[This article was published in the May 1993 issue of the Bull Sheet]
Don, the Caboose Man of Hyndman, Pennsylvania
[By Allen Brougham] . . .
The next time you ride Amtrak's Capitol Limited through southwestern Pennsylvania, be sure to look to the north side of the train as you pass through Hyndman. The train doesn't stop there, so keep a sharp lookout. For parked some 30 feet back from the tracks are a couple of ex-C&O Chessie System cabooses. And if you're lucky enough to pass through on one of the days he's there, you'll also get a glimpse - and a friendly wave - from the cars' owner. He is Don, the Caboose Man!
Ever since he was a kid, Donald Stewart has had a dream of owning a caboose. He wanted it as a getaway place. When other kids dreamed of a tree house, Don dreamed of a caboose!
Dreams of this sort sometime fade... but not so for Don. He kept his dream alive, and he even devised a way to finance it. In 1968, he gave up smoking. The money he saved he put into a jar. Originally it was 30 cents a day, but he kept adjusting the amount for inflation, and today it's up to $2.25. With what he saved, he was able to finance the project.
Originally he planned on a spot along the Union Pacific in Evanston, Wyoming, as the site for his caboose. He owned property there. But circumstances changed, and by the time he retired as a Department of Defense meteorologist in 1988, he had selected Hyndman, Pennsylvania, as the place to fulfill his dream.
Don had fallen in love with Hyndman. It is a town (officially called a "Borough") of about 1140 people, nestled at the base of CSXT's (ex-B&O) long westward climb to Sand Patch. Some truly wonderful people live there, says Don, and it was just the right place for his getaway caboose.
Locating and selecting a caboose was easy. CSXT had been retiring a number of the cars, and Don needed only to go to Cumberland, Maryland, and pick one out. He did. It was as though he were shopping for an automobile - but with no fancy showroom! He found the car he wanted, and agreed upon a price, but through a mixup the car got sold to someone else before Don could take possession. But there were many others to choose from, so he went back and picked out another one.
The fruition of Don's dream, then, was cupola caboose 903556, which he purchased in June of 1990. The following month he had it moved by truck to a two-acre plot of land he had leased from CSX in Hyndman. It is just off the route of a one-time interchange track that had connected the B&O with a now-abandoned Pennsy line. That's where the caboose sits today, resting on some track reconstructed from rail salvaged from the old interchange, back up against the concrete foundation for a long-ago-removed water tank.
Once the car was spotted, Don began the loving task of restoring it. He had the help of a local painter. It is accurately restored to the smallest detail using the Chessie System paint scheme which Don prefers.
Then, two years later, Don purchased a bay window caboose - 904115 - which CSXT had retired because of wreck damage. Don had seen the car passing through Hyndman en route to Cumberland after it had been damaged. He saw the car as needing a home. He saw this as an opportunity to double his fleet. Now he had two.
Beef stew was still sticking to the inside wall which had been splattered when the car was wrecked. Don has since given the car a good cleaning, but it still has much the same outside appearance as when it was purchased. By summer's end, though, it should sport a fresh coat of paint - also in the Chessie scheme - appropriately accurate to its tenure of service.
Don eventually plans to modify 904115 by replacing some of the seats located next to the track-side windows with a bunk in order that he can watch passing trains from bed at night.
He also plans to install an air-conditioner. This, however, will be on the side away from the mainline, and out of view from the Capitol Limited. What passengers will see is both cars in their authentic, pristine, service-era condition and livery.
Don, whose home is in College Park, Maryland, spends three or four days about every other week at his Hyndman caboose base. There, sharing time with restorative work, and with his many neighbors, he relaxes and enjoys the solitude. He reads, he writes, or he just sits in the cupola or bay window (depending on which car he is in) and reflects, often to the soothing sounds of classical music. It is then that he can let his mind wonder - "in the eighth notch," as he puts it - and "imagine what it would have been like in the old days and of all the experiences the cabooses had."
During the March blizzard he was there - by his own intention - and he spent his time watching the snow blow all around while he sat in the cozy comfort of the cupola of 903556. The winds were so strong he could see and feel the cars sway. That, he said, was genuine relaxation!
Through it all, there is a rather surprising thing that ought to be pointed out...
Don, the Caboose Man, is NOT a Railfan.
"I'm a Railroad ADMIRER," says he . . . "of its history, and the professionalism of the people who operate and maintain the trains and right of way." To be sure, many of his friends from the area are the very railroaders who pass through Hyndman each day.
Another surprise is that Don, for all his love of cabooses, has only once in his life ever ridden one... and that was 20 years ago. He never got to ride in his own cars, either. (But his imagination has done that for him on many, many occasions!)
Don makes it a special point on the days he's there to light the markers so they can be seen from the Capitol Limited, and he always gives a wave to those in the dome car.
So watch for him on your next trip through. If he's there, you will get a wave!
And be sure to wave back!
Photo above .. The Borough of Hyndman recently renamed the road leading to Don's cabooses as Caboose Lane
Photo below .. Tom Cunningham, the mayor of Hyndman, stands next to his ex-B&O Royal Blue observation car 3303 which is parked a few steps from the cabooses. He is a retired B&O railroader and one of Don's closest neighbors.
Still Reporting Weather...
- Don Stewart worked 36 years as a meteorologist - six years with the Army, and 30 years at BWI Airport for the Department of Defense. But he still keeps his hand in it. Those calling the recording for Weather in the Washington, D.C., area might just hear his voice. He is one of several who records forecasts for Bell Atlantic. But with such a kind and gentle voice, one would be hard pressed to hear Don give anything but the most optimistic prediction.
The Cabooses' Legacy (Source: C&O Historical Society from collection of Donald Stewart)...
- 903556, class C-15A, was built of steel construction by AC&F in 1947, originally numbered 90167, rebuilt in 1969 and renumbered 3556, and finally renumbered in 1982 to 903556.
- 904115, class C-27A. was built of steel construction by Fruit Grower Express in 1980 as part of a 160-car order, 66 of which went to the C&O.