For four years, a rusty red train caboose sat quietly in a field in New Kent, slowly showing more wear from the elements as time passed.
In 2015, the then-90-year-old caboose gained new life when it was transported to James City County, destined to marry a long wooden building called the “Norge Depot” in a testament to local rail history.
Since the caboose arrived, volunteers and rail enthusiasts have gradually chipped away at projects inside and outside the train car — as money and time have allowed.
Within the last year, the caboose got a new roof, a new primer paint job on one side and some metal patches to repair where rust had eaten away at the metal.
But William Fox, a member of the Norge Depot Association, says there’s still much more to be done before the caboose can become a focal point of the offerings at the Depot.
It still needs one side’s paint removed and freshened up with a new coat. The inside is also in need of renovation, as it is still mostly empty, save for a collection of tools and old rail car pieces.
“When we moved it here … it was a wreck,” Fox said. “It had been in a field for four years.”
The improvements — and some additional wear from the weather — have revealed some interesting discoveries, however.
As paint has continued to crack along the side of the caboose, numbers and letters have slowly become visible under the most recent paint job.
Some numbers are difficult to discern in their entirety, while a particular series, “9-30-54” is visible on the back side of the caboose. Another set, “BLT II – 25,” indicates when the caboose was built.
The Depot traces its roots back to 1907, when Norge was just blossoming as a home for Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Americans.
Regular train service between Richmond and Newport News began in 1882, when Norge became a “flag stop” for the Peninsula Extension of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, according to a written History of the Norge Depot.
In 1896, Carl Bergh, a Norwegian, came to James City County from Wisconsin. He began marketing the area to Norwegian, Swedish and Danish Americans living in the Midwest, advertising Virginia’s mild winters.
The 34-by-89-foot Norge Depot was built in 1907, several years after 61 families arrived in Norge to start a new life.
The Depot closed in 1969, but was later bought by James City County in the 1990s. It was moved to the county library in Norge, and put on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009.
It was then renovated and turned into a tourist attraction, meeting space and museum, which opened in 2012.
The caboose was an addition to the Norge Depot’s existing historic rail collection.
Fox travels up the East Coast by Amtrak frequently, and for years, he spent his time on the train gazing out the window for old train cars to bring to the Depot.
Just before finding the train car in New Kent, Fox was looking to possibly buy a caboose located in the Midwest.
That sale fell through, as transportation would be too difficult and expensive for such a long journey.
Those involved with the Depot restoration then uncovered the caboose near Cumberland Hospital in New Kent. The caboose was donated to the Norge Depot Association, and moved for free by Richmond-based Cranesmasters.
Some funds from James City County leftover from the restoration of the Norge Depot have been used to fix the caboose, but much of the work has been done for free by volunteers, Fox said. About 30 people have been involved in the Depot and caboose projects over the years.
“We really haven’t spent a huge amount,” he added.
Fox hopes to use the caboose as a location for birthday parties and other get-togethers.
Fox added he also hopes to one day find a locomotive to add to the budding Norge Depot collection.
There isn’t a set timeline for finishing the caboose restoration, mostly because the volunteer hours and money will come as it’s available, he said.
“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” Fox said.
The caboose is open as a tourist attraction. The Norge Depot is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon and Sundays from 2-4 p.m.