Milwaukee Road caboose finds new home in Itasca park
Some homes come with in-ground pools. Others have spacious garages and driveways.
When Dean and Sue Ellen Peterson purchased their home in Itasca, it came with a 1940s-era railroad caboose.
Now the 36-foot, 40,000-pound remnant of the shuttered Milwaukee Road line that once passed through Itasca is becoming part of the railroad history campus set to open this summer in the village.
The caboose will be renovated and filled with railroad memorabilia, complementing the adjacent Historical Depot Museum that has been undergoing a restoration of its own for the past year and a half.
The public got its first look at the caboose Thursday when it was moved from the Petersons' residence on Bloomingdale Road to its new permanent location about a mile away at Irving Park Road and Catalpa Avenue. The extensive logistical operation required the use of two flatbed trailer trucks and a crane — and police officers to cordon off traffic on major roads as the caboose made its way through town.
After the Petersons purchased their home in 2000, their two children initially used the caboose as a playhouse. Of late, the family used it as storage space.
The whole time they've been there, they say the caboose has been a conversation piece.
About two years ago the Petersons heard about efforts of the village, park district and other community groups to restore the depot museum, a 140-year-old structure that is the oldest public building in town. That's when they ran into Village President Jeff Pruyn at the local Oktoberfest.
"We said, 'We have one of those Milwaukee Road cabooses sitting in our backyard. Are you interested?' and he said, 'Yeah,'" according to Sue Ellen Peterson.
The family previously listed the caboose on eBay for $35,000 and heard from several interested buyers. But then they started receiving emails from Itasca residents who urged them to keep it in town.
In fact, the caboose has been in Itasca for a number of years.
The Petersons purchased their home from Jim Schirott, a prominent local attorney who had the caboose moved from the parking lot of his law firm at 105 E. Irving Park Road to his backyard.
The only time Dean Peterson says he met Schirott, he remembered him as "a little eccentric."
Attorney John Pankau, whose own law firm today is in the same building as Schirott's, worked for Schirott in the late 1980s when he says Schirott purchased the caboose at auction from the DuPage County Forest Preserve District.
The district was selling surplus items it received as part of its purchase of the Brookwood Country Club in Wood Dale, which has since been converted into the Maple Meadows Golf Club.
Pankau remembers the day Schirott bought the caboose.
"We got a call asking us to clear out the parking lot and make room because there was a train following him down Irving Park Road. The next thing we knew, there was Jim, followed by three flatbeds and a huge tow truck. Jim was leading the parade," Pankau said.
And there the caboose remained until Metra bought Schirott's parking lot, and he was forced to move it to the backyard of his house on Bloomingdale Road.
"How many law firms have a caboose in it?" Pankau said. "Jim was an excellent attorney and brilliant guy. He enjoyed some of the finer things in life and he always enjoyed a joke. It was cute, it was there and it was his."
Schirott, who remains a partner in the law firm Schirott, Leutkehans & Garner, has since relocated to northern Wisconsin, where he is "pretty well retired," Pankau said. Schirott didn't return calls for this story.
The park district paid the Petersons $12,000 for the caboose — but the larger costs of its relocation and restoration are being funded by a $110,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Natural Resources that was awarded in January.
The caboose's exterior will be repainted, windows replaced, and interior wood floors restored. Park district officials also plan to get ideas for restoration from officials at the Illinois Railway Museum in Union, Ill. where a similar Milwaukee Road caboose recently was restored, according to Maryfran Leno, the park district's executive director.
"It definitely needs some love and care," Leno said.
The state grant is also funding an interactive train display in the adjacent depot museum, which has been closed for the past four years during a $525,000 renovation project. Work crews have been trying to restore the building to how it looked when it opened in 1873. Plans include installation of a historic ticket window and pot belly stove. In addition to exhibits on railroad history, the museum will also feature Itasca history.
"(The caboose) is going to a good cause and where people can enjoy it," Sue Ellen Peterson said. "Who would have thought they'd be doing a Milwaukee Road museum and we had a Milwaukee Road caboose in Itasca?"
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