Caboose Open to the Public
Newly elected president of the Helena Township Historical Society Paul DeLange addressed a gathering of about sixty people on Thursday evening during a ceremony in which the newly renovated Alden Depot Caboose was opened to the public. The caboose now houses early railroad artifacts and will be open on Friday thru Sunday from 1 p.m. - 4 p.m.
A plaque to be mounted on the Alden Depot Storage Building was presented to a surprised Dorothy Walter by Paul DeLange. The plaque honors the years of dedication and service to the Helena Township Historical Society by both Dorothy and her late husband Phil.
The caboose was originally built in 1906 at the Grand Trunk Western Railroad's car shop in Port Huron, Michigan. A note on the exterior planking found during the restoration process indicated that the caboose had been repaired in August of 1936. The last record of repairs at the car shop was in 1958 when it was used on the Chicago-Port Huron line of the Grand Trunk Western Railroad.
Rodger Dewey purchased the caboose in 1973 from a Detroit attorney and moved it two blocks north from the Mancelona Train Depot where it was used as his Real Estate and Insurance Office. Mr. Dewey donated the caboose to the Helena Township Historical Society in 1989. It was moved to the Alden Depot where it sat for a number of years and over time fell into a state of disrepair. In 2006 the Alden Volunteers (a not for profit community organization) with financial support from Roger Dewey of Alden and Richard and Diana Milock of Bellaire, started renovations on the caboose.
Every Monday morning during the summer a group of men who’s average age is 70.4 years of age and dubbed “The Boys of Summer” would meet for breakfast at the Wild Onion and then proceed to Depot Park where they spent the day toiling away on the dilapidated caboose. The roof, siding and copula as well as sections of the floor had to be replaced. The windows and interior were restored to near original condition. The entire exterior of the caboose (and a few of the boys) was painted OSHA Red. Then branding which reads Pere Marquette Railroad was applied to the exterior.
In 2007 one hundred feet of the original track which once ran through Alden was donated to the historical society by the Guy Barber family and the Boys of Summer’s new theme song became “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” as men who were once executives and administrators took up picks and shovels under scorching summer heat to install the track. Once the track was installed a crane lifted the caboose and turned it around in order to make way for a 1920’s flat car and a 1944 twenty five ton GE Switch engine donated by William Shannon of Alden.
As for the Boys of Summer, now that their work on the caboose and flat car is finished they have already started work on restoring the Switch Engine. When completed Alden’s charming little train will represent the true spirit of volunteerism that exists in this community and serve as an attraction to be enjoyed by visitors both young and old for years to come.