to City Council. They added the item to the City Council work session agenda on Feb. 16.
But because of a “miscommunication,” Mizani said, no one from the association or foundation showed up to the meeting.
“We didn’t know we were on the agenda for that meeting,” Jackson said.
During the meeting, Mayor Mark Mathews noted that the passenger car was made in Illinois and was on a railway that would never have come to Texas, questioning whether it would have any real significance to Keller. Barnes then said that since no representatives from the groups were at the meeting, it was “time to move on.”
The Old Town groups now have until March 31 to move the car.
‘I wish it hadn’t happened’
Jackson said the groups were in separate talks with another government entity and a reality show to find a new home for the train car. If those fall through, Jackson said, they will store it, which is expensive, or have it scrapped, “which is very difficult to think about.”
“I wish it hadn’t happened this way,” Jackson said.
This isn’t the first disagreement to surround this passenger car since it arrived in Keller less than five years ago.
The Old Town Keller Merchants Association bought it for $18,000 in November 2011 after saving up proceeds from the annual Krawfish Krawl for many years. Some members believed it was a waste of money, calling it an “eyesore.” During a May 2012 meeting, with most of the train car’s supporters absent, the association agreed to sell it for scrap for $3,500.
For nearly two years after that, members worked to find the scrap pieces and rebuild the train at an estimated cost of $10,000. The four members who opposed keeping the train, including the former president who pushed for the sale, were no longer in the association.
This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.