It has been hidden from view for nearly four decades.

Covered by thick glue and carpet, the mural depicting Seminole Indians along the side of the curved bar on the Saint Lucie Sound rail car was all but forgotten.

The mural dates back to 1946 — a time when traveling by rail was a luxury — and the artwork was befitting for the Florida East Coast Railroad's runs through the region where the Native American tribe called home.

Officials from Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, which now owns the rail car, believe the mural was covered up in the 1980s when a bar was extended and refurbished.

And it wasn't discovered again until 2014 when volunteers from the scenic railroad began peeling back the carpet and found the intricate mural that is made of pieces of linoleum — yes, that same stuff that was once popular on kitchen floors — as they worked to restore the rail car donated by the Haslinger family in the 1990s.

This began the painstaking process to restore the mural and re-create some pieces too damaged to be repaired.

It took some 1,494 hours and 262 scalpels to carefully remove the thick glue under the carpet and not damage the soft linoleum.

Joe Mazur, president and CEO of the scenic railroad, said the dedicated work of 12 volunteers saved the railroad that makes daily excursions through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park some $170,000 by completing the work internally. The result was shown to the public for the first time Thursday morning in Valley View.

And more importantly, Mazur said, the railroad was able to restore the sleek tavern lounge observation rail car back to its former glory so passengers can purchase special tickets to ride in it and it can be used for special excursions.

"This is one of our gems," he said. "It is absolutely incredible how destroyed the mural was."

The mural restoration effort was led by volunteer Carol Schroeder who used the word "serendipity" a lot to describe the process.

She credited help from the Intermuseum Conservation Association to evaluate the mural and offer suggestions on how to restore it and recreate the pieces and sections that were beyond repair.

Schroeder said they still haven't discovered the name of the artist who created it.

She was on a train trip a few years back when a fellow passenger noticed her Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad logo and asked whether they still had possession of the Saint Lucie Sound rail car.

Turns out the man had worked on the car's restoration when the mural was covered and the bar was reconfigured.

Schroeder said up to that point they could not find a photo of the mural and it turns out he had snapped some pictures of it before the carpeting was attached.

"Serendipity indeed," she said.

These photos were instrumental in helping to fill in areas that had been damaged beyond repair.

Another happenstance, Schroeder said, led to a company in the Netherlands that manufactures the type of linoleum that was needed for the repairs.

And one of the volunteers happened to be a carver and was able to craft and match the paint for the missing pieces.

"This indeed was a labor of love and an amazing journey," she said.

 

Craig Webb can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.