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Preserving the past for the future: Arizona State Railroad Museum acquires vintage caboose

Two train cars are temporarily on display at Grand Canyon Railway. The Arizona State Railroad Museum Foundation recently transported the vintage caboose to Williams. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

Two train cars are temporarily on display at Grand Canyon Railway. The Arizona State Railroad Museum Foundation recently transported the vintage caboose to Williams. (Wendy Howell/WGCN)

WILLIAMS, Ariz. — The Arizona State Railroad Museum Foundation and Center for Education has announced the arrival of a vintage caboose which is now on display at the Grand Canyon Railway Depot.

The caboose is a restored ATSF 1933 by American Car & Foundry built in 1930 and rebuilt in 1967.

“It served extensively in the Southwest with considerable service in Arizona until declared surplus and sold into private ownership in 1990 to Tom Wheeler in Kansas who gave it loving care,” said ASMF Director Al Richmond.

Wheeler maintained the caboose in nearly original condition and ran it in a tourist business on the Midland Railway in Baldwin City, Kansas from 1992 to 2019.

When the caboose went up for sale, Richmond inquired about purchasing it.

With funds from a Transportation Enhancement Grant and a donation from the Grand Canyon Chapter of the National Railroad Historical Society, the Arizona State Railroad Museum Foundation was able to purchase the caboose in 2020.

“We intended to move it as soon as it could pass inspection to move on its own wheels,” Richmond said. “Foundation volunteer Pete Kahon made trips to do the mechanical work.”

However, around the time it was ready to move, the movement of the caboose was blocked when hundreds of surplus ore cars were stored on the same track as the caboose.

“Knowing that the cars would eventually be moved for scrap and knowing

it would be safe we decided to let it remain in place rather than trucking it at great expense,” Richmond said. “As soon as the cars were moved in July we began the process for a One Time Move (OTM) with FRA and inspection with BNSF. Both passed and we had great help from the various trainmasters getting it here as quickly and safely as possible.”

In addition to the restored ATSF 1933, another car is also on display at the Grand Canyon Railway.

“OTM requirements placed it at the rear of the train which was the normal operating position when cabooses were in service,” Richmond said. “The H-KCKBEL (the train identifier) is the regular BNSF freight from Kansas City to Belen, New Mexico. (It is ) truly a rare sight to be seen as cabooses were no longer in service by the 1990s except in yard service for safety or other special services.”

In addition to the two cars, the museum has also acquired four donated train cars and five sets of trucks (wheels) that were destined to be scrapped. They were stored on site in Kingman until the recent move to Williams Aug. 23. The train cars will be used as an entry bridge to the Arizona Railroad Heritage Park property in Williams.

“Using flat cars as bridges is common and one such use of a flat car body can be seen at NAU where it forms a pedestrian bridge. The trucks are of historic value to be used on other equipment as they are acquired,” Richmond said.”

The Arizona State Railroad Museum Foundation is a non-profit organization that primarily preserves retired historic railroad equipment from the state of Arizona. It was founded in 2009, with the goal of constructing a 21-acre museum with a collection of locomotives, rolling stock and other historic artifacts.

Completion of the museum has been a long process and acquiring artifacts from Arizona has been challenging,.

“This has been and continues to be an ongoing process, as we have exhibits planned relative to the history and legacy of 79 railroads in Arizona as per our mission statement,” Richmond said. “We have struggled to acquire equipment with an Arizona provenance.”

To date, the foundation has 50 major artifacts in Williams and other locations in Utah, Colorado, Kansas and Minnesota, he said.

“As with the 999060, several artifacts are on public display at the Grand Canyon Railway along with others on storage tracks, Richmond said. “In addition to these we have many hundreds of smaller artifacts and thousands of books, documents and photographs for our library and archives. We are also in discussion with Williams City Council members as to where other major artifacts may be placed on display around the city.”

The foundation owns a 21-acre parcel on Rodeo Road for the future Arizona Railroad Heritage Park, and is in the process of purchasing another 3.59 acres. The foundation hopes to begin building soon.

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