By Rachel Galvin
On the corner of Hillsboro Boulevard and Dixie Highway, a lonely red caboose sits where it has lived since 2002. Seemingly abandoned, left behind from days gone by, this lonely caboose seems to have quite a story. Passersby have wondered what mysteries lie in its past and how long it would sit on this stretch of track. Graffiti has many times marred its sides and it was painted again and again. It seems to beg for a better home. Now, its wish has been granted.
This historic caboose originally began its life as a box car, according to Bill Muenzenmaier. Its wheels are dated 1951. But it wasn’t until the 1960s when it became a caboose.
Back in the olden days, cabooses were used for many purposes, including as a place for a man to act as a lookout for the engineer in front, signaling in case of any sign of trouble or if it needed to back up, for example.
“Guys could sit up high in the cupola and look for signs of smoke. Trains had friction bearings then and each time the train would go into service yard, the [workers] were supposed to check the wheels and squirt oil to keep it lubricated. If they should miss some, as they are going down the road, it can run hot and turn to smoke and then to fire. [Back then], boxcars were made out of all wood. Today, [they are not] and they use regular ball-bearing wheels. The only thing that can happen now is that you could break a coupler and the air hoses could get disconnected [so cabooses are no longer required].”
When this little caboose was no longer in service, it was purchased by a private collector, Richard Weiner, and when he needed a place to put it, he gave it to William Thies & Sons, the beer distributing company, along with four other boxcars he owned. Eventually, the company sold the property and needed to move the caboose. When they tried to give it back to Weiner, he gifted it to the Deerfield Beach Historical Society.
The railway moved it 11 miles up the track to the side track where it now resides. It was neighbors with the recently demolished Deerfield Builders Supply, which once received carloads of material on those tracks from areas as far away as Oregon or even Western Canada.
Owner of the now closed Deerfield Builders Supply, Ed Dietrich Jr., is spearheading the effort to give the caboose a new home, along with Muenzenmaier and the rest of the Deerfield Beach Historical Society.
Dietrich said, “We are going to roll the caboose about 400 ft. south for the people with the crane [Emerald Towing] to lift out and transport it to the former Deerfield Builders Supply lot [currently owned by Stor-All] to do necessary repairs. Dana Eller and Moving Waters Industries are graciously assisting with necessary welding repairs. Professional rail painter Jeff Conner [Show Paints by Conner] will prep and paint the caboose outside prior to moving its new home.”
The caboose will be painted “safety orange” the way it originally was, according to Muenzenmaier.
Its new home will be just east of the Old School House, a place suggested, said Dietrich, by City Manager Burgess Hanson.
“The site will be authentic rail trackage (wood ties, steel I-flange rails, hand spikes and rock ballast),” said Dietrich. “Capital Project Engineer Charles DaBrusco will be coordinating site preparation. “When site and caboose are ready [in a few weeks], Emerald Towing will employ their high capacity cranes to load the caboose body and wheel trucks onto the low-boy trailers for the short trip from Ed Dietrich Sr. Ave. to City Hall. The wheel trucks will go down first and then the caboose body and chassis will be lowered onto them, and the caboose will be put into its permanent position. Eventually, an access ramp will be constructed, along with landscape improvements. Interior restoration will proceed onsite. [It] will include interactive educational components and various historical archives.”
Dietrich added, “This has been 15 years in the making. We appreciate the tremendous contributions and cooperation of the City of Deerfield Beach, the Broward Sheriff’s Office in Deerfield, the Florida East Coast Railway, Stor-All LLC, MWI and Emerald Towing.”