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Grand opening event planned next Thursday evening for museum members, opening to the public the following Friday

JASON CHANEY - The caboose exhibit courtyard, shown shortly before the stairs to enter the caboose were installed, features pavers, lighted trees, flower beds, railway artifacts and a City of Prineville Railway facade.

The big yellow City of Prineville Railway caboose has sat conspicuously outside the Bowman Museum for months.

Protected by decorative rod iron fencing and lighted by night, it has drawn the attention of many visitors who wonder when the museum will finally open it and its accompanying courtyard to the public.

The wait is almost over.

Next Thursday evening, museum members will get to check out the new caboose exhibit in its finished format, and the next day the rest of the public will be invited to take a look.

Museum Director Sandy Cohen had initially hoped to unveil the exhibit in conjunction with the railway's centennial celebration in late August.

"It wasn't quite ready," he recalls. "When you deal with a lot of small contractors like we did, there are a lot of I's that need to be dotted and T's that need to be crossed. We wanted it to be 100 percent ready before we did a grand opening."

To reach that standard, museum staff added a Prineville Rail Depot façade to the south-facing wall of the courtyard and added several railway artifacts. Pavers were installed and flowers planted, and underground electrical work made it possible to light the area and add railroad sounds. Finally, new steps were built to make it easy for patrons to enter and exit the caboose car.

Multiple local and regional businesses pitched in, including Wendels, Cooper Electric, Agee Ironworks, Bulldog Brand Solutions, Blaine Noland Construction, and Bend-based Clowers Carpentry.

Museum leaders have opted to hold the grand opening for the exhibit on Thursday evening, catering exclusively to its museum members.

"It's important for those who are committed to being members of the museum to get certain perks and privileges, and one of the traditional privileges is they get first crack at brand new, exciting things," Cohen explained. "This is certainly a brand new, exciting thing."

The after-hours party will feature food courtesy of Pioneer Club and music.

"I think the fact that it will be in the evening is kind of cool, because it will be all lit up," he remarked.

No speeches are planned for the grand opening. Instead, members are invited to mingle with the museum staff and learn more about the railway exhibit and the caboose centerpiece.

"It should be a fun evening," Cohen said.

The day after the sneak preview, the museum will invite all of the public to check out the new attraction. When they do, Cohen said people can expect, more than anything, to get a complete history of the railway.

"That is our number one intent," he said, noting that inside the caboose, people can view a video about the railway and how it was created step by step.

Cohen also anticipates the exhibit will inspire some pleasant memories from the past. He has noticed already, as people view the caboose and courtyard from the street, that it spurred a lot of nostalgia.

"A lot of memories come flooding back," he remarked.

To further enhance the experience, Cohen said the exhibit will feature a lot of atmospherics, including sound effects and possibly music.

"What you want to try to do with exhibits like that is try to create an immersive of an experience as you possibly can," he said.

Moving beyond the grand opening, Cohen hopes that the new caboose and railway exhibit, its first outside the walls of the museum building, will be the first of many expansion efforts. "Visitors will get a sense that the museum is on the move," he said. "It is growing. It is expanding."

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