The newest addition to downtown Prineville is a colorful nod to its past.
Monday morning, a bright yellow, 42,000-pound caboose from the City of Prineville Railway reached its likely final destination at the Bowman Museum. Over the next several months, the museum will be preparing the caboose before opening the new display to the public in 2018, the 100th anniversary of the city-operated rail line.
Matt Wiederholt, manager of the railway, said the historical museum had expressed an interest in a caboose for years but had no place to display such an oversized exhibit. Last year, the museum purchased an adjoining property, the former Hans’ Pharmacy, providing a place to park what’s now the largest item in its collection.
Built by the Lee Valley Railroad in Pennsylvania in the 1940s, the caboose was added to the Prineville fleet in the 1960s and ran regular trips along the city’s rail line until 1979. Wiederholt said cabooses became largely unnecessary in the rail world around that time, when automated sensors took over the job of monitoring the train and track from human crew members.
Wiederholt said since then, the caboose has been mostly idle, serving for a time as an office and making the occasional excursion run on the 19 miles of track between Prineville and the junction with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway main line near Redmond.
Gordon Gillespie, director of the Bowman Museum, said the railroad has played a key part in the history of Prineville.
As the largest town in the region in the early 1900s, Prineville was widely expected to be the final destination for the rail line that would eventually be built to connect Central Oregon with the Columbia River and the world beyond. Instead, tracks were laid to Bend in 1911, bypassing Prineville entirely, Gillespie said. Concerned the lack of a rail connection would doom their town, Prineville leaders turned to voters and won support to build a city-supported spur line.
The railroad facilitated the development of several sawmills in Prineville in the 1930s, Gillespie said. For a time in the 1960s, Prineville’s mills were shipping so much lumber out on the railway that the city was able to subsist on railroad revenue and forgo collecting taxes, he said.
The exterior of the caboose has been cleaned up and repainted in preparation for going on display, with the same yellow and black color scheme used by the railway during its heyday. Inside, the caboose retains its original fading mint green paint, four bunks, a toilet, a sink, a heater and a small desk topped with a hand-cranked pencil sharpener.
Wiederholt said the caboose made the trip from the railroad depot in two pieces — the undercarriage on Friday, and the car itself on Monday. Both traveled on a flatbed truck and were set in to place on a short length of track with a crane.
Wiederholt said he was pleased to hear the caboose was already attracting a lot of attention from passing drivers Monday morning.
“Anything to get people through that museum,” he said. “It’s a wonderful museum; they’ve done a great job getting lots of neat stuff in there.”
— Reporter: 541-383-0387, firstname.lastname@example.org