Trolley museum donates 100-year-old caboose

August 3, 2016
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Crews from Rivers of Steel and Brownlee Trucking of West Middletown set Unity Railway 53A, a rare wooden caboose, on a low-boy trailer for the trip to its new location, Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Carrie Furnace site. The caboose was donated by Pennsylvania Trolley Museum. Order a Print
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Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
The caboose shortly after its arrival at the trolley museum in 1966
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Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum
The caboose when it was still being used by Unity Railway in 1964
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Cliff Snedeker with Brownlee Trucking of West Middletown watches closely as an old caboose is prepared for its trip from Pennsylvania Trolley Museum to the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Carrie Furnace site. Order a Print
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Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter
Ed Brownlee, right, of Brownlee Trucking in West Middletown, sets wooden blocks under an old Unity Railway caboose being prepared for transport from Pennsylvania Trolley Museum to the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Carrie Furnace Site. Order a Print

A 100-year-old rare wooden caboose took a ride on its 100th birthday. A crane ride, to be exact.

The caboose, known as Unity Railway 53A, was built in 1916 at the New York Ontario & Western Railroad Co. shops in Middletown, N.Y. It was then purchased by Unity Railway, a coal-mining railroad in Allegheny County. In 1965, the caboose came into possession of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum, which now donated it to the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area to be displayed at Carrie Blast Furnaces as part of the organization’s railroad-themed exhibit.

Macaque in the trees
The caboose shortly after its arrival at the trolley museum in 1966
Photo courtesy of Pennsylvania Trolley Museum

“We have preserved this caboose for over 40 years, and since we are primarily a trolley museum, it would be a better fit as a display at Carrie Furnace,” said PTM Executive Director Scott Becker.

On Wednesday, the caboose was lifted by crane and placed on a low-boy trailer in order to be transported to the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Carrie Furnace site in Swissvale. The Unity Railway was situated near Carrie Furnace, and the caboose will fit in nicely with the steelmaking story Rivers of Steel is working to tell.

“It’s relatively intact inside,” Becker said. “It has an old coal stove, oil lamps, bunks where the men slept on the railroad, and a desk where the conductor would do his paperwork. Wood cabooses are rare because when they’re outside they get rainwater, and it’s hard to keep them up.”

Macaque in the trees
Ed Brownlee, right, of Brownlee Trucking in West Middletown, sets wooden blocks under an old Unity Railway caboose being prepared for transport from Pennsylvania Trolley Museum to the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area Carrie Furnace Site.
Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter

Becker said the trolley museum had contact with other museums about donating the caboose, but ultimately decided on Carrie Furnaces because the caboose will be displayed indoors, which is better for maintenance and preservation.

“The industrial heritage of the Mon Valley is very important,” said Rick Rowlands, a volunteer for Rivers of Steel who coordinated the loading and transport of the caboose.

While the caboose spent the beginning of its days at the PTM as housing for volunteers, Rowland said at Carrie Furnaces it will be used as a much-needed space for an office and gift shop until a proper visitors center can be erected.

Rowlands said he does a lot of work with railroad equipment, and he has been volunteering with Rivers of Steel for the last five years. “I come down as much as I can because it’s really the only chance we have to preserve a part of a steel mill, so I wanted to be a part of that.” he said.

“We’re happy to see the caboose go to another museum where it can be preserved and interpreted,” said Becker.

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