Historic caboose coming home to Pennsylvania to join Colebrookdale Railroad

Photo courtesy of Rivanna Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS)

A relic from the golden age of Pennsylvania's railroading past is coming home.

Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) cabin car (known as a 'caboose' on other railroads) #477768 was built in Altoona, Pa. in 1941. For the last six years, members of the Rivanna Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society (NRHS) have been restoring it at a location in Virginia, far from the car's home. Now it is being donated to the non-profit Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust in Boyertown. There it will be maintained and kept in operation on Colebrookdale Railroad tourist trains that will begin running on the eight mile track between Boyertown and Pottstown in the fall of 2014.

'We restored PRR #477768 from being a virtual wreck to nearly its original condition so that it could be seen and enjoyed. It does not belong on an isolated siding in central Virginia,' said John Pfaltz, one of the restoration team leaders.

The caboose has left its Red Hill, Va., siding for two brief trips: in 2010 it went to Steamtown in Scranton, where it was on display, and in 2012 it went to Harrisburg, to be displayed at the Amtrak station. These moves were made possible by Norfolk Southern, which picked up and delivered the caboose. This time, however, the move will be for good.

The NRHS Rivanna Chapter held a farewell ceremony at the caboose in Red Hill, Va., on Thursday, Dec. 19. Chapter members, friends, and families attended the event along with dignitaries from Boyertown, the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust, and the NRHS national organization. During the event, the 'Keys to the Cabin Car' were handed off to the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust.

Until the 1980's, all freight trains had the familiar red caboose at the rear end. Usually a conductor, brakeman and flagman rode there; it became their home away from home. Consequently, this N5b caboose has a work table, bunks, ice box, sink with running water, toilet, and potbellied coal stove. Everything except the toilet has been restored to the way it was when #477768 was first built in July 1941 in the PRR shops in Altoona.

The cabin car will find new life on the Colebrookdale Railroad, a new tourist excursion railroad running through the beautiful and forgotten 'Secret Valley'-the oldest iron making corridor in the nation.

According to a recently-completed report funded by local municipalities and businesses, the Colebrookdale will be an engine of economic renewal for the region.

'There is a strong community commitment to making this railroad a central theme in the continuing revitalization of Boyertown and Pottstown,' said John Pfaltz. 'The cabin car is part of the continuing commitment on behalf of civic and business leaders to the place they call home,' said Nathaniel Guest, president of the Colebrookdale Railroad Preservation Trust. 'The Boyertown Rotary and Lions Clubs contributed $15,000 to the Trust to bring the car home. Of that contribution, $5,000 will go to the NRHS's Heritage Grants fund (which had supported the car's restoration with a $5,000 grant a number of years ago), and the rest will go toward the car's shipment, inspection, maintenance, and operation,' said Guest.

The car's arrival date in Pennsylvania has yet to be determined.

Story coutesy of Nathaniel Guest.

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