The Christmas secret stayed safe with us, until this very critical point. We couldn’t just park the caboose on the driveway, it needed to be at home on a set of rails. How do you hide 40 feet of railroad track from your children?? Not likely!
The cat was let out of the bag when the construction began on our very own mini railbed. We were very lucky to have a railyard crew nearby who graciously delivered and installed our rails and ties.
It was exciting enough to see 40 foot of rail hanging above our house, we could just imagine how amazing it would be when the caboose was going to “fly” overhead!
Now that the last piece was in place, we anxiously awaited the main attraction!
The weather outside was perfect. In just over a week the caboose would be freshly painted and ready to be brought home. Little did we know the state’s drought could not have ended at a worse time for us and that the weather had other plans.
As the painters worked at stripping all the old layers of paint off, the history of the caboose was slowly being revealed. Each layer held different decals, markings, and details from history. The crew worked slowly so that we could record them and take pictures. Once the the caboose was stripped down to bare metal, we were finally ready for primer and paint! Then it rained……and rained…..and rained……for almost a week. Now we were the not-so-proud owners of a giant block of rust. After the weather completely cleared, the workmen were back to sandblasting and grinding all over again. As soon as the first layer of primer went on, you guessed it, the rainstorms came again. At least now she was protected. Our work timeline shifted horribly off schedule. Moving date #1 was scratched off the calendar.
Within the next week the painting was completed. It was as if she had just rolled off the assembly line. No more peeling paint and no more rust. What a transformation!
For several summers our friends and family have spent time camping in the mountains of Colorado. We always look forward to the trips as the seasons change. Unfortunately, more than seasons tend to change up there. The beautiful forests have been replaced by desolation thanks to the infestation of the pine beetle. Millions of trees were killed and now stand as ghostly statues on the mountainsides. Our campground was once in the middle of dense forest. Now, it is practically in the middle of a meadow. Thousands of dead trees were removed because of fire danger and now only aspen groves and tiny pine trees no taller than my children remain. Such a sad sight. The same goes for all the tiny mountain towns near there. Once bustling sidewalks are empty, family grocery stores die, and buildings are left for sale as long as we can remember. Nestled in the heart of a nearby small town is a wonderful restaurant and one of the best museums you will ever visit. Their town caboose greets you on the side of the road. It was also donated in 1989 and has sat at the edge of town ever since. We have visited it before when the kids were little (they vividly remember daddy being dive bombed by the family of birds that call it home) but this year it had much more meaning than before. Isn’t it funny how you notice more of the little things once you have had a similar experience? This was more of a research trip, taking close-up pictures of signs, stenciling, lights, and looking inside through broken windows. Our caboose’s “cousin” was made a couple years later, but was still strikingly similar. With camera in hand we walked around taking all sorts of pictures and made a valuable discovery. Laying dusty and forgotten on the floor inside the caboose were several pieces of scrap. Metal scraps, signs, boards, and a door. Did I mention we are in desperate need of a door?? With all the dismantling that was done with our caboose we lost several valuable items, including this very important one. The discovery led us immediately back to the town hall where we left our contact information and made an appointment to talk to the town mayor. A successful discussion with the town board saw us making a very long one-day roadtrip two weeks later to retrieve our door. The very next day we held our breath as the hinges were attached. A perfect fit!
The summer was spent doing hours upon hours of research. I looked up pretty much everything to be found about cabooses on the internet while my husband called several railroad museums trying to dig up anything we could. Even with all the internet sites, books, and printouts accumulated we are still learning new and exciting parts of the Union Pacific history.
First on the agenda had to be a fresh coat of paint. The exterior of the caboose was peeling and rusting. The original colors faded, and the decals flaking off. So began our endless search for what we now know as “Armor Yellow”.
With as many UP engines and railcars that wander around the country, we thought that it would be a simple task to find the paint colors we needed to restore the caboose. Not the case. Nobody we could find knew the exact dye lot or was willing to give it to us. Any information we did find was horribly outdated. Most of the roadblocks occurred because we were not a museum. Thinking it would maybe work to go through one, we decided to try a local train museum. Since their specialty is model railroading, the paint they could procure was only enough for HO scale, not life-scale!
We were left sorting through long strips of paint swatches and crumbling paint chips trying to match them to old color photographs. The staff at our local paint store was very patient and worked with us to find the perfect match for all the colors. We could not wait to see how they would look, and scheduled the painters to begin as soon as it could be ordered!
All the junk food, candy, chips, and drinks taunt you as you wait in line at the checkout. Inevitably, you grab a candy bar or stick of beef jerky. Not because, you NEED one, but simply because you are hungry, it’s your favorite, or it looks too yummy to pass up. That’s kind of how we ended up with a 50,000 lb “candy bar”.
For years, we drove by the old caboose, sad and deteriorating in a railcar salvage yard. All of our neighbors who have lived here for a long time remember the old caboose when it was a proud landmark for the area.
One evening, while driving by it for probably the thousandth time, we noticed a small “FOR SALE” sign. It took about 5 minutes of discussion between my husband and I before we knew that this landmark needed to stay here and it needed to be restored and cared for. After only 24 hours, the sale sign came off and she was ours….kind of… Some negotiations and decisions would have to happen before the absolute final decision could be made, but at least we were going to try.
Right away we decided to keep this a secret from our children. What better Christmas present could a little boy ask for than a real-life train??!!
Weathered and rusting at the salvage yard
This weekend we welcomed a new member into our family – an old Union Pacific Caboose. We have admired her for years and watched rust, age, and weather take their grasp. When we saw the “FOR SALE” sign appear our only thought was to rescue her. New paint and a new home are finished, now the hard work really begins…