model train set on track

My Caboose Story

e*Train Issue: Nov 2003   |   Posted in:

By George L. Wybenga

There are many railroad stories to be told. September 11, 2001 found me on the porch having my morning coffee, when our son who works for CBS’ Dan Rather, called to tell me that he was fine. I had no idea what he was referring to, so he suggested that I turn on the television.

My first expression was that a horror film was being aired. Once I realized that events shown were real, I too vividly recalled my childhood memories of May 1940. German paratroopers were dropping in the fields behind our house in Delft, The Netherlands, and a small contingent of Dutch soldiers in front of our house exchanged rifle fire through the windows. The subsequent bombing of Rotterdam and the five years of occupation are memories that often still haunt me.

I tuned out on the newscasts and sat down at my drawing board. In order to block out my emotions I started to draw, but found I had to do something different from my usual artwork. I went through my reference files and thought about the subject matter that might help me deal with my emotions.

Landscapes, buildings, train depots, and even trains have been painted by many different artists. I wanted to do something different and found a photo of a Goderich & Exeter caboose I had shot in Kitchener-Waterloo, Canada.

Finding this a new challenge I started a watercolor painting of the caboose and the old brick furniture factory in the background. Thus started my passion for caboose watercolors using both caboose photos I took on our frequent car trips as well as location sketches of cabooses on Long Island.

Once I completed a number of paintings I scanned them into the computer and experimented with the development of faithful reproductions. I found that a 100% cotton fiber paper worked extremely well, so I made limited edition prints in order to share the images at a reasonable price to fellow train aficionados.

I soon depleted my reference material and started looking further a field to find cabooses.

A former colleague from Parsons School of Design invited me to an exhibition opening in Williamstown, MA. With the use of Roger Kirkpatrick’s Captive Cabeese in America to locate cabooses in New England, I planned my trip and located a number of cabs from different railroads, especially in Tilton, NH, where they house a large number of beautifully kept cabooses on two rail spurs along the river and are privately owned cottages.

In June 2002, a cousin who owns a winery in Colbert, Wa., invited us to a grand opening. I designed his wine labels and he thought it might be a good idea for me to bring some of my silkscreen art to display in the tasting room. Disliking the idea of lugging framed art on a plane, I decided to make the trip by car and find cabooses on the way. I planned the trip with Roger Kirkpatrick’s guide, left Long Island on August 24th and did we find cabooses! My wife and I had great experiences locating private caboose owners, rail museums, as well as operating rail yards. The fact that we wore Museum of Long Island Railroad shirts and National Railroad Historical Society caps no doubt helped with introductions and warm welcomes by the many people who allowed us access to sketch and photograph their cabooses and gave us directions to other locations. We spent over a month on the road and 9000+ miles later we returned home. Hundreds of reference sketches and photos now posed a dilemma; where to start?

Aiming for variety of color; style of cabooses; and rail lines; I painted cabs as the mood struck me or to fulfill special orders.

My wife Betty who was an expert caboose spotter on the trip, helped me overcome the problem I had with some of the caboose paintings that only showed a small herald that identified the line to which the caboose once served to bring up the rear of the train. She suggested that I paint the herald separately and include it in an enlarged version at the bottom of the painting. Thus I successfully completed such cabs as the Monongahela, Kansas City Southern, and the New York & Atlantic.

After attending the Train Collectors’ Association show in York, PA last fall, we discovered a number of cabooses in Jim Thorpe, PA. The train Master of Railtours, Inc. commissioned me to do a painting of the Jersey Central Lines F-3 diesels as well as the Canadian Pacific steam locomotive 4-6-0 #1098. This to was a welcome break from caboose paintings but I am back to my usual subject and just started the 85th painting.

Once I have completed 150 watercolors, I aim to seek a publisher for an book of the watercolors with a few penciled notes about the location, circumstances, and condition of the cabs, as well as the human interest stories that accompanied my searches.

Caboose Art:
Fine watercolor prints of American Cabooses
George L. Wybenga
110 Ocean Avenue
Center Moriches, N.Y. 11934
(631) 878-0206
[email protected]