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Vintage train caboose makes way for restoration

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Friday, August 21st was moving day on SE Tenino Street. Errol Heights neighbors congregated on their normally quiet dead-end street to see the vintage caboose that had lived at 4320 SE Tenino move for the first time in decades.

1921 caboose   neighbors watching caboose move

Over the course of several hours, they watched local construction company Lorentz Bruun lift the caboose car with a giant crane, deftly angle it through the surrounding trees, place it on a waiting lowboy trailer, and then repeat the process for the steel underframe, wheels and segment of rail on which the caboose sat.

As they watched the action, neighbors speculated on the mysterious origins of the 1921 wooden caboose, which had sat on this patch of ground for more than thirty years.

getting the caboose ready to moveAccording to George Donnerberg, his late uncle Anthony found the caboose languishing on the East Coast in the late 1960’s or early 1970’s, got in touch with the railroad, and convinced someone to ship it – by rail of course – all the way to Portland. No one knows “how many cases of whiskey it cost him,” but the caboose glided into the Errol Heights neighborhood on the Springwater Corridor rail line, then was moved by truck the remaining four blocks.

With a vision long preceding today’s tiny house trend, Anthony renovated the 250 square foot caboose to include a kitchenette, bathroom, living area and sleeping quarters, and rented it out as a studio apartment for many years.

Just steps from Johnson Creek, the unique caboose was vacant and in need of repair when the Bureau of Environmental Services purchased the property from Anthony’s family ten years ago. The property was acquired under the bureau’s willing seller program, in support of the Johnson Creek Restoration Plan.

The city typically deconstructs and removes structures acquired on properties like this in the 100-year floodplain. That makes way for projects to restore floodplain function, reduce flood impacts on homes and businesses, restore salmon habitat and improve water quality. But this caboose had historic value, and turned out to be prohibitively complicated and expensive for the city to move.

moving the caboose wheelsAfter years of looking for a partner who would relocate and restore the caboose, the Bruun family generously stepped in and moved it in exchange for taking ownership. It is currently being restored to its historic condition.

Once renovated, the caboose will sit near the Oregon Rail Heritage Center and the new MAX Orange line—joining part of Portland’s modern rail history. Rumor has it that the restored caboose may house a coffee shop.

 

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