City of Tenino to restore Great Northern Railway caboose for museum display

A Great Northern Railway caboose from the 1920s in Tenino. The caboose, purchased by the city of Tenino at auction, will be restored in the coming year.
A Great Northern Railway caboose from the 1920s in Tenino. The caboose, purchased by the city of Tenino at auction, will be restored in the coming year. jwenzelburger@chronline.com

When the City of Tenino turned its train depot into what is now the Tenino Depot Museum, it reconstructed some old train tracks in front of the building, hoping to someday display a railcar of some sort.

That day will come as soon as next year, now that the city owns a 1923 X549 Great Northern Railway wooden caboose. Tenino purchased the bright red railcar for $6,200 at a recent auction. It most recently sat within the Country Village Shopping Center in Bothell, which closed earlier this year to make room for multi-family housing.

“Bidding was pretty fierce,” Tenino Mayor Wayne Fournier said. “There were about 15 people bidding on it and we wound up paying about as high as we were willing to go. It’s something that’s been talked about for a long time. We had always been on the lookout for something to put on those tracks and now we’ll hopefully have something out there by next summer.”

The caboose is already awaiting restoration inside a warehouse in Tenino. It has the seal of the Great Northern Railway – which ran from Minneapolis to Seattle from 1889 to 1970 – on one side with the words “Be Wise, Beware, Be Safe” painted nearby.

Fournier said the city is not going to rush the restoration process. Members of the Tenino Lions Club and some local train aficionados have stepped forward to help the city public works staff. The city also plans to pursue grant funding over the next year to help pay for some of the restoration work as well as ongoing maintenance and upkeep needs.

“It’s got to be a place where, if people are attracted to it and go up to it, it’s not going to get beaten up and fall apart,” Fournier said. “The doors and windows have to be secured, too. We don’t want it to become a nuisance instead of a display piece.”

What else the city plans to do with the caboose besides display it at the Depot Museum remains to be seen. Some options that have been discussed included renovating the inside, which is currently set up as office space, as a room to hold small gatherings or birthday parties, or as a location for tourists to rent for a unique overnight stay.

The Depot Museum also may be able to use the interior for a rotating exhibit of train equipment and memorabilia unique to Tenino. Those decisions will be made as the restoration work continues, Fournier said.

“You go through a lot of these towns in Lewis County and you’ll see like a train engine in the park,” Fournier said. “An old steam engine is extremely hard now to come by. We want it to be something that families at the museum can experience and make it more obvious that it used to be a train depot. We don’t know what it’ll become beyond a show piece, but I think we’d be pretty happy with that alone.”