Caboose delivered to Wheaton museum

Friday, December 4, 2009
The Wheaton Depot Museum's new caboose was lifted from a truckbed and placed on a track laid just for it. The caboose was hoisted by a crane from Bremer Machine in Monett. [Times Photo by Murray Bishoff]

The town of Wheaton now has a railroad caboose to go with its Depot Museum.

Wheaton's new prize arrived on Thursday morning and was placed on a railroad track built specifically for the car beside the museum. Museum organizers, who have made their facility a shrine to Wheaton's railroad history, greeted the arrival by ringing the recently acquired Swindle College bell.

The caboose is the first railroad car in Wheaton since the train station closed on Sept. 8, 1946.

Accepted as a donation, the caboose came to Wheaton through a culmination of networking. Betty Lamberson placed the depot on the National Register of Historic Buildings in an effort to save it before the museum organized. In so doing, she alerted railroad enthusiasts to Wheaton's aspirations to retain its heritage.

Subsequent networking with the Missouri and North Arkansas Railroad Museum in Harrison, Ark., led to premier railroad historian Jim Wakefield, who provided a wide range of train information, including details on cabooses. Railroad buff Tim Kubat, of Republic, sent copies of building plans that matched Wheaton's facility, making restoration possible.

Word between railroad fans reached Jane Bullard, who owned the Country Caboose near Duneweg. Bullard owned two cabooses and a Pullman passenger car, which she had at her place of business.

"She found us," Lamberson said.

Bullard travelled to the Wheaton Depot Museum when it became operational this year and asked if they would like to have a caboose.

For Ralph Lamberson, who wrote the Wheaton centennial book with his wife, Betty, and spearheaded the museum project, the offer was like a dream come true. Months of planning went into preparations to get the caboose.

Retired railroad employee Bob King, who lives in Oronogo and works with the Corona, Kan., railroad museum, laid the track for the caboose in the same place the rail line once ran.

Local trucker John Holloway made arrangements to bring the caboose and its wheels in separate shipments to Wheaton. Crews from Glen Garrett's Tri-State Motor Transit headquarters brought forklifts to load the trailers. The two wheel assemblies, weighing 7,000 pounds each, loaded fine. The 23,000-pound caboose sat too high on the trailer to transport.

Garrett came to the rescue and provided a lower trailer that allowed the caboose to ride at a height of 15 feet. The wheels were brought to Wheaton on Wednesday. The caboose arrived on Thursday morning. Both trailers were unloaded by Kelly Bremer with a crane from Bremer Machine Shop in Monett.

"I can't say enough about those guys," Ralph said. "They were super."

The wheels were moved onto the track, with a bit of guidance from volunteers King and J.P. Hickman. The caboose arrived within the hour. After getting one more piece of rigging back in Monett, Bremer directed the team on how to wrap the 40-foot straps around the car and secure it. With two straps secured around the middle third of the caboose, the car was lifted into the air. The wood creaked audibly as it was suspended. Then the crew unchained the caboose from the trailer, and the final move was underway.

As Bremer pivoted the crane, the volunteers pushed the caboose until it lined up over the track. One end was then raised as the other slowly settled over the spike extending up from the wheel assembly. Once the back was in place, the front end was slowly lowered onto the other wheel assembly's spike.

The next step for museum volunteers will be fixing up the caboose and painting it with the Missouri-North Arkansas Railroad shield logo. Ralph Lamberson said the caboose will be restored to the Arkansas-North Missouri colors as closely as possible, which are brighter than the darker Frisco shade of red.

Cosmetic work will be needed on the exterior, Ralph Lamberson said. The previous owner had taken out two of the three windows on one side, replacing one with a door. One end has a window where a door had been as well. Lamberson plans to restore the original look. Siding for the car is still being manufactured, he said.

A similar caboose sold in the past year for $15,000. The Lambersons were overjoyed at managing the undertaking with almost all the services to get the caboose in place having been donated, along with the caboose itself.

The Wheaton Museum is now open four afternoons a week on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Residents will have their first chance to look the caboose over after the Christmas parade at 6 p.m. on Dec. 12.

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