By Sally J. Ling
The tired old 1951 caboose, with its worn red paint and rusted steel frame, sat on a portion of the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) tracks behind Deerfield Lumber at Hillsboro Boulevard and Dixie Highway for 15 years. But now, thanks to the efforts of Ed Dietrich and Bill Munsonmeier (both Deerfield Beach Historical Society board members) the caboose has a new paint job and a new home on N.W. 2nd St. adjacent to the 1920 historic schoolhouse and City Hall.
It wasn’t as though no one took an interest in the aging, old rail car. In 2002, Operation Restoration, launched by the Deerfield Beach Historical Society who owns the caboose, tried to restore it to its former glory. Broward County grant money, organizational and private donations and a home for the caboose were all arranged in the $179,500 project. Shortly thereafter, however, the loss of county grant money and support by the County Parks and Recreation Department derailed the venture, causing restoration plans to be placed on the back burner. With plans to expand commuter rail service through the tri-county area and the need for space where the caboose sat, restoration plans were moved to the front burner earlier this year.
“We originally met with 16 different agencies, and it took a while to coordinate,” said Dietrich, who previously owned Deerfield Lumber. Among the entities involved were: CSX Transportation, Amtrak, Tri-Rail, City of Deerfield Beach, Florida Department of Transportation, Deerfield Beach Historical Society and the South Florida Railway Museum. The co-chairs also enlisted the aid of local businesses who donated materials and labor for the relocation. MWI Pumps, a manufacturing company in Deerfield Beach, donated the welding services of Reuben Durant to shore up the deteriorated caboose chasee before its move. The FEC prepared the caboose’s new site, donating rock ballast and rails.
The project, which is scheduled to be complete in 2017, includes an exterior paint job in blazed orange with black lettering (the cars were nicknamed “orange crates” because of their color), painted by Jeff Connor who works on carnival and rail cars. The project will cost more than $125,000, with the majority of costs going to interior renovation.
Munsonmeier, past president of the South Florida Railroad Museum that is located at the Tri-Rail Station on Hillsboro Boulevard, explained: “The caboose was originally built in 1951 as a boxcar to carry general freight. When Atlantic Coast Line and the Seaboard Air Line merged to become the Seaboard Coastline, they took the boxcars and made cabooses out of them.”
He further stated that the conductor who is in charge of the train and his crew occupied the caboose that was divided into three areas: the front portion accommodated the living and bunk room, the center was used for storage and contained a ladder for climbing up to the cupula (an elevated observation area in the roof with seating), and the rear portion housed the galley, bathroom and power generating system. The restoration project will include basic representations of these areas.
During the refurbishing process, the community will be able to get an up-close look at the interior work being done via a ramp that will allow a peek through the windows. When renovations are complete, the caboose will serve as an educational tool with guests enjoying regularly scheduled tours as they listen to fascinating railroad history recounted by volunteers from the South Florida Railroad Museum and Deerfield Beach Historical Society.