The Preston Historical Society will be dedicating the newest addition to its historical campus at the Preston Trailhead on Saturday, Aug. 16. BRETTA GRABAU/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
The Preston Historical Society will be dedicating the newest addition to its historical campus at the Preston Trailhead on Saturday, Aug. 16. BRETTA GRABAU/REPUBLICAN-LEADER

On Saturday, Aug. 16, at 10:30 a.m. the Preston Historical Society will be dedicating a restored Milwaukee Road Caboose as a part of the historical campus that also includes the elevator, boxcar and O'Hara schoolhouse.

"This was a dream eight years ago," said Robert Maust, Preston Historical Society member who played a key role in acquiring and restoring the car for Preston.

For three years, several people from the historical society, including Maust, searched for a Milwaukee caboose that was affordable and able to be restored.

Decades ago, the main method of traveling was via railroads. The Milwaukee Road reached through the southern region of Minnesota, but actually bypassed Preston, going into Fountain. However, a spur of the railroad was built into Preston.

"The train would come to Preston and get on a turntable that would turn it around to head back into Fountain," described Sheila Craig, who is also a part of the historical society.

The search for a Milwaukee Road caboose took several years, but it held a special meaning for Maust since his grandfather had worked for the railroad. After spending a great deal of time around it and seeing its operations as a child, he grew up with a love for railroading, which continued to encourage him in the hunt.

"We went to Prairie du Chien, Wis., a little town across the river from there and Marquette, Iowa. Most we looked at were in pretty sad shape," Maust noted.

"We finally found one from the railroad salvage company in Mauston, Wis. They probably had seven or eight of them. We bought one for about $8,600 and brought it back to Preston in the fall of 2009," he added.

The caboose they settled on was built new in the beginning of the 1950s and weighed about 20 tons, Maust guessed. After appropriating the caboose, it was shipped to Preston and dropped off at the Preston Ironworks site. The caboose itself had suffered damage from a rail derailment and needed some steelwork done.

 Once the steelwork was completed, it was time to paint. Russ's Sandblasting in Caledonia sandblasted the caboose and applied the orange paint. BP Painting in Chatfield put on the black paint, helping to restore the caboose to the way it looked as a new car.

"They had some special paint with a preservative for metal so the color would not fade," said Craig.

Little by little, the restoration progressed to completion, with the aid of many people from the Preston area.

"We dug out where the rail line used to be and laid down about 80 feet of track. We put the caboose on the second track near the elevator. City employees helped to lay the track," Maust described.

"The track we laid is pieces saved from the old railroad," Craig commented.

The inside of the caboose also needed work, but now it looks complete and new.

"The caboose was the last car of the train available for people to be in. Inside there is seating, a bathroom and a stove," Craig described.

"Mrs. Darwin Smith reupholstered the seats and Christ Hershberger put all new windows in it. We got a lot of help from our Amish friends. Many local people helped to make this happen," Maust stated.

But all of this would not have been possible without the funds for it. The complete project cost around $25,000 and the restoration process has spanned about five years.

"We had to raise the funds and do a little of the restoration at a time," Craig related. "We have raffles each year and the proceeds went to the project. We got grants from the Preston Area Community Foundation and the Milwaukee Road Historical Association."

"We got tremendous support from the Preston Area Community Foundation,” Maust reiterated. “They gave several grants that helped pay for the windows and the cost of the lettering on the car.”

Since the main method of transportation has moved on from trains today, many people may not recognize what cabooses and railroad lines were used for over a half a century ago. But when they show up in Preston to see historic items like the 1902 elevator, the 1939 boxcar and now the newly restored caboose, they are intrigued by what they see.

"A lot of people go to the Trailhead and like to wander and look at the old railroad equipment," Maust commented.

"It is an excellent tourism attraction. Some people go around to look at Milwaukee equipment. The exhibit helps how the Trailhead is advertised and is a nice spot to be proud of. It wraps up what the city was like then and ties together the farming and railroad history of Preston," noted Craig.

The hope as the site progresses is to build a bag house next to the elevator and recreate the weighing area to make the elevator area look like it used to at the turn of the century.

"It would be a combination of how the grain was stored at the transition elevator and a part of the transportation system for getting grain from Preston to the world market," Maust said.

But the next part is to raise money to erect a good fence around the boxcar and caboose so it can be looked at, but protected from vandalism. Eventually the historical society hopes to acquire an engine and a railroad section car to add to its collection.

Right now, however, the focus in on dedicating the caboose on Saturday. The speaker for the event will be Bob Storozuk who has been the president of the Milwaukee Road Historical Association (MRHA) for the past 17 years and has also produced 10 videos on various elements of Milwaukee Road history. 

MRHA focuses on providing historical information about the Milwaukee Road and its predecessors. However, extensive time, energy and funding is devoted to preservation and restoration of the railroad equipment, buildings and records. They have produced and developed videos on the railroad and special books for children and share information and materials with other historical groups.

Storozuk has authored or co-authored four books on the railroad and has made extensive presentations to many community and historical organizations on both the Milwaukee Road and railroads in general, in the United States and Canada.

After the dedication at 10:30, the ribbon cutting will take place and refreshments will be available. Members of the historical society will also be present to give tours of the caboose.

For those interested in taking a look inside a real caboose like those used in Preston's history, head down to the Preston Trailhead on Saturday, Aug. 16.