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Cass train seats get a facelift

By Suzanne Stewart, The Pocahontas Times

MARLINTON, W.Va. — When Mountain Rail West Virginia took over operation of Cass Scenic Railroad State Park train excursions, the fleet grew to include a 100 year old Western Maryland Railway coach with plush, velvety seats that harkened back to an earlier time.

Those seats, while comfortable, have aged – some up to 100 years – and the wear and tear was beginning to show.

In preparation for the new season, MRWV president and vice president John and Kathy Smith reached out to skilled upholsterer Melondy Phillips, of Marlinton, to breathe new life into the antique seats.

Phillips, who has been a seamstress and costumer since 2007, took her sewing skills to the next level of upholstery on set in 2014.

“I started during film work,” she said. “I started helping with set deck. They needed a chair upholstered and because I could already sew, they figured I could do it, so they said ‘here do this,’ and I was like ‘okay.’ I got thrown into the fire, but it turned out really good. I’ve been doing it ever since.”

Phillips met with the Smiths and the contract went from fixing 10 seat bottoms, to doing all 40 seats for one car.

Because she works out of her home, Phillips takes two seats at a time and when she is finished, she trades them for another set.

In addition to being her largest commercial job, Phillips said working on the seats has been very interesting and a glimpse into the materials used in the past.

Just like a box of chocolates, Phillips didn’t know what she was going to get when she disassembled the seats. Each was different – from materials used, to age, to condition.

“I’ve been trying to figure this out,” she said of the seats’ ages. “The reason I can’t tell is because some of these seats have been reupholstered at different times and the styles and materials used are different in all of them. One of the foams that I pulled out – the ones that were really in bad shape – from what my research shows – the foam was used in the 1930s. So, it could have been the 1930s was the last time those particular seats were recovered.

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