Volunteers put caboose first

Colfax landmark renovation to continue
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Renovations will resume soon on the historic Colfax Caboose. The 1920s-era caboose sits at the corner of Main and Grass Valley streets, partially covered with tarps to protect it from the elements.

Project manager Tony Hesch is part of a group of volunteers from the Placer Sierra Railroad Heritage Society, which has agreed to restore the caboose owned by the City of Colfax. He said the project has been on hold, primarily due to the cold weather, but work will continue in the spring, when volunteer help and donations will be needed.

“We have made new progress on the cupola. We have reframed the windows and their openings,” which were completely destroyed by extensive dry rot and required specialty milling performed by Hills Flat Lumber, Hesch said.

Peter Hill, another PSRHS volunteer, said that before any major work on the caboose could begin they had to deal with the electric meter and the sprinkler controls for the Roy Toms Plaza and parking lot adjacent to the caboose that had been mounted directly on the caboose. A new city service had to be created.

“Our first efforts, besides doing some small things, was to get those relocated,” Hill said. “I think we spent a good year to 15 months working on that part of the project.”

Volunteers also stripped off the oak roof and put in a temporary roof to keep it water tight. “Once the windows and siding are replaced, the next major project is to put a permanent roof on it – probably professionally; you want it to last, with proper flashing, to keep water out of the caboose,” Hill said.

Hesch said the PSRHS had advanced about $6,000 to the city for permits and major electrical delivery systems that were the city’s responsibility, with the understanding that when the city was in a better financial position they would reimburse the funds to the non-profit.

“We were just recently reimbursed and now we are able to move financially forward again,” he said.

Hesch’s estimate to complete the work was $25,000, but he believes they will be able to finish for slightly less. Expenditures to date are $16,000, and he’d like to raise an additional $3,000.

Donors and volunteers will be acknowledged for their participation at the completion of the project, perhaps on a plaque similar to the one mounted at the Colfax Passenger Depot, another major project completed by the PSRHS.

Those who’d like to have their name on a brass plaque positioned at the bottom of one of the 16 caboose window can donate $150 for the honor. Seven donors have already stepped forward, Hesch said, and there are only nine plaques remaining to purchase in the “Buy a Window” fundraising drive. Contact Hesch at 346-9179 to donate or to volunteer.

Jim Wood, PSRHS past president and volunteer, said the Colfax Caboose will be a replica of a unique caboose that Southern Pacific Railroad operated on the local train. It was called the “Colfax Caboose” because it was always on the end of the trains that came through Colfax, he said.

The caboose was built in Tiburon by Northwestern Pacific, at one point a subsidiary of Southern Pacific, and operated on the NWP rail line north of San Francisco. “It’s identical to models SP built, all from the same blueprint,” Wood said.

The caboose arrived in Colfax in May 1969 – in conjunction with the centennial celebration of the joining of the rails – when it was obtained from Southern Pacific by members of the Colfax Soroptimist Club. “Their ambition was to bring it here to help preserve the railroad history of the town,” Wood said. Its original use was a museum, and when the Colfax Heritage Museum opened in the passenger depot, some of the artifacts were transferred there.

The PSRHS began the caboose restoration project in 2003, but the group was sidetracked for five years while they took on and completed the much larger and more ambitious restoration of the Colfax Passenger Depot. “We started back in earnest (on the caboose) in 2008,” Wood said.

Once the project is completed, Wood said, the PSRHS would like to utilize the caboose to help interpret railroad history and the use of the caboose in train operations.

“You don’t see cabooses anymore. … They would house the train crew that was in charge of freight cars. They would essentially be keeping an eye on freight cars on the train making sure they were operating safely.” With the advent of modern railroad technology, trains could be monitored by the engine crew, bringing an end to the use of cabooses in the 1980s.