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Restoring the SP 1353 caboose

Updated October 18, 2008

February 2008, I received an E-mail from a Chantel Paul in Southern California who, along with her husband, recently purchase a Southern Pacific bayside caboose #1353. They were looking for a picture of the 1353 in service to hang in the caboose. Yes, I hooked them up with the Southern Pacific Historical Society but have had no luck yet. Anyone who might have something, please E-mail me. During our e-mailing I found that they plan to restore the caboose to its 1973 look. They will keep me posted on how they are doing and I thought it would be a good story so here it is in Chantel's words.

Here is a little story about our caboose:

The caboose was purchases September 3, 1974 by Mrs. & Mrs. Healey of Atascadero California. He was a professor at Cal Poly and she was a freelance writer for The Atascadero News. They converted part of the caboose to a dark room and the bay window section she used as her art studio.

Nathan (my husband) all his life has wanted to own a Southern Pacific Bay Window caboose. When cabooses started to be sold he tried to get his Grandfather to buy him one. But his Grandfather wouldn't even though they had plenty of room for a caboose. In the late 60's his Grandparents moved to a new house and around the corner from their house was a caboose (our caboose now). For the next 27 years my husband would drive by the caboose. On our 1 year anniversary he finally showed me where the caboose was. The next day I went door to door to try and find out who owned the caboose. I was very lucky that the first house I went to was the owners brother.

For the next 2 months I stayed in contact with Kevin to try and get him to sell me the caboose. I knew that it was a matter of time, I just wanted to make sure that if he ever was going to sell the lot that I could get the caboose for Nathan.

Every two weeks Nathan would drive by to look at the caboose on his way home from getting his hair cut. One day Nathan called me at work very upset. He was talking 50 miles an hour and it took a few minutes for me to figure out what he was talking about. All I could make out was, "The property is for sale and we're going to lose the caboose!" Of course I got nervous because Kevin didn't call me and tell me that he was going to list the property. Nathan went as far as to call our realtor to make an appointment to see the property, so that he could climb on the caboose.

That is when I had to come clean to tell him that I was in the process of buying the caboose for him. Needless to say he was speechless! So on Sept. 19, 2007 we brought our caboose!

In the conductors desk we found records of when the caboose was cleaned. 1972 it was in El Paso & Tucson. 1973 in Tucson and retired Nov. 11, 1973.

That is their story and here are some pictures. They are very lucky as the caboose is in very good condition.

April 25, 2008
Nathan's side of the story.

I grew up in San Jose, CA, and my grandparents lived in Atascadero, CA, approx. 200 miles south. We visited frequently, which meant I was treated to a three hour drive paralleling SP's coast line. I have many fond memories of bloody nose geeps, beet gondolas, SP "Golden Pig Service" TOFC trailers, and of course bay window cabooses. When the end was near for cabooses I was grief-struck. I tried in vain to convince my grandfather to put one on his property. Now, it wasn't that my grandpa, a railroad veteran himself, wanted to deprive me of my heart's desire, but he was a practical man who understandably didn't feel the same love for a 30 ton piece of yard art. However, he did take me to a piece of property a short distance away from his house where there, among the trees, was the 1353. I made my dad drive me by the caboose at least one time every visit from that point forward.

Fast forward 20 or so years. I ended up settling in Paso Robles, a town a few miles north of Atascadero. (Also along the Coast Line) I go to the same barber that I used to go to with my grandpa, right around the corner from his house, and the caboose. Every haircut day, I'd drive by the caboose just to check on it. I always figured if it came for sale, I'd find a way to purchase it. Once I bought our current house, which sits on an acre, I knew I actually had room for a caboose. I shared my plan, and the 1353, with Chantel on our 1 year anniversary when we were driving home from dinner. The rest is as she told it- she pretty much sealed the deal behind my back, although I gave the car a thorough inspection before we actually bought it.

Moving it was complicated by local tree ordinances (you have to love California regulations). The ordinance prevented trimming more that 25% of the tree canopy which covered the caboose. As a result, we couldn't use a crane to life it from above. Instead, I hired a house moving company who raised the car from below, and slid it sideways(!) onto a low boy trailer. (For only about 3x the cost of a crane)

Status as of April 25, 2008

The caboose is currently on cribbing at our house, with the trucks set beside it, on a section of track. I know we will move it one more time following restoration, so I didn't go to the trouble of placing it back on it's trucks. An added bonus is that it's lower to the ground, allowing easier exterior restoration.

