If you’re driving down K-68 or pedaling your bike on the Prairie Spirit Trail, you won’t be able to miss the brilliant new paint job on the Old Depot Museum’s 1940s caboose.
Thanks to a generous gift from the Goppert Foundation, the Franklin County Historical Society is restoring the exterior paint on the historic 1940s caboose parked on the rails at the Old Depot Museum. Work began this past weekend and will be completed this week, weather permitting.
A long and interesting life on the rails
Built at the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad’s Topeka Shops, the CE-5 caboose was one of 100 cabooses built in 1948. It was one of the earliest cabooses to have a radio, and one side of the caboose still bears the patched sheet metal scars where the bulky radio and battery bank sat before AT&SF switched to CB radio.
After more than two decades riding the rails through Kansas, the caboose, which was showing its age, was repurposed into a transfer and local caboose, working within the railyards of Kansas City before being retired in 1982. Soon after, the caboose began its next life as a poolhouse in the yard of Ron and Deanna Kimes of Ottawa, Kansas.
In 2012, then FCHS board member Mark Cation convinced the Kimeses to donate the caboose to the Franklin County Historical Society and helped raise more than $7,500 to move the caboose 1 ½ miles from the Kimeses’ yard at to the Old Depot Museum. On March 13, 2012, Ottawans lined up along the streets to watch the caboose make its way from East 9th Street to 135 West Tecumseh.
The historical society raised additional funds to paint the caboose, which was dedicated in April 2013.
Reconnecting with the caboose’s past through paint
Nine years later, the caboose was in desperate need of new paint.
“We discovered that the paint used during the 2012-2013 restoration project was not appropriate for metal,” said Diana Staresinic-Deane, FCHS Executive Director. “It weathered very poorly, and our caboose began to look sickly.”
Mike Skidmore, branch manager of Goppert Service State Bank in Ottawa, also noticed the poor condition of the caboose, and he reached out to FCHS to find out how he could help.
“We began to brainstorm options. Should we be looking for an automotive body shop? A railway historian? How do we ensure the next paint job is one that lasts? And how do we pay for it?” said Staresinic-Deane.
What happened next, said Staresinic-Deane, was fate. “Jason Midyette, a historic rolling stock collector with a lot of experience painting railway cars, happened to visit the Old Depot Museum. He took one look at our caboose and left his contact information for us.”
Midyette, a resident of Bendena, Kansas, has worked on historic railroad equipment in both Kansas and his native Colorado. He repainted the caboose parked in front of Atchison’s visitors center and museum in 2015. After consulting with Skidmore, Staresinic-Deane invited Midyette to submit a bid. Midyette proposed to honor the caboose’s long life—scars and all—by selecting the paint scheme typical of transfer cabooses: Bright red with hand-painted white handles and ladder rungs.
Everything happened very fast after that. Mike Skidmore connected FCHS with the Goppert Foundation, which funded the entire $3,800 project.
Midyette completed the prep work, priming, and two coats of red paint during the October 8-October 9 weekend. Weather permitting, he will paint the AT&SF heraldry and caboose number—999962—this week.
“Thanks to Jason Midyette’s research, we now have a number for the caboose, and we know that it would have traveled down the tracks right in front of our Depot,” Staresinic-Deane said. “It turns out we didn’t acquire just any caboose in 2012, we welcomed a caboose back to the Depot. That’s pretty special.”
“Everyone who visits the Old Depot Museum falls in love with our caboose,” said Staresinic-Deane. “All of us at the Franklin County Historical Society are incredibly grateful to Mike Skidmore for his enthusiasm for the project, Jason Midyette for bringing his expertise to repair our caboose, and most especially to the Goppert Foundation, who donated the funds to restore and protect this piece of history.”
Chartered in 1899, Goppert State Service Bank serves several communities in Kansas, including Ottawa. The Goppert Foundation was established in 1959 by C.H. Goppert of Kansas City, Missouri. Goppert was committed to philanthropic acts in the communities served by his bank, and the charitable foundation continues to support health care facilities, scholarships at colleges through western Missouri and eastern Kansas, community building projects, and organizations that serve underprivileged individuals and families.
Founded in 1937, the Franklin County Historical Society strives to preserve, promote, and present the history of Franklin County, Kansas. The Old Depot Museum is part of the Franklin County Historical Society.