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Museum on track

January 17, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

The 50-ton red caboose, embodying years of railroad history, dangled in the air by a single cable briefly Friday afternoon as it was moved to a more prominent home in Hagerstown's City Park.

Before train enthusiast John Long's eyes, his vision of a working train museum was beginning to taking shape with the intricate moves of a skilled crane operator.

Long, 87, took the spectacle in stride as he sat in the warmth of a city pickup truck.

"Something like this is only an occasional thing," Long said. "The big thing is the kids coming in excited, and crying when they don't want to leave."

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Long works part-time for the city as the attendant of the train display at the park. He has been donating his salary of about $2,700 a year back to the city since 1982 to bring the train museum to life.

His salary has paid for the eight cabooses at the small train yard to the rear of the park, as well as a hulking black, 110-ton steam engine.

Long also has collected about 5,000 train-related pieces of memorabilia, City Administrative Services Director John Budesky said.

While visitors have been able to tour one of the cabooses and Engine 202 from May through September, the city plans to expand one building on the site to house the city's train museum, which is expected to open in early summer, Budesky said.

Long said cabooses were important to the existence of trains until the mid 1980s, when computerization made them obsolete. The brakeman, flagman and the conductor would sleep and eat in the caboose, which was always the last car of a train. The engineer and fireman would do the same at the front of the train.

Before the museum can open, the full-sized train components needed to be rearranged for better viewing. So, just before the sun went down Friday, the crane operators went to work.

A truck inched up a small incline in reverse. The caboose, chained and lashed to the flat-bed trailer, slid just beneath an electric cable, brushing against a nearby tree limb.

The crane extended its boom and lowered the main cable attached to a steel beam and cable harness. Workers guided the cables to latches on the caboose's side, and with ease guided the caboose by hand as the crane inched it to its new home a foot or two above the ground.

As the crane slowly lowered the caboose to two rails perched on a hill at the park, the wheels made the slightest tap of metal on metal, and the job was done.

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