JAMES CITY — For the first time in half a century, a train car is bound for the Norge Depot.
Originally part of the Georgia Railroad, the aging red caboose has been out of service for decades and won't be arriving on the tracks. Nonetheless, its arrival has been anticipated for years.
The 1940s caboose was donated to the Norge Depot Association earlier this year by the Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents in New Kent County, where the train car sat for years in a field on a small section of track being reclaimed by nature. Once restored to its former glory, the caboose will stand in front of the depot to greet visitors.
"The idea was always to have a caboose out front," said Bill Fox, volunteer coordinator for the Norge Depot Association.
Built in 1907 on Peach Street and closed in 1969, the Norge Depot was fully restored and reopened in May 2013 as a local museum near the James City County Library. It was the culmination of a decades-long effort to save the historic building.
Jack Fitzpatrick, treasurer of the Norge Depot Association, said the caboose will be a nod to the depot's history, but also a draw for the younger generation. His hope is that the caboose will be an entry point to the Norge Depot museum for kids, and that it will become a destination photo op for tourists visiting James City.
The search for a caboose began shortly after the project got underway in 2006 when the depot was moved from its historic home on Peach Street to the library. Fox said they have pursued several leads, even visiting Lorraine, Ohio, to look at a Chesapeake & Ohio caboose. He noted moving that car to Virginia would have cost $15,000.
It was a lead Fitzpatrick has been pursuing for years that finally panned out. He said acquiring a caboose means chasing a lot of rumors, many of which can be dead ends.
"There are all shots in the dark," Fitzpatrick said. "Trying to chase down the owner of a caboose when you're not sure they are looking to sell."
In 2012, he learned of a mostly forgotten caboose on hospital property in New Kent County. That April he sent the first of many emails.
"He's been courting me for quite a while," said Gay Brooks, CEO of Cumberland Hospital for Children and Adolescents.
Every so often over the past two years, Brooks said she'd find a note from Fitzpatrick in her inbox inquiring about the caboose. However, she had restoration plans of her own.
Brooks said the caboose was donated to a doctor at the hospital in the mid 1980s and used as meeting space. Over the years, she said they considered restoring it on multiple occasions and moving it closer to the hospital, but it never panned out.
Nearly two years after their correspondence began, Fitzpatrick received a long-awaited email offering the Norge Depot Association the little red caboose. He called it "an amazing turn of fate."
Fox said that after years of investigating cabooses with price tags of $10,000 or more, the donation of a free one located just 30 miles away was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.
Once the deal was struck, Brooks said she had several offers to purchase the caboose, but turned them all down.
"It was donated here, so I felt like I should donate it," she said.
Fox anticipates the materials for the restoration will cost about $5,000. He explained that the exterior restoration will be done in New Kent, then the caboose will be moved to James City where interior restoration will take place. He said the biggest challenge will be finding enough volunteer labor to take on the massive job, then raising enough money to move it to its permanent home in front of Norge Depot.
Robertson can be reached at 757-345-2342.