Caboose returns to campus

As a child, I remember reading about “the little engine that could.” On the Davis & Elkins College campus we have the little caboose that keeps coming back!

Sitting between Lake Tolstead and Robbins Memorial Chapel is a 1940 B&O Railroad caboose. Now refurbished and sporting a new bright D&E red coat of paint, it has a long tradition on our campus. For about 15 years beginning in the mid-1980s it sat near the athletic fields, alternately serving as a ticket booth and a home to insects and growing weeds.

Around the year 2000, the decision was made to remove it from campus. Local resident Jim Schoonover adopted the little caboose and had it transported to his property. Jim refurbished the interior and used it as his “man cave” stating that it hosted many games of poker with his friends over the years.

As time passed, Jim eventually transferred ownership in 2017 to Elkins resident Sid Gillespie. Sid initially hoped to find the caboose a home near the train museum in Elkins. When that did not materialize, he approached D&E’s Vice President for Student Affairs Scott Goddard and eventually the two of them visited with me. The idea was to return the little caboose to its historic campus home. The question became where on campus, and for what purpose.

The suggestion from one of our students made all the difference for the future of the former B&O car. Our creative student wanted it to become a coffee shop on campus. Sid Gillespie arranged to have the old caboose sanded and painted, Steve Sherrard provided the track on campus, and D&E Board of Trustees member Joyce Allen arranged for J.F. Allen, Inc. to transport the railcar back to campus and dropped into its current location by crane. D&E alumnus Matt Davis volunteered to coordinate the entire project as utilities were brought to the location, a large deck and patio were constructed, and by summer 2018 there was a wonderful new addition to the campus.

A dedication was held in August, and today The Caboose Café is serving up lattes and cappuccinos made to order. It is wonderful to pass by the area and see students, as well as faculty, staff and community members, enjoying the open-air location and sipping on a beverage in the heart of the beautiful and historic D&E campus.

The College’s namesakes, Senator Henry Gassaway Davis and Senator Stephen B. Elkins, were railroad magnates. Bringing the railroad into the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries enabled greater exports of timber and coal. Elkins was an important rail hub during those years. The railroad continues to be important to the town, creating both historic and economic opportunities that benefit both. The return of the caboose to the D&E campus is fitting considering both the region’s rail connection and the College’s historic ties.

I write often about life’s journey. For the little red caboose, it has journeyed from the railroad, to our campus, to the town and back to campus. Its past, present and future is inextricably tied to Davis & Elkins College, like so many of us.

The journey continues….