Caboose comes home
Motorists in downtown Prineville slowed to a crawl early Monday morning, and people on foot stopped to snap pictures.
City public works employees, having closed the eastbound lane of traffic, kept drivers at a safe distance as a crane suspended a more than 30,000-pound rail car several feet off the ground.
Resting on a section of temporary railroad track, a wheel assembly set ready to rejoin a bright yellow caboose that was transported several miles through town.
By late morning, an historic Prineville Railway caboose had been rolled carefully into its new location, flanked on one side by the Bowman Museum building and on the other by a former Hans Pharmacy building the museum purchased last fall.
"It does seem like it took quite a bit of time to get to this point, and this makes it all worthwhile seeing it sitting here," said Museum Director Gordon Gillespie.
Matt Wiederholt, the City of Prineville Railway's general manager, hopes the railcar will continue to draw public interest and perhaps attract new visitors to the museum.
"I think it makes a great centerpiece for the city," he remarked. "People are talking about it and looking at it."
Wiederholt and Gillespie began work on the caboose exhibit project several months ago in preparation for the railway's centennial in 2018. Gillespie wanted to locate the caboose on a portion of museum land near the recently acquired Hans Pharmacy property.
To make that plan a reality, the museum removed a public restroom facility damaged by ice during the previous winter and removed a tree in the same area.
The railway staff then installed a portion of temporary track, which enabled them to roll the caboose from the Hans Pharmacy parking lot to a portion of permanent track without damaging overhead tree branches and power lines.
The 35,000-pound caboose, meanwhile, got sandblasted courtesy of Ricky B's Restoration, removing the orange paint in favor of a yellow paint job the railcar sported several decades earlier. A built-in crane at the railway's freight depot then lifted the heavy car, enabling train mechanic Dan Mattioda to remove all of the brake rigging and wheel assembly underneath. In doing so, railway staff could transport the caboose at a height less than 14 feet, meeting traffic height regulations. That wheel assembly was taken to the museum in advance of the caboose delivery and installed on the temporary track.
Wiederholt then scheduled Vernam Crane Service to pick the railcar from the lowboy trailer once it arrived at the museum and place it on the wheel assembly.
"From our standpoint, it just went smooth," Wiederholt said of the move. "We couldn't have asked for an easier trip down here."
Gillespie agreed, making a point to thank all of the people involved in the process. He went on to highlight financial donations the museum has received in connection with the new caboose. The Hagen family, which includes Betty Hagen who worked many years at the railway, donated $10,000 and secured matching funds. In addition, the Crook County Foundation contributed $5,000.
"So we are right around $25,000 in donations," Gillespie remarked.
Now that the railcar is moved to its new home, the museum staff will take over, preparing the railcar for public visitation as a new exhibit. That effort starts with making the new feature as secure as possible, while remaining highly visible in Prineville downtown area.
"We are going to put up a nice wrought iron fence," Gillespie explained. "We are getting lighting and installing cameras."
Work will then begin on an access ramp for disabled visitors, landscaping around the railcar and construction of a false front on the museum building designed to look like a City of Prineville Railway office.
"We are going to do a lighting plan, so everything is lit at night and looks nice," Gillespie said.
The interior, which is painted a pale green color and features numerous mechanical relics from the old railroad days, will go largely unchanged, save for some basic cleaning and installation of some small informational placards.
If everything goes as planned, the museum staff hopes to open the caboose exhibit in early February, just in time to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the City of Prineville Railway. At this point, no specific dates or events have been scheduled, but staff from the railway and museum hope to work together to plan something that will highlight the historic caboose and railway.
"We will definitely have some special events," Gillespie said.