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Historic caboose once again available for visitors to the NYS Fair

Lovers of trains and transportation have a treat at this year’s New York State Fair. A rare, wooden caboose has been renovated and is available for fairgoers for the first time in 15 years.

This particular reddish brown caboose rode the rails of the New York Central Railroad for 50 years before being decommissioned in the late-1960s, according to the Central New York Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. Volunteer John Lytle said it had some interesting stops after that.

"It was bought by a private individual and put over on Erie Boulevard as a Hot Dog Stand," Lytle said. "They modified it to do that. Then it turned into a Dress Shop."

Now, Caboose 19144 calls the western end of the state fairgrounds home, along with other vintage trains on display. It’s been there since the mid-1980s, and was a popular attraction at the fair. But it was off limits for 15 years after rotting wood made it unsafe. A $50,000 renovation is mostly done, opening it up again to fairgoers.

"We’re restoring it back to the way it was when it was in service," said Phillip Edwards, with the CNY chapter of the National Railway Historical Society. "We’re not just slapping paint on it to make it look pretty. This is the way it was originally."

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Credit Ellen Abbott / WRVO News
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WRVO News
John Lytle, a volunteer with the Central New York chapter of the National Railway Historical Society, inside Caboose 19144 at the New York State Fair

In the heyday of railroads, cabooses were places for the crew to rest, and Lytle said that will be clear when the renovation is complete.

"They could sleep in there. There are cushions we have to make. There is a desk, desks that get put in there, tables, there’s a little bathroom, there will be a sink. When we find these artifacts that we have to look far and wide for," said Lytle.

This particular caboose is rare, one of only about a dozen left in the country. Edwards said the restorers have found pictures to help recreate what the caboose looked like in its heyday, with the stripped down version open to visitors now.

"This is history of transportation. The railroads built the nation. And I think a lot of people not, just train related people, but anyone who has an appreciation for transportation and the way the country was built, would care about this," said Edwards.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.