This is a piece of history; you don’t see this much anymore.
— Randy Rhinas
Randy Rhinas is a train man through and through. After a 35-year career with Canadian Pacific his retirement dream was to buy a caboose and turn it into a summer retreat for himself and his wife Shirley.
Conveniently, just as he was in the enjoying the sunset days of his working life, a 1943 CP caboose came up for sale.
“I’ve been dreaming of this for about 10, 15 years,” Randy said. “I thought it was so cool when it come up I had to jump on it.
“This is a piece of history; you don’t see this much anymore especially the wooden ones in this condition, so I couldn’t pass it up.
The historic rail car had been on display at and used as an information centre for the Lethbridge Medical Centre on the site of the city’s original Union Railyard since 1988. The railyard was razed in the 1980s to make way for a the health centre and a mall.
Cabooses were used on North American trains from the early 1800s, when they were little more than a shack placed on a flatbed car, until the late 1980s. They provided shelter for train crews, who were required for switching and shunting and to keep a lookout for shifting cargo, damage and overheating axles (hot boxes).
All of that is now done electronically, but it was certainly controversial at the time. The first caboose-less CP train left Winnipeg headed for Thunder Bay on November 14, 1989.
The Rhinas’s car is significant. CTV News Calgary covered its removal from the medical centre site.
“Lethbridge just lost a reminder of its historic railway system,” intoned news anchor Chris Epp.
Randy started with the Canadian Pacific as a labourer when cabooses were still in use and finished his career as director of track renewal in British Columbia getting there the old fashioned way.
“I worked my way up,” he said. “There’s so much opportunity within the company and by the end of it I was a director, so it was great; it was a good career.”
The couple was thrilled January 22 when they took delivery of their little piece of history. Randy was particularly pleased about its condition.
“Overall, for the age of it, it’s in really good condition, inside and out,” he said.
Before he gets around to the remodeling, however, there are some repairs required. The roof leaks slightly, he said, and fixing that will be job one.
From there, he plans on restoring interior and exterior to its original condition. They will add bunkbeds in the cupola (the raised part of the caboose that was used for observing the train while it was in motion). They will add a deck out the rear exit and a deck on the top.
And they have the perfect place picked out for it. In a grove of trees currently stands the original Rhinas homestead, now a crumbling piece of history itself. They will tear that down and move their new summer retreat onto the site.
Randy estimates the whole project will take a couple of years.