Low York County bridge, everybody down
Tom O’Handley, right, and Al Missinger of York County Parks helped renovate the New Freedom Train Station several years ago. A museum in the station includes a renovated caboose, former abode for a homeless family. To read about a potentially disastrous middle-of-the-night event that started at the New Freedom train station, see: The unsolved mystery of locomotive No. 1689
An old caboose with a new red coat of paint sits on tracks near the renovated New Freedom Train Station.
As part of a museum at the station, it’s open for tourists to walk through and their kids, tired of riding on the nearby rail trail, to climb around in.
But there’s an old sign that prohibited men working on the railroad from doing what any kid would do if given a chance: Climbing on the roof of the caboose… .
The sign states: “Operating employees are prohibited under all conditions from occupying roof of caboose.”
Now, the railroad probably had many reasons for the prohibition.
The sign’s message brought to mind an incident soon after the Battle of Gettysburg. A Union soldier, who survived a wound at the battle through careful treatment at York’s Penn Park military hospital was not so fortunate on his way out of town.
He was sitting on the outside of a rail car, possibly after imbibing in some spirits. The train went under a bridge and that structure did to the soldier what an enemy bullet failed to do.
Anyway, a York Daily Record story from 2003 tells about the caboose and the re-opening of the New Freedom museum:
After nearly four years of labor and $500,000 in renovation costs, the New Freedom Railroad Station is once again serving customers.
But it’s no longer providing train tickets to York or Baltimore. Instead, it is giving knowledge in its new museum and selling sandwiches in the New Freedom Railroad Caf.
The dedication of the remodeled station took place on Sept. 20, a comfortable, cloudy afternoon.
“I can remember when this place was little more than a pile of scrap wood,” said Don Kress of Railroad.
Today, that former pile of scrap wood is set to become a major stopping point for users of the Heritage Rail Trail County Park.
“One of our biggest goals was to rehabilitate the station and turn it into a multi-use facility,” said Francis Velazquez, education outreach coordinator for the York County Department of Parks and Recreation. “Here people can learn about the North Central and Pennsylvania Railroads while grabbing a bite to eat.”
Kress and his family had just left the Pennsylvania caboose that will remain on display at the station. The caboose is owned by Al Smith, who bought it from Conrail 10 years ago.
“It was in dilapidated shape and a homeless family was living in it,” said Smith, of New Freedom.
Smith has done most of the restoration himself, and over the last decade, he has spent more than $8,000 of his own money trying to return the caboose to its original glory.
“I don’t come from a train background,” Smith said. “But as I got older, I just got the train bug.”
A couple hundred feet down from the caboose, Rick Bazuine and Beth Holland of New Freedom own and operate the newly opened New Freedom Railroad Caf.
“We expect to be open year-round,” Holland said, “And by next summer, we will be selling Italian ice and ice cream to trail walkers.”
Until then, the menu will focus on sandwiches and salads.
In the museum next to the cafe, guest speaker and U.S. Rep. Todd Platts, R-York County, walked about with his children.
“The history of the railroad has personal meaning to me,” Platts said as his children quizzed him on weighing scales.
“My grandfather, G.R. Platts, was a fireman for the Pennsylvania Railroad during the Great Depression,” Platts said.
And while the work was very difficult, Platts said his ‘Pappy’ was sad when diesels and electric trains replaced the coal steamers.
“Pappy said the railroad lost some of its romance,” Platts said.
As for the new station, he said it was a proud day for the people of New Freedom.
“From an economic sense, it’s always good to see these types of building get reused,” Platts said. “They can provide us a service while preserving pieces of our heritage.”