Caboose restoration project at Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum reaches end of line
A five-year project to restore a 108-year-old bobber caboose was completed recently at the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Museum in Darlington.
“We have a piece of history here. It is our main attraction for children. It is a kid magnet,” said Bill Potthoff president of the Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association and executive director of the museum. “Cars pull in, the kids open the doors and run immediately to the platform to get in the caboose. It has been a big draw.”
According to Pennsylvania Railroad records, the Class ND cabin car was built April 4, 1905. It was one of 18 cars sold to the Monongahela Railroad in 1919.
John Costello acquired the caboose in 1954. For five decades, the caboose sat on a hillside in Summerville where it served as a play house for Costello's children.
In 2006, Ligonier Valley Rail Road Association officials heard about the caboose and visited the Costello farm to tour the car. When the Costellos moved to Mechanicsburg in 2007, they donated the caboose to the association.
“Costello told us, if we could get it out by the end of the year, we could have it,” said Potthoff.
On Dec. 21, 2007, the caboose was moved to a temporary storage facility in Laughlintown by a Ligonier Construction Co. crew. Two months later it was moved to Darlington and placed on newly installed track on the grounds behind the museum.
Throughout the years, volunteers refurbished the interior and exterior. The entrance was made more accessible for families visiting the museum.
Last week, volunteers reattached the restored ironwork to the caboose, one of the final steps in the project.
“The outside is finally finished,” said Potthoff. “We replaced weathered boards, we replaced the roof and we replaced the steps and restored all of the ironwork.”
When they first climb onto the rear platform, visitors young and old can blow the whistle that was used to signal the engineer. Next, they see three wooden benches that served as both storage and beds for the crew. Then, they get to see the view from the cupola.
“The kids love to get up there and get a picture taken,” said Potthoff.
He said the conductor could see the full length of the train from the cupola.
The caboose features the original cast -iron, pot-bellied stove. Potthoff said 3⁄4 of the wood is original to the car.
“Three crew members stayed in the caboose,” said Potthoff. “They would work there, sleep there and cook meals in the caboose.”
He said the conductor would direct the freight train from the caboose and the brakeman would manually apply the brakes from the back of the train. The flagman would signal the engineer using flags from the rear of the freight train.
The caboose was called a bobber because it originally had only two wheels on each end. When it would roll over the gap in the rails it would bob from one side to the other as it went down the tracks.
By the '70s, the caboose was no longer needed on freight trains after it was replaced with flashing rear-end devices. More recently, Global Positioning System technology is used to operate the trains from a main station.
Potthoff said Costello's family members brought their parents to see the caboose after it was placed at the station.
“Mrs. Costello started to cry because she remembered her children playing in there. They were happy to see we are taking care of it,” said Potthoff.
The caboose is open for tours during museum hours — 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. The museum will be closed July 4. Admission is $5 for adults; $3 for students through high school; children 5 and under are complimentary.
“It is done now. The repairs we made will last 30-40 years,” said Potthoff. “It will be part of history for years to come. It is 108 years old and counting.”
For more information, call the museum at 724-238-7819.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.