A Southern Pacific caboose is now latched to the 1900 steam locomotive at Heritage Junction in William S. Hart Park. The 1942 caboose was set on the tracks adjacent to the Saugus Train Depot Tuesday afternoon following a short journey from Filmore.
A large crane – transported to Santa Clarita on three separate trucks and reassembled at Hart Park – slowly lowered the 40-foot-long, 60,000-pound caboose, which also arrived by truck.
Laurene Weste, a board member of the Santa Clarita Valley Historical Society, asked Leon Worden, the society’s vice president, to find a caboose for Heritage Junction.
Weste said the caboose – which was found by Mike Jarel, a retired 40-year Southern Pacific engineer – fits with the area’s history since Southern Pacific trains once serviced the SCV.
“This is about bringing it alive so you’re not just reading in a book,” she said of the stories of the eras represented by the caboose and several historical buildings at Heritage Junction.
Weste said children will benefit from the caboose, where they can engage with the past and host birthday parties and gatherings.
“I think that this will be one of those pieces that starts to make this like our own kind of mini-Knott’s Berry Farm, where we can have people come and the kids can learn everything they need to learn and they’ll have a good time,” she said.
Worden said the Historical Society has been using the time that Heritage Junction has been closed during the pandemic to conduct deferred maintenance.
“We decided to make some improvements and additions and have some exciting things for people to see when we open back up,” he said, noting Heritage Junction may reopen as soon as early next year.
The cupola caboose, Worden said, came from the private collection of Dave Wilkinson, the owner of the Filmore and Western Railway Co. He said the caboose, which had been in a rail yard in Filmore since it was decommissioned in the mid-1980s, is the perfect one for the SCV.
“It actually ran on our line through Newhall and Saugus, the L.A.-Mojave run, and unlike most old cabooses it’s in its original condition,” Worden said. “What’s really weird is it hasn’t been gutted. Most old cabooses have been gutted and converted into construction trailers, tiny houses. This has most of its interior features.”
Jarel, who found the caboose, chalked it up to luck.
“It was just a pure lucky chance,” he said of the acquisition, noting the owner of the Filmore and & Western Railway Co. was the first stop on his search. “He just happened to say, ‘Well, you know I got one I can get rid of.’”
Jarel said this caboose would’ve travelled on a line that was parallel to Magic Mountain Parkway, on the current site of the Westfield Valencia Town Center and the auto dealerships, on its way to the original site of the Saugus Depot.
“It’s at home,” he said of the caboose. “It’s really a treasure and rare.”
Bo Golson, of Redlands, and a small group of retired Southern Pacific conductors and engineers were present to watch the caboose lowered into place.
Golson, a retired train conductor, remembers the experience of serving in the caboose, which functioned as a conductor’s office.
“It had more personality,” he said of the kind of the World War II-era caboose now at Heritage Junction. “Riding up high in the cupola, which we call the crow’s nest, you can see the train better than a bay window.”
From the cupola, Golson said, he could ensure the train’s safety by keeping an eye on all of the train cars from one end of the train to the other.
“Cabooses had their places, but technology, you can’t stop it,” he said, noting all cabooses were phased out by the early 1990s. “This is a piece of railroad history and the condition of this Caboose is just incredible.”
Worden and others will now work to restore the caboose, which is fitted with its original conductor’s desk, coal-powered cast iron stove, ice box, sink, toilet and other features, back to its former glory.
“It’s in nice condition. It’s not all roached out, and it’ll look really awesome when I redo the interior in the nice shiny Southern Pacific seafoam green. It will look stellar,” Worden said.
He said the caboose will be a lot of fun for the community.
“We’re reinterpreting our history in exciting ways that people in Santa Clarita haven’t seen in Santa Clarita,” he said.