KELLER, TX — A restraining order was filed this week in Tarrant County District Court to prevent further destruction of a vintage Rock Island passenger car that has divided the city’s Old Town Keller Merchants Association.
A copy of the order filed against association president Edward Kirkwood plus a cease and desist notice were taped to the car’s windows after stairs, a steel panel and railings were removed Memorial Day weekend following a controversial vote to scrap the car. The restraining order bars Kirkwood and any contractors from “obstructing, demolishing, selling or interfering, in any way, with the rail car.”
The petition was filed after a contractor over the weekend began dismantling the coach, which is believed to have been built around 1917. On Sunday morning a man wearing a welder’s mask and wielding a cutting torch was seen working on the end of the car that faces the locomotive at the city’s train display next to the Union Pacific main line.
Ceiling fans, a motor and ductwork were said to have been removed from the inside.
Association members Terry Thomas and Becky Harness, who spearheaded efforts to bring the coach to Keller, worked with an attorney to file the restraining order after a small group of members voted to scrap the car without other members knowing. One of the voting members was said to have joined the association just minutes before the vote.
According to a report in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, the vote was 5-4 at a lightly attended association meeting May 7 to scrap the car. Kirkwood, a Farmers Insurance Group agent in town, said the consensus was that the rail car was an “eyesore” and a “hazard” and that a contractor should be hired to do the work.
Kirkwood did not comment further after the restraining order was filed. A hearing is set for June 11.
A day after filing the order, Thomas and Harness were still visibly upset. While Harness filed the petition, Thomas and others guarded the car.
“We sat on that train all day, one to three people at a time, to make sure nobody did anything while we got a restraining order,” said Thomas, who owns Memories and Treasures Antique Mall in town.
He vowed to defend the order. “If they come out there I will put myself between them and the train, and I’ll probably go to jail.”
The merchants association bought the car last year for $18,000 and moved it to the display in hopes of creating a train watching spot like those in nearby Saginaw and Grapevine, Harness said. Because it has no trucks, the car is perched on blocks behind the E8 locomotive and in front of two other cars that sit on a stretch of track between the main line and Old Town Keller, the original downtown.
Funds to buy the car, listed as an 87-foot Coleman in court documents, were raised through the city’s annual crawfish festival, and Harness said about $9,000 was generated at April’s event to begin restoration and buy trucks.
Harness, a quilt shop merchant, has not given up hope that restoration can continue.
“It was just supposed to be a nice, safe shell for people to sit in, visit and watch trains, a little bit better than what Grapevine and Saginaw have,” she said. “But it’s still fixable.”