Updated at 2:40 p.m. with comments from the Keller mayor:
"It's a shame to destroy a vintage car." -- Keller Mayor Pat McGrail, who toured the scene Tuesday (photo above)
A handful of Old Town Keller merchants is livid that a vintage passenger railroad car the group had hoped to restore was instead partly scrapped for salvage parts during the long Memorial Day weekend. This afternoon the group is standing guard over the old rail car, saying they're willing to go to jail to stop any further scrapping of the car, and are seeking a court injunction.
"We have been railroaded in Keller," said Terry Thomas, who owns Memories and Treasures Antique Mall in Keller. "Over the weekend, somebody came out and decided to start cutting it up."
But Edward Kirkwood, a Keller insurance agent and president of the Old Town Keller Merchants Association, said the decision to scrap the rail car was reached by a majority vote during a meeting in May. A majority of members, he said, believed restoring the car wasn't a wise use of funds.
"It's obvious this car has already been scrapped," Kirkwood said. "It's an eyesore. It's a hazard."
A contractor was hired to remove metal and other parts from the car, Kirkwood said in a phone interview. The work was done over the holiday weekend simply because that's when the contractor could do it, he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, advocates of restoring the car showed pictures of the car's condition before someone entered it over the weekend and began removing parts. They said ceiling fan motors had been taken, metal chunks had been removed -- apparently with industrial tools -- and duct work had been ripped out.
The group posted flyers on the rail car windows warning others not to enter the car, and saying they would seek a cease and desist order to prevent further salvaging.
The vintage rail car, which was believed to be in operation until the 1930s, was bought and moved to the city's historical center last year year using proceeds from five years worth of Crawfish Krawl events in Keller, Thomas said. The total cost was about $18,000.
However, Kirkwood said, other merchants want no further crawfish event funds used on the project.
But the leadership of the merchants association is even now in question. Thomas and association secretary Pat Fisher said Kirkwood was removed as president during an emergency meeting Monday night. They said vice president Mike Lloyd had been voted in as new president. But on Tuesday Kirkwood maintained he was still president, saying only he could call such a meeting.
The city authorized the merchants association to display the rail car on city-owned land along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, just a block west of Main Street - also known as U.S. 377 or Denton Highway. That part of Keller has become a popular evening and weekend destination, with restaurants, bars and other retailers creating a bit of a parking shortage. Some members of the merchants association have talked about the need for additional parking near the railroad tracks.
But the city also has supported promoting Keller's railroad history, and gone along with the merchant association's plans to create a train-watching area along the line. The city owns a diesel locomotive and two other rail cars that are displayed on the same spur as the scrapped rail car.
On Tuesday afternoon, Keller Mayor Pat McGrail toured the scrapped rail car and shook his head.
"It's a shame to destroy a vintage car," McGrail said. "We can't allow the city to be in the middle of this. But if nothing else, if this car can't be restored here, it needs to be sold and relocated, not destroyed."