Mark Cation’s ties with the Santa Fe Railroad span nearly a lifetime.
While Cation shared his childhood memories about taking the train from Humbolt to Ottawa to visit his aunt and uncle during the dedication Sunday of a 1942 Santa Fe Railroad caboose on the grounds of the Old Depot Museum, 135 W. Tecumseh St., Ottawa, local economic leaders talked Monday about the potential for the railroad’s resurgence in Ottawa through the BNSF Railway Co.’s nearby intermodal hub facility.
“The intermodal is one of the real drivers to growth here, and I think it re-emphasizes how important rail can be to this area,” Jeff Seymour, executive director of the Franklin County Development Council, said.
On Sunday, local residents celebrated the railroad’s local heritage.
“I thought it was a wonderful day, and we had a wonderful turnout,” Cation said. “I met two guys who worked with my uncle on the railroad in Ottawa. One of them worked in the station and told me he would have taken care of my tickets when I was a kid. Many of the donors showed up. It was a special day.”
The caboose dedication was the culmination of his longtime dream to bring a caboose to the museum, Cation said.
“It was fun to see the kids getting on the caboose, and hearing the stories people would share about their memories of the railroad,” Cation said. “Some people told me their grandkids didn’t know what a caboose was, because they’d never seen one. I feel very fortunate we have a caboose here.”
Cation, organizer of the “Move that Caboose” project, spearheaded a fundraising drive to have the caboose moved from Ron and DeeAnna Kimes’ yard on the outskirts of Ottawa to the Old Depot Museum. The Kimeses donated the caboose,
“I worked with Ron and DeeAnna Kimes at a political event and talked about the historical society and my dream of obtaining a caboose for the Old Depot Museum,” Cation said. “They shared that they had a caboose. I laughed, they laughed, and I thought they were pulling my leg about having a caboose.”
But Cation said he soon learned the Kimeses weren’t kidding.
“They had a little red caboose, and Ron shared that if I could talk DeeAnna into giving it to me I could have it,” Cation said. “I talked her into it, and then the work began to make all of the arrangements to get the job done. It took over a year of research, hundreds of phone calls, letter writing, emails sent, contacts, dead ends and road blocks.”
A breakthrough finally convinced Cation he was on the right track.
“My dad saw an article in the Independence, Kan., newspaper about a caboose being moved from Chanute to Bartlesville, Okla.,” Cation said. “The day I received the letter from my dad, my son called from Chanute and said, ‘Dad, you’ll never guess what I’m watching right now.’ I said, ‘You are watching a caboose being moved,’ and he said, ‘How did you guess that?’
“Taylor Crane & Rigging Co. out of Coffeyville was the answer to how and who could move the caboose for me,” Cation said.
Cation was successful in raising the $7,500 needed to pay for the move through donations from numerous local and area residents. And in March 2012, Taylor Crane & Rigging moved the caboose along the two-mile route and successfully placed it just north of the museum.
On Sunday, Cation thanked everyone who donated time, money and talents to the project.
“In one week’s time a total of 40 people stepped up and made donations,” Cation told the gathering of about 150 people Sunday.
A plaque with all 40 donors’ names on it will hang inside the museum, along with a plaque recognizing the Kimeses for their gift of the caboose. Cation also presented plaques to the Taylor Crane & Rigging and to donor Marguerite Gibson for her donation to the second phase of the project.
The second phase included repainting the caboose, including adding the Santa Fe logo, and making it accessible, Deb Barker, Franklin County Historical Society director, said.
“We still have one more thing to complete in phase two, and that’s adding the exterior lighting,” Barker said Monday.
The third phase of the project will restore the interior of the caboose to its original condition, Cation said.
“We are hoping to be able to light up the caboose at night, and we want to finish the interior and put in some exhibits,” Cation said. “It’s been fun to see people taking prom photos, senior photos and I even saw a party taking wedding photos on the caboose. It’s great to see all the ways people are enjoying the caboose.”
RAIL OF YESTERDAY
Most of the people gathered for Sunday’s dedication ceremony also attended an open house at the Old Depot Museum to unveil its “Working on the Railroad.”
“We had 140 people [attend the open house],” Barker said. “I thought it was very, very successful. A lot of people brought kids, and we had lots of activities for kids, so it worked out well.”
During the open house, youths had the opportunity to learn about whistle and lamp signals, watch a video about rail workers, coloring activities and see the museum’s model train.
In addition to viewing the exhibit, participants could see the caboose’s interior, learn about telegraphs and Morse Code, view railroad photos and participate in other activities.
The railroad was a booming industry in Ottawa in the 19th century and into the 20th century, Barker said, and the exhibit documents that fact through old photographs and other historical items from that “important period” in the community’s history. Ottawa at one time was a division point for the Santa Fe Railroad, with shops, a hospital and other services, she said.
Cation thanked the many people who had a hand in documenting Ottawa’s railroad history, with the antique caboose serving as a reminder of that era — an era Cation urged the audience not to forget.
“Many people had a part in making this dream come to life,” Cation said Sunday. “When we preserve and protect elements from our past such as this caboose, and the many, many items on display in the museum, it helps especially the younger generations to appreciate the way our past has helped to shape life as they know it today.
“It is important to preserve and protect the past, for it is the knowledge of our history that helps us to shape a better and brighter future for generations to come,” Cation said.
LINE TO THE FUTURE
BNSF Railway’s intermodal hub, a 25-minute drive from Ottawa, could renew the railroad industry’s vitality in this community, local economic development leaders said.
“When we talk with businesses about why they should be in Franklin County, access to I-35 and the Kansas City metro area are always part of the conversation, but the intermodal and rail access are quickly rising to the top of that list,” Seymour said.
Seymour said he thinks the intermodal will foster business and job growth in the county.
“When you study economic history, you see what an important role rail has played in our country’s past in creating economic growth,” Seymour said. “Cities cropped up next to the railroad, just like cities have lived and died, depending on where the interstate highways went in. I think Ottawa and Franklin County are poised to benefit from the rail industry through the intermodal’s impact on this region.”
The Intermodal will be three times the size of Walmart Logistics, and Franklin County might see a spike in residential population because of it, Blake Jorgensen, Ottawa city commissioner, said.
“Just the number of employees the intermodal will require from warehouses going on-site will be significant,” he said. “It’s a good location to get some of those employees to live in the community.”
While the intermodal’s impact on the region could be huge, it is not likely to equal the railroad’s influence on Ottawa during the industry’s golden age, Jorgensen said.
“We probably never will be at the point the railroad was decades ago when we had repair shops in town,” he said. “That’s a part of history and it’s just a different industry than what it was.”
Herald staff writer Abby Crosthwait contributed to this article.