WHITE DEER — Reading Railroad caboose #82896 is in the middle of a makeover. After four months of scraping and painting, Andy Brouse of Lewisburg and volunteers have the rail car’s exterior gleaming yellow and green again as it did about 70 years ago when it was an active member of the rail line.
“We got it this far,” Brouse said, and in the coming months they’ll take the “hotel on wheels” further: cleaning and repainting walls and lockers, replacing windows and cushions, possibly finding an iron stove to take the place of the kerosene stove Conrail insisted cabooses use in the 1970s.
For Brouse, restoring the caboose is a labor of love but also a cause for celebration: this year is the 40th anniversary of the central Pennsylvania chapter of the National Railway Historical Society.
Headquarted in Lewisburg, the local 80-member group owns and maintains what once was the White Deer & Reading Railroad Station, built in 1912. The caboose is one of two on the grounds at the end of the aptly named Depot Road.
But behind the gate is a railroad enthusiast’s wonderland. With the cabooses are about five passenger cars, a chicken boxcar, three hoppers (one of them for coal) and a switch engine. The air has a hint of creosote. There are countless railroad ties, piles of track, some wheels and assemblies, a couple handcars and a lot of ambition to bring these old rail cars back to life.
The rail cars all have seen better days, but just their presence is awe-inspiring. The passenger cars, all from the Pennsylvania Railroad, were built in 1912 — 100 years ago. The chicken coop car, mostly wooden, goes back to about 1920s, Brouse said.
It’s not often to meet such a young train enthusiast, but 19-year-old Brouse caught the railroad bug when he was about 9-years-old, he said, thanks to his dad Reuben “Scott” Brouse, who’s been a club member for years.
“He brought me up here, gave me a putty knife and a can of black spray paint and had me help on wheels on the assemblies,” Brouse said.
Ten years later, he continues to work on the railroad cars “because no one else does. In my generation, no one cares” about railroading, he said. “My dad got me into it, and I want to help keep it alive. It’s an important part of our history.”
The club counts about 80 members but about five die-hards who do most of the restoration work. Brouse himself will put in 10 to 12 hours of his spare time working on the caboose, he said.
With the restoration of the White Deer Creek train bridge, club members hope they’ll see more train enthusiasts, locals and visitors. Just last week, two women stopped by who said they found their great-grandfather, a doctor, left the Valley for Montana from the White Deer depot, said Ron Johnson, a club vice president.
He also hopes seeing the cars may bring more people out to volunteer for restoration duty. “We can use just about all kinds of help,” Johnson said, from electrical work to carpentry to simply painting and cleaning.
There also is a plan to put in a switch station to move the rail cars. One of two track lines there is active and will be part of the short-line railroad heading into Great Stream Commons industrial park.
This fall, two passenger cars and a hopper will head to West Virginia, where they will be restored and become part of the Durbin & Greenbrier Valley Railroad. Brouse hopes each of the remaining cars will be yearly projects.
“I figured, let’s get the caboose done in 2013,” he said. “Then we’ll try to get the rest back to their former glory.”