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Hidden treasure

Chad Frey
cfrey@thekansan.com
When Ryan Welker remodeled his home at 801 S.E. Fifth, he found something unexpected -- the home was constructed from old railroad boxcars from the 1800s.

Ryan Welker was not entirely sure what he was getting into when he bought a bungalow-style home at 801 S.E. Fifth, a house in Newton’s Country Club Addition.

He was not entirely sure when the house was built, and he definitely did not know how.

It was when he was trying to pull out some drywall to run some new electrical lines when he discovered just how unique the home is for the area of town he was in.

“We ended up hitting a metal roof, just tin. It ended up being the top tin sheeting of this car here,” Welker said. “We went to the other side, and found the same thing there.”

He found his more than 2,000-square-foot home was constructed out of two old railroad boxcars, sitting nearly side-by-side.

“I just could not believe it,” Welker said.

The home was orginally constructed in 1929, according to records kept by the Harvey County Appraiser’s Office. That confirmed Welker’s suspicion.

His work on the home changed dramatically upon the discovery.

“The design became completely different,” Welker said. “The beams interlock and we had to span those. We had to resupport the foundation. There are actual walk platforms on the top where they used to move the grain spouts.”

As he worked, he found old newspapers used for insulation in the basement, pill bottles and other items behind the walls installed — presumably in 1929 — to cover the old boxcar walls.

Welker exposed the box car ceilings, and a portion of the walls in the living areas. He added new shiplap about three-fourths of the way up the boxcar walls.

The box cars came from the Atchison Topeka & Santa Fe rail line.

“There is a date on one of them of 1873,” Welker said. “[That is] the old one. This one is 1880 or something like that.”

The home was reinsulated in a way to preserve the look of the box cars’ interior.

In nearly 20 years, real estate agent Alex Carbajal has never seen anything like it — though he knows the history of Newton’s Ranchito settlement and an area of town where Santa Fe workers were settled in box cars and small homes constructed from railroad materials.

Those settlements were by Sand Creek, along first street.

Finding a box car house along High Street was a shock.

“What struck me when I came in and saw what they were doing is how they kept the integrity of the railroad cars,” Carbajal said. “The tie in with the community, Newton as a railroad town, this is special.”

The ceilings of the main floor are now bare wood, with metal fixtures that make the identity of the boxcars known. Look closely, and one can find chalk notes and labels for what was once transported in the cars.

In the living room hangs an original pulley. In several places throughout the home, one can spot old ceramic electrical fixtures.

“That is how they worked at night,” Welker said. “They’d run electricity for a light.”

During renovation, Welker removed dropped ceilings and sent five 40-yard dumpsters of debris to the landfill.

Welker burned up a reciprocal saw cutting in air conditioning vents, and two drills cutting in light holes.

“Under this floor is a 2 1/2-inch tongue and groove flooring, just rough cut oak,” Welker said.

The Welker family is looking to move, relocating to help Ryan’s father on the family farm.

“We wish we could move the house,” said Macy Welker, Ryan’s wife.

When Ryan Welker found his home was constructed from old railroad boxcars duing a 1996 renovation, his renovation plan changed dramatically. He wanted to incorporate the box cars into the look and feel of the home.