The Fort Wayne Railroad Historical Society, Inc (FWRHS) has completed an extensive rebuild of its historic, century-old Wabash Railroad caboose no. 2534 – one of only two wooden Wabash cabooses in existence.
Once on display in Fort Wayne’s Swinney Park in 1957, the caboose and Wabash steam locomotive no. 534 were part of a monument installed by the Tri-State Railroad Community Committee, a consortium of area railroad employees. In 1984, the display was relocated to the FWRHS in New Haven.
While the caboose was used occasionally in events and operations in New Haven, its condition had deteriorated after 60 years of exposure to the elements. In 2018, project manager David “DJ” DePanicis, a school director from the Youngstown, Ohio region, determined that his woodworking background would enable him to take on the project in a leadership role.
With donations from members and the general public, in addition to assistance from the Wabash Railroad Historical Society, DePanicis and a team of over a dozen regular volunteers steadily disassembled and rebuilt the caboose over three years and committed over 5,000 hours to the effort. 90% of the structure was replaced and over 1,000 pieces of new lumber were used in the effort, including several curved and arched beams that were hand-made for the interior roof.
“We have such a great variety of people at the Society. Whether you have carpentry skills, are just providing general labor, or have just a love of history, our projects are the kind that anyone can lend a hand in, regardless of skills,” remarked DePanicis. “Restoring a caboose is a lot like building a house with your best friends.”
Generally, cabooses were used by train crews on freight trains to supervise their train and shipments en-route. Due to the long hours involved in the trade, were often outfitted with desks, tables, beds, stoves, washbasins, and water closet and customized by their employees. This particular caboose was outfitted with a coal-fired stove cast in a Fort Wayne foundry. The caboose contains a combination of original kerosene and new and donated electric lamps for nighttime illumination and a pair of original Wabash Railroad marker lights were also donated to the project.
Wabash caboose no. 2534 will continue to serve in an educational and entertainment capacity, hosting families aboard the organization’s popular Santa Train and other seasonal events. The caboose’s counterpart, steam locomotive no. 534, is currently undergoing preparation for a restoration of its own sometime in the future.