When crews finish restoring the 1942 Union Pacific caboose at the Nampa Train Depot and Museum, visitors will have the sensation of stepping back in time to the years just after World War II.
The caboose, which traveled the rails for more than 40 years, has been a fixture at the museum since the 1980s, when Union Pacific donated it. Thanks to local history lovers, it is getting an upgrade.
The restoration — now three years in the making — includes a new wood interior, windows and furnishings. Restorers are giving the caboose a new coat of paint in freight-car red.
“People argue with me all the time and insist that all Union Pacific trains were yellow,” said Eriks Garsvo, a Treasure Valley historian, train expert and project manager for the caboose restoration. Most were. But this caboose is from the CA-3 class. CA-3s were the sole class of steel Union Pacific cabooses painted red.
The class also was one of the first built with steel exteriors and wood interiors. Before 1942, exteriors were entirely wood.
Union Pacific built 99 CA-3 cabooses. Only 34 are still intact. Garsvo calls Nampa’s the “Cadillac of cabooses.”
The caboose served as an office and living quarters for conductors and rear brakemen. It also stored “all the things that train needed to run,” said Garsvo, including oil, lanterns, flares, shovels, brooms, coal and more.
The original CA-3s lacked electricity, so the coal stove provided heat as well as cooking. The old caboose in Nampa still has its original ice box — just that, a box that held a block of ice for refrigeration. It had a “gravity-flush” toilet, meaning, yep, it flushed directly onto the train tracks.
Garsvo and the other restorers found a few prosaic “treasures” in the caboose, including an old paper cup from the caboose’s built-in dispenser. They found a bunch of cigarette butts discarded under one of the bunks.
Reed Hoefling, a museum volunteer, said the caboose was “a real man cave. The only thing they lacked was a big-screen TV.”
Garsvo said crews will work on the interior over the winter.
Garsvo was instrumental in getting Union Pacific to bring the historic steam locomotive 844 to Boise earlier this summer — an event that brought thousands of Idahoans out to stations and railroad tracks across the state.
A $13,800 grant from the Canyon County Preservation Commission and a $3,000 reimbursement grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust are helping pay for the Nampa caboose restoration. Local businesses, including Norco and Northwest Lineman College, have contributed with money and volunteers.
The caboose will reopen to the public next June during the museum’s Depotfest, an annual event celebrating local history. Until then, visitors can observe the restoration in progress.
Train-related artifacts have a special place at the museum, located at 1200 Front St. in the former 1903 Oregon Short Line Depot. The museum also is home to a 100-year-old steam-powered crane. Cranes, also known as “derricks,” were used for heavy lifting, or if a train car derailed. This crane has traveled throughout the West, ranging from Salt Lake, into Oregon and the McCall area, Garsvo said. It arrived at the museum in the 1980s at the same time as the caboose.
The museum is open Thursdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (Note: Saturday summer hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through the end of September).