Restoring the Doodlebug

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An Iowa railroad enthusiast hopes to repair the commuter train to the point where it is gliding out of the Belen’s Doodlebug Park on Second Street and Castillo Avenue along tracks through Valencia County.

Meanwhile, a Belen man hopes to turn the Santa Fe M-190, also known as the Doodlebug, into an educational classroom where local students can learn about the importance of railroads to the country’s history.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Railroad enthusiasts Gene Green, left, and Roger Ward, right, inspect parts inside of the Santa Fe M-190 train, also known as the Doodlebug. The pair spent two weeks in late November securing and cleaning the historic train, while taking an inventory of the supplies and materials needed to get the locomotive up and running.

Before Gene Green, of Belen, and Roger Ward, of Marshalltown, Iowa, could begin spearheading these goals, the two secured and cleaned the historic train and took a full inventory of the supplies and materials needed to get the locomotive up and running.

While the Doodlebug was in California, some parts were stolen from the engine, generator and radiator, said Green, president of The Belen Railway Historical Society that maintains and restores “the old heifer.”

Although finding replacement parts isn’t impossible, the two need to know what to search for from other trains that are being retired. The majority of Doodlebugs are no longer in existence, with many cut up after they were used from about 1925 to 1959, Green said.

The Doodlebug contains a V-12 diesel engine designed for submarines, Green said. These engines were narrowed down and placed into locomotives after World War II when the U.S. Postal Service required locomotives transporting mail to use diesel instead of gasoline engines.

“It’s the only one this powerful and in two parts, so it’s unique but you don’t see them at all … There’s not that many left in many small communities,” Green said.

The pair also replaced rusted locks, repaired a giant hole in the floor and sealed the connection between the two cars.

Abigail R. Ortiz-News-Bulletin photo: Roger Ward, left, mechanical in charge at Union Pacific Railroad, and Gene Green, right, president of The Belen Railway Historical Society that maintains and restores the Doodlebug, discuss railroad history inside of the historic train.

The two asked local businesses for materials and supplies needed to repair the Doodlebug, and received a positive response, Green said.

They received bolts and nuts from Tabet Lumber and Concrete, a steel plate from Neds Pipe and Steel and services from Jerry Gabaldon, Belen High School welding teacher, and Bryan Martinez, Belen High School woodworking teacher.

Ward, mechanical in charge at Union Pacific Railroad, learned about the Doodlebug in April 2011 while visiting Green.

“I got really, really interested in it,” he said.

As soon as Ward laid eyes on the locomotive, Green joked that Ward’s tongue rolled out of his mouth right into the dirt.

Ward, who grew up around railroads since his father was a railroad engineer in Iowa, has bounced around working for a number of railroads, including Chicago and North Western Transportation Company, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company, Iowa Northern Railway Company and Cedar Rapids in Iowa City Railway.

Upon Ward’s retirement next year in September, he plans on spending two to three months at a time, during the winter, restoring the locomotive to once again run on tracks.

“I’d dearly just love to hear it running,” Green said as he spoke about found memories from hearing similar trains while growing up.

Instead of getting the old locomotive up and running, Green would like to focus on turning the baggage claim car into a classroom, where students could learn about the train and the importance of railroads.

Green aided in the restoration of a steam locomotive in Mason City, Iowa, which they used for educating school children. He wants young people to understand the importance of railroads to this country, he said.

“I want young people to understand that the western part of the United States and the West, which starts in Ohio, but the western part of the U.S., was built by railroads,” Green said.

The commuter train was restored to its original colors earlier this year. The production crew from “The Last Stand,” a modern-day western starring former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger that finished filming in Belen in December, funded xeriscaping of part of the Doodlebug Park and restorations.

The pair is also searching for pictures of the Doodlebug to display inside the rail car.


-- Email the author at aortiz@news-bulletin.com.