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Depot's Caboose

A favorite display with younger visitors is Caboose #11, built for the Northwestern Pacific Railroad in 1909.  After its railroad days ended, the caboose spent thirty years as the shipping office for the Eel River Sawmills.  In 2006 it was donated to the Depot Museum by the Noble family, in memory of Mary Snell Noble.  Visitors can also try out the museum’s train whistle, and learn the meanings of different whistle signals (such as 2 long blasts, one short, and one long, meaning “Train is coming to the crossing”).

From the Past Parks & Recreation Director, John Crotty
I have been working with the Sturgis family to compile information on our caboose, Northwestern Pacific Caboose Number 11. The caboose was donated to the Depot Museum by the Noble family in memory of Mary Snell Noble. Jay Sturgis passed away in 2006, the same year that the caboose came to the museum. Jay worked in and on the caboose for many years. He had a passion for his job and especially for the caboose. Mrs. Sturgis and her sons have sent us this reminiscence.


Jay and the ERS Caboose, by Dorla Sturgis

Jay always had an interest in trains (his grandfather was a railroad engineer), and when Eel River Sawmills' shipments outgrew their small "shipping shack," he was determined to find and adapt a caboose as a replacement. Jay was acquainted with George Reinke of G&R Metals in Eureka and he enlisted George's help. Shopping trips to Eureka often included a stop by the G&R salvage yard to see if there had been any leads on an available caboose.

Finally, in 1970, there was word of a 1909 Northwestern Pacific caboose being retired, and the next hurdle was to convince the ERS owners. Company vice-president Virgil Nesbitt was instrumental in getting the okay from management. The yard area was set up to accommodate the caboose on the south side of the mill which paralleled the freeway and railroad track. (We have photos of the caboose being set into place and will try to locate them.)

The caboose was quite run-down. The roof was repaired, the exterior was painted and the company logo was added. Weekends saw Jay and I cleaning and painting the interior. Our two young sons, Guy and David, sat overhead in the cupola and watched the freeway traffic while we worked! A counter and desk was built in; wall paneling made it a little less drafty and a large window was installed on the north side facing the mill operations. The company had a new poured-vinyl surface put on the floor but the new finish didn't hold up. The caboose floor flexed too much and it soon had to be strengthened and replaced with a heavier material. New wiring and lighting completed the makeover. Eventually, three employees worked in the caboose.

Over the years, the caboose had many rail buffs, prospective buyers, and just curious travelers stop by.
Because of this attention, the company prepared a ‘form letter' in reply to those inquiring about its history as well as to others who were interested in buying it. It became somewhat of a landmark on Highway 101. Jay was so pleased to have had the caboose workspace and never tired of showing it off and relating its history.

The company milled an enormous amount of lumber over the 26 years Jay oversaw the shipping. As much as 180 million board feet a year was shipped both by truck and rail by Eel River Sawmills and it meant long hours spent in the caboose. It was almost a "second home," but one he thoroughly enjoyed. We all have happy memories of those years.

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