Indiana volunteers painstakingly restore rare wooden caboose

Cabooses generally haven’t been seen as the last car of freight trains for many years.

Posted: Feb 22, 2021 9:07 AM

NEW HAVEN, Ind. (AP) — Cabooses generally haven’t been seen as the last car of freight trains for many years.

The crew members they used to house and the jobs done by those crews have been taken over by technology, said Kelly Lynch, vice president of the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society.

And, though the romance of riding in a cozy home on rails remains, some children today may never have seen an actual little red caboose, he said.

Now, Fort Wayne-area residents and visitors can see one up close because of a years-long restoration project spearheaded by the nonprofit railroad historical society.

To some old-timers, the refurbished Wabash No. 2543 caboose might look familiar – it stood for decades in Fort Wayne’s Swinney Park beginning in 1957, along with a Wabash steam locomotive. In 1984, the caboose became a part of the railroad historical society’s collection in New Haven.

The intention was to save the caboose. But the approximately 100-year-old specimen became a victim of its age – and its construction.

Unlike later 20th-century cabooses made mostly of metal, this caboose was made mostly of wood. That makes it rare – one of only two remaining wooden Wabash cabooses – and in need of painstaking work.

To restore the car, it would need to be disassembled, board by board. “It was like stripping it down to a skeleton,” Lynch said.

But railroad historical society members and other volunteers were undaunted, and during the last three years, 90% of the structure was replaced.

A thousand pieces of new lumber were placed. Several curved and arched beams were handmade for the interior roof – because the inside of the caboose also was wood-paneled.

David “D.J.” DePanicis, a school director from the Youngstown, Ohio, area with a woodworking background, became project director, leading volunteers in more than 5,000 hours of work.

“This project a year ago was at a stage with no roof, no walls, no siding, a cupola that was falling apart, no windows, nothing, just a bare frame and a floor,” DePanicis said, adding that, as he started taking the caboose apart, wood crumbled to pieces in his hands.

But the society has “such a great variety of people” that jobs could get done, DePanicis said. Restoring the caboose was “a lot like building a house with your best friends.”

In its day, the caboose would have served as an office and living quarters. Crews looked out for signs of trouble, handled switches and brakes and kept track of paperwork regarding shipments.

This caboose contained a wrought-iron stove, a desk, a sink and water closet and bench seating along the sides that doubled as bunks where crews could sleep.

The interior was painted a light green commonly used by railroads, and the exterior was matched to Wabash’s characteristic brownish-red from photographs. Authentic decals were placed on the exterior.

As to where the caboose traveled while in service, that’s difficult to determine, Lynch said.

“We suppose it spent some time in Canada and Detroit, which were part of the Wabash system. But we have photos of it parked by General Electric, now Electric Works, so we know it spent time in Fort Wayne,” Lynch said.

The restoration cost about $5,000, he said, but many materials, including a rubber roof, were donated. The project was partly funded by a Buy a Board campaign.

The caboose now is planned to be not just a static display but a working museum – becoming part of the society’s rail excursions, including the annual Santa trains popular with families. All of the braking has been restored, DePanicis said, so the caboose is safe as well as attractive.

DePanicis already has a picture in mind – moms, dads and children gathered around the stove and Santa at his desk waiting to hear Christmas wishes.

“The amount of work that has gone into this is just stunning,” he said.

“Seeing them enjoy this car the way it would have been,” he added, “makes it worthwhile.”

__

Source: The Journal Gazette

Lafayette
Clear
32° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 32°
Kokomo
Clear
30° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 25°
Rensselaer
Partly Cloudy
28° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 28°
Feels Like: 28°
Lafayette
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 32°
Danville
Partly Cloudy
32° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 26°
Frankfort
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 49° Lo: 31°
Feels Like: 25°
Frankfort
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 25°
Monticello
Clear
27° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 27°
Monticello
Partly Cloudy
27° wxIcon
Hi: 46° Lo: 30°
Feels Like: 27°
Logansport
Partly Cloudy
30° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 29°
Feels Like: 30°
Mild Conditions Continue Wednesday
WLFI Radar
WLFI Temps
WLFI Planner

WLFI is promoting fire safety with FREE smoke detectors

 WLFI and several local fire departments are helping with your fire safety this winter. CLICK HERE. 

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 657037

Reported Deaths: 12450
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion901321624
Lake48105871
Allen35552632
Hamilton31839393
St. Joseph29538510
Elkhart25261412
Vanderburgh21115377
Tippecanoe19765197
Johnson16242352
Porter15838267
Hendricks15723296
Clark11843179
Madison11672314
Vigo11503228
Monroe10248158
Delaware9788178
LaPorte9720194
Howard9017194
Kosciusko8514107
Bartholomew7373147
Warrick7369146
Hancock7362128
Floyd7139164
Wayne6586188
Grant6395157
Morgan6040124
Boone603388
Dubois5868111
Dearborn540266
Henry539492
Marshall5390104
Cass537199
Noble506775
Jackson462063
Shelby458490
Lawrence4154111
Gibson399681
Harrison395160
Clinton392353
DeKalb382078
Montgomery381583
Knox354484
Miami354063
Whitley346235
Huntington338176
Steuben335955
Wabash328775
Putnam325959
Ripley325161
Adams320249
Jasper312943
White295351
Jefferson292770
Daviess284296
Fayette270255
Decatur269388
Greene259978
Posey259731
Wells255374
Scott248446
LaGrange240170
Clay238944
Randolph225076
Spencer215830
Jennings213544
Washington207727
Sullivan202038
Fountain200341
Starke185950
Owen181652
Jay177328
Fulton176437
Carroll175618
Perry172435
Orange170450
Rush163922
Franklin158335
Vermillion158040
Tipton145441
Parke137915
Pike127232
Blackford120027
Pulaski105643
Newton96431
Brown94639
Benton91113
Crawford90113
Martin80114
Switzerland7507
Warren74612
Union66810
Ohio52711
Unassigned0425

COVID-19 Important links and resources

As the spread of COVID-19, or as it's more commonly known as the coronavirus continues, this page will serve as your one-stop for the resources you need to stay informed and to keep you and your family safe. CLICK HERE

Closings related to the prevention of the COVID-19 can be found on our Closings page.

Community Events