This summer EcoTarium visitors will sit in a newly preserved passenger car while riding on the museum’s iconic Explorer Express train. Restored this spring by students in the Automotive Collision program at Worcester Technical High School (WTHS), the freshly painted, open-air coach was delivered to the EcoTarium on June 17, after spending two months in the high school shop.
A popular attraction at the EcoTarium for over forty years, the Explorer Express train is a one third scale replica of an 1860’s steam engine. The red passenger cars, which get heavy use and are outside in the elements all year round, must be repainted about every five years. This is the first time a car has been restored by students.
According to EcoTarium President Joe Cox, the project came about through the long-standing partnership between Worcester Technical High School and the EcoTarium. “Through the work of Ted Coghlin (WTHS General Advisory Chairman), we were able to create this win-win collaboration between the museum and the high school,” said Mr. Cox. “We couldn’t be happier with the work the students did.”
Worcester Technical High School Principal Sheila Harrity said “Not only did the students enjoy working on the car to learn and hone new skills, but they were also thrilled to apply their competencies to such a worthy project that will be enjoyed by delighted children and adults in the community. They are already looking forward to the next passenger rail car and have even identified areas to improve the efficiency of the process.”
Project blended old-fashioned elbow grease with state-of-the-art technology
The project began last winter when Steve Stefanik, Department Head of Automotive Collision, and Kyle Brenner, Director of Career and Technical Education, visited the EcoTarium to review the current condition of the passenger rail cars and put together a plan to restore them. The first of the cars to be preserved was delivered to the high school in April by GMS Automotive of Shrewsbury. The firm has towed the Explorer Express train engine and cars for repairs at no charge for many years.
According to Mr. Brenner, the students disassembled all of the seats, roof and support bars, and removed the old weathered and tattered paint. Using traditional hand sanding and abrasives from Worcester’s very own Norton Abrasives Company, the students performed hundreds of labor-intensive hours removing the old paint, rust, and scale. Students also removed and repaired areas of corrosion, as well as patched holes in the fiberglass roof section. All of the work was done under the guidance of Worcester Technical High School instructors.
“Since each rail car includes wood, steel, cast iron, aluminum, and fiberglass, the students learned different methods of surface preparation, spray applications of primers and top coat materials,” said Mr. Brenner. He explained that all of the aluminum products were sand blasted with glass beads and primed with an acid-based, self-etch primer. The steel and iron components were primed with an epoxy-based product, and the fiberglass roof was covered with a three component 2K urethane-based primer.
The remaining shiny bright red paint is also a three component 2K urethane based single stage top coat, which requires no clear-coat and will offer many years of durability under the harsh warm and cold climates of New England, according to Mr. Brenner.
About the EcoTarium
The EcoTarium is New England's leading science and nature center, an indoor-outdoor venue dedicated to inspiring a passion for science and nature in visitors of all ages. The center offers a museum building with three floors of interactive exhibits and is home to live animal habitats, interpretive nature trails through forest and meadow, the Alden Digital Planetarium, a tree canopy walkway (seasonal) and a narrow-gauge railroad.
The EcoTarium, located at 222 Harrington Way in Worcester, Mass., is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays 12 to 5 p.m. Admission is $14 for adults, $8 for children 2-18, $10 for seniors 65+ and students with ID. WOO card holders receive $2 off one adult admission and $1 off one planetarium show. Parking is free. For more information, visit www.ecotarium.org.
About Worcester Technical High School
Worcester Technical High School, located at One Skyline Drive in Worcester, Mass., recently became a STEM Early Career and College Innovation School. The Innovation Plan was designed to support STEM Senior Capstone Projects to provide authentic learning experiences for our students connected to our community. Worcester Technical High School administration, staff, and students have worked along side of city officials and representatives of non-profit organizations on several projects this past year. For more information, visit www.worcestertechnicalhigh.com.
Julieane K. Frost
Manager of Communications and Marketing