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Restoration of caboose underway at Tiell Park

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer
Erik Thompson works on the remodel of the caboose in Tiell Park.

This past winter, the St. James City Council approved a big by Erik Thompson to start remodeling of the caboose at Tiell Park. After some delays due to COVID-19, the project is underway.

Thomspon lives in Chisago City, about 35 miles northeast of the Twin Cities. In Chisago City, Thompson is part of the Ironhorse Railroad Park, which houses over 50 cars and also features a museum.

Thompson's dad started the museum in the 1950s. He was part of the Minnesota Rail Fan Association. In 1965, he purchased the property where the park and museum sits today. 

"It's something that's a little bit lost in time."

This past January, after getting estimates, the city council voted to go ahead with the project.

The remodeling of the caboose in St. James was supposed to take place in the spring of this year but was pushed back due to COVID-19.

Whenever Thompson approaches a project, he tries his best to be authentic, restoring the old look of the car.

"When I try to do this I try to go back to the way that it was," said Thompson. "If it means making a trim board that's the actual size that's on there I will make it."

"I want to look like it did back then."

So far, Thompson has started work on stripping down the exterior wood and paint, Thompson has discovered that this car ran in Michigan, and was originally painted brown, then orange.

Thompson is using a green treated wood for siding. The green treated wood is more expensive but more durable and should last around 30 years. Thompson will also need to replace the asphalt roof with a one-piece rubber roof.

A running board will also be placed on the roof.

"It will kind of simulate an old-time canvas. On these old-time cars, they would use canvas and then paint the canvas."

All the metal will be reprimed and repainted.

The interior of the caboose will be stripped down, and rotted wood will be replaced.

"It will look like a shopped caboose. One that just came off the line fresh 100 years ago."

The lettering on the outside of the caboose will also be repainted "Chicago, St. Paul, Minneapolis, & Omaha" after the old railway system.

"In a lot of ways I call it a labor of love because it's not highly paid and it's a lot of headache and overhead. You look at something like this and there's so much to do."

This particular caboose used to be a Grand Trunk Railway car.

The project is estimated to take about six weeks but may take longer if Thompson discovers more work to be done on the interior.