Repairs to roof of B&O museum are begun

Officials do not know extent of damage yet

The Snowstorm Of 2003

February 20, 2003|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

At the B&O Railroad Museum, where half the roof over the 19th-century roundhouse building collapsed under the weight of snow, structural engineers and contractors began preparing yesterday to brace the remaining portion to prevent further damage to a unique collection of train cars and engines.

Officials do not know the extent of the damage but said fallen trusses destroyed two post-Civil War wooden coaches. The museum's most famous piece, the William Mason steam locomotive, is kept in a separate building and is unscathed.

"The B&O wooden coaches are post-Civil War but among the oldest railroad coaches known. They really got smashed," said William L. Withuhn, transportation curator for the Smithsonian Institution, which has a partnership with the B&O museum. Withuhn visited the museum Tuesday and said the roof collapsed mainly on 19th-century train cars, "among the most rare."

Contractors yesterday tore out a metal rollup door - used to bring train cars in and out of the downtown museum - that was damaged in Monday's collapse to clear the way for construction equipment to be brought inside, said Courtney B. Wilson, the museum's executive director. Repair work was to begin today.

The walls of the roundhouse were strong, engineers told Wilson, but the remaining half of the roofing is a concern.

"We have to realize the remaining structure shows a great deal of stress," Wilson said. "So, the stability can be affected by outside sources, meaning the weather. The faster we get this done, the better."

Instead of temporarily covering the missing portion of the roof, Wilson said, the museum plans to leave the roof open and cover the trains, most of which cannot be moved because of the rubble around them. Wilson said damage estimates should be known by next week. Insurance officials made estimates at the museum yesterday, but it was doubtful insurance would cover the entire repair bill.

The Maryland Historical Trust, a state agency, said yesterday it will contribute money to help pay for repairs that insurance will not cover. Private donations are also being sought. "They won't know what their funding gap is until late next week. But the gap is going to be considerably larger than what we can contribute," said trust director J. Rodney Little, who estimated repairs will cost millions of dollars.

Wilson said the museum had no indication the roundhouse roof would fail. The weekend storm dropped an area record of 28.2 inches of snow. A March 1 gala to be held inside the roundhouse, which Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. planned to attend, has been postponed.

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