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Wakarusa Museum Renovates for 40 Year Anniversary This Year

by Amy Wenger on June 17, 2014


Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.

Among the many characteristics that define an exemplary role model are a unified team spirit, a willingness to test one's strength, and the ability to practice endurance. All of these traits were displayed in true form on Saturday, June 14 as several young men from the NorthWood High School football team were on hand to help the Wakarusa Historical Museum commence a project of significant caliber - to contribute to history in the making, so to speak.

Thanks to an abundance of leadership and skill, the grounds of the Wakarusa Historical Museum will take on a drastically different look in the coming weeks.  When all is said and done, the atmosphere will lend a particular kind of credence to the phrase, "what once was old shall be made new again..."

Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.

NorthWood High School football coach Nate Andrews was an integral force in recruiting more than a dozen members of his squad to arrive at the museum complex to install a new section of railroad tracks, for the purpose of temporarily relocating the facility's two vintage train cars - a Norfolk and Western caboose and passenger Pullman car.  The cars are being repositioned to allow the original tracks to be repaired and restored.

With just months remaining until the museum celebrates 40 years of operation, the two vintage train cars that are regarded as something of a centerpiece to the museum complex will soon be resting on a new foundation.  They will also be adorned by another section of tracks placed along the similar route once used by the historic Wabash rail line, which ended its passenger service to and from the Wakarusa community more than 80 years ago.

Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.

The football team was tasked with laying out the many railroad ties, placing the rails on the ties, and then spiking the rails to the ties the old fashioned way.  Some preparatory work was done ahead of time, which included digging out an area behind the caboose, freeing up the brakes on both train cars, disconnecting the electric to both train cars, and removing the steps and other props on both train cars. All of this required a tremendous amount of delicate maneuvering, in light of the age and weight of the cars.  The red Norfolk and Western caboose is nearly a century old and weighs more than 20 tons, while the Norfolk and Western passenger coach is in excess of 70 years old.

Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.

The tracks that currently rest beneath the cars represent a portion of a spur line that was once used by the old coal yard that is now the current site for the museum complex.  The line was one of the first amenities to the museum when it was established in 1975, yet time and the elements have taken their toll on the attraction.  The wooden ties which support the rails are deteriorating to the point where they are crumbling away, and the two cars are actually tilting and sinking into the soft earth.

Museum volunteer Paul McPheeters was on hand to coordinate and choreograph every stage of the rail line execution, from measuring to demonstrating the proper technique on spiking the tracks to the correct way to lift the heavy wooden ties.  McPheeters's work training and expertise with both CSX and the United States Marine Corps served him well for the purpose of maintaining safety measures and ensuring that the players were schooled in various techniques.

Todd Scheets, president of the Wakarusa Historical Society, explains what will occur after the train cars are pulled away.  "Once the cars have been moved from beneath their present shelter spot, the old railroad rail will be pulled up and the old railroad ties removed.  After this part is completed, we will re-grade the ground, dropping it approximately two feet, which will allow for easier access for visitors to board and exit both train cars.  We will also be adding a handicap ramp for those requiring another option to board the trains.  Tile will be added to prevent water from running down the middle of the tracks and rotting the railroad ties away, as it does now.  Once the ground work is completed, we will place new railroad ties and rail down, finishing it off by dressing the area up with white limestone."

Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.

Although the original goal of moving both cars did not transpire during the day as hoped, the museum volunteers and staff on hand were able to slide the caboose out from beneath the building canopy, where it had rested undisturbed for nearly 40 years.  The tracks and ties had virtually disintegrated, with overgrowth and soft soil clearly visible at the area surrounding the tracks.  Craig Spicher, son-in-law of museum founders Helen and Jay Klein, offered the use of his tractor, which was hitched up to the caboose, allowing it to roll effortlessly down the new tracks. 

After the grounds have been redesigned and stabilized, the cars will be returned to their original place, and the newer track extension will simply become another feature for the museum as a railway, complete with flashing crossing gates.  The tracks have been aligned on a northwesterly slant, and will offer a fitting ambience to the adjacent depot, the Bird's Eye View building, the Little Red Schoolhouse, the sugar camp, Grandma's Haus, and the many other buildings that are situated on the grounds.  For more information on how to volunteer or donate, or to learn more about visiting hours and tours, contact the Wakarusa Historical Museum at (574) 862-1181.  The museum is located at 403 East Wabash Avenue in Wakarusa.  


Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.
Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.
Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.
Photo Courtesy of Amy Wenger.



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