Renovations are expected to begin soon and as the town works to convert the historic railcar into a tourist attraction with a targeted opening date of late spring.
Gifted to the town by the Clinchfield Railroad Museum, the “Eleven Eleven” was commissioned in 1981 and was the last Clinchfield caboose put into service.
CSX Transportation, which bought the Clinchfield Railroad in the early 1980s, gave the caboose to the museum in September but, much to its curator’s disappointment, the National Fish Hatchery System, which owns the property where the museum is located, would not allow it to be placed on the property.
In November, the museum offered the prized relic of local railroading history to the town of Unicoi, whose leaders readily accepted the gift in recognition of its significance in the heritage of many of the town residents.
Just after 8 a.m. Friday, the caboose and its trucks were strapped to a crane and gently guided onto a pair of flatbed semi-tractor tailors for the four-mile trip down Interstate 26 to Unicoi.
By 11:30 a.m., crews from the Craggy Mountain Line railroad museum in Asheville, North Carolina, and Lynch Trucks and Equipment in Erwin had reassembled the caboose and its trucks on a set of rails located between the Unicoi visitors center and its new farmers market pavilion.
With more than $4,000 in donated and discounted on materials and labor, the cost of the move came in at a little more than $4,700.
The town plans to restore caboose for use as a museum that will include an honors roster of Unicoi residents who worked for the railroad as well as information about other railroad history sites and events in the region.
Mayor Johnny Lynch said the next step will be to clean and sand the caboose in order to have it ready to paint as soon as the weather turns warm.
An online poll is being conducted on the town of Unicoi Facebook page to allow the public to choose the paint scheme for the caboose — classic red reflecting the traditional color of pre-1980s cabooses on the Clinchfield, or French gray with red and yellow accents used during the Eleven Eleven’s operation on the L&N Family Lines System. Those without access to social media may vote by calling 423-735-0517.
Registration for the roster of Unicoi residents employed by the railroad may be completed at the town website, uniocoitn.net/caboose, by phone to 423-735-0517, or by email to Patricia Bennett at [email protected]
Those who would like to contribute to the restoration may make donations at the website or call 423-735-0517 for more information.