The first Tenino Railroad Day is coming up on Sept. 17 and will feature a ribbon-cutting ceremony that will signal the reopening of a caboose at the Tenino Depot Museum.
The caboose has been completely rebuilt from the ground up in a two-year renovation process undertaken by Don Bowman, of Olympia, and Jan Wigley, of Centralia.
In a phone interview with The Chronicle, Bowman said he had originally undertaken the task of breathing new life into the caboose after some of the Tenino City Council members asked him for assistance.
“The mayor and I and a couple of guys from the city went through the caboose with an ice pick, like you were buying a wooden boat, and 99% of the major (wooden) structure was rotted,” Bowman said.
While he was skilled in carpentry himself, he quickly realized it wasn’t just the wooden components that would need work but a lot of metal parts as well.
“Jan was my go-to metal guy. He’s an all around handy dude. He’s a good welder and a good metal fabricator and that’s what I needed,” Bowman said.
Many of the original metal parts on the caboose, such as the stairs and ladder handles, had to be completely refabricated by Wigley. Having Wigley’s extra shop space was also an asset as many large components had to be completely rebuilt.
Unfortunately, even with the extra shop space, some of the wooden components had to be sourced directly from mills.
“All the lumber for the walls had to be cut at a mill, because we couldn’t go to Home Depot and buy the sized lumber pieces they used in 1923,” Bowman said.
The caboose was originally produced in 1923 by the Great Northern Railway and was used mostly in the Eastern Washington area on the rails around Spokane.
“It was built in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1923. There were 14 of them built that year there all by the Great Northern Railway. They had their own carpentry force. They had their own metal workers. Railroads back in those days built their own freight cars and locomotives. They did everything,” Bowman said.
Not all the parts needed to be fabricated or replaced though, as Bowman was able to purchase parts from various museums such as the Mid-Continent Railway Museum in North Freedom, Wisconsin. And Wisconsin ended up not just being a source of parts, but of blueprints, too.
“We found them with a gentleman up in North Freedom, Wisconsin. He was a member of their rail museum up there and he had a caboose that was built in 1924, the year after ours was built, and he had a set of blueprints,” Bowman said.
Despite not being from the same year, Bowman said he knew through research that the design didn’t really change between the two years and the blueprints were a big help in his own renovation of the 1923 caboose.
The blueprints enabled him to strip the entire caboose down to the frame and wheel assemblies and completely restore it to the condition it was in when it was officially taken off the rails in 1967.
Bowman said cabooses had many uses but mainly were the conductor’s office or a makeshift break room for other train employees.
Of course, before the addition of radios, this meant that if the conductor saw a danger and felt the need to stop the train, they would have to run the length of the train in order to get the engineer to put the brakes on. The addition of the conductor’s valve in the caboose enabled the conductor to hit the brakes without having to make that sprint; however, that was one component that gave Bowman trouble during his search for parts, until he stumbled on one close to home.
“We were searching everywhere for this part, even went to Canada to search at some museums up there. My friend in Wisconsin who had the blueprints had a guy that came to him looking for parts for a lantern and he actually had a conductor’s valve, and he lived in Morton, Washington,” Bowman said.
The man in Morton gave him the valve for free. Bowman said a lot of other locals from the area helped in various ways with rebuilding the caboose, from painting to roofing. It all was provided with great discounts or at no charge at all in some cases.
Before coming to Tenino and being restored, the caboose was owned and on display at the Country Village Shops up in Bothell. That’s where the local Seattle band SeaStar began to practice in it and where SeaStar lead singer Fae Wiedenhoeft also used to hold music lessons.
“It was acquired by the village I want to say in the ‘80s by the family that owned the village. I didn’t start renting the caboose until 2010 when I opened my little music school there called Syren’s Voice where I taught voice lessons and guitar lessons,” Wiedenhoeft said in a phone interview.
Wiedenhoeft would also host parties in the caboose and shoot music videos with SeaStar in it. She’s written at least 100 songs in it, including the song “On the Sea,” which SeaStar will perform at Tenino Railroad Day to help commemorate the caboose. The song recently won the Seattle Propeller Club’s “stories of the sea” contest.
“That space was just a beautiful little area. It was my studio, it was where I created and where we practiced, and I was pretty much there six out of the seven days of the week,” Wiedenhoeft said.
Wiedenhoeft said although she felt the old wooden furnishing of the caboose had a lot of spirit, she can’t wait to see how it’s been restored.
“We’re looking forward to meeting everyone and seeing our old friend. I'm glad that someone saved her (the caboose), because we weren’t sure what was going to happen to her,” Wiedenhoeft said.
Festivities at the Tenino Railroad Day will start at 10 a.m. Aside from the ribbon cutting, there will also be historical exhibits and activities revolving around the railroad, local vendors, food and live entertainment, including SeaStar’s performance.
Events will occur at the Tenino City Park as well as the Tenino Depot Museum located on 399 West Park Ave.