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Caboose finds new home at elevator

Andrew Navis with Ruff Brothers grain helps to haul away a train caboose near Fairbury this week / CIFN photo.

Central Illinoisans likely had to do a double take when spotting a 1940s train caboose traveling down the road this week.

The caboose, which had a longtime home near Fairbury, was hauled to its new destination outside the Ruff Brothers grain elevator at Toluca. Visitors to the elevator complex will be greeted by the caboose, which is expected to be restored.

“It’ll be part of our front signage,” explained John Ruff of Ruff Brothers. “Hopefully, we’ll get it painted up and it will be solid for years to come.”

Ruff plans to redo the interior to replicate the 1940s look. The caboose was loaded onto a trailer at the Goold farm north of Fairbury Monday morning, better known as the former Trees ‘n Trim Christmas tree farm which closed in 2010.

Ann Arendell’s brother, Jay Goold, and husband Dan Arendell started the Christmas tree business in the early 1980s and needed a place to sell out of so they discovered the caboose in Peoria.

“I think we paid $1500 for the caboose and TP&W brought it to Fairbury then Koehl’s moved it out here,” Arendell said.

Arendell’s husband, brother and brother-in-law laid the rails on a hot July day before using a crane and two flatbeds to place the caboose there.

“We sold out of it but we rapidly outgrew it,” she said.

Visitors to the tree farm enjoyed the coal stove inside since they wanted coal for their children’s stockings. A shed was eventually built while the caboose was used for storage in the later years. Plenty of photos were taken with kids near the caboose.

Those working at the tree farm spent many days trying to stay warm in the caboose while selling wreaths and Christmas trees each December.

Joan Smeltzer, Arendell’s sister, recalls the caboose being highly visible in the past, but the trees have since grown taller and made it more difficult to spot from the road. Smeltzer had arranged for the caboose to go to Chatsworth but one doorbell ring over the summer from Ruff changed things.

“He said I understand you have a caboose. I said we do but it’s promised to Chatsworth. He said well I’m really looking for one,” Smeltzer explained.

Ruff texted Smeltzer the next day and offered to give so much money for it and said he would have it gone in a week. Smeltzer then reached out to the Chatsworth mayor asking if he was sure the town wanted the caboose but it turns out the company which was going to remove it for free backed out. She told him of the situation and the mayor said to go ahead and sell it.

“When I heard it was going to the grain facility by Toluca, I just said this is the way it is supposed to be because of Ann’s connection to Toluca,” Smeltzer noted.

Arendell’s husband Dan was raised near the caboose’s new home at Toluca. Ruff hopes people enjoy visiting the old caboose outside the grain elevator.

“We’ll be glad to show it off.”

The Ruff Rail facility near Toluca features a 1.5 mile loop track where trains are loaded with grain and sent primarily to Texas with occasional trips to Mexico to feed cattle.

The No. 506 caboose will be painted in BNSF colors since the elevator works with BNSF, according to the “Toledo, Peoria & Western Historical Society” Facebook page. Many TP&W remnants will remain including lettering and most of the original interior. The Facebook page also notes the No. 506 was constructed in the fall of 1940 in East Peoria as No. 206 and was renumbered eight years later.

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