When Joshua Merrihew's grandmother visited from California, he took her to one of his favorite places, the B&O Railroad Station Museum. The 5-year-old wanted to show off the caboose that's permanently parked at the Ellicott City landmark.
But Joshua and other visitors were turned away. Although the museum was open, the caboose was off-limits to visitors, beginning April 1, when much-needed renovations began.
"He was disappointed that it was closed," said Joshua's mother, Cheri Merrihew of Ellicott City. "But he was happy to know that they were fixing it."
The caboose, visible off Main Street, had become an eyesore. Its red paint was faded. Sun and water damage had worn gaping holes in its siding.
"It was literally crumbling," said Lisa Mason-Chaney, director of the museum.
Children, in particular, asked when the caboose would be repaired. "Kids love it," she said. "They don't want anything to happen to it. They want us to save it."
The museum had been looking for renovation funds for some time. There was talk of buying a new caboose. One in better condition could be had for about $5,000, but the high price of transporting the train-car was prohibitive. Eventually, $20,000 was raised from a variety of sources: a generous local resident, an artist who donated a drawing of the museum for a raffle and Historic Ellicott City Inc., the museum's parent organization.
Ruff Roofers, an Arbutus company that works on historic buildings throughout the Baltimore region, was called in to do the work. The caboose is scheduled to reopen to the public before Sunday. If it isn't ready this weekend, it will reopen June 14, Mason-Chaney said.
"We basically did everything exterior," said company owner Rob Ruff.
New siding, window awnings, sills and sashes were put on, as well as a new roof.
"To do all that, we actually had to rebuild the entire framing of the caboose," Ruff said. "Because of the age, it was actually rotted out."
Master cabinet-maker Tom Sortore was a subcontractor on the project. Sortore, of Suntouri Construction in Baltimore, said he and the building crew had some surprises as they removed the decaying exterior of the caboose, including evidence of a long-ago fire.
"It must have been a very cold morning in North Dakota," Sortore said. He imagines that the railroad men lighted a fire for heat or food and "let the fire get too hot. They let the siding catch on fire, and portions of the framing."
Underneath the siding, contractors also found notes and workers' names scrawled in chalk from a 1978 renovation.
Although little damage was found on the caboose's interior, Mason-Chaney hopes to repaint it and fix water damage in the future. "The outside was so bad ... with what money that we had raised, we had to work on saving the outside."
When it came time to paint the refurbished caboose, Ruff had to do some research. "We actually went down to the big B&O in Baltimore ... [for] the exact paint and the exact siding to match the historical effects. We don't want to just go in there and put anything on it," he said.
Painters were finishing work - the caboose now has a bright red exterior with green trim - when Barbara Shaw visited from Williamsburg, Va. Her grandfather was a B&O conductor who lived on a caboose during long trips. "I'm always sort of fascinated," Shaw said, as she asked Mason-Chaney about the numbers of bunks on the caboose and how the toilets operated.
One reason for sprucing up the caboose is the 175th anniversary celebration of B&O next year. During the Fair of the Iron Horse, from June 26 to July 7 next year, the Ellicott City B&O museum will be open all day, every day. Mason-Chaney expects 1,000 visitors daily. By then, floors and interior paint in the museum will have things looking "as nice as possible" for the event, she said.
"It was just real nice breathing life into that baby," Sortore said. "It was just a real pleasure to see the old gal shine again."
Information: 410-461-1944, or www.ecbo.org.
B&O Caboose C2149
Class 1-5D, built in 1927
Total built: 272
Last caboose of this type was retired in 1983
Unusual combination steel-and-wood frame
Given as a gift in 1976 by Pennsylvania/Chessie System