NEW HAVEN — It was a long three years, but the work has paid off, now making New Haven home to one of only two Wabash Railroad wooden cabooses in the nation.
Thanks to the Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, the century-old railroad icon has been restored to its former glory, said Kelly Lynch, the society’s vice president.
These cabooses were once “a home away from home” for crews during their trips through the country when passenger rail was available, Lynch said. The fixtures were eventually phased out by steel cabooses in the 1940-50s, Lynch said.
Some cast iron parts found on the caboose during the dismantling process dated back more than 100 years. This specific caboose was once displayed in Swinney Park and was transferred to the group in 1984 with the goal of eventual restoration, according to Lynch.
“It’s been outside continually its entire life,” Lynch said, adding that the damage had become visible after so many years.
The process of renovating the caboose was the equivalent of “deconstructing a house and rebuilding it,” as Lynch described it.
But, thanks to a crew who had woodworking and carpentry backgrounds, they were able to take on the project. The organization made room in their restoration facility and got started.
Materials to renovate it weren’t too expensive, according to Lynch. “Lumber is fairly reasonable; that was most of the cost,” Lynch said.
“We hope to show how tightly interconnected northeast Indiana was thanks to the railroad,” Lynch said. He describes the coming of the railroads as the “great equalizer,” meaning people of all backgrounds could get from Point A to Point B, regardless of income, especially when many people at the time did not own automobiles.
“70 years ago, we had high-speed rail through Fort Wayne,” Lynch said.
The newly renovated caboose will be on display every weekend the New Haven yard is open. For many people, visiting provides their first close-up glimpse at a train as well as a first train ride.
According to Lynch, the organization conducts events such as its fall railroad festival and its Santa train.
“We’ll be able to expand our events, experiences, increase our capacity. This type of restoration is exceedingly rare,” Lynch said.
To see the full videos of the caboose’s restoration process, visit fortwaynerailroad.org under the news tab.