Garden City Step inside the train’s caboose and instantly you’re transported to another world — one that includes a kerosene lantern hanging from the slightly arched ceiling, an antique typewriter sitting by the small window, and yellowing posters depicting America’s once majestic railroads.
A pair of full-sized train cabooses frame a portion of Joy Anstaett’s backyard in the 300 block of East Thompson. Cabooses once were used on nearly all freight trains, providing train crews with shelter at the rear of the locomotive.
Today, they’re seldom seen.
Unless, of course, you’re in Joy Anstaett’s backyard.
There’s two there, sitting behind her house at 310 E. Thompson St. And she’s been working since early spring — sanding, peeling, and painting — to transform the inside of one into a “mini museum.”
“I feel like those walls have a lot to talk about,” she said. “It just takes you to another time!”
At first sight, the large red rail cars look quite normal behind the quaint Third Street home, as if they’ve been there all along.
A path of dark red and brown bricks weave around a small rock garden with falling water, creating a path from the back porch to the two cars.
The bricks, too, happen to be salvaged from Garden City’s old train depot.
The pair of train cars were purchased by her late husband, Charlie Anstaett, back in the mid-1970s and kept on his farmland in the north part of the county for several years.
In 1980, the couple married, moved into their house, and a few years later her model train-hobbyist husband dragged his life-size toys into town on the back of two flatbed trucks.
“(Charlie) never worked for the railroad, but he was fascinated with trains,” Joy said. “I’m very much into history, too. It was all part of the initial attraction when I first met him.”
Keeping true to history
Marked in white on the sides of the cars are the letters “C,” “B,” and “Q,” the reporting mark of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad.
The railroad commonly referred to as the Burlington, or simply as the Q, once operated across the Midwest, from southern Montana to Texas and from Wyoming to Illinois. The Anstaetts’ cabooses may have been pulled by locomotives that once traveled the expanse of the heartland from the mid-19th to 20th centuries.
For as old as they are, they’re in pretty good shape, especially the wooden floors, Joy said as she stood inside the refurbished caboose where she’s spent the last few months doing anything but standing still: kneeling, stretching and bending over backwards to paint the caboose’s nooks and crannies.
The toughest painting challenge took place toward the back of the train car, where a windowed projection butts up through the ceiling and houses two seats, the original iron chairs, one on each side of the car.
Called the cupola, the elevated window seats allowed conductors to inspect the train from either direction from their perch.
At the hardware store, she was lucky enough to find the perfect reddish-brown hue — “caboose red” — to restore the original color’s integrity.
A few items of her late husband’s memorabilia — age-old train books in wooden crates, outdated train timetables, a small model train display and other knickknacks — are displayed along taupe-colored walls trimmed with other shades of red.
In addition, a pair of soda fountain chairs colored with the same caboose red tint that brightens the floor invite a tired pair of legs to sit and admire the space.
She hasn’t touched the other caboose, and she’s not sure she will.
Joy said she suspects her late husband, who died nearly seven years ago, would be pleased to see the train car’s internal transformation. For several months now, she’s had a paintbrush or some other tool in her hand, and Joy said she’s tried to “be a good and faithful steward” to “Charlie’s dream.”