Coffee, tea or history?
Maybe one day in the not-too distant future, diners will look out the windows of an antique railroad car that once raced across the Great Plains to the foot of the Rockies and see Rockdale.
Could be, if the Rockdale Historical Society’s ambitious plans go through.
Thursday the Rockdale Municipal Development District (MDD) okayed a proposed $10,000 matching grant for the society to fully restore a 70-year-old dining car that now sits on a siding at the I&GN depot-museum.
Long- range plans would include an eating establishment in the “Cheyenne Mountain,” a World War II-era diner which once traveled between St. Louis and Denver.
It’s part of an overall downtown goal of the MDD to revive Main Street in between two restored, historic “anchors,” the depot on the south and the Kay Theatre to the north.
Tom Manskey, MDD executive director, noted that the district has already applied for a state grant to repair sidewalks along Main linking the two landmarks.
Long-range goal is to make downtown Rockdale “a destination.”
LOTS OF WORK—That’s also the goal of the Historical Society.
Bert Dockall, society president, said a lot of work remains before the dining car can be termed fully restored.
“We’re looking at paint, flooring, air conditioning,” he said. “Probably expenses in the neighborhood of $30,000 to $40,000.”
Some work has already been done. “We’ve put in new windows,” Dockall said. “It’s a great car. The exterior is stainless steel.”
And once the Cheyenne Mountain is as fully restored as is its neighbor on the siding, a big red caboose, to what use should it be put?
The use for which it was originally intended, according to Dockall.
“We’d like to see a place where you sit down and have coffee and cake or pie, maybe sandwiches,” Dockall said.
“Maybe a full restaurant,” he added. “After all, a lot of old railroad cars are turned into diners anyway.”
Dockall emphasized the historical society isn’t looking to get into the restaurant business.
“It would be a tenant,” he said. “Some already existing food-service business that would come in and run this.”
FUND RAISERS—Dockall said the society continues with fund raisers to put money toward the dining car renovation.
It plans to raise $10,000, which will then be matched with the grant approved Thursday, either through MDD funds or through the hotel-motel tax to be administered through the city, according to Manskey.
Dockall said Cheyenne Mountain dining car was constructed in 1942 and went into service on Missouri-Pacific’s Colorado Eagle.
“It stayed in service on that line for several decades and then, once the railroad business changed and passenger travel declined, it was put into service all over the country,” Dockall said.
EL CAMINO SIGNS— Also during Thursday’s meeting, the MDD approved a $1,462.17 grant for the El Camino Real de los Tejas National Historic Trail Association.
“These funds are to cover costs associated with two of the trail signs which will be placed in Rockdale,” Manskey said.
Milam is the first county along the 2,500-mile series of trails, stretching from Louisiana to the Rio Grande, to receive signs.
Sixty-two signs are being placed throughout the county to denote sights and routes along the trail.