Antique caboose carried off to next life in Ravenna

Published 7:52 pm Thursday, January 31, 2019

A dilapidated, neglected red caboose, sitting alone in a field near an abandoned house, with no train tracks in site, was rescued Wednesday morning. But before it was towed away to where it will eventually be restored, the old caboose was used to help train local firefighters in rescue techniques they may need to use some day.

As members of the Kentucky Steam Heritage Corporation watched tow operators prepare the caboose for its trip to Estill County, Danville Fire Department Battalion Chief Mike McCurdy said firefighters were invited by KSHC to use the car for heavy lift training — which is a skill not commonly used. McCurdy said one of KSHC’s members is also a Lexington firefighter. “He knew what we could get out of it,” McCurdy said.

In late November, each shift had one full day of hands-on training on how to safely lift the caboose using stabilizing techniques, welding skills and placement of air bags using the firefighters’ air tanks, McCurdy said. The training prepared firefighters for a scenario where they could need to lift a tractor-trailer off of another vehicle, he explained.

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Most of the younger firefighters used a large acetylene torch for the first time during the training, McCurdy said. All firefighters learned how to cut off bolts using the torch, by taking off the caboose’s metal steps — which needed to be done before moving day, anyway.

Most young firefighters “don’t have vocational skills anymore. We have to teach them,” McCurdy said.

Wednesday morning, the temperature was hovering around 10 degrees with a sharp wind cutting through everyone’s layers of protective clothing. The heavy equipment tow company from Lexington, hired by KSHC, was hoping the ground would be frozen solid so its large trucks wouldn’t sink into the earth.

However, recent rains and the sudden blast of polar vortex winds didn’t allow the ground to freeze deep enough before the moving project began.

But just after three hours of expert maneuvering around trees, altering of plans, and pushing a couple of the trucks out of the soft ground and onto pavement, the caboose was safely loaded and on its way to the KSHC’s property in Estill County.

The 1941-built Southern Railway caboose was constructed three months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and is one of only two of its kind left in the world, according to KSHC president Chris Campbell.

The Boyle County Industrial Foundation owns the property where the caboose had sat for decades. Last August, the BCIF voted to donate the railroad artifact to the KSHC.

The caboose will now await restoration, a project that will take some time to fund, Campbell said in a news release. While the piece will need major work, it isn’t in immediate distress, and will take a back seat to the organization’s major restoration project — the rehab of a 75-year old steam locomotive that is native to Eastern Kentucky, Campbell said.

In the meantime, Danville’s caboose will be on display at the Kentucky Rail Heritage Center, a multi-use campus located at a decommissioned CSX railyard in Estill County. KSHC purchased the 40-acre property from CSX this past fall. KSHC is working diligently to establish its presence as an economic driver in the region, the release said.

“There’s so much to do to get this (Rail Heritage Center) project going” Campbell said. “But the caboose showing up and sitting on site just a few hours after we began moving it makes you realize that when communities rally together, anything can happen.”

“The generous donation of this artifact wound up being much more than just a donation” Campbell said. “It’s allowed the Danville community to get behind a project that will ultimately help another community several counties away. We are thrilled to have such an historic piece being moved to Ravenna, and are grateful to all who helped make it happen.”

Caldwell Stone of Danville provided equipment, including the SkyTrak, metal plating to widen the entrance, and personnel to move and operate their equipment.

Roberts Heavy Towing and Recovery used a specialized Landoll trailer to haul the caboose body, and rotator wrecker for lifting and winching the caboose.

Danville Fire Department, in addition to gaining useful training in heavy lifting and stabilization with their own equipment, also prepared the site by removing several pieces from the caboose to get it ready for loading.

Dobson Trucking from Ravenna, Joey Dobson owner, provided the rail-equipped step deck trailer, tractor and driver at a discounted rate to haul the wheelsets.