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Letting loose an old caboose ; Railroad car will be first to be displayed at Williamsville depot by historical society

For the first time since the mid-1970s, a Lehigh Valley Railway caboose rolled into the Williamsville depot on Wednesday afternoon.

But this blue steel railroad car was not hauled by a steam-powered engine. It arrived by tractor-trailer.

The 1937 Lehigh Valley Railway caboose is the first piece of railroad equipment the Western New York Railway Historical Society will be displaying at the Williamsville depot.

"Of course this is a dream coming true today. They do come true," said Tom Stackhouse, founder of the society.

The railway society bought the caboose in 1995 for $4,000, and it was stored in Hamburg until Wednesday morning. The society plans to restore it and put it on display by the end of the summer.

Two Silk Road Specialty Transport workers spent most of Wednesday morning getting the caboose hoisted onto the tractor-trailer.

It then took a three-hour, 20-mile trip with two tractor-trailers to move the caboose from its old home in Hamburg.

The route had to be clear of low-hanging branches and wires for the caboose to pass.

Railway society President Joe Kocsis followed the caboose from Hamburg to Williamsville. En route, drivers gave the caboose odd looks. Residents came out on front lawns to see the caboose pass by.

"You'd see people coming out of their yards and wondering, 'What's this going by?' " Kocsis said. "It's not every day that you see a caboose rolling by your front lawn."

The caboose was built by Lehigh Valley Railroad in 1937.

On railroad trips, the caboose housed railway workers, who would look out the car's windows to make sure the train kept working and encountered no problems.

It was the first all-steel caboose built by Lehigh Valley in its Sayre, Pa., factory. Up until that point, railroads made wooden cabooses.

"Steel cabooses were safer. Cabooses, of course, are at the end of the train, and it's possible for another train to run into the end of another train -- into the caboose. And the men would be worse off in a wooden caboose," said Larry Brenton, a railway society member and former Conrail engineer.

The caboose still has its original interior. Most Lehigh Valley cabooses lost their original interiors when Lehigh Valley became part of Conrail.

The Williamsville caboose still has its tongue-and-groove woodwork on its walls and benches. The wooden conductor's desk is still there, too.

Lehigh Valley stopped running its passenger service into Williamsville in the 1940s. But freight trains still operated in the depot, meaning that the caboose installed Wednesday had a good chance of running through the depot at some point in its history.

Brenton worked at the Williamsville depot only after Lehigh Valley became Conrail. As an engineer, Brenton would run trains from Buffalo to Williamsville carrying building and heating supplies on the team tracks.

The coal would be unloaded at the depot and dumped into coal shoots that went to power local businesses and schools.

"There would be brick and lumber and coal, any supplies that they wanted," Brenton said.

To display the new caboose, the railway society will place the car on 40 feet of track outside the depot.

The caboose will be sandblasted, taking off the rust and the blue paint from its Conrail days.

An experienced restoration painter will then paint the caboose red, the color of all Lehigh Valley rail cars. The paint will cost about $300 a gallon.

Volunteers will clean the interior, and stairs will be added to help visitors get in and out.

For now, the railway society plans to slowly expand the exhibit at the Williamsville depot. Perhaps a couple of a boxcars or more feet of railroad track will be next, said Stackhouse, the society founder.

"We had some plans drawn up where we had a couple of pieces of track laid down around here. That's something you'd like to see," he said.

e-mail: abrown@buffnews.com

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