Making room for an historic caboose
Right now, a caboose sits on a back track of the City of Prineville Railway.
It is coated in orange paint, much like the fleet of diesel engines the railroad utilizes on a frequent basis.
The railway received the 1940s-era caboose from Lee Valley Railroad in the early 1970s. According to COPR General Manager Matt Wiederholt, the railway used it for freight operations throughout the '70s, retiring it in 1979.
"So it has just been hanging around," he said. "We used it as an office down at the (Prineville) Junction for a little while and since then, we have used it for small excursion rides. … It is just kind of sitting out here essentially, not getting maintained."
The caboose first caught the attention of the Bowman Museum several years ago during expansion of the facility. Museum Director Gordon Gillespie remembers wanting to move the caboose to the little park space on Third Street, just east of the museum building.
"It is really in good shape," he said. "The nice thing about that caboose … is it is a smaller one. It's cute — and that is perfect for us."
The problem was, nobody could quite figure out how to move the caboose into that spot. Since it was bracketed by buildings on three sides, it seemed unlikely the museum and railway personnel could safely make it happen.
But the space problem proved to be a temporary one. Last year, the museum purchased the newly vacated Hans Pharmacy building and accompanying property, providing a perfect location for the caboose.
"It just seemed natural to me that the parking area was a natural glide path for it," Gillespie said.
Making even more room for the caboose, the harsh winter resulted in damage to the public restrooms just east of the museum. Turns out it would cost more to repair the restrooms than remove them.
Gillespie wants to add the caboose as a nod to Crook County's rich railroad history. He points out that when builders of the main rail line bypassed Prineville in favor of Bend, the community chose to build its own short line railroad and connect to the trunk line. Otherwise, Prineville might risk going the way of a ghost town.
"It is a wonderful history, so we love the idea of having something we can use to show the locals and all our visitors that history," Gillespie said. He noted that you can still find remnants of coal from the coal heat bin and smell the faint odor of cigarette smoke inside.
"The life of the people who worked in it is still obvious," he said. "It's really cool."
Once Wiederholt learned that Bowman Museum had purchased the Hans Pharmacy building, he too realized that the facility was finally equipped to house the caboose. And the timing couldn't be much better. Next year, the railway celebrates its 100th anniversary.
Not only did the railway offer to donate the caboose, they will provide a small portion of the track for the car to occupy.
"We are going to donate about 20 used relay ties and two pieces of old 60-pound rail that would be obsolete around the same era — the '70s," Wiederholt said.
With a plan in place, the railway now needs to figure out how to transport the caboose from the railway to its new downtown Prineville location. Wiederholt said it helps that the car is light — at least by railway standards — at 60,000 pounds. It is also fairly short at about 50-feet long.
"The problem is, it's 13 feet 8 inches high," he said. "So if you were to roll it onto a lowboy (trailer) or something like that, we would be over-height. Is it possible to be over-height and get it down there just by putting it on a truck? That would probably be the easiest and cheapest for us. If we can't move it just the way it is on a truck, then it becomes a little more challenging where we would probably have to get a crane and lift it and take the wheels out … and then set it down."
But before the transport can happen, the museum needs to prepare the spot. That effort includes removal of a tree, demolition of the damaged restrooms, and asbestos removal. Then after the caboose is put in place, it will get a paint job restoring it to its 1970s City of Prineville Railway look — pale yellow with a black and white logo. In addition, the museum will add ADA-compliant ramps to access the caboose and outfit the platform with kiosks detailing the full history of the city railway.
"I am really, really hoping we can have it in there by July," Gillespie said. "I want to see schoolkids going through there in September."