4Culture gives $18,000 for caboose restoration

December 8, 2009

By Warren Kagarise

With $18,000 from 4Culture, the Issaquah History Museums will restore this 1942 caboose. Contributed

With $18,000 from 4Culture, the Issaquah History Museums will restore this 1942 caboose. Contributed

A 1942 caboose displayed at the Issaquah Train Depot — and crumbling due to water damage — will be restored with $18,000 from the county cultural services agency.

The caboose, a key piece of the Issaquah History Museums’ collection, needs repairs to undo decades’ worth of weather and wear. The grant from 4Culture will pay for about half the renovation cost, and museums volunteers will ask donors to help cover the remainder.

The money, doled out as part of the Heritage Cultural Facilities Program, comes from a portion of the King County Lodging Tax, a credit on the state sales tax charged on every hotel, motel, inn and bed-and-breakfast room. Besides the Issaquah caboose, 10 other facility projects will receive a total of $328,835.

The money is intended for the purchase, design, construction and remodeling of heritage facilities, and to buy equipment intended to be used for at least a decade. For the caboose, the money will be used to weatherize the cupola, a raised portion of the roof outfitted with windows, remove rust and ready the interior for hands-on and interpretive exhibits.

Museums Director Erica Maniez said the grant would prove critical, because a caboose is a key piece for a railway museum — and a big draw for tourists and school groups.The museums exhibit the caboose at the depot along Rainier Boulevard North.

Maniez said the facility plans to contract with the Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie to repair the caboose. Work will be conducted at the Issaquah depot, though some pieces may need to be taken to the railway museum for fabrication work. Maniez said the Snoqualmie museum has “expertise the other nonprofits don’t have” with regard to railroad restorations.

The restoration will begin early next year, although the 4Culture grant will not cover the total cost for repairs. The grant will cover the initial phase, but Maniez estimated the total bill would reach $30,000. The museums will seek donations in order to fill the gap, she said. The restoration project will take about three to five years to complete, but Maniez said the timeline would depend on funding.

Richard Anderson, executive director of the Snoqualmie museum, said the organization is proud to assist the Issaquah organization with the restoration. Anderson noted how the Northwest Railway Museum restored a coalmine car last year for the Renton History Museum. The metal-and-wood car is now exhibited inside the Renton museum.

In Issaquah, the distinctive yellow caboose was constructed by Southern Pacific and later purchased by Weyerhaeuser to be used in logging. The history museums acquired the caboose in 1990, and made some intermediate repairs. But time and weather took a toll on the 67-year-old railroad car.

A caboose is “one of those railroad icons,” Anderson said.

The cupola atop the caboose allowed for conductors and other railroad workers to inspect the train. From the perch in the caboose, a worker could even “smell trouble,” Anderson said. The odor of hot metal, for instance, could indicate a bearing problem.

And the caboose served as a place for personnel to eat, sleep and catch up on paperwork. Anderson described a caboose as “an office with wheels under it.”

Until the 1980s, laws required railroads to use cabooses. Advances in technology, coupled with a desire to save money, caused railroads to phase out cabooses about 20 years ago.

Nowadays, electronic monitoring devices provide data about critical systems, such as brake line pressure. Scanners alongside tracks determine whether a train is damaged or dragging equipment.

Maniez said the Issaquah caboose would someday include displays to show how railroad crews used the car.

Other 4Culture grant recipients include the Center for Wooden Boats in Seattle — money to offset the cost of a new entrance and deck — and funds to improve security at The Museum of Flight.

The county cultural services agency also awarded $40,000 to the Northwest Railway Museum toward construction of a 25,000-square-foot exhibition space for some of the largest items in the museum collection, such as locomotives and coaches.

Anderson said the $4 million facility, near Snoqualmie Middle School, would be used to bring vulnerable items in from the elements.

Anderson said the 4Culture grants were essential to the success of nonprofit institutions, like the Northwest Railway Museum and the Issaquah History Museums.

“We would not be successful without it,” Anderson said. “In fact, we may not even exist.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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