by Dennis Dalman – firstname.lastname@example.org
Ron Euteneuer of Sartell loves to think his late grandfather helped build the old red caboose Ron and other volunteers are lovingly restoring at a site along 3rd Street and 2nd Avenue in Waite Park.
It’s very likely grandfather Albert Euteneuer did, in fact, have a hand in building the caboose. He worked at the Waite Park “car shops” from 1917 until 1960, constructing mainly railroad boxcars. Euteneuer was an expert at putting finishing wood touches on the cars, and grandson Ron is almost certain he would have been chosen to do the specialty-built features that characterize cabooses.
The caboose in question was built in 1943 in the car shops just 50 yards or so directly north from where it now sits. Although its frame is steel, most of the boxcar is wooden because steel in the mid-1940s was critically needed for the war effort. The wood for the car, Euteneuer noted, came from Douglas fir trees from either Washington or Oregon – from some of the forests then owned by the railroad.
For many decades, the old boxcar sat unused in St. Paul until in early 2011 when the Great Northern Railway Historical Society agreed to sell it for $1 to the St. Cloud Area Rail Legacy Museum (Starail), of which Euteneuer is treasurer. It cost $7,000 to move the caboose on a flatbed truck to Waite Park. It couldn’t come by rail because of its badly aged and weakened bearings.
The boxcar was used by the Great Northern Railroad from the time it was built in the spring of 1943 until 1980. It was latched onto the back of countless trains during their journeys primarily in Minnesota and North Dakota.
The caboose, like cabooses everywhere, served as a kind of traveling “office” for the train’s conductor and other staff – typically two brakemen. All would keep an eye on safety issues while the train was on the tracks. Another “duty,” though an unofficial one, was for the conductor to wave merrily back to the happily waving children and adults in cars traveling on roadways near the tracks.
The refurbished bright-red boxcar will be one part of a three-part exhibit on a track next to 3rd Street, across the street from Pesty’s Bar and Restaurant. The other parts of the “trio” will follow. They include a boxcar and a diesel locomotive engine. All will proudly display a famous logo – “Rocky,” the Great Northern Railroad mountain goat.
Euteneuer loves to share details about the permanent exhibit. The boxcar, which arrived from St. Paul in mid-February, was built at the Waite Park car shops in 1948 – the first made completely of steel and the first one with roller bearings. The diesel locomotive engine, a gift from Xcel Energy, was built in 1941 and will be sent from Becker, where it is now, to Waite Park.
The trio of train-car exhibits will be hooked together, front to back, just like an abbreviated train. Starail members are also hoping Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad and the City of Waite Park can negotiate the purchase of the car-shop building, which would be adapted into a train museum with thousands of fascinating artifacts culled from the long history of railroading. The rail industry shaped much of American history and culture. It had a decisive effect on the settling of the West and the sad demise of the Plains Native Americans.
Euteneuer is a long-time, passionate train hobbyist. Just the slightest mention of anything to do with trains can set Euteneuer down the track he so loves – the history, legend and lore of trains. Born in St. Paul, he was raised in Waite Park, a city well known for its “car shops” – the local slang phrase for the vast series of buildings where train cars were constructed for trains far and wide and the place where Euteneuer’s Grandpa Albert worked for 43 years. The car shops employed hundreds of people from throughout the area.
The car-shop building is 300 feet long, made of yellow brick and built on solid granite bedrock. The oldest part, on the west, was built in 1890. The other half, to the east, was constructed in 1920.
Between the car-shop building the train exhibit sits on a paved portion of the Wobegon Trail, which will eventually link up to the Wobegon Trail from St. Joseph and points west and to the City of St. Cloud to the east.
Euteneuer can foresee the day when people will enjoy a day visiting the train exhibit and the car-shop museum, and many visitors, he said, will be bicyclists or hikers on the trail.
Although the boxcar was in sad-sack condition when it arrived in Waite Park, the members of Starail were determined to bring it back to life. They sandblasted it, repainted the inside, put in seating cushions, redid a rotted part of the wooden floor and installed new windows with shatter-proof glass. That labor of love continues. Just recently, Euteneuer and two other men worked inside the caboose, sprucing it up. The other men were Barry Schreiber, secretary of Starail and a professor of criminal-justice studies at St. Cloud State University; and Anil Shah, an SCSU student of computer technology who hails from the world’s “rooftop,” the country of Nepal high in the Himalaya mountains.
As the men worked, doing various tasks within the caboose, Euteneuer proudly called attention to the caboose’s features. Its walls have been repainted a mint green, which is the original color. The repaired tongue-and-groove wooden floor will be painted brick-red, also the original color.
The cast-iron stove, bolted to the floor, is the original that was used for heating the car and for cooking. In true railroader fashion, like a conductor of yore, Euteneuer brought a cast-iron skillet and ingredients to make a stove-top quiche – eggs, spinach and cheese.
The red caboose is a “cupola-style” car, meaning there is a raised portion (cupola) in the very middle of the car so two people can climb up a ladder and sit down in facing chairs while looking out several windows above the boxcar. It’s high enough so workmen could sit and watch the top of the train cars ahead of them as it chug-chugged down the track.
Cabooses were created in the mid-19th Century and were considered “traveling hotels” for the train staff by railroad companies. They were spartan accommodations and yet also rather cozy and homey with their wood or coal-fired stoves and their sleeping benches. Euteneuer and his assistants are currently working to install cushions on the two long sleeping benches. They will also install a chemical toilet, an air conditioner and – to the delight and amusement of visitors – a four-foot long, bright-red cribbage board made by Euteneuer, complete with gold and silver actual railroad spike “markers.” While riding in boxcars, railroad staff during their down times enjoyed playing cards and cribbage.
Bye, bye boxcars
The word “caboose,” historians surmise, came from the Dutch word “kabhuis,” which referred to the compartment on the main deck of a ship where meals could be prepared.
For many decades, boxcars on trains were required by law. Rail staff had to keep a close eye on safety factors, such as air-brake pressure and rail parts overheating.
Then, in the 1980s, the invention of contraptions known as “flashing rear-end devices” more or less sealed the doom of cabooses. Known as FREDS for short, the electronic devices automatically kept track of safety concerns and could instantly relay any information to the engineer at the front of the train. Nowadays, the conductor is often also at the front of the train, with the engineer.
Euteneuer and other train hobbyists are sad about the gradual decline of trains and train culture. That is why they want to preserve as many artifacts as they can for the enjoyment and enlightenment of future generations. School children have already enjoyed visits to the caboose. Many of them ask their teachers if they can “stay and play” there.
The exhibit will become a part of Waite Park Family Fun Fest every June.
Generations of children in the “good old days” grew up waving at conductors while traveling with their parents. Many old-timers fondly remember the song, “Little Red Caboose.”
“Little red caboose chug, chug, chug
Little red caboose chug, chug, chug
Little red caboose behind the train.
Smokestack on its back, back, back, back
Coming down the track, track, track, track
Little red caboose behind the train.
Last car on the end, end, end, end
Racin’ ’round the bend, bend, bend, bend
Little red caboose behind the train . . . ”
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.