Our caboose is unique in that it was not modernized by the SP in the 80's. As a result, it retains features such as roof walk and end ladders, wooden end platforms, wooden end doors, wood framed operable windows (not sealed safety glass), direct flush toilet, and coal fired pot belly stove. Additionally, it was retired in the very short-lived paint scheme with an all orange bay. The previous owners installed shag carpet and brick veneer behind the stove (as is visible in the stove pic). I'm happy to report that all non-original interior additions have already been removed. I planned on pushing on with an interior restoration first, but instead the exterior will take priority. When we placed the caboose at our house, it receives full sun, and the paint is fading fast. So, I'm proceeding full-speed with prep to repaint the exterior thereby protecting it from the elements. The interior will have to wait a bit, but I'm happy to have the shag carpet gone! Our plan is to restore the car to it's "as retired" condition. I will not be converting any portion of the interior to a den, clubhouse, guest room, etc. I want it to be a snapshot of railroading as it was. To that end, I'm constantly researching for this project, and I welcome any and all information, help, or interest. Feel free to E-mail me.

April 25, 2008 latest status.

Recent projects include completely documenting and tracing all exterior lettering. This included measuring all lettering, and it's relative position on the side of the car. I've removed one end platform- see the before and after pics. That'll give an idea of just how degraded the wood planking was. If you figure that SP replaced the wood with metal roof walk material in the 80's, this wood lasted an extra 20-25 years, so I'd say they got their moneys worth. On a serious note, once the wood platform was removed, I discovered severe body rust on the top of the steel center sill. The wood trapped dirt and moisture against the steel, and I'd estimate about 1/2 the thickness of the center sill top flaked off after the platform was removed. Fortunately, I'm not restoring the car for operation, so as long as I stabilized the rust, I don't have to worry about the weakened area. I plan on removing the other end platform soon. I've also removed one window to survey the amount of work required to replace the wooden window frames, most of which are rotten. I'm happy to report, it wasn't terribly difficult, and the rot and damage was limited to the moveable window frame, and not the body or interior panelling and trim. There is a picture of the interior to show it's current state... much better without carpet and fake brick. Although, you'll see that I couldn't remove the brick veneer from the plywood wall behind the stove, so that section of plywood had to go. It did reveal the window opening behind the stove that SP had filled in. You'll notice the 2x3 framing with lighter colored insulation in the space. I'm currently heavy into research with industrial paint firms regarding paint type and body prep- not the most exciting topic, but I need to get it right. I welcome all inquiries from modelers, etc. I do also have paint chips scraped from all colors including the original vermilion end paint from it's 1951 as built paint scheme.

Update May 23, 2008

For the past few months I have been in contact with a gentleman in Southern California who is going to turn his caboose into an office. Nathan and I were finally able to see his caboose and we are going to get a lot from his caboose!! We are very fortunate that we only need a few things to complete the caboose!!
This what we still need:
Chairs for the bay window
Conductors chair
Frog eye marker lights
Radio antenna

Update June 28, 2008

In late May I loaded up my horse trailer with all sorts of tools and my generator, and traveled about 5 hours to a caboose that is owned by a gentleman who plans on gutting it and remodeling it into an office. We had agreed previously that since the interior of the car was destined for the dumpster, I could pretty much take whatever I needed. The biggest thing I had my eye on was the section of lockers that crew members used for clothes, equipment, and lantern storage. The lockers are the one major portion of our car that were removed by the previous owners and discarded. After a day of sawzalling I had pruned the lockers from inside the car, labeled each piece and loaded them all into the horse trailer. It sounds a whole lot easier than it was. The biggest obstacle was the immense quantity of pigeon droppings present in the car. By this, I mean INCHES! Apparently the car was left open for some period of time, and inhabited by legions of pigeons. In fact, I removed a pigeon nest from one portion of the locker that was almost too large to get my arms around. I was also able to remove the majority of the electrical conduit from the inside, and many many small components.

I've since scrubbed each piece to remove all trace of pigeon, and reinstalled the lockers in our car. They still need lots of TLC to prep them for paint, as well as the doors attached. I know, I'm supposed to be preping the exterior for paint, but I didn't want to have to store all of the pieces, so I installed them. What was remarkable was the fact that lockers from one car literally dropped right into our car. The consistency with which they were constructed was obvious. I tried to reassemble everything with the same hardware that SP used, although I had to employ "modern" drywall screws in multiple places, as the old finishing nails just wouldn't hold firm. All in all, the lockers look great, and go a long way towards completing the interior of the car. NOW, I'll start prepping the exterior.

The 1353 at it's old home

Getting ready to roll.

On the road again.

Nathan Paul with his caboose.

Chantel & Nathan Paul.

1353 moving down the road.

Inside by the bay window.

Still has it's stove.

The brakeman's chair.

Pictures from April 25, 2008 update

The stove without the shag rug & brick siding.

The wood at the back of the caboose was rotting away.

The deck after the wood was removed.

Update August 23, 2008

Somebody tried to scrap my caboose!

Yes the subject line is true, it looks like somebody started to take my caboose apart, but then stopped. I know that the previous owner purchased the car from Purdy Co. scrappers in So. Cal. Could it be that they were literally starting in on the car until the phone rang with somebody inquiring about purchasing a caboose? I don't know, but as the pictures will show it looks like the bay was cut with a torch from both corners and then hastily patched with galvanized sheet metal and self tapping machine screws. (But I have to ask how did the orange paint get on the patch? Did the railroad install them and then paint over them, and why or how did the large cuts take place at the corners of the bay?) Yes, more questions than answers, but very intriguing.

Body prep for paint has begun on a large scale. I have a whole new respect for what it takes to restore a train car. My car is in good shape and it turns out it's a whole lot worse than I expected. I figured I should remove all windows to re seal them and to make it easier to prep and paint the exterior. At the same time, the plywood panelling on the interior of the bay seemed a little rough, and had signs of water damage. Initially I removed trim sections necessary to remove the sliding bay windows and the fixed bay end windows. What I found was significant rust damage caused by leaking windows. To fully reveal the damage, I had to remove all interior panelling from one bay. Behind the panelling I found that many of the wood stringers bolted to the body shell were rotten as well, and simply fell apart. Finally, several of the studs that are welded to the body shell which attach the stringers to the shell were so rusted they snapped off with little effort. I also discovered the sheet metal patches mentioned above leaky significantly, resulting in rust damage above the windows in the bay. As of this writing, I've cut, wire brushed, and/or ground out all rust damage from the bay. I've painted all surfaces with a rust converter/primer and then several top coats of paint. (All this will eventually covered by new plywood interior panelling, so the topcoat color varies to use up some paint I had left over) I've cut out the damaged bay corners and the next step will be to weld new patches over the cut-outs. Which gives me an excuse to buy the new wire feed welder I've had my eye on for a year! I have not yet checked the windows in the other bay, as I want to leave all it's interior trim intact as a guide for rebuilding the first bay. All in all, it's a lot more work than I had expected. But, I'm thankful to have caught it now because none of the rust damage was so severe to have completely corroded through the car side. It'll be a push to get this car painted by then rainy season this fall, which means I might have to make the car a giant tarp burrito to protect it from the rains. I don't want to do that, but my #1 priority for this project is to keep it 100% fun which means no specific timetable that's hanging over my head.

Bay window after panels removed.

All the wood had rotted.

Nathan grinding away.

Same area after being cleaned up.

The patch work done on the bay window gone bad.

A close up shot.

Update August 23, 2008

Progress on the caboose is slow but steady. The second half of the summer completely kicked my butt work-wise. As a result, the caboose saw a few spurts of work, and some good progress, but not the consistent effort I had in mind. The large damaged areas at the bay corners pictured in the previous update, photos shown above, were cut out, and new steel patches welded in. Being primarily a "farm and ranch" welder, welding the patches in the skin of the caboose was the most challenging welding I've done. It turned out pretty good, certaily at least as good as other railroad welded patches present on the car. I just completed rebuilding the wooden interior of the bay. This involved custom milling a bunch of odd-sized pieces on my table saw . All the unseen water damamge has been fixed. I didn't reinstall the windows, as I want them out during the painting process so that the paint wraps into the window opening. We got our first rain last week. That brought home the fact that I most certainly will not have the caboose painted before the rainy season. So, I ventured down to our local Farm Supply Co and bought a 30' x 60' heavy duty tarp. The caboose will be protected this winter thanks to a tarp with as much square footage as our house. That's ok, I'm ready to attack the water damage in the other bay, and I can do that while the car is tarped this winter.

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