By Lisa Maguire
Residents in Hockessin were surprised to find a battered old caboose at the intersection of Valley Road and Evanson a few weeks ago, and even more surprised to find few answers surrounding its mysterious appearance.
Cabooses became a customary addition to the end of a train in the mid-1800s and served as a place for the conductor to complete his work and for the brakemen to reside while on duty. While the conductor was responsible for the timely and safe delivery of goods and people, the brakemen had a unique and dangerous purpose on the train. Before the invention of air brakes, it would take dozens of men climbing atop the train cars and manually turning the brake wheel of each car to stop the train.
The train car that now sits here in Hockessin was made in Michigan City, Indiana by Pullman-Standard Manufacturing Co. in fall, 1944 for Union Pacific Railway. Its original number was UP 3863 and original color was what is known as “Freight Car Red,” formerly known in the 1940s as “synthetic red,” with white lettering.
The color of all UP cabooses were changed in 1947 to Union Pacific’s yellow scheme, featuring “armor yellow” freight car paint with red letters. In its hey-day, the caboose would have served as the conductor’s office as well as a restroom, water supply, stove, heater, bed, and an icebox. Cabooses also featured a “cupola,” which is the pop-up at the top that allows a 360-degree view of the surroundings for the conductor to be able to see what is happening around the train.
In 1959-1960, the caboose was renumbered to UP 25163, and in 1969 it was sold, along with 10 others, to Pittsburgh and Lake Erie (P&LE), becoming P&LE 366. Montour Railroad was owned by P&LE and Penn Central, but P&LE bought out Penn Central’s stake in Montour Railroad in 1975, after which the caboose was renumbered as Montour 39. In 1983, Montour 35 and 39 were sold to Rail Development Corporation, which owned and operated the Anthracite Railway and the Octoraro Railway. Both cabooses were transferred to the Octoraro Railway location in Kennett Township off of Church Alley near Broad Street, where it was ultimately retired as Avondale Railroad Center 88.
Enter Yorklyn resident, Brian Woodcock. Among a myriad of lifetime occupations and achievements, Mr. Woodcock found himself on the Board of the Octoraro Railway, and his function was to serve the public interest. He and his wife Linda are avid train enthusiasts with a unique twist – they collect full-size trains. He ended up purchasing the Avondale Railroad Center 88 while the President of Wilmington & Western Railroad.
The Caboose now belongs to Hockessin local and landowner, John McGrellis III, who is well-known for his auction house and outstanding collection of classic cars. Mr. McGrellis is a collector of many things, and came to own the caboose when Mr. Woodcock retired and decided to sell it.
Mr. McGrellis originally kept it on tracks in the far corner of Stone Mill Plaza near Children First Preschool until he was ready to restore the nearly 80-year-old train car. Temporary tracks were laid on the property where the car now sits, and the caboose was carefully moved to its new home in front of 108 Evanson Road, across from Delaware Football Club Hockessin (formerly Delaware Rush, and yes – soccer football, not American football). The train is now being restored to a beautiful red color and will serve as a beautiful addition to the rich historical pieces preserved in Hockessin.