First of a three-part series.
The creation process took a few weeks and involved sweaty men with grimy hands using heavy tools, welders and cutting torches.
It was July 1941, and before the month ended, the glistening new caboose rolled out of the Pennsylvania Railroad car shops in Altoona, Pa., ready to start its new life. Its name, No. 477768, was placed beneath the bold letters on the side of the car that spelled “Pennsylvania.”
During the ensuing years as the caboose rolled through Pennsylvania and the eastern parts of the country, the railroaders who found comfort within its walls might have given it a nickname. If so, that name of affection has been lost to history.
The caboose itself likely would have been lost as well, if not for the efforts of many local people. Since 2005, the brick-red relic has stood on a railroad side track in southern Albemarle County while undergoing a complete restoration.
Now that the work is finished, the caboose soon will be moving back to Pennsylvania. Once back home, it will be maintained and operated on tourist trains belonging to the nonprofit Colebrookdale Railroad in Boyertown, Pa.
In the beginning, the caboose, also called a cabin car, was assigned to Pittsburgh Region Altoona-Enola Crew 225, which operated in the Harrisburg, Pa., area. It later was assigned to the railroad's Eastern Region, which included service in New Jersey.
In 1968, when PRR merged with Penn Central, the caboose was renamed No. 22966. It kept that designation when it became the property of ConRail in 1976.
By 1980, the modernization of trains and new technology had made the caboose nearly obsolete. The last one was built in 1981 by Pacific Car in Kenton, Ohio.
At some point during the 1980s, the long-serving caboose was sold to Knox and Kane Railroad. This was a short-line railroad in Pennsylvania that originally hauled coal before switching over to carrying tourists in the 1980s.
John Pfaltz, a retired University of Virginia professor, first laid eyes on No. 477768 at Knox and Kane Railroad's headquarters in Marienville, Pa. When the railroad went out of business several years ago, he bought the caboose and had it brought to its present location.
"I had just retired from the university and I knew I wanted to do something with my hands that would be a little different," Pfaltz said. "I was telling a friend at lunch today that getting the caboose was one of the stupidest things I've ever done, and the most rewarding.
"First off, where do you put a caboose? I hunted up and down the tracks trying to find a siding it could go on. I ended up putting it on the siding going up to the Red Hill Quarry, which they don't use anymore."
Martin Marietta Materials, which operates the quarry, was gracious enough to give Pfaltz permission to park the caboose on its property. In June 2006, Pfaltz and fellow members of the Rivanna Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society held a Caboose Appreciation Day to thank the people who were instrumental in getting the caboose to its new home.
During the event, a certificate of appreciation was given to Tommy Walker, the plant manager of the quarry.
"We are proud to be able to help," Walker said at the time. "That's part of how we do business."
Pfaltz had acquired the caboose so that he and his fellow railroad enthusiasts could tackle a restoration project. The first challenge that had to be met was getting the caboose here.
"When I asked the owners of the Knox and Kane if the caboose could get down here on its own wheels, they said they couldn't say," Pfaltz said. "Then I was told that the Buffalo and Pittsburgh Railroad was going to pick it up, and I'd have to talk to their freight manager.
"When I called him, he said he knew the caboose and asked me where I wanted it to go. I said I wanted it brought to Charlottesville, and I started to explain where that was.
"He said I didn't have to tell him where it was, because he had spent two years at the Darden School. Boy, it was amazing. All of a sudden it got a lot easier for the caboose to get here."
Next: The restoration.