Restoring railroad history
By Earl Bolender for the Mt. Shasta (CA) Herald, June 13, 2007

A wooden railroad caboose that was damaged by fire and decaying in a remote wooded area off Highway 89 is now being restored. Once used by both Great Northern Railway and the McCloud River Railroad, the 1930-built caboose has been moved to the south Weed site that used to be the home of Black Butte Auto Dismantling. It is being renovated by a group of railroad enthusiasts headed by Bruce Shoemaker of Minnesota.

Last Wednesday a crane and two flatbed trucks provided by Cartlon Enterprises of Burney moved the caboose but only after a family of wood rats was evicted. The caboose was moved in two sections: the main body and the wheels. "It was pretty tight getting it out of the woods", said crane operator Les Carlton.

The caboose arrived at its new home amidst cheers from Shoemaker and the volunteers who are camping out for the summer to restore it. Everyone, men and women, went to work helping place the wheels on two track sections and then putting the main body in place, all in just over an hour. Former caboose owner Jim Nile, a retired forester who lives in Mount Shasta with his wife Velma, was receptive to turning the caboose over to Shoemaker.

"I'm glad to see that there are so many people interested in restoring it", Nile said. The caboose was initially put into service by Great Northern Railway (1890 to 1970), which was the northern most transcontinental railroad route in the U.S., running from its headquarters in St. Paul, Minn. to Seattle, Wash. "Great Northern turned the caboose over to the McCloud River Railroad in the early 1950s", Nile said. "McCloud operated it until, I believe, 1962".

After its retirement the caboose was sidelined about 100 feet from the McCloud railroad tracks in the McCloud Basin's tree farm. "We used it as a tree farm cabin, primarily during the winter months," Nile said. The caboose was first brought to the attention of Shoemaker by friend and colleague "North Bank Fred" of Edgewood.

When Fred told Shoemaker, the St. Paul, Minn. resident immediately began making inquiries into the caboose's availability. "This caboose originated in my home town," Shoemaker said. "At first I thought about painting it in the Great Northern colors. But, because of its location in this beautiful area, I think I'll paint it with the McCloud Railway Company logo on it of a bear with a fish and Mt. Shasta in the background." Shoemaker, whose father and grandfather were railroaders, has spent time camping in the area. When he found out the Black Butte property was for sale, he purchased it last year.

"I'm not what you would call a traditional railroad buff," Shoemaker said. "I'm not big on photographing trains. I just like being around them." After purchasing the 34 acre property, Shoemaker and friends, primarily from Oregon and California, formed the non-profit organization, Black Butte Center for Railroad Culture. "It's the ideal location," Shoemaker said. "There's the old water tank right across the tracks and this is where two railroads, Union Pacific and the Central Oregon and Pacific, converge".

"Both railroads are supportive of what I'm doing," he said. "In fact, Central Oregon and Pacific Railroad donated the ties and tracks for the caboose." Although Shoemaker said he does not have any immediate plans for the property, he said having the caboose on the property could eventually lead to creation of a railroad museum. "I'm definitely interested in obtaining more historic railroad equipment," he said. "There are other communities that have railroad backgrounds, Dunsmuir, McCloud and Yreka. Why not add Weed and make this a tourist destination?"

"But that's going to take time," Shoemaker said. "Right now we're working on improving the site. We have received a lot of support from the community. Local community members are offering their help." In addition to caboose restoration, the group is working to improve the grounds, including replacing the fencing and general clean-up of the property. Shoemaker said he plans on turning the wood-framed building, one of two structures on the site, into a replica of the Black Butte railroad station, including the sign that once stood nearby.

"I have old photographs of the station, which is about the same size as this building," Shoemaker said. "I have some good carpenters in this group who are helping with the replication of the station and caboose restoration. Donations are also being provided for the caboose's renovation. "I have a friend who has the same type of wood for the caboose's flooring," Fred said. "If we had to buy it, it would cost a fortune. It's just great to see so many people interested in the restoration." The caboose includes a small windowed projection on the roof known as the cupola, which was the most common form of caboose in America. The crew sat in elevated seats in the cupola to inspect the train for problems such as shifting loads and broken or dragging equipment. Cabooses were phased out in the 1980s when technology was developed that made their use obsolete